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Chapter 5: Cognitive Development in Infancy

Chris Raymond and Stojanna Hollis

What Piaget meant when he said that infants actively construct knowledge.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist and philosopher who published the Origins of Intelligence in
Children, which led to a new understanding of how infants develop cognitively. Up to that point, most
development scientists believed that infants learned through passive learning. That passive learning
meant that infants learned by receiving information from their environment. Piaget believed that
infants learned better by being in control of their environment. The text gave a great example of
'actively constructing' knowledge. The example was if two people were driving to a restaurant in a
neighboring town, the driver would be able to better remember how to get there the next time they went
to that restaurant. The fact that the driver would have a better understanding of how to get to the
restaurant is because the driver needed to actively construct their knowledge of how to get there.
Another example of active construction of knowledge is if somebody took apart an appliance. The
person who took apart this particular appliance would have a better chance of putting it back together
than a person who watched it being taken apart. This theory of infants learning through active
construction of knowledge has led the study of infant development ever since.
Piagets process of adaptation, and how assimilation and accommodation help children
understand the world:
According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, adaptation is, The process whereby
knowledge is altered by experience. Within adaptation are assimilation and accommodation, two
processes that are separate yet complementary. Assimilation, by definition, is, The process by which
information can be incorporated according to what the infant already knows. An example of
assimilation is if a child drops a toy, it falls to the ground. Then if the child drops their bottle, it will
also drop to the ground. The child will be able to understand this is new information, if the bottle is
dropped it will fall, because of their previous experience of dropping the toy. Accommodation, by
definition, is, The process by which the infant changes to reach a new understanding of reality.
Staying with the same example, if the child releases a balloon and it rises, they will accommodate their
knowledge to understand that some things fall and others rise when released. Another example of these
processes is, if a child has a pet dog. The child only knows that the dog is an animal up to this point,
but if they see a cat, they might say its a dog. That is the assimilation because this child understands
that all dogs are animals, and vice versa. When the child's knowledge expands to understand that some
animals are cats that are accommodation because they now have a greater understanding of the reality
around them.
Six stages of the sensorimotor period of infancy:
Piaget created his stages of cognitive development, which state that mental development
unfolds in a certain sequence through childhood into the teen years. The sensorimotor period, which
happens during infancy, is the first of period of development, followed by preoperational, concrete
operational, and formal operational periods. The sensorimotor period states that the infant learns/thinks
by combining sensory information with motor activity. The sensorimotor period is further broken
down into 6 stages. The first of these stages lasts from birth until about 1 month of age. During this
stage, mental development is minimal because the infants do not accommodate. Assimilating is the
only way their understanding is furthered, and it is assimilated very slowly. The next stage begins at
about 1 month and lasts until about 4 months of age. During this stage, infants are able to coordinate
their understanding of the outside world. An example of this is that during this stage, infants are able to
put their fingers in their mouth, coordinating their hand and mouth. The third stage of the sensorimotor

period begins at about 4 months of age and goes until about 7 months of age. During this particular
stage the infants become aware of their relationships between their own behavior and the environment.
An example of this is that the infant notices that when it kicks the side of the crib, it shakes the mobile
that is attached to the railing. They might then repeat this action to further observe their influence on
their environment. Another example of this stage in action is that an infant might repeatedly throw a
toy because they are becoming fascinated with what happens to the ball when they throw it. The fourth
stage, about 7 months to about 10 months of age, is a very important stage, according to Piaget,
because it is during this stage that causality and object permanence begin. Causality is that certain
actions produce certain results. An example of this from the text is, banging a spoon on their high chair
produces a loud noise, attracts attention, and may possibly result in food. The infant is able to
understand that their actions have a result in their environment. Object permanence is, The
understanding that an object continues to exist even when it cannot be sensed. An example of this is if
you show them a ball, and then hid it, they understand that it still exists and begin to search for the ball.
This stage sets the base for the rest of the infant's cognitive development.
The fifth stage covers the time from about 10 months of age to about 18 months of age. It is
during this stage that infants attempt to gain a greater understanding of the outside world, as well as
relationships between objects. This is the stage that infants begin to 'experiment' with their
understanding of the objects. For example, an infant might attempt to see how much of a liquid would
leak out of a bottle when held at different angles, or when a different amount of force is applied to the
bottle. Another example of this stage is that children might examine what happens when they stack
different objects on each other. The sixth and final stage of the sensorimotor period lasts from about 18
months of age to about 24 months of age. It is during this stage that mental representation is formed.
Mental representation is, The ability to hold in the mind an image of objects (and people) that are not
physically present. During this stage, if a ball were to roll under the sofa, a child would move to the
other side of the sofa because they are anticipating the ball to roll out from the other side. This is the
stage where children begin to exhibit mental capacities, rather than relying solely on motor learning.

Major challenges to Piagets theory of development:

While Piaget was the most influential child development scientist, there has been some research
done since his initial work that disproves some of his findings. These new conclusions should not take
anything away from all of the work he did that resulted in looking at development in a completely new
way; rather they should be looked at as a continuation of his work. The first of these challenges is that
Piaget believed that infants relied too heavily on active learning. One example from the text was a
particular study which found that limbless children were able to develop normal cognitive abilities.
These particular children were born without limbs because their mothers took thalidomide, a sedative,
during the first trimester of their pregnancy. These infants were able to understand their surrounding
environment solely based on observations and the use of their other senses.
Object permanence and mental representation are two attributes that Piaget found to be of
utmost importance in the development of an infant. Within the sensorimotor period of cognitive
development, Piaget stated that those attributes appear during the fourth and sixth stages, respectively.
But, more current research has shown that these two qualities begin to appear much earlier than Piaget
concluded. It appears that infants have some capacity to represent the external world from birth, such
as sticking out their tongue if the see an adult do it.
In addition to being able to imitate another person soon after birth, infants have been found to
be able to reenact a particular action after a delay, even as long as a week in some cases. The
researchers who concluded this had a group of 6-9 month old infants observe an adult lean forward and
place their forehead on a panel. One week later, they brought the same group of infants, along with a
group that did not witness this action, and placed them in front of the same panel. Two-thirds of the
infants who initially witnessed this irregular action placed their forehead against the panel, compared to

none in the control group that did not initially observe the action
How infants use categorization to make sense of the world:
Categorization involves grouping separate items into a set according to some rule. For example,
Ford, Toyota, and Mercedes-Benz are all cars that can be categorized together. We will discuss and
look at how categorization helps to simplify and order infants world in three ways: infants
experience the world in biological states that are frequently changing. Secondly, categorization
facilitates storage and retrieval of information. It supplies a principle of organization that allows
more information to be stored in one file imposed to many. Third, and finally categorization
allows knowledge of an attribute of one member of a category provides information about other
members of the same category.

Explain how social and cultural factors influence the intelligence of infants:
In order for infants to fully develop their cognitive abilities and live a happy life, they must
successfully adapt to the social and cultural norms for where they live. The child is influenced by
many factors, everything from their immediate family all the way to the neighborhood they grow up in.
All of these factors are inter wined, and affect the development of the child. Some of the 'negative'
factors include socioeconomic status, parent's education level, having a single mother, having a teenage
mother, air quality of neighborhood, etc. There have been many studies that show just how much effect
any of these factors is in the development of a child. For example, the Panel Study of Income
Dynamics has found that experiencing high neighborhood poverty through childhood raised a child's
chances of downward mobility by 52%. Another example of the negative effects of these factors on
child development is focused on the air quality the child breathes while growing up. A study monitored
African and Dominican women living in New York City and examined their child from in utero to 5
years of age. After adjusting for other qualities such as maternal intelligence, it was found that lower
quality of air predicted lower childhood IQ scores.
On the other hand, children raised in a more favorable environment seem to show higher mental
development, based on both nature and nurture. There are many different techniques parents can
use to influence their infant's cognitive development. Scaffolding is a broad term meaning, Providing
learning opportunities, materials, hints, and clues when a child has difficulty with a task. Once the
child has developed and doesn't have the same difficulty as before, the parents 'remove' the scaffolding
and allow the children to take more of a lead. Positive stimulation, such as responsiveness, during the
first 3 years of life is a specific form of scaffolding. That responsiveness could be something as simple
as reacting when the infant calls for attention, or being simply responding when the child is trying to
show the adult something particular. Another form of scaffolding is joint attention. This specific
version happen when both the parent/caregiver and infant are focused on the same object. Playing
together in this fashion shows the child that there is somebody who is focused on them and their
activities, and leads to improved communication skills in infants. Using material environment, such as
toys and books, is another method of scaffolding that parents can use to improve their child's mental
development. Specifically, toys that provide challenges to the children, but allow the child to progress
to overcoming that challenge, are great. Having a parent read to their child broadens their knowledge,
in addition to developing the child's own reading skills. When using this method, the most important
aspect, even more important than the amount of books/toys, is quality parental involvement. The social
and cultural dynamics that a child is brought up in has many effects, both positive and negative, on the
child's development and future.
Define Phonology, Semantics, and Syntax:
We will discuss the definitions of phonology, semantics, and syntax. We will also look at the

way that these communication and grammar techniques are used with infants. We will discuss
how these words are incorporated within the level of speech. We will focus on sentences and the
way in which infants perceive adults sentences.

The methods used to study language development in infants:

We will discuss the way one must study language development in infants through observing,
recording, and analyzing. We will then talk a little more in depth about parents recording and
writing in diaries. As we all might know diaries can be quite detailed, informative, and thought
provoking. We will look at how parents perceive their children as they write in their diaries and
how speech is more sophisticated than it sound.
Infant-directed speech, turn-taking, and gestures contribute to language development during
First we will discuss the definition and application of each category. Infant-directed speech
consists of rhythm and tone, simplification, redundancy, special form of words, and more
limited content. Turn-taking is contributed to language development during infancy, because it
teaches our children proper manners. We will discuss how infants can learn how to apply turn
taking while playing or talking with parents. Finally, gestures, is a form of non-verbal
communication. Through this section we will discuss how gestures are used to support spoken
language. We will discuss how infants apply the gestures the parents use to objects to label
them. We want everyone to realize and understand that these strategies elicit the babys
attention, change the babys state of arousal, communicate emotion, and facilitate language
Stages of sound production in infancy:
We will talk about the three stages in early verbal development that infants pass through from
prelinguistic which represents crying and babbling, one-word stage which consists of an infant
learning one word and using it in a variety of ways, and multiword stage which exhibits the
infant increasing his or her vocabulary. Through these stages we will give examples to help our
peers with better understanding of how each stage properly affects the infants lives and help
them develop. After this we will talk about the benefits of this knowledge on our mission as
youth development leaders to help encourage parents as well as children.