Of course, Spears is still very young, and may face numerous future changes. However, at this time, she appears to have found some stability.
While Spears spent much of her early life in the public spotlight, it is actually difficult to assess her early cognitive development. This should come as no surprise when one looks at various theories of cognitive development. For example, Piaget discusses cognitive development, but all of his significant stages occur prior to the time that Spears became a public figure, and, therefore, prior to the time that biographers have reliable information about her development. However, Piaget's conclusions "that cognitive development is the product of complex interactions between the maturation of the nervous system and that of language, and that this maturation depends on children's social and physical interactions with the world around them" allow the observer to draw conclusions about Spears' early life without having direct knowledge of that life (The Brain from Top to Bottom, Unk.).
The sensory motor period occurs from 0 to 24 months and is characterized by learning reflexive behaviors and how the infant interacts with the world (Child Development Institute, 2011). There is nothing to suggest that Spears did not complete that stage. The preoperational period occurs between 2 and 7 years of age, and is marked by increased verbalism and a transition from egocentric to social, as well as developments in logic and reality testing (Child Development Institute, 2011). Though much of Spears' young adult behavior appeared both illogical and hallmarked by a breakdown in her reality testing, that behavior occurred after her displaying consistently logical behavior, and seems more likely related to a chemical imbalance, perhaps related to postpartum depression, than to a failure to complete earlier steps in cognitive development. In fact, it is important to realize that Piaget's theory of development is really based on cognition rather than emotion. However, part of this stage involves learning social rules like reciprocity "or taking the other person's point-of-view into consideration" (Borensen, 2008). Whether or not Spears was able to master this stage is a subject of some debate.
However, by the time the world was introduced to a young Spears, she was already apparently engaging in concrete operations. Her successful work on television provided evidence of "organized, logical thought" (Child Development Institute, 2011). Moreover, the clear calculations in her early career were characteristic of formal operations. She was able to predict outcomes from her behavior (Child Development Institute, 2011). There is no doubt that much of Spears' early adult success was linked to her careful transition from child to woman in her public persona, and her carefully marketed sexuality was an important part of that image. "Britney Spears was consumed by children when she was still a child….Then the consuming changed. On April 15, 1999, Britney appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time. Her body became text, her eyes invited the gaze and her stomach made readers of all types look twice" (Smit, 2011, p.20). This was a critical time in Spears' career, because it was at that time that she began to experience negative public reaction to her emerging sexuality and adult personality. For a pop star like Spears, it is important to realize that her changing personality not only reflected differences in her own personality, but also contributed to changes in her fan base as well. For example, young girls primarily identify with pop culture icons like Spears, so that parental concerns about the influence of pop stars on their children, while seemingly misplaced, may have some real merit (Goodman, Unk.). The increase in sexuality, while it may have been significant to Spears' career and her personal development, almost certainly created some negative repercussion among her fanbase.
Of course, how much of that marketed sexuality was cognitive and how much represented actual physical changes in Spears is something that might never be understood by anyone other than Spears, herself. Spears certainly seemed intent on hiding some of her true intentions when she first began the transition, which was part of her public appeal. "The harder the consumer looked, the more sly she became, hiding a nipple, hiding behind the decency laws of television and the press. Her pregnant body, naked almost. A cultural hide and go seek. Then the infamous photo came, her in the backseat with Paris. When we saw her sex directly, it was over" (Smit, 2011, p.20).
Social Development Theory
In contrast to Piaget, whom placed great emphasis on cognitive development, Lev Vygotsky placed tremendous emphasis on social interaction being the key to development. There are three major themes in Vygotsky's social development theory. The first is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development and that social learning precedes development (Learning Theories, 2011, Social). The second is the idea of the more knowledgeable other (MKO), which refers to anyone with a better understanding or higher ability level than the learner (Learning Theories, 2011, Social). The third theme is that of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is the distance between a student's ability to perform a task under peer or adult guidance and the peer's ability to independently perform the task (Learning Theories, 2011, Social). Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and their sociocultural context (Learning Theories, 2011, Social). Humans use social tools, like speech and writing, to mediate their social environments (Learning Theories, 2011, Social). Children use these tools as social functions, but the internalization of these tools lead to higher thinking skills (Learning Theories, 2011, Social).
One of the critical components of Vygotsky's theory is that play has a role in development. Looking specifically at Spears' life, the role of play seems interesting. Her early imaginative play showed her engaged in various forms of competition. She repeatedly pretended to be a famous pop star, most notably Madonna. While many children might engage in a similar type of play, this play does seem to have been successful in assisting in the development of Spears as a pop star. She was renowned for being very professional and a perfectionist in her work life. Was this impacted by her early imaginative play as a pop star? This leads one to wonder how play impacts development. Vygotsky pondered whether play was the leading developmental activity for young children or simply the predominant form. Examining how other types of early-stage development may have helped contribute to Spears' development. In fact, what is interesting is that Vygotsky posits that the history of attention in a child, which begins from the birth of the child, is the history of the organization of the child's behavior (Vygotsky, 1979). Therefore, examining a child's play helps explain the person's development.
What is interesting is that creative activity does not always involve creating something tangible. While some of what Spears developed through creativity and play when she was a child was observable by outsiders. It is important to understand that creation includes inner world construction as well as the creation of tangible things (Vygotsky, 1990). Spears' public revelations have frequently mentioned that, as a child, she envisioned herself as the type of mega-pop star that she eventually became. (A&E Television, 2011). Therefore, this imaginative behavior was very constructive. Moreover, it is important to realize that this creative visualization is not limited to Spears' past. She imagines and constructs the tone of her concerts, bringing them to life for her fans. She has imagined and constructed a comeback, which has been successful. Therefore, the imaginative component of play has been something that she has been able to incorporate into her adult life.
It is difficult to discuss Spears' physical development without focusing on her sexuality. Part of this is due to the fact that most of Spears' other physical development was done prior to her entering the spotlight. She had certainly mastered motor control and coordination before emerging into the public spotlight. However, she emerged into the public as a young girl and then transitioned into a woman in the public spotlight. Not only did her body physically change, but Spears also attempted to highlight the differences between her young girl body and her emerging womanly body. "One way Britney tried to emphasize the change was through her dress, which became more revealing. One of her now famous routines during this period had her take off a more modest costume to reveal a more risque one" (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007, p.383). In fact, some of her other behavior may have been linked to attempting to prove the differences between her adolescent and adult bodies. For example, "her two marriages, first to Jason Allen Alexander for 2 days, in 2004 and second to Kevin Federline, and her subsequent pregnancy may be indicators of her transition from adolescent pop stars to adult woman" (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007, p.383).