Cognitive Development

“Children are naturally curious” (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2010, p. 98), and that is a good thing. The authors are describing a premise of Piagets theory of childhood cognition development. Piaget’s theory is based stages of adaptive learning and identifies stages associated with key development: infancy, school age, preteen, and adolescence. According to Piaget, in infancy, cognition is very basic and focused on sensorimotor schemes that the child forms based on experiences. As the child ages, Piaget claimed, these schemes become more complex. During school age, children start to form schemes based less on function and more on appearance. Preteens, on the other hand, start to understand emotion, individualism, and relative constructs. Adolescents build upon these relative constructs adding abstract thought processes which continues to build their problem solving skills well into adulthood. Vygotsky’s theory of cultural impact on cognitive development stresses that the individual and the environment are interactive, and this interaction has an impact on learning. Scaffolding, or building on information already known, effectively identifies where instruction is needed. Coupling Piaget’s understanding of cognition development with Vygotsky’s understanding of learning environments, a focused efficiency in teaching could be attained.

As we age, though, physiologic neural processing slows and the brain atrophies (Thibault, Gant, & Landfield, 2007). These changes cause information processing to slow bidirectionally, that is as input and output, and accelerates a functional decline in brain activity as we age. This is not a reversal of development but a systematic failure of physiologic processes. The effects of aging on brain tissue directly effect cognition as neural networks of synapses breakdown. Though this process is inevitable, researchers suggest certain diets and moderate exercise that can mediate the damaging effects of aging on cognition (Bugg & Head, 2009; Gómez-Pinilla, 2008).


Bugg, J. M. & Head, D. (2009). Exercise moderates age-related atrophy of the medial temporal lobe. Neurobiology of Aging. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2009.03.008

Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421

Kail, R. V. & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2010) Aging: A lifespan view (Laureate custom ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Thibault, O., Gant, J. C., & Landfield, P. W. (2007). Expansion of the calcium hypothesis of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease: Minding the store. Aging Cell, 6(3), 307-317. doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2007.00295.x