Inside the Mind of a Child

Piaget was a famous psychology theorist who proposed that children develop certain skills at different ages and recently we covered his theory in my AP Psychology class. To me, it was fascinating to look at the world from the perspective of children at different ages. According to Piaget, all human go through four stages: Sensorimotor (0-2), Preoperational (2-6), Concrete Operational (7-11), and Formal Operational (12 and up). Various different abilities fall into each of these stages. A few that we learned about are

  • object permanence: Understanding that an object still exists, even if it isn’t currently visible
  • conservation of matter: a quantity remains the same even if its shape changes
  • egocentrism: everything revolves around you

Over the years, psychologists have developed a series of tests to confirm Piaget’s theory. After having learned about all these different ideas, my AP Psychology class was very excited to test the theory ourselves. So on Friday, three kids came to our class and were subjected to various tests.

To test object permanence, we showed the children a puppet and then hid the puppet behind our back. Infants younger than 6 months old were fascinated. Unable to understand that the puppet was simply behind someone’s back, the infants truly believed that the puppet had disappeared. This explains why infants find peek-a-boo and similar games highly amusing.

For conservation of matter, we had three beakers. Two were the same size, and the third one was taller and skinnier. After filling the two same-sized beakers with equal amounts of water, we asked the kids if the kids if the amount of water in the beakers was equal or not. To this question, all the kids answered that the amount of water was equal. We then proceeded to pour the water in one of the beakers into the taller, skinnier beaker. When asked the same question again, most kids under the age of 6 said that the taller beaker had more water, despite having seen that no water was added in the process. This lack of conservation of matter often explains why children complain about getting less. If there are two slices of pizza that are the same size, children under the age of 6 will think that the slice cut into 6 pieces is bigger than the same slice cut into 3 pieces.

Lastly we checked ego-centrism. This characteristic slowly fades away in children until they are six, so there are many tests for the level of ego-centrism. If I were to ask a 1 year-old to show me a picture they drew, they would most likely hold up the picture facing themselves. The 1 year-old would fail to understand that I couldn’t see the picture even though she could. If I were to ask a 5 year old if they had a sibling, they would say yes. But if I were to ask that same 5 year old if their sibling had a sibling, they would answer no unable to understand that if Sally has a brother Joe, Joe then has a sister Sally.

It was really interesting to see the world from the view point of a child, and understanding this theory helped me understand all the quirky and ‘annoying’ things little kids do.

If you would like to see a video of the Piaget theory being tested, there is a video below!

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