The Brain and Cognitive Development
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

The term cognitive refers to the abilities of the mind: thinking, deliberating, sorting, recognizing, and so on. Here's a little history of psychology and sociology on this concept.

Social Scientific Thinking: Around 1850 the scientific world began thinking about the human mind as an organ (moving away from the heart as the prime mover of behavior). This resulted in Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality development, among many other theories.  Around this time, Charles Darwin began to publish work dealing with the evolution of species - an idea that was borrowed and popularized by Herbert Spencer to explain the way in which entire societies evolved or developed. 

About 1930, George Herbert Mead devised his notions about personality development - with a strong social component - later to be termed symbolic interaction theory. He postulated that the human mind could only develop in a distinctly human way by having its owner interact with other human beings. In other words, we all think a lot alike because we learn to think from like minded folk: A precursor to Cognitive Development Theory , Mead's theories stated that we move through a series of stages from infancy on the way to adulthood.

During these stages of personality development, we are absorbing the information in the environment around us, most specifically through interaction with other human beings.These people (significant others) explain behavioral expectations to us,demand obedience from us,teach us the way to act out our lives.

Taking the Role of the Generalized Other: We learn to be fit candidates for social interaction via regular socialization processes provided by our culture. George Herbert Mead described these processes in his notion of  Taking the Role of the Generalized Other, which is one of the first stage theories to come after Freud, and an alternative to Psychoanalytic Theory :

Freud's model of personality development has been characterized as the "iceberg", with the conscious part barely sticking up out of the water, the preciousness part (the Ego and Superego) just under the surface,  the unconscious part (the ID) being mostly submerged and difficult to access.

If one were to draw Mead's idea of personality, it would have the Inner Self (the "I") residing in the safety of a circle that is surrounded by bits of armor he would call roles.  In early life, there are no roles, leaving the individual completely at the mercy of the social world. Over time, and through social interaction after the acquisition of language, roles are developed one by one and constantly developed and honed through practice (playing roles). At some point, the preponderance of common characteristics of all the roles gels into a generalized, acceptable social personality with the ability to change function and form as the social world demands.

  • Stage 1 is the Egocentric Stage 0-2 or 3 years - The individual is all "me". Here the infant, having yet to acquire language skills, is a needful entity with a powerful intellect. At birth, the infant only knows the feelings/sensations of its "here and now" existence - hunger, thirst, comfort, pleasure, and pain. Quickly, the infant learns from caregivers to use symbolic speech to transmit its wishes to caregivers.

  • Stage 2 is the Play Stage 2 or 3 to 7 years - Here the toddler is beginning to use symbolic speech in ever increasingly complex ways. From the world around him/her, the toddler associates the social elements that go together to form a social role. Through Play, the child imagines social relationships and acts them out (i.e., playing cowboys, hospital, dolls, house, or games). By the end of the Play Stage, the child is able to bring off solid imitations of favorite cultural icons, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers. They understand that to be a real Power Ranger, one needs a uniform, super powers, and an attitude! (In my childhood, Superman was the nuts! My repertoire of play roles included a highly developed Superman, complete with a sensitivity to kryptonite, x-ray vision, and powers of flight! There was also the attitudes and values of a Super-hero: truth, justice and the American way - tell no lies - get crooks - be polite!) Our parents, grandparents, teachers and many others help us understand which words and symbols mean important things. You remember the saying "Sticks and Stones ... but words will never hurt me!" Try the "f" word at six years old in front of your mother and see if that old saying is true!

  • Stage 3 is the Game Stage 7 to the end of life - Over time the various play roles provided by the culture converge in the mind of the developing individual. They have things in common - in fact, our play roles have a lot in common with just being a good citizen! This core set of behavior expectations, values and attitudes form what Mead called the Generalized Other. In the game stage, while play is still very viable, we are often called upon to be proper society members.
Most of us are polite and caring citizens because of very pragmatic, learned reasons:
    • The roles we play demand it
    • Our socialization agents (parents, teachers, etc.) demand it
    • We get what we want quicker if we do it   
In fact, we slowly come to realize that "proper behavior in public" is the same for everybody.  We soon know what a "Good Mother" acts like, what a "teacher" is supposed to do and say, what a "police officer" really means acts like, and what a "kid" is obliged to say when he/she receives a gift (i.e., Mom: "What are you supposed to say?" Kid:"Thank you." By accepting the Role of the Generalized Other, we always know how to behave - in general, as Mead explains it, because of the process of the I-me Dialectic (above).

    Around 1950, the American psychological community bought into a new idea based on the old idea of Operant Conditioning, also known as Behavioral Psychology or Stimulus Response - the major proponent of which was B.F. Skinner. Skinner's point, in opposition to the cognitive emphasis, was that there was no need to understand how the mind works, or cognates, as long as we are able to manipulate behaviors as we want, sometimes referred to as Black Box Psychology, or Stimulus ---> Black Box ---> Response

    The black box stood for the subject's ability to think - all unseen and inferred constructs pertaining to cognitive activity, but the mental functions were seen as unimportant compared to illiciting the desired response. For Skinnerian's the only measurable factors are Stimuli (actions) and Responses (behaviors). Given the right stimulus, any response could be elicited. And in closed, or "total" environments, such as prisons, boarding schools, special military units, and cloisters, it works pretty well, but not out here in the free and open society in which we grow and develop.

    As it turns out, in about 1963, Piaget emerged from the social science shadows to say that there was plenty of important stuff going on inside the black box. In fact, if we (as a society) are interested in getting the most out of each individual's potential value, we have to attend to the environmental factors that nurture that potential. Inside the box, there are expectations, insights, attention, memory, plans, imagery, problem solving, decision making, thinking, fun seeking avenues of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll - plenty of stuff!

Piaget's view of cognitive development:

Individuals go though stages of development where their cognitive abilities are sharpened, enhanced, and strengthened. He calls these stages Operations, or Mental actions. There are four:

  1. Sensorimotor stage - 0-2 years
  2. Preoperational Stage 2-7 years
  3. Concrete Operations 7-11 years. Here operations are reversible, i.e., a wad of clay can be mashed into several shapes, all having the same amount of clay in them. Concrete thinkers can concentrate on more than one property of objects and concepts, but the concepts must be physical in nature. Conservation is achieved in the individual's mastery of number, length, liquid quantity, mass, weight, and volume. Classification of objects into subsets while maintaining their interrelatedness is also an element of concrete operations.
During middle childhood, and individuals are in Piaget's Concrete Operations stage of cognitive development. Here thought is logical, flexible, and organized in it’s application of concrete information.  The capacity for abstract thinking is not yet present. The ability to execute conservation tasks is a clear indicator of this stage, which includes the abilities of Decentration (he ability to focus on several aspects of a problem at once and relate them to each other) and Reversibility (the ability to mentally go through a series of steps in a problem and then reverse the direction, returning to the starting point).

Characteristics of the Concrete Operational Stage in Middle Childhood
  • Seriation—the ability to order items along a quantitative dimension, such as length or width.
  • Transitive Inference—the ability to seriate or order items along a quantitative dimension—mentally.
  • Spatial Reasoning—By age 8 to 10, children can give well organized directions to important places.
  • Horizontal Decalage - the temporary inability to transfer learning about one type of conservation to other types. For example, a child might understand conservation as it relates to clay shapes, but not water, or other aspects of the physical world.
Formal Operations begin around 11-16 years-of-age, just about the time that puberty and adolescence begins. The ability to think in Abstract terms marks the difference from concrete. In formal operations, we can conjure up make believe situations, events that are strictly hypothetical, and imagine the consequences of those make-believe situations. We can (and do) even think thoughts about thinking thoughts. Idealism is a part of formal operations, in which we are able to imagine a perfect world despite knowing such a place is impossible. We are able to see that things are different from the way they are supposed to be ideally. Some typical cognitive abilities associated with formal operations:
    • Flights of fantasy - we can produce, in our minds, long scenarios about life and love and being all knowing, all powerful. Boys tend to think they are powerful and wise right up until the very moment they fail.
    • Hypothetical Deductive - Logical Reasoning: This is hypothesis testing. "Suppose I ask Suzy out for a date this weekend. How will it go? I'll call ... She'll probably say...then I'll say...
      Conditional Relationships: If P, then Q. If I ask Jenny to be my girlfriend, she'll probably laugh in my face.
      Falsification strategies: To test a hypothesis, one has to find situations in which it could be proven wrong.
      Non-verification insights: Even if we can't find any situations where the hypothesis fails, it still might.
      Literal Interpretations of rules: All this can be conducted mentally without any actual experience.
      Advanced Understanding of Language/Advanced Language Facility  by developing capacity for using and understanding:

      • metaphors - She was a fox.
      • satire - ironic turns of fate, making fun of serious things.
      • nicknames - Fuzzy, Two Toes, Butch, El Train, Stinky
      • A wider range of words to describe emotional states. I am wasted, shredded, totally devastated, seriously deranged, basically spazzed, completely wadded and bunged.
      • Increased ability to detect sarcasm, deceit, sincerity

    Advanced Pragmatism
    in the use of language: bordering on manipulation, teens are learning to use conversation and behavior to move others over to their way of thinking.
    Instead of "Dad, could you take me to the mall on Saturday?"
    it becomes, "Dad, ole pal. The greatest Dad in the world- Do you have any plans on Saturday?"


    1. taking turns in discussions, Goonies vs. breakfast club
    2. using questions to convey commands
    3. using words to enhance understanding, - place emphasis: awesome, devastating, radically underwhelmed, etc.
    4. conversation is appropriate to the situation, polite, carefully worded and cooperative when goals are to be achieved.
    5. stories and jokes become more complex, intricate.

    Perspective Taking
    - empathy is an element of Formal Operations. - the ability to see another person's point of view.
In Piaget’s Formal Operational Thought during adolescence (ages 12 - 15) - The stage of Hypothetical-Deductive Reasoning means we are no longer limited to the concrete variables for reasoning, we are now open to metaphysical variables
Abstract idealistic and logical thoughts allow us to now explore problem-solving through mental reasoning, And we can now think more critically about the self.  Introspection becomes most insightful.  Metacognition becomes more conscious.

Some Cognitive Developmental Theorists purport that formal reasoning is a progression of two stages:
  1. Early Formal Operation Thought.  Adolescents new found ability to think in hypothetical ways produces unconstrained thoughts with unlimited possibilities.
  2. Late Formal Operation Thought.  Adolescents begin to balance their reasoning with the realities of life experience and draw/commit to realistic conclusions or solutions to problems.
David Elkind and Cognitive Reasoning - There are implications for both cognition and social-emotional development in adolescents.  The discovery of these new found cognitive capabilities are both intrusive and can be exciting to adolescents, who are often motivated to debate and explore issues by which they have invested interests and are now increasingly aware and capable of questioning the infallibility of their parents and other authority figures.  Examples are: the Hurried Child Syndrome, Imaginary Audience, and the Personal Fable

    Wisdom - a fifth stage of cognitive development, it is a broad interpretive knowledge, involving understanding of the limits and conditions of life and living - mortality, health, physical capacity, emotional range, social constraints, and personal talents. This stage can be the cognitive transition from adolescence to adulthood. While adolescents and adults think qualitatively similar, adults possess greater quantitative knowledge that they often may take for granted. They just know things sometimes and can take cognitive shortcuts.

    Realistic and Pragmatic Thinking.  As adolescents enter the workforce, the realities of life, responsibility, and work stimulates a change in cognitive reasoning.

    Reflective and Relativistic Thinking (Post Formal Thinking).  Adolescents view the world across the polarities of right/wrong or good/bad.  Adults begin to process exceptions to the rule….They begin to see the context of gray.

The Value of Piaget's Theories
    1. Indicates what to look for in cog. development.

    2. Points out ways education can enhance cog. development of all kids.

    3. Defines capabilities that limit learning during development.

    4. Shows that changes in mental activity are qualitative as well as quantitative.

    5. Offers an alternative to "statistical testing" for intelligence.

Social Cognition - Moving from the cognitive development to the social development of individuals. Social cognition (social intelligence) develops right along side increases in cognitive abilities - and refers to the ability to reason about oneself in relation to others, about others and their place in one's network of friends. It involves a new sense of self, apart from relationships in family. to relationships with others (specifically and in general).

Vygotsky's theoretical contribution grounds cognitive theory in the reality of a changing culture and society.
  • Cognitive development is a function of cultural context and cultural exchange
  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The range of task that is too difficult for an individual to master alone but can mastered with the guidance and assistance of adults or more skilled peers.
  • Lower Level.  Cognitive expansion which is reached through independent investigation and discovery.
  • Upper Level.  Cognitive expansion which is reached through the assistance of skilled others (Scaffolding).
  • Cultural Agents
  • Cognitive competence (Information Exchange) can be diffused through the following cultural agents.
  • Formal Schooling would be one form of such cultural assistance to mastery, as would parents, peers and other members of the community, as well as changes in technology and ideology as the individual matures.
  • The self-generation and self-monitoring of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reach a goal.
  • Characteristics of self regulated learners
  • Set goals for extending their knowledge and sustaining their motivation.
  • Are aware of their emotional makeup and have strategies for managing their emotion.
  • Periodically monitor their progress towards goals.
  • Fine –tune or revise strategies based on the progress.
  • Evaluate obstacle that arise and make the necessary adaptation.
The Testing Ground of Formal Reasoning - 50% of freshmen college students are still functioning primarily on a concrete operational level.  Perhaps Horizontal Decalage seeks expression even at this stage.
Each year, over a million high school students drop out.  They can expect to earn $6,000 less than high school graduates.   Boys are more likely to drop out than girls. Adolescents from more ethnically diverse backgrounds are more likely to drop out than Caucasian youth.  Distinctions become insignificant when we control for socioeconomic status. Between1940 and 1990, the percentage of students completing high school increased from 44% to 85% - what could be the reasons for this change? G.H. Mead - The development of the Generalized Other fits right in here.

Piaget noted the importance of Accommodation and Assimilation of information.  Beginning with a set of facts, the adolescent is able to "put" new ideas, that sometimes do not fit, into his or her repertoire of ideas.

Cognitive equilibrium and Abstract relations: With formal operations one is now able to hold two conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time. It is painful to do so, and the individual will work to resolve the conflict, but it is possible to think all of the following for an adolesent: you are a great kid, your biology grades are the pits, we love you very much, you are often very annoying.

Such a realization may cause enough uncomfortable feelings to cancel out one or the other statement. The well-adjusted adolescent will be able to live with the dichotomy long enough to resolve it.

Egocentrism - unlike the Mead term, here we mean that all eyes are on us, Everybody knows what we have done. We get a pimple in the middle of our forehead and it shines like a very large ruby. The imaginary audience suggests the belief that other people are as preoccupied with the adolescent's behavior as he or she is. The desire to be noticed, visible and on stage.

    1. the abiding self - adolescent's willingness to reveal characteristics of the self that are believed to be permanent or stable - temperament, coolness, easy going nature.
    2. the transient self- features that are believed to vary over time or that seem to occur once in a while but are not really part of the true self.
The Personal Fable - adolescent's sense of personal uniqueness and (perhaps) indestructibility. NO one can really understand what it feels like to be 16 and in love. Adolescent's live in an imaginary world most of the time. If they were older, we would label them insane - out of touch with reality. This is all part of the emerging status in formal operations, where the ability to reason is developed without a complete set of "facts" or beliefs.

Role taking - from complete egocentrism to infanthood to the ability to completely empathize with others in adulthood, the ability to take the perspective of the other is learned incrementally and is based on experience with others. Elements of Role taking include:

    1. Impression formation - the formation of concepts about one's self - about others - and about relationships with others.
    2. Differentiation - the more differentiated the individual's concepts are, the more cognitively mature he is. A wider variety of categories is used. Inference or the interpretation of feelings. As age increases, this ability increases.
    3. Organization - as one progresses toward formal operations, old ideas are reformulated to fit into newly formed structures. Social Monitoring: I-me Dialectic.
The Importance of Social Interaction in Cognitive Development
    A. Society allows very little deviance in the individual's who are competing for full membership. The more important the position in society, the more narrow the latitudes for departure from social norms or role behavior defining that position.

    Socially, we attempt to participate fully in our society through all five of the major institutions:

    Individually, according to Mead and his minions, we all develop a set of expectations about ourselves and others which guides our behavior in almost all social settings - official and unofficial, primary and secondary, at home or at work.

    Each time we enter a new social situation (Sunday School, Junior High, first date, etc.), we use the information we already possess, coupled with new information coming to us, to define the new situation and our place in it.

    Each new social role is rehearsed and honed until it passes the approval of our audiences.
    By its social definition, each new role is dependent on the actions of others as well as ourselves.

    Infants are Egocentric (Selfish) Adults are contrived Along the way of maturation, we We are similar to all develop (learn) a multiplicity others in our expectations of "roles" which allow us to and our needs. Same Culture define our needs and manipulate Same Language, same Media others to have our needs met in Guarantees social normality socially acceptable ways.

    Guaranteed similarity to an extent is mitigated by our unique experience - (i.e., child abuse, travel, quality of parental care, educational experiences, etc.).

    If we, as influential socialization agents, decide to concentrate on the production of individual minds fit for consumption by the economy, we better be sure what elements of thought the economy desires.

      For example, we hold as an Ideal the notion of free thinking individuals, creative and hopeful and brave. American Pragmatist Philosophy maintains that we are independent, self-reliant, free agents. True?

      Does the Information Age Economy really want divergent, creative people? These are not conservative factors. These are the qualities of artists, poets, and revolutionaries (like George Washington, Thomases Paine and Thomas Jefferson - not mechanics, technical writers, and militarists.

    We Monitor our Presentation of Self
      1. The Idea of Role Behavior as Drama, Backstage & Front Stage Behavior.

      2. The I-Me Dialectic - as the behavior we present to others is reviewed, we alter bad performances to achieve the acceptance of others - if we are skilled at empathizing with our audiences.

    The Toll of a Negative Self Concept
    Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the development of an individual is the development of a negative self-concept. It is a way to control the individual - to make you and me believe that we are just normal, nothing special - or worse - we are substandard, too fat, too skinny, too short, ugly hair, pasty skin, or we talk funny, walk funny, aare not very smart, are too smart for our own good. There are agents at work right now, trying to tear down the positive images we have of our abilities and qualities.

    Ever wonder how a relatively plain looking person can have magnetism and grace and charm and wit? Would you go out with someone who really thought they were nothing special.

    Being a Rewarding (not Flattering) Person "Before you can really love another person, you have to love yourself. You must understand that you are the hottest thing on two legs. Those lips, those eyes. Positive self-image comes from accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, not messing with Mr. In Between. We must learn to sincerely love ourselves. Then we can concentrate on others liking us and liking someone else.

    Teenagers have the most difficult time here.

Notes for Information Processing and Intelligence

Information processing theory says that: developmental information processing ability geometrically enhances overall intelligence (enhancements in breadth and depth) and that all human beings process information in the same basic way - like this:

    Similarities to computer information processing (this is just an analogy, and a poor one at that):
      1. hardware - logic circuits, printer, card readers vs. brain, mouth, ears/eyes, nervous system
      2. software - programming -> plans, goals, methods of achievement, socialization.
    Dissimilarities - we are better at thinking than are computers .

    Computers have enormous difficulty with thinking processes that we humans don't:

      • intuitive aspects of thought & reason
      • parallel processing of information
      • parallel problem solving
      • aspects of self-awareness (thinking about thinking)
Adolescent Information Processing:
    Teens spend more time on higher level tasks and are able to focus better than children due to increased experience and knowledge (the old cognitive unfolding principle.).

    In terms of Attention and Memory: Adolescents are better at:

    • selective attention tasks (ignoring some stimuli)
    • divided attention tasks (listening to two things at once)
    • advanced memory capability (can hold more information in short term memory, cramming for exams, larger capacity for long term memory)

    Increased information processing ability also means improvements in the speed of retrieval of information bits in memory, and improvements in the accuracy and precision of the retrieved items. This ability improves throughout adolescence.

    Cognitive Monitoring - the ability to take into account what one is doing and plan the next move or activity. This is the skill necessary to process information, reduce the accommodation time of new concepts, and to become expert problem solvers.

    Efficiency of movement, planning and organization are SKILLS that can be learned by modeling one's behavior after a skilled technician.

    The idea is to impart the skills necessary to be a good problem solver - in both math and science, English and writing, or love and romance.

    However, little time is spent teaching the skills that make up reliable problem solving - either in school, at home or on the street. Those that become good problem solvers are rarely accidental problem solvers - they had good models and uncluttered environments.  In school, we impart factual knowledge (facts that will change over time) instead of teaching students to think and solve problems.
The Nature of Intelligence
    What is it and how is it measured?
    What are the consequences for those who are measured?
Those interested in intelligence (for what ever reason) have attempted to conceptualize it differently: Galton, the first to attempt measurement of intelligence saw it only in terms of reaction time.
    An Important Distinction between Knowledge Possessed & the Process of Solving Problems.
    • One suggests teacher-to-student learning, the other suggests inherent ability and experience.
    • I.Q. tests tend to measure what a person knows - the right answer, not things like speed of processing/adaptation, or ability to come to a logical answer to a complex problem..
    • Standard measures of Intelligence (the psychometric approach) do not predict occupational success very well - which is, ironically, the reason that I.Q. scores are employed in educational systems.
    • Also, psychometricians tend to land on the nature (inheritability) side of the nature/nurture argument - which means that very little can be done to increase the intelligence of any given individual (according to them).
    • Conversely, practicing the process problem solving of leads to the acquisition of knowledge, but individuals are learning theory instead of facts. Practicing geometry proofs does test organizational skills and skills of categorizing and recognizing. But very few students get much past algebra.
Information Processing and Intelligence - 

Binet I.Q. scores (1905) were initially developed to aid in the application education to individual learners. Today, they are often used to categorize the learner. They represent a perfect normal curve, with a mean score of 100 and a standard deviation of 16 points. The scores are artificially maintained at 100, and have been for the past fifty years. Binet attempts to measure I.Q. - along four dimensions:

    1. verbal reasoning
    2. qualitative reasoning
    3. abstract/visual reasoning
    4. short term memory
Binet I.Q. scores, or any other measure of intelligence, do not predict occupation success very well. Nor do they predict academic success beyond high school. Psychometricians tend to argue that genetically determined I.Q.s do exist. This means that very little can be done to increase the intelligence of any give individual

Steinberg believes that intelligence consists of three parts:

  1. Methods of problem solving
  2. Abilities affected by experience
  3. Practical experience
Others, such as Gardner, see at least seven intelligences
  1. verbal intelligence - similar to Binet
  2. spatial intelligence - similar to Binet
  3. math intelligence - similar to Binet
  4. musical intelligence - additional to Binet
  5. body skills intelligence - additional to Binet
  6. social intelligence - additional to Binet
  7. self-knowledge intelligence - additional to Binet
There are social class, racial and ethnic dimensions to traditional I.Q. scores
  • lower class kids measure 10-20 points lower than middle class kids
  • African-American kids measure 10-15 points lower than white kids
  • British kids measure 20-25 points higher than American kids
Are we ready to believe that another country's children are genetically smarter than we are?
If not, we can hardly assume that class and racial/ethnic differences are real either. The problem centers around a social phenomena, not just native intelligence. How can we explain away these differences in what many believe is a true test of intelligence?
    1. There is Cultural bias in I.Q. tests?
    2. There are better approaches to discussing intelligence:
Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence

Creativity and intelligence are not the same thing - creativity is better.  Creativity is linked to divergent thinking (many answers to one problem),  not convergent thinking (one answer to many problems).

Divergent thinkers have word fluency, ideational fluency (classification of words), adaptive flexibility (find new applications of ideas) and originality (uniqueness of thought).

Notes on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
 5% of school age children are diagnosed with ADHD.
Boys tend to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.
Children who are ADHD tend to be cognitively delayed on measures.  Their ease of distractability results in forgetfulness, poor planning, reasoning, and problem-solving, poor impulse control, problems with  cognitive self-regulation.   The process of continuously monitoring progress toward a goal, checking outcomes, and redirecting unsuccessful efforts.

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