Assignment 2: The Theories of Piaget and Kohlberg
Many researchers have written about child development, but none are quite as well known as Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Jean Piagets cognitive development theory and Lawrence Kohlbergs moral development theory have been essential for researchers to gain a better understanding of child development. While these theories are unique in explaining different types of child development, they have many similarities and differences as well.
Jean Piagets cognitive theory states that a child goes through many set stages in his or her cognitive development. It is through these stages that the child is able to develop into an adult. The first of these stages is called the sensorimotor period in which the childs age ranges from 0-2 years old. During this sensorimotor period of a childs development, the childs main objective is to master the mechanics of his or her own body. Towards the end of this period, the child begins to recognize himself as a separate individual, and that people and objects around him or her have their own existence. The child, however, does not have a sense of object permanence meaning that when an object is taken away, the child no longer believes that that object actually exists. As the child nears the end of this period of development, he may seek an item that has been hidden in the location where he or she last saw it, but does not look elsewhere (Smith). During the preoperational period, which lasts from age 2-7, the child has come a long way in his or her cognitive development since his or her birth. In this period, the child has a very basic understanding of the inner workings of his or her mind and is ready to interact with their environment in a more symbolic way. A limitation during this period is known as egocentrism. The child has a hard time realizing that though there are many other people and things in their world, none of them are more important that the child himself. The child believes that his point of view is the only point of view of the world. This is caused by his inability to put himself in someones elses shoes (Smith). The concrete operational period, spanning between the ages of 7 and 11, is marked by the onset of logic to the young mind. The child is able to mentally manipulate objects and events. In other words, he or she can imagine squashing a clay ball into a flat circle and then reshaping the clay into a ball again (Smith). The child also begins to see how things are bigger and smaller in relation to each other and also has an understanding of the understanding of the idea of conservation. The final period of cognitive development is found in children ranging from ages 11-15 and is known as the formal operational period. In this period, the child has a clear understanding of the logics of his own mind, has become relatively skillful at both language and math, and has come to be able to formulate hypotheses to test against his or her environment and other people. This period essentially contains no limitations since the child keeps developing and learning on his or her way to becoming an adult. Although Piagets theory does have its flaws, his work has greatly influenced developmental psychology with this working theory of child development.
Lawrence Kohlbergs theory of moral development was dependent on the thinking of Jean Piaget. Kohlberg believed that people progressed in their moral development through a series of stages. He stated that there were six identifiable stages, which could be more generally divided into three levels. The first level of moral development called, preconventional morality, is generally found at the elementary school level. In the first stage of this level, people behave according to socially acceptable norms because they are told to do so by some authority figure like their parents or their teachers. They also comply with rules to avoid punishment or to gain reward (Smith). The second level of moral thinking is labeled conventional morality. The first stage of this level is characterized by the subject seeking to do what will gain the approval of others. The second stage is one oriented to abiding by the law to avoid censure (Smith). The third level of moral thinking is postconventional morality, one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the majority of adults. In its first stage, the subject will learn to behave in a way that is helpful to his society. The last stage includes behaving in way that respects what is ethical and the universal principles. Through his studies, Kohlberg contributed tremendously to the understanding of moral development.
The fact that Kohlberg based his work on the thinking of Jean Piaget might lead one to believe that the two theories are related in many ways. In fact there are many similarities and differences between the two theories. First, Kohlbergs moral stages are only in part a function of age whereas Piagets theory was solely based on age. This is because factors such as parental training, self-confidence, and intelligence may also contribute to the morality development of a child (Smith). The nature-nurture theory can also be related to these two theories. Piagets theory seems to focus more heavily on nature since every child has to go through the processes that he describes. Kohlberg views the person as able to actively interact with his or her environment. While the individual cannot fully change the environment, the environment can fully mold the individual. A persons actions are the result of his or her feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and experiences and thus Kohlbergs theory stresses the importance of the element of nurture. The two theories are similar in that both believe that the stages of development are hierarchical in that later stages of development build on earlier ones. Furthermore, both theorists believed that the stages of development imply qualitative differences in childrens thinking and ways of solving problems (Bissell). Thus, these two theories have both similarities and differences in the way in which they describe human development.
The theories of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg contributed greatly to the field of psychology. They are similar in some ways and distinct in others, but both theories served to lay the foundation for a major facet of modern developmental psychology.