Jean Piaget's Cognitive Theory and Skype

A Paper On Theory

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Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory and Skype

 When Jean Piaget proposed his cognitive theory of development Skype had not been created and the conclusions of his theory were limited by the technological environment of his time. With the digital ages influence on contemporary environments his theory needs to be refocused against the environment of his testing which had a direct correlation on his assumptions.  

When considering the introduction of Skype to a child’s environment and its impact on object permanence two factors affecting Piaget's theory need to be addressed: The cognitive development of the child is limited by the technologies of his time; then the consideration of the child’s ability to assimilate the concept of object permanence as it pertains to the object becoming viral and if that introduction produces developmental acceleration.

A typical day in the life of a child when Piaget devised his cognitive theory held little interaction with their environment as opposed to today. Children were thought of as morally tainted and needed constant discipline. Their physical bodies were expected to be exceptionally clean and the efforts of caregivers were focused on a clean body and a clean mind. Included with the child’s environment was time spent apart from the day to day activities of the home. Children did not have the interaction or background noise that a child is ingrained with from birth in the present. The background noises of a household were sounds of domestic maintenance; dishes clattering in the kitchen, rugs beaten by hand from the line,  the sound of coal being added to the coal bin, the delivery of ice from a horse drawn cart and in rare cases the household had electricity, but the addition did little to increase overall noise. The pace of all of these baseline noises was much slower than what a child experiences today. The child’s mind held more time with silence, calm and much less mental stimulation.

Since Piaget proposed that a child’s cognitive development is perceives the interactions of his environment he devised a time frame of development that would support the day to day lifestyle of that child.  This propelled him to his conclusion that a child enters the sensorimotor stage which is present at birth and is fully developed between eighteen to twenty four months and that the preoperational stage ranges from eighteen to twenty four months and is fully developed by age seven.   

The assumption that Piaget was limited in his time frame conclusion of object permanence is further demonstrated by Baillargeon and DeVos (1991). They were able to determine that a child as young as three and a half months understood that objects when not in view still existed. Their testing methods placed familiar objects-toy mouse, car, and carrots on a trajectory that was partially hidden by a screen then the objects were manipulated in such a way to have the child experience the objects in full view, hidden behind a screen, then presented in full view again.  Baillargeon and Devos also manipulated the expectation of the objects-they set the car to run through the screen unencumbered then they set the mouse in front of the path of the car so it appeared to run through the mouse.  Baillargeon and Devos used two carrots of differing size and ran them along the same type of trajectory used with the toy mouse and car. They altered the expectations by adding a window to the screen. The assumption being that the shorter carrot would not be seen through the window as it ran along the trajectory, but the taller carrot would. When each carrot was ran along the path and the taller carrot was manipulated to not appear in the window the children stared longer at the screen with the expectation that the taller carrot would appear in the window as it followed the trajectory. The children stared longest at the unexpected event, that being the illogical one. This led to the conclusion that children were able to predict the outcome of an object along a trajectory and they were surprised when this expectation was not met. Baillargeon and Devos concluded that object permanence existed.

Obviously, the child was not physically developed yet to uncover the object and confirm for themselves that it existed, but the rudimentary conclusion of object permanence was proposed. As this test may have determined the presence of object permanence it did not address the mental capacity of the child of 1991 versus the child in the 1920’s when Piaget formed his theory of cognitive development. The argument being that a child was not able to assimilate object permanence in the 1920’s at a much earlier age than Piaget proposed because their schema was not yet formed to accommodate it due to the   technological influence of their time.

The concept of object permanence being influenced by technological interaction is considered in the lifestyle of children with reduced exposure to the digital age. While Baillargeon and Devos proposed that object permanence developed at a much earlier age than Piaget concluded, children in poverty stricken areas were delayed in their development of object permanence.  A disadvantaged child may progress through object permanence after twenty four months instead of the eighteen to twenty four months.  This same type of conclusion can be drawn cross culturally. If a culture limits the child’s experiences or the culture does not provide technological exposure, the child will progress through Piaget’s stages and experience object permanence at a later age. The argument becomes what are the influences that propel progression of Piaget’s cognitive theory from one stage to the next and not whether Piaget was correct in his time frame conclusions.  

If the pace of a child’s cognitive development is directly related to the density of their interactions then the assumption could be made that object permanence may be developmentally accelerated. Baillargeon and DeVos (1991) determined that object permanence occurred earlier than proposed by Piaget and disadvantaged children exhibited a lesser progression through Piaget’s stages of development; logic would dictate that the arrival at object permanence is directly related to the child’s exposure to the specific environment that promotes the channels of learning to occur. 

As opposed to the child’s environment during Piaget’s discoveries, the child of today is bombarded continually with mental stimulation from ancillary exposure to technology. Whether in the day care setting, being cared for at home or a combination of the two, the day in the life of a child involves eavesdropping on cell phone conversations, the clicking sound  of texting, visual cues from computers screens, the DVD player in the van, and background noise from television; the exposure is saturated. These mechanisms of interaction are not interactive for the child; they occur randomly whether the child is aware of them or not. The significance of the exposure is that even though the child does not actively interact with the technologies their brain reacts to them.

The question becomes can a child in the object permanence stage transfer the assimilation of object permanence to Skype? Once the child has exhibited their mastery over object permanence, that is, the child will uncover an object when covered with a blanket or they display mastery over the peek-a-boo game. Would the child experience the same kind of understanding if the caregiver left the room, and reappeared on the computer screen using Skype? 

One way to test this is to gauge the child’s reaction when they view the caregiver on the screen. It is important to determine if the child’s interest is not the natural curiosity a child of this age displays. The interest in the computer would be less engaged if they did not connect that the image on the screen is the caregiver that was removed from the room.  If it is determined that the child has assimilated the image on the screen as the caregiver, the computer would then be turned off. Gauging the child’s reaction to determine object permanence would be similar to the peek-a-boo game. The child would maintain eye contact with the blank screen waiting for the caregiver to reappear. When the caregiver reappears the child would have the positive reaction they displayed in peek-a-boo.

 It is important to note that children experience two levels of object permamance. Near the end of the sensorimotor stage a child will uncover a ball under a blanket, but if the ball is removed and placed behind a chair they will continue to look for it under the blanket. Well into the preoperational stage the child will search the room for the missing object. The child’s reaction when the Skype screen is closed would determine what stage of object permamance they are experiencing.

 If the child continues to stare at the screen they are in the initial stages of understanding object permanence. If they look behind the computer screen or display other actions looking for the caregiver then they are at the end stage of object permamance.  The abstract concept of the Skype screen would present an argument that the child has acquired some of the tendencies of a much later stage of development and possibly they have achieved conservation.

 For the child to assimilate that the caregiver maintained object permanent by changing forms, that is, was transformed from the physical world and then inserted into the viral one would support the work of Baillargeon and Devos: children may develop later stages of Piaget’s cognitive development much earlier than he proposed. This advancement then is directly related to the exposure of technologies that were not present when Piaget developed his theory.

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