How does a child develop cognitively? Which influences development more – genetics or the environment? How important are early experiences in the growth and cognitive development of a child? These are some of the major questions that guide the work of researchers in the field of educational psychology. This lesson will begin to address these questions by describing the basic principles that characterize child and adolescent development.
What are the driving forces behind the cognitive development of a child? Does it really matter if a child is given gender-specific toys to play with at an early age? What about teaching a child a foreign language before they can talk? Does this make a difference in their acquisition ability? These are some of the major questions that guide the work of researchers in the field of educational psychology. In this lesson, we will begin to explore how these question lead today’s research of cognitive development.
Principles of Cognitive Development
There are four major principles of cognitive and linguistic development of children and adolescents.The first principle is: development proceeds in somewhat orderly and predictable patterns. Development occurs through what theorists characterize as developmental milestones. A developmental milestone is defined as the appearance of a new, developmentally more advanced behavior. These milestones, typically, appear in a predictable order.We can understand this principle of developmental milestones through a few examples.
A physical developmental example of this principle is when a baby learns to roll over before it learns to crawl. A linguistic example is when children babble before they learn to say words. A cognitive developmental example is when a child can first only solve simple problems and talks through the problem out loud. Then, eventually, the child internalizes the problem solving process and begins to think abstractly, and outward speech becomes internal in the child’s head.The second principle of development deals with growth.
Periods of rapid growth spurts may appear between periods of slower growth. The underlying idea behind this principle is that development is not constant. A learner might proceed through a developmental growth stage rapidly, such as in toddlerhood, versus a period of slower cognitive development, such as in adolescence.The third principle explains different children develop at different rates.
This principle focuses more on the learner as an individual versus an entire developmental period, as the preceding principle did. Most theories provide an average age at which we might begin to see development.
This age is an approximation due to the individual differences among learners. Some learners hit developmental milestones early, while others may reach them later.
This should not be the only indication of advanced cognitive development or developmental impairments, however.
Nature versus Nurture
The final principle of cognitive and linguistic development deals with the concepts of nature versus nurture and states development is continually affected by both nature and nurture. We will discuss these concepts in detail now.Have you heard of the nature versus nurture debate in psychology? Psychologists have long debated whether it’s nature that drives development among humans or nurture. Let’s explain.Nature (heredity) refers to traits which are inherited or genetic.
It’s a fact that most of the aspects of human development are initially driven (directly or indirectly) by the person’s genetic makeup. Eye color, hair color, skin type and other physical characteristics are derived directly from our genetic makeup. Even one’s temperament, or predisposition to respond, is driven by genetics.
Nurture (environment), on the other hand, refers to all environmental influences after conception. In other words, how a person is raised (nurtured) drives development. Level of attachment, beliefs, values and how much attention one is given are all examples of environmental influences.
Gender roles portrayed and imposed on children are also examples of nurture. Clothing a baby boy in traditionally boy colors, such as blue, and providing only traditionally male toys, such as a football, are extreme examples of this.
Most psychologists today conclude that both nature and nurture play significant roles in the cognitive development of children and adolescents.
There are some researchers that still take extreme sides in this debate. However, most psychologists agree that there are periods of time that occur throughout development in which children are more susceptible to environmental conditions. This is referred to as the sensitive period. Researchers suggest that during this point in development, children are more receptive to environmental influences. An example of this is research conducted on language acquisition which shows young children can more easily learn foreign languages compared to adolescents.
So, in conclusion, today we have learned about the guiding principles of cognitive development of children and adolescents. We know now that development proceeds in an orderly and predictable fashion. Yet, there are spurts of development that occur more quickly depending on the time period of development. We understand that development may occur at different times for each individual child. And we are more familiar with the concepts of nature and nurture and the role they play in the development of children.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify and explain the four principles of cognitive development
- Define developmental milestone and sensitive period
- Differentiate nature and nurture in development