There are five broad questions
that cognitive psychology addresses when looking at cognitive
development. These include: What kind of cognitive
abilities does a newborn have? At what age do we begin to show
certain cognitive abilities? Are there critical periods in development
when these skills must be acquired? What causes differences in
peoples cognitive skills? What is the bigger influence - environment
or biological influences? Is development stagelike or smooth?
Is development an all over process or do specific areas develop
faster than others?
The two main concepts in cognitive
development is maturation and learning. Maturation is any permanent
change in thought or behaviour that occur through the biological
process of aging without regard to environmental influences. Learning
is any relatively permanent change in thinking or behaviour that
is a result of experience. Maturation is programmed - it will
happen regardless of the environment. Things that occur through
maturation include reflexes. Learning will only take place is
an individual has a particular experience. The question of maturation
versus learning is an age old debate - but today most psychologists
believe that maturation and learning influence cognitive ability.
We may be born with a particular biological capability, but the
extent to which it will be brought out depends on the environmental
cues we are exposed to. Certain environments may bring out different
The next question that concerns
psychologists is whether development occurs in a series of stages
or whether it is a continuous progression that gradually unfolds.
Stages occur in a sequence - one must happen before the other
can, for example crawling before walking and language development.
Each stage is associated with a specific set of abilities used
in thinking. Therefore, when in a certain stage a child will think
and reason differently than if they were in a different stage.
Given these characteristics of stages - do children exhibit stage-like
development? Different psychologists believe different things.
And those that believe that stages do exist also realize that
these stages are not clear cut.
The third controversial question
addresses whether development occurs generally through out the
brain or whether certain specific areas develop at different paces.
For example, does a child learn how to remember the alphabet at
the same time they learn to remember numbers? Since the 1970's
many psychologists have come to believe that the brain develops
in specific areas rather than generally.
The next question that psychologists
are concerned with is what ages do infants; children and adults
demonstrate various kinds of thought and behaviours? It is important
to know this as we need to know the normal stages of a child's
development and what they should know when. The age that a child
first acquires motor skills does not predict later intelligence;
however, the one thing that does predict this is an infant's preference
for novelty - stimulus that is moderately different from that
that they already know. Most developmental psychologists would
agree that the key to understanding cognitive development
is not the identification of the specific stages that a child
will acquire new skills, but rather an understanding of how there
abilities progress and unfold.