Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher. Originally trained as a botanist, he developed one of the most important theories of cognitive development in the field of developmental psychology. He was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The son of a university professor, Jean was an intellectually precocious child who was interested in the natural world and the subject of biology. Piaget was growing up during a time when Sigmund Freud’s theory and practice of psychoanalysis was developing and becoming popular, which also influenced his interests.
After graduating from his university studies, Piaget moved to Paris and taught at a school directed by Alfred Binet, who developed standardized intelligence tests still used today. As he helped to score Binet’s tests, Piaget noticed patterns of consistent errors made by younger children but not by older children and adults. He formed a hypothesis that young children thought differently than adults. This was the germ of what would eventually become his theory of progressive, distinct stages of cognitive development that people go through universally as they grow.
Piaget went from France back to Switzerland in 1921, where he directed the Rousseau Institute in Geneva. When he and his wife had three children of their own, he studied their behavior and learning from their births and through their childhoods. He used the techniques of direct observation and the case study, a method of developing an in-depth, multidimensional profile of each individual child. Piaget described children as “little scientists” who learned through exploring, interacting with, and acting upon their environments.
Piaget proposed in his theory that in learning, just as in biology, humans adapt to their environments through processes of assimilation and accommodation. He proposed that babies form mental constructs to represent their world, which he called schemata. An infant assimilates new information by fitting it into an existing schema. When it will not fit, the child accommodates to it by modifying an existing schema or forming a new one. Because of his emphasis on children’s roles in actively constructing their own knowledge of reality, Piaget has been called a great pioneer of constructivism, the theory that people build knowledge based on interactions between their thoughts and experiences.
1. According to this passage, Piaget’s first scientific discipline was:
B. Developmental psychology.
D. Cognitive development.
E. None of these.
2. Piaget’s proposal of human adaptation to the environment was an application of a principle of:
A. Freudian psychoanalysis.
B. The biology he studied.
C. Binet’s intelligence test.
D. Direct child observation.
E. None of these.
3.What is correct about Piaget’s experience with Alfred Binet’s intelligence tests, according to the passage?
A. Piaget helped Alfred Binet by developing the intelligence tests.
B. Piaget found the tests were inappropriate for younger children.
C. Piaget felt younger children thought differently than adults did.
D. Piaget identified error patterns that invalidated the test results.
E. None of these
4. Piaget’s theory involved which of these?
A. A gradual and continuous progression of cognitive development
B. Completely different progression from one individual to the next
C. The premise that younger children make errors but adults do not
D. Universal progressive stages of development all humans undergo
E. None of these
5. The theory that humans build knowledge from interactions between their thoughts and experiences is called:
C. Cognitive development.
D. Developmental psychology.
E. None of these.
Jean Piaget’s theory states that infants are in a sensorimotor stage of cognitive development, wherein they get information through their senses, engage in motor activities, and receive feedback from the environment about the effects of their motor actions. He formed these ideas by watching his own children, and those of his university professor colleagues, as they learned about their surroundings through trial and error and discovery.
Piaget called his second stage the preoperational stage, from around ages 2-7 years. Children are acquiring motor skills at this time. Their thought is characterized by egocentrism, thinking everything revolves around them with an inability to assume others’ viewpoints. Animism—attributing human characteristics and behaviors to inanimate objects—and magical thinking—the belief that their thoughts or actions cause unrelated external events—are typical. Children are not yet capable of thinking logically or of conservation, the ability to retain mentally such properties as amount, number, or volume despite changes in shape, appearance, or arrangement.
In the following stage of concrete operations which lasts until around age 11, children begin to think logically and perform what Piaget termed mental operations; but they can only do these relative to concrete objects they can see, touch, and manipulate. They can thus learn simple arithmetic and science. They no longer think egocentrically. They can solve conservation problems involving concrete materials, first realizing that quantities of solids or liquids are the same even when their shapes or the shapes of their containers are changed; and that the number of objects remains constant even when they are arranged differently. However, they are not yet capable of thinking abstractly or performing entirely mental operations.
In Piaget’s stage of formal operations, which begins just before puberty and continues into adolescence and adulthood, youngsters develop the ability to perform wholly mental operations and to consider logical arguments and philosophical ideas. They understand abstract concepts such as justice, democracy, truth, and beauty, and can consider moral issues. In fact, Piaget also developed a theory of moral development accompanying his theory of cognitive development. This influenced later developmental psychologists like Lawrence Kohlberg, who used it as a basis for his own developmental theory of moral reasoning, which expanded on the foundations that Piaget had provided.
6. According to this passage, _________are in Piaget’s preoperational stage of cognitive development.
7. If a child believes that his disobedience caused a thunderstorm, this is most specifically an example of what Piaget termed:
B. Magical thinking.
E. None of these.
8. Which of these is correct about the stage of concrete operations, according to this passage?
A. Children can think abstractly during this stage.
B. Children still think egocentrically in this stage.
C. Children can think logically during this stage.
D. Children cannot perform mental operations.
E. None of these is available from the passage.
9. In a classic Piagetian experiment, a researcher pours liquid into a tall, narrow beaker, and transfers it to a short, wide beaker in front of a student, asking the student which beaker holds more liquid. The student says the amount of liquid is the same regardless of which beaker holds it. Of Piaget’s stages, which is the earliest one in which this student is likely to be?
C. Concrete operations
D. Formal operations
E. This is not available
10. According to the passage, which is true regarding Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory?
A. It is a cognitive theory that opposes Piaget’s theory.
B. It is a theory which is unrelated to Piaget’s theory.
C. It focuses primarily upon cognitive development.
D. It expands on Piaget’s moral development theory.
E. It cannot be known which is true from the passage.
Answers – Reading Comprehension
1. A: The second sentence states that Piaget was originally trained as a botanist. While the first sentence identifies him as a developmental psychologist and philosopher (B), and the second sentence states that his theory of cognitive development (D) is one of the most important in the field of developmental psychology, these fields are not identified as his first discipline.
2. B: The first sentence of the fourth paragraph in the passage states that Piaget proposed in his theory that “just as in biology, humans adapt to their environments…” Freudian psychoanalysis (A) is named earlier in the passage as an influence on Piaget’s interests, but not as including a principle he applied to environmental adaptation. Binet’s intelligence test (C) is identified as an instrument Piaget helped Binet to score, and as a source for his hypothesis that children think differently than adults, but not as a source for his proposal of adaptation through assimilation and accommodation. Direct child observation (D) is identified as a method Piaget used to study children, not as containing a principle he applied regarding adaptation.
3. C: The passage states that Piaget helped Binet to score his intelligence tests, but not that he helped by actually developing the tests (A). The passage says that Piaget identified error patterns in younger children’s test results, but not that these patterns made the tests inappropriate for younger children (B) or that they invalidated the results (D). Rather, these patterns he noticed helped him to form his hypothesis that children thought differently than adults (C).
4. D: Piaget’s theory involved progressive stages of development which all humans universally undergo, as the passage states. His theory did not involve gradual and continuous progression (A), because he formulated distinct stages of cognitive development. Gradual and continuous development would preclude separate stages. The statement that this progression through stages was universal means that it was not completely different for each individual (B). The passage never says Piaget’s theory had a premise that younger children make errors but adults do not (C). It only says Piaget noticed consistent patterns of certain errors by younger children but not by adults on Binet’s tests and he concluded from these that younger children think differently than adults.
5. B: The theory that humans build knowledge from interactions between their ideas and their experiences is known as constructivism. This information is given in the last sentence of the passage. Biology (A) is not the name of this theory; it is the scientific field of Piaget’s early interest, which influenced his own theory. It was from biology that he applied the idea that in learning, humans also adapt mentally to their environments through assimilation and accommodation. Cognitive development (C) is the area on which Piaget’s own theory is focused. Developmental psychology (D) is the disciplinary field wherein Piaget’s and other theories of cognitive development are categorized.
6. A: The second paragraph of the passage identifies the preoperational stage as being approximately from ages 2-7 years. This age range would include toddlers. Infants (A) are identified in the first paragraph of the passage as being in the sensorimotor stage of cognitive development. Teens (C) and adults (D) are identified in the last (fourth) paragraph as being in Piaget’s stage of formal operations. This information is given, so it is not unknown (E).
7. B: Magical thinking is defined in the second paragraph as believing one’s thoughts or actions cause unrelated external events. In the same paragraph, animism (A) is defined as attributing human characteristics and behaviors to inanimate objects. Egocentrism (C) is defined in the same paragraph as thinking the world revolves around oneself, and the inability to assume others’ viewpoints. While animism and magical thinking are characteristics of the egocentrism Piaget found typical of the preoperational stage, the example is most specifically of magical thinking, so egocentrism is not the most specific answer choice. Conservation (D) is defined in the second and third paragraphs as the ability to retain mentally the properties of objects despite changes in their appearance, shape, or arrangement. Conservation with concrete materials is identified as developing in the concrete operations stage, while the first three answer choices are characteristics of the preoperational stage.
8. C: The third paragraph of the passage indicates that children can first think logically during the stage of concrete operations. However, this logic only applies to concrete objects; the passage also states that they cannot yet think abstractly during this stage (A). This paragraph also says that children no longer think egocentrically in this stage (B). The passage indicates that the concrete operations stage is the period when children can first perform mental operations (D). All of this information is available from the passage (E).
9. C: The passage identifies the stage of concrete operations as the first one wherein a person achieves conservation, as long as it involves concrete materials. Students in this stage can understand that the volume of liquid remains the same regardless of the shape of its container, as in the example. The passage states they cannot perform wholly mental operations until the stage of formal operations (D), but the experiment described uses concrete materials, so the earliest stage when a student could answer correctly is concrete operations (C). The sensorimotor stage (A) is identified as that of infants and the preoperational (B) of children around 2-7 years; both are described as stages wherein logical thought has not yet developed. This information is available (E) from the passage for application to the experiment described in the question.
10. D: The end of the passage states that Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning expands on the foundations Piaget provided in his theory of moral development. Kohlberg’s theory is also a cognitive theory, but it is based on Piaget’s theory and does not oppose it (A). Being based on Piaget’s work, Kohlberg’s theory is not unrelated to it (B). Kohlberg’s theory is identified in the passage as a theory of moral reasoning; this is its primary focus, not cognitive development (C) overall. It is not true that this answer cannot be known from the passage (E).