Maturation and Why Is Piaget's Theory a Essay

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  • Subject: Psychology
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maturation, and why is Piaget's theory a good example of a maturational theory of children's cognitive development?"

Maturation is the way an infant gets to learn to become a proper individual by various maneuvers all through the early stages in life. The term maturation has different connotations in the theory of development if viewed from different angles. There are many theories of development that have links or are a part of the theory of maturation. The theories that try to explain the cognitive development are the behavioral theory propounded by Skinner which says that learning is a result of the environment. By creating a better environment, learning can be directed and shaped. Children introduced to a better environment learn to give better responses and the behavior theory seem to work where special education is required. Freud and Eriksson believed that children came with drives that had to be channeled in a proper way while the theory of psychodynamics incorporate children's feeling and the environment. The normative maturational theory which is the foundation of modern maturational theories are based on the work of Gessel which states that the child is a sum of its genetic inheritances and the curriculum must match the genetic makeup. (Holbrook; Koenig, 2000)

While the theory of maturation will be discussed in brief, for this paper, can maturation be defined as the process whereby the child grows to become cognizant of his or her own self and environment? That would be a better definition considering that the original maturation theory and from the later additions we can easily see that genetic factors do not play a role as it was believed by the maturation theorists but the role of psychology and environment seem to be of more importance. In fact the nativist theory goes one step further and holds that children are pre-wired and have a definite predictable growth pattern that comes with the genes. (Warner; Sower, 2004) However when these contentions are examined in detail it can be shown that none of them have been able to provide an acceptable model as much as Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

Learning and Psychology

In the education of a child the redefinition of psychology in 1942 by Gates, et. al (1942) says that psychology "would attempt to solve many of the problems concerning human behavior…and learning." (Gates; Jersild; McConnell; Challman, 1942) According to Arthur Gates, the learning part began with a child's birth. It proceeds to grow in the way the child is handled, feeding and routine care. Further mental growth is a result of contacts, sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli and it is where psychology grows over the other sciences because the psychologist can provide the means to find a child's own ways of growing and learning. At the time there was a suggestion that a study of "mental, motor, and emotional development is of primary concern to educational psychology." (Gates; Jersild; McConnell; Challman, 1942)

It is this difference that is seen clearly between the maturation theorists -- who took the development of the motor part and the others who went on to explore the other ways about how human kind develops. Thus concepts from psychology, for example the dual motive theory, are the modern foundation and the basis of behaviorism which resulted from observation in an objective manner relating to the tendencies of the child leading to quantification and analysis. Behavior ought to be studied with the thought and feelings of individuals. This position was taken by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. (Alexander; Winne, 2006)

Rogers believed that what people believed about themselves played a very critical role in their development. Thus the humanist views emphasized positive feelings like respect, warmth and acceptance significantly affected the behavior of people. To this Maslow added the theory that people's motivation also is based on needs which are classified in an order of priority and is organized hierarchically. Human personality to the humanist group was thus based on the regard of the self. This became the basis of Piaget's theory and this helped find the primary motivators of behavior and counseling. (Alexander; Winne, 2006) Thus the primary step is to consider all the theories of maturation and compare the works of Piaget.

Maturational Theories:

In examining the maturational theories, the investigation of human motor development by Arnold Gesell stands out as a pioneering work that later gave rise to the theory of genetic influence on growth. Gessel postulated that motor development is the basis of maturation. The development proceeded in two ways, the cephalocaudal trend where the motor development occur from head to foot and the second the proximodistal trend where the development fanned out from the centre of the body or from the pelvic region. (Slater; Bremner, 2003)

By analyzing these motor developments it was argued that the development cycle and prospects of individuals could be determined and evaluated. The theory of Gesell was challenged and proved wrong by Myrtle McGraw who using identical twins gave training to one and left the other to its own devices. The twins who received training seemed to develop better as compared to the ones without training. Thus the theory that humans come rewired with what they can learn got dismissed. Maturational account of the motor development can be dismissed while considering that motor skills have no genetic cause and the new skills that are created like driving or bungee jumping are learned rather than by inherent codes and drives. (Slater; Bremner, 2003) Maturational theories do not take into account individual differences and circumstances.

Piaget and Cognitive Development:

Piaget pioneered many things for example, he noticed that children are not the miniatures of adults and that there were different ways in which children interpreted the world. The adult and child could have the same knowledge but the way the knowledge is structured is different. Thus the theory of cognitive development takes a total different view of development that has become acceptable in psychology and is extended to three main principles -- one being that there is a schema that comes inside the being, for example the baby's act of suckling. This basic schema will then be unlearned to incorporate other methods of feeding. Thus there is the second part namely assimilation where the learned parts are then allotted to appropriate schemas thereby developing cognitive faculties and are absorbing and categorizing the information they receive from the world. The last is interpretation where the child used both the schema and the assimilated information to arrive at his or her own interpretation of things. (Oakley, 2004)

Not only the schema and its later development are included in the theory. Interaction with the environment and the biological maturation is also accounted for in the model. Thus there are different stages of cognitive development that are fixed in sequence and one has to be completed before proceeding to the next. Objects that are learned are used by the child to relate to other objects. (Anderson, 1996)

These theories are superior to others in the sense of its wholeness. Other than these major theories the important contribution of Jean Piaget have put some of the controversies to rest and has also propelled the understanding of maturation to a great height. The basis of his analysis is developmental psychology in relation to the development of knowledge of the external world. Probably the greatest of Piaget's discoveries is the possibility of nonconservation: He observed that until the child became six years old, the child doesn't understand quantity. The learning thus is seen in the conservation of quantity. The second discovery was centration. It is argued that children cannot assimilate two different variables. Piaget found that they tend to create a single stimulus by simplification, and gave an integrated response. Thus 'Centration' was the method of thinking up to the age of ten. (Anderson, 1996)

The difference that these theories brought to the psychoanalysis is the way the child is perceived. Now the child is not a variable but a person. The child thus perceives "separateness, uniqueness, individuality, or more generally speaking, autonomy." (Lichtenberg; Norton, 1970) This follows that the child is also socially related and learning continues with the relations with other humans. There are some criticisms leveled and these form the future explorations in the theory. General criticisms are that the theory underestimates the cognitive faculties of children and there is evidence to show that the capabilities of cognizance of toddlers are more than what Piaget allowed for. The way the knowledge changes and the way the child adapts to change are not explained in the theory. Another criticism is that the theory does not account for individual variability. (Kail; Cavanaugh, 2008) These criticisms provide for future research and are not in anyway disproving or making the works of Piaget invalid.


Is Piaget's theory a good example of a maturational theory of children's cognitive development? The answer is an emphatic yes, for the reason that while various theories were examined, none of them approached…

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