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Behaviorism vs. Cognitivism - Essay Example

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The primary aim of this paper is to outline the differences between two schools of academic psychology-behaviorism and cognitivism. I will first outline and explain two experiments purporting to explain human cognition by Jean Piaget. …
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Behaviorism vs. Cognitivism
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Behaviorism vs. Cognitivism

The primary aim of this paper is to outline the differences between two schools of academic psychology--behaviorism and cognitivism. I will first outline and explain two experiments purporting to explain human cognition by Jean Piaget. I will then explain how behaviorist B.F. Skinner might object to this methodology. Finally, I will address some possible responses to Skinner that Piaget could use to defend the scientific integrity of his experiments. Jean Piaget is often referred to in academic psychology as a “developmental cognitivist”. A developmental psychologist is one who scientifically studies changes in human personality, thinking and perceptions over the cross of a lifetime. Piaget’s research tends to focus on the development of human children--specifically the intelligence and cognitive capacities of children. Thus he can be said to be a cognitivist, in that he seeks to discover underlying thought processes by observing behavior. In two of his main works, The Construction of Reality in the Child, and The Child’s Conception of Number, Jean Piaget sets up a series of experiments, which purport to demonstrate the differences in cognitive and intellectual processes between adults and children. In the first experiment I am going to examine, Piaget attempts to explain the ability of children to discriminate between quantities of objects. He does this by placing two lines of candy next to each other--one with the candy arranged in a line spread further apart, and one with the same amount of candy in a line placed more closely together. The children are asked to determine which line contains a greater amount of candy. The results were that “Children between 2 years, 6 months old and 3 years, 2 months old correctly discriminate the relative number of objects in two rows; between 3 years, 2 months and 4 years, 6 months they indicate a longer row with fewer objects to have "more"; after 4 years, 6 months they again discriminate correctly” (Piaget). Piaget concluded that children gain the capacity to discriminate between quantities of objects at 2 years, 6 months, but for whatever reason, are unable to use this ability effectively for this task between ages 3 and 4. The second example of an experiment by Piaget I would like to discuss, seeks to demonstrate how children view the relationship between space and object: The child is presented with a model, about one square meter in size, representing three mountains in relief; he is to reconstruct the different perspectives in which a little doll views them in varying positions that follow a given order...when he is asked what the doll sees from a particular position the child describes what he himself sees from his own position without taking into account the obstacles which prevent the doll from seeing the same view. When he is shown several pictures from among which he is to choose the one which corresponds to the doll’s perspective, he chooses the one which represents his own (Piaget). This experiment shows that young children lack the capacity to understand spatial relationships, relative to an observer other than their own. The child does not attempt to envisage how a particular object might look from the perspective of the doll, but defaults back to a description from their first-person point of view. Piaget concludes that the behavior observed here could best be explained by the developmental stage the child has reached. He points out that “the egocentrism and objective relativity in question here concern only the relationships between the child and things, and nothing in sensorimotor action forces him to leave this narrow realm” (Piaget). In other words since the child has only reached the point in life where she always encounters objects in relation to herself, even if you ask questions about the relation between an object and another observer, the child will not understand. Behaviorism is a school of thought in psychology that can be thought of in contrast to cognitivism. Rather than observing behavior ... Read More
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