Psychology – Cognitive




Availability Heuristics

Representativeness Heuristics


Mental Set



Framing Prototype

Belief Bias

Language Acquisition Device (LAD)


Concepts Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)


Confirmation Bias

Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis Top-Down Processing

Deductive Reasoning

Metacognition Bottom-Up Processing
Inductive Reasoning Morpheme


Convergent Thinking

Phoneme Heuristics
Functional Fixedness Trial-and-Error




Cognitive psychology is a relatively young branch of psychology, yet it has quickly grown to become one of the most popular sub-fields. Topics such as learning styles, attention, memory, forgetting, and language acquisition are just a few of the practical applications for this science.

Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes including how people think, perceive, remember, and learn. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics.

The core focus of cognitive psychology is on how people acquire, process and store information. There are numerous practical applications for cognitive research, such as improving memory, increasing decision-making accuracy, and structuring educational curricula to enhance learning.

Until the 1950s, behaviorism was the dominant school of thought in psychology. Between 1950 and 1970, the tide began to shift against behavioral psychology to focus on topics such as attention, memory and problem-solving. Often referred to as the cognitive revolution, this period generated considerable research on topics including processing models, cognitive research methods and the first use of the term “cognitive psychology.”

The term “cognitive psychology” was first used in 1967 by American psychologist Ulric Neisser in his book Cognitive Psychology. According to Neisser, cognition involves “all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. It is concerned with these processes even when they operate in the absence of relevant stimulation, as in images and hallucinations… Given such a sweeping definition, it is apparent that cognition is involved in everything a human being might possibly do; that every psychological phenomenon is a cognitive phenomenon.”

How is Cognitive Psychology Different?

  • Unlike behaviorism, which focuses only on observable behaviors, cognitive psychology is concerned with internal mental states.
  • Unlike psychoanalysis, which relies heavily on subjective perceptions, cognitive psychology uses scientific research methods to study mental processes.

Jean Piaget – Stages of Cognitive Development

According to psychologist Jean Piaget, children progress through a series of four key stages of cognitive development. Each stage is marked by shifts in how kids understand the world. Piaget believed that children are like “little scientists” and that they actively try to explore and make sense of the world around them.

Through his observations of his own children, Piaget developed a stage theory of intellectual development that included four distinct stages: the sensorimotor stage, from birth to age 2; the preoperational stage, from age 2 to about age 7; the concrete operational stage, from age 7 to 11; and the formal operational stage, which begins in adolescence and spans into adulthood.

Jean Piaget’s Background

Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland in 1896. After receiving his doctoral degree at age 22, Piaget formally began a career that would have a profound impact on both psychology and education. After working with Alfred Binet, Piaget developed an interest in the intellectual development of children. Based upon his observations, he concluded that children were not less intelligent than adults, they simply think differently. Albert Einstein called Piaget’s discovery “so simple only a genius could have thought of it.”

Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children. Cognitive development involves changes in cognitive process and abilities. In Piaget’s view, early cognitive development involves processes based upon actions and later progresses into changes in mental operations.

A Quick Summary of Cognitive Development

  • The Sensorimotor Stage: During this stage, infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.
  • The Preoperational Stage: At this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people.
  • The Concrete Operational Stage: Kids at this point of development begin to think more logically, but their thinking can also be very rigid. They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts.
  • The Formal Operational Stage: The final stage of Piaget’s theory involves an increase in logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas.

It is important to note that Piaget did not view children’s intellectual development at a quantitative process; that is, kids do not just add more information and knowledge to their existing knowledge as they get older. Instead, Piaget suggested that there is a qualitative change in how children think as they gradually process through these four stages. A child at age 7 doesn’t just have more information about the world than he did at age 2; there is a fundamental change in how he thinks about the world.

In order to better understand some of the things that happen during cognitive development, it is important to first examine a few of the important ideas and concepts introduced by Piaget. The following are some of the factors that influence how children learn and grow:

Key Concepts

  • Schemas – A schema describes both the mental and physical actions involved in understanding and knowing. Schemas are categories of knowledge that help us to interpret and understand the world.In Piaget’s view, a schema includes both a category of knowledge and the process of obtaining that knowledge. As experiences happen, this new information is used to modify, add to, or change previously existing schemas.For example, a child may have a schema about a type of animal, such as a dog. If the child’s sole experience has been with small dogs, a child might believe that all dogs are small, furry, and have four legs. Suppose then that the child encounters a very large dog. The child will take in this new information, modifying the previously existing schema to include these new observations.
  • Assimilation – The process of taking in new information into our previously existing schemas is known as assimilation. The process is somewhat subjective, because we tend to modify experiences and information somewhat to fit in with our preexisting beliefs. In the example above, seeing a dog and labeling it “dog” is an example of assimilating the animal into the child’s dog schema.
  • Accommodation – Another part of adaptation involves changing or altering our existing schemas in light of new information, a process known as accommodation. Accommodation involves altering existing schemas, or ideas, as a result of new information or new experiences. New schemas may also be developed during this process.
  • Equilibration – Piaget believed that all children try to strike a balance between assimilation and accommodation, which is achieved through a mechanism Piaget called equilibration. As children progress through the stages of cognitive development, it is important to maintain a balance between applying previous knowledge (assimilation) and changing behavior to account for new knowledge (accommodation). Equilibration helps explain how children are able to move from one stage of thought into the next.


Two of the most recognized cognitive psychologists, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, developed theories that addressed cognitive development and learning among children and adolescents. While there are similarities between the two theories, differences exist, and those differences are critical to the understanding and application of the theories in educational settings. This lesson will highlight those major differences.


Jean Piaget: ‘My theory of cognitive development is comprehensive and is the only perspective that should be viewed as correct!’

Lev Vygotsky: ‘I disagree. My theory of cognitive development is the obvious choice for explaining how a child learns and develops.’

Hmm, it appears that we have a difference of opinion here. There may be no right or wrong theory of cognitive development, but there are definitely differences between Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Lev Vygotksy’s cultural-historical theory. This lesson will identify those similarities and differences.

Piaget’s Theory
Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development described and explained the changes in logical thinking of children and adolescents. Piaget proposed that children proceed through four stages based on maturation and experience.
Piaget’s theory is guided by assumptions of how learners interact with their environment and how they integrate new knowledge and information into existing knowledge. Briefly, he proposed that:

  1. children are active learners who construct knowledge from their environments
  2. they learn through assimilation and accommodation, and complex cognitive development occurs through equilibration
  3. the interaction with physical and social environments is key for cognitive development
  4. development occurs in stages

Vygotsky’s Theory
Lev Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory focused on the role of culture and social interactions. Vygotsky maintained that speech is a major psychological tool in the child’s development of thinking. As children age and develop, their basic speech becomes more complex.

Vygotksy’s theory is guided by six major assumptions:

  1. children develop through informal and formal conversations with adults
  2. the first few years of life are critical for development, as this is where thought and language become increasingly independent
  3. complex mental activities begin as basic social activities
  4. children can perform more difficult tasks with the help of a more advanced individual
  5. tasks that are challenging promote cognitive development growth
  6. play is important and allows children to stretch themselves cognitively


Vygotsky and Piaget have similarities between their two theories of cognitive development. There are also several differences. Let’s see how these two psychologists differed and agreed on the cognitive development of children and adolescents.

Piaget: ‘I think the development occurs because the child is an active learner. The child must actively organize new information with existing information to obtain a state of equilibrium.’

Vygotsky: ‘I agree! Children are actively involved in the learning and development process because they provide feedback to the adult or teacher about their level of understanding.’

Piaget: ‘I also believe that development declines with age.’

Vygotsky: ‘Yes, agreed. There is a steady increase of development in childhood; then cognitive development declines.’

Piaget: ‘I propose that development may be initiated by cognitive conflict. For example, when a child realizes a new idea does not align with his current thinking or prior knowledge, he will seek out the correct answers in order to align his thinking.’

Vygotsky: ‘I definitely agree with that idea.’

Piaget: ‘Ah, how do you feel about egocentric speech? You know, the speech from a child that is not addressed to other people but helps the child move through an activity or problem. I feel that egocentric speech is important to the cognitive development of a child.’

Vygotsky: ‘I agree with you that egocentric speech is important, but I think we may have differing views on why.’


Piaget: ‘I feel that development precedes learning.’


ESSAY Questions:

  1. Difference between centration and conservation? Use examples
  2. What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s development?
  3. Explain the differences between critical and scientific thinking and describe situations in which you would use each.
  4. Describe what memory is and how it changes throughout the lifespan.
  5. What is Sternberg’s view of intelligence? Describe each.
  6. How does aging effect crystallized and fluid intelligence?
  7. What are IQ tests? Why are IQ tests important?  What do the results show?
  8. What are Gardner’s 8 intelligences?
  9. What are the 5 rules of language and their meanings?
  10. explain the difference between whole language, and phonic, including the benefits and drawbacks of each.  Which would you use to teach your own child and why?
  11. What are the basic processes that all people go through as they learn according to Piaget?
  12. How does development progress, according to Vygotsky? Use an example of the zone of proximal development, and scaffolding.
  13. What is intelligence?  Use at least 2 different theories in your answer.
  14. What should parents consider if their child’s school want to give him or her an IQ test?
  15. Describe as many factors that contribute to IQ as you can.
  16. What should we expect as far as intellectual changes go as we age?
  17. Who is the wisest person you know?  According to research, how did they become wise?
  18. How can we increase our creativity? Why bother trying?
  19. What is language? (Be sure to include all of the rule systems in you answer.)
  20. Describe language development using the interactionist perspective. (Include the universal language milestones.)