Assignment: Preoperational Intelligence

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Assignment: Preoperational Intelligence

Assignment: Preoperational Intelligence

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Assignment: Preoperational Intelligence

Thanks to the emergence of semiotic functioning, cognition at the preoperational stage is no longer limited to the immediate here-and-now, but can re-present objects that are not in the immediate spatio-temporal field. As a result, the interplay between assimilation and accommodation becomes more complex because it involves both perceptual and representational levels of functioning, and thus absent objects as well as present objects. The development of the semiotic function requires that the child laboriously reconstruct on the new representational plane the practical concepts of object, space, causality, and time that had been constructed and only practically understood at the sensorimotor stage; Piaget termed this process of reconstructing concepts at a qualitatively different plane “vertical decalage.”

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The semiotic function manifests itself in a number of different activities such as deferred imitation (i.e., imitation in the absence of the model), pretend play, drawing, psychological functions based on mental images (e.g., recall memory), and language. These activities are practiced and refined during the first substage of the preoperational stage, which Piaget termed preconceptual thought. Preconceptual thought is no longer tied to particular objects or events, but it fails to distinguish between individual members of a concept and the generality of concepts. In the second substage of preoperational thought, lasting from about 4 to 6-7 years and termed intuitive thought by Piaget, representational schemes become increasingly coordinated and children become capable of relating two representational schemes to each other by means of a unidirectional logical relation. For example, thought and attention may be centered on one dimension, such as using height in order to infer amount of liquid, while neglecting the width of the container. However, intuitive thought is incapable of understanding the simultaneous reversible and bi-directional nature inherent to logical operations.

Concrete Operational Intelligence

During the next stage of development, concrete operational intelligence, the semiotic functions of the preoperational level come to be coordinated into what Piaget called operational systems. Operations are actions (e.g., putting objects together that are alike, putting objects into one-to-one correspondence) that are interiorized and reversible. Reversibility means that transformations that have occurred in reality can be compensated for on the representational plane by incorporating these transformations into a system of logical relations. As a result, the child at the level of concrete-operations is liberated from centering on only one aspect of a situation (e.g., a perceptually salient aspect of situation).

Piaget constructed a number of tasks to assess concrete operational thought. Many of these involve forms of conservation. Conservation refers to the understanding that a whole remains intact despite undergoing transformations. For example, the number of objects in a collection, as a whole, does not change if the objects are re-arranged. An operative understanding of conservation, therefore, is logical in nature – it is a logical truth that is not given by empirical observation of transformations. Piaget’s conservation tasks were designed such that children who lacked an operative understanding of conservation would be misled by the appearance of transformation in the tasks. For example, conversation of liquid requires understanding that the amount of liquid does not change even if its shape is transformed by being poured into a tall thin glass.

A limitation, however, of concrete operational thinking is that although it is logical it is still restricted to reasoning about actual objects. For example, consider an experiment in which a child is faced with an experimenter holding a poker chip in his hand saying, “Either the chip in my hand is green or it is not green.” The child is then asked if the statement is true or false, or if she cannot tell. The child using concrete operational reasoning would be uncertain and would have to ask to see the chip. However, the statement is a tautology; it has to be true regardless of the chip in the experimenter’s hand. That is, the statement is necessarily true based on its form, and therefore, looking at the actual chip is not required.

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