Children's humor reflects their cognitive
advances related to conservation, seriation, and classification. It is also
a way to share with the peer group.
Piaget saw age 7 as a major turning point
in cognitive development. The transition from preoperational to the
more advanced concrete operational thought. Many contemporary researchers
see a major transition around 5 to 7 years of age, called the 5 to 7
year shift, with refinements of cognitive skills that are present in
preschoolers continuing into middle childhood. There are seven cognitive
changes from early to middle childhood:
Capacity for logical, systematic thinking
using multiple pieces of information, due in part a marked decline in centration.
Ability to perceive underlying reality despite
superficial appearance (the appearance-reality problem).
Domain-specific knowledge or expertise.
Information-processing capacity and control
over attention and memory.
Ability to think effectively about own knowledge
and processes of thought, metacognition.
Cognitive limitations that remain include:
School age children still lack the broad base
of knowledge that adults possess.
They sometimes have trouble using a skill
they possess as part of a larger problem-solving system.
They cannot reason maturely about abstract
and hypothetical problems.
Major Cognitive Developments of Middle Childhood
During middle childhood, understanding of
conservation becomes more robust and wide-ranging. By age 10 most can conserve
number, length, area, mass, and displaced liquid volume. Understanding of
conservation becomes more automatic and helpful in problem solving in other
Piaget argued that the same logical skills
provide the foundation for understanding all forms of conservation, but
children tend to master different forms of conservation at different times,
as they learn the specific characteristics of different kinds of quantities.
When researchers assess the ages at which concepts of conservation emerge
among children in the U.S. and in other Western industrialized societies,
they find similar patterns. This is not the case, however, in traditional
societies that lack formal schooling, where a lag of one or more years is
Conservation requires that children begin
to grasp the difference between necessary truth (based on logical
necessity apart from observations from the senses) and contingent truth
(contingent upon empirical observations).
An Information-Processing Approach to Conservation
Unlike Piaget's notions that there
is a fundamental shift in logical reasoning ability, information processing
researchers argue that children's increasing success at conservation
tasks results from their use of increasingly sophisticated problem-solving
Children gradually learn what factors
truly make a difference in conservation tasks, and their expanding information-processing
capacity allows them to deal with larger quantities. Eventually, they
apply a rule based on an understanding of the logical necessity inherent
in conservation problems.
Classification is an important cognitive
skill because it allows children to impose structure on things around them.
Concrete operations allow children to understand relationships among categories
in a more complex classification system. Hierarchical classification
(use of subordinate and superordinate classes) and matrix classification
(categorize items simultaneously along two independent dimensions) are two
Although preschoolers can learn hierarchical
structures, children don't begin to use such structures effectively
until middle childhood. Piaget said that hierarchical classification
involves the addition of classes--a concrete operation. This
ability is tied to concrete objects and situations. An understanding
of the logic underlying hierarchies does not emerge until adolescence.
Understanding of hierarchical classification
is measured by performance on class inclusion problems, which
most children age 6 and under fail.
When a superordinate term is a naturally
occurring collection rather than an abstract class, children
in early middle childhood have an easier time thinking about the relationship
between levels in the system.
By age 8 or 9, children can sort objects
along two dimensions to form a classification matrix, and they can place
objects appropriately in a partially completed matrix (can overcome
centration). Piaget's term for the mental operation required to understand
matrix classification was multiplication of classes.
Between ages 6 and 11, children also
learn to use constraint seeking (try with each consecutive question
to narrow the range of possible alternatives) instead of hypothesis
scanning (e.g., each question in Twenty Questions is a single, self-contained
hypothesis, unrelated to previous questions) to identify objects in
Summing Up Classification Skills
Children begin to classify objects
very early in life, but it is not until middle childhood that they make
effective use of classification when organizing information.
A major reason performance on classification tasks improves during
middle childhood is that children this age largely overcome the limitations
imposed by centration. Although elementary school children make great
progress in classification skills, they still do not entirely grasp
the logical necessity of classification structures.
Information Processing Memory Abilities
6- to 11-year-olds show greatly improved
abilities to control their attention. They become more systematic, organized,
flexible, and selective in directing their attention, due to more sophisticated
strategy use for directing and maintaining attention.
Attention deficit disorders (see Chapter 15) are often diagnosed
during these years because of the greater demands on attentional abilities
than in early childhood.
Performance on measures of short-term
memory improves during middle childhood.
Improvements may be due to memory capacity,
knowledge, memory strategies, and metamemory.
Memory Capacity. See increase in speed
and efficiency of processing information. Increases the functional
capacity of memory, due to neurological changes and other factors
such as practice (mental processes become more automatic). See changes
in how much information is transferred from sensory to short-term store.
See short-term memory improvements.
Knowledge. Total amount of knowledge
held in long-term storage is what Piaget called memory in the wider
sense. The more elementary school children know about a particular
topic, the better their memory for information related to that topic.
Increased knowledge lends greater organizational structure and greater
capacity for inference = constructive memory abilities (aid recall
by enabling children to draw inferences). By age 11, adult levels of
this ability are reached.
Mnemonic Strategies - intentional,
goal-directed behaviors designed to improve memory. Children's use of
the strategies of rehearsal, organization, and elaboration
in memorizing information increases dramatically and becomes more
flexible during middle childhood.
Three types of deficiencies in strategy
use have been identified: mediation deficiencies (cannot use a strategy),
production deficiencies (do not use a strategy spontaneously), and utilization
deficiencies (use strategy spontaneously but it does not help performance).
5- and 6-year-olds do not spontaneously
use memory strategies often.
The period between 7 and 10 years of
age seems to be a transitional stage during which the use of mnemonics
Beginning by about age 10, children
show the first signs of using mnemonics consistently and effectively.
Metamemory. Children's metamemory--knowledge
about memory processes, strategies, and their own memory abilities--increases
dramatically during middle childhood, and children also get much better
at using their knowledge on memory tasks. Their performance predictions
are more realistic and they get better at knowing when a particular
Social Interaction and Cognitive Development
School children can learn a great deal
from peers as well as from adults. In a peer group, children tend to provide
each other with cooperative learning experiences (learners at about
the same knowledge level and skill interact to share ideas and discover
on their own.)
Adults, in contrast, tend to provide children
with didactic learning experiences (knowledgeable teacher offers
solution to the learner).
Which of these kinds of situations is best
for learning depends on the nature of the learners and teachers and on the
nature of the material to be learned.
Didactic Learning Experiences Scaffolding - teacher provides
support to the learner by observing the learner's behaviors and offering
guidance, hints, and advice. As the learning advances, the teacher's strategies
progressively change to encourage the mastery of increasingly complex
understandings. Children use scaffolding too, just not often as effectively
as adults do.
Cooperative Learning Experiences
Piaget believed that peer interaction can
reduce egocentrism, and studies have shown that peer interaction can be
useful in the development of conservation. Interaction does not have to
be with a more advanced peer for cognitive progress to occur.
Factors important for cooperative learning
are: task should be concrete and rich in relevant information but not too
complex; information must support at least two different conclusions; peers
must see reaching a consensus as a goal of their interaction, rather than
just expressing diverse opinions; children should know each other and have
a smooth system of interaction.
Effective didactic and cooperative peer
learning emerge early in middle childhood; as children grow older, their
increased metacognitive skills improve the quality of their peer teaching.
Peer learning is most effective when the children involved are well acquainted.
Explaining the Effects of Social Interaction
The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky offer
different explanations of the role of social interaction in cognitive development.
Piaget emphasized the role of cooperative
learning and a common frame of reference resulting from peers' similar status.
Vygotsky emphasized the role of didactic
learning and a common frame of reference resulting from the more knowledgeable
partner's understanding of the less knowledgeable partner.
Individual Differences in Intelligence
Intelligence Testing and Concepts of Intelligence
The first modern intelligence test was
developed by Binet and Simon in France early in the twentieth century. Scoring
of intelligence tests originally depended on the use of mental age (MA)
to determine an intelligence quotient (IQ). Binet's concept of intelligence
was unitary as he considered intelligence to be a general cognitive
capability that can be measured by a single score.
Spearman proposed a general reasoning
ability he called g. Performance depends not only on g but
also on knowledge, abilities, and aptitudes specific to the particular problem
at hand. Other theorists have proposed varying numbers of specific
Many contemporary intelligence tests are
based on a combination of Binet's and Spearman's conceptions of intelligence
(e.g., Wechsler scales-overall performance score and scores on verbal
and performance subtests).
Broadening the Definition of Intelligence
Traditional theories of intelligence have
emphasized school-related mental abilities. A number of psychologists have
suggested that a distinction should be made between academic intelligence
and practical intelligence (everyday problem solving). As yet, there
are no methods for assessing nonacademic intelligence that are as well established
as standard IQ tests.
Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
A more detailed attempt to broaden
the study of intelligence is Gardner's multiple intelligences theory.
Gardner argues that humans have seven intelligences: linguistic, musical,
logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and
According to Gardner:
A person's level of competence in each
intelligence depends not only on biological endowment, but also on socialization
A person's particular culture determines
both how a given competence will be fostered and which competencies
will be most stressed.
High competence in one area does not
imply high competence in others.
Sternberg's Triarchic Theory
Sternberg has analyzed the various factors
that contribute to making a particular behavior intelligent or not.
In his triarchic theory, Sternberg argues that intelligent behavior
is governed by three things:
Componential element - the many information-processing
skills we use in solving problems.
Experiential element - prior knowledge
that affects how a person goes about tackling a problem.
Contextual element - set of circumstances
in which a choice is made or an action is taken.
Explaining IQ Differences It is clear that the influence of heredity
on intelligence involves many genes. Evidence for a genetic contribution
to IQ differences comes from studies of twins and adopted children. The
reaction range for IQ seems to be about 20 to 25 points.
The Stability of IQ Traditional measures of infant intelligence
are poor predictors of later IQ, perhaps because they do not measure the
same abilities. Middle childhood IQ scores, however, correlate highly
with adult IQ.
How Meaningful Are IQ Scores?
The Issue of Cultural Bias
Cultural background may influence performance on an IQ test because of content
bias, cultural differences in concepts of intelligence, and the interpersonal
setting of the test.
Psychologists have tried to develop IQ tests that are culture-free
or culture-fair, but it has become clear that intelligence always exists
in a specific cultural context.
What IQ Scores Can Predict
IQ scores are good predictors of success
in school, and there is a moderate correlation between childhood IQ
and adult occupational success. In adulthood, the correlation between
IQ and measures of job performance is low.
Culture and School Achievement
In most parts of the world, the beginning
of formal education coincides with the beginning of middle childhood. Children
enter school with many informal linguistic and quantitative skills, but
learning to apply these skills to school problems is often a difficult transition
because it involves a shift to decontextualized thought (learning
to solve problems that are abstract, self-contained, and removed from any
The transition is often particularly difficult
for children whose cultural backgrounds differ from that of the school they
attend. Recent research suggests that while individual differences in school
achievement are associated with differences in preschool environment and
that group differences are tied to experiences in school.
Differences in mathematical skills among
members of different cultures have been the focus of substantial interest
and research in recent years. Chinese and Japanese children surpass American
children in math performance beginning in the first grade, and the gap widens
year by year. Although genetic explanations have been proposed by some researchers,
evidence for them is not compelling. More important contributing factors
seem to be the kind of math instruction that children receive and the attitudes
they learn from both peers and adults.
An Overview of Middle Childhood Cognitive Development
Cognitive changes mainly involve refinement
of existing abilities. Children become able to use their skills more and
more flexibly and to apply them in a wider range of situations.
Individual differences in cognitive abilities
become significant and social interaction with peers and adults influences
the course and level of their cognitive development.
School age children still lack the broad
knowledge base they will have in adulthood.
They still sometimes have trouble combining
their cognitive skills into a larger problem-solving system.
They cannot yet reason maturely about abstract
and hypothetical problems.