Unit IV: Cognition and Intelligence

4.1 Cognitive Development: Concept, Piaget's stages of cognitive development

4.2 Understanding socio-cultural difficulties and factors influencing cognition

4.3 Role of cognition in learning

4.4 Intelligence: meaning, definition and measurement of IQ.

4.5 Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligence










4.1 Cognitive Development: Concept, Piaget's stages of cognitive development

Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

It was once believed that infants lacked the ability to think or form complex ideas and remained without cognition until they learned language. It is now known that babies are aware of their surroundings and interested in exploration from the time they are born. From birth, babies begin to actively learn. They gather, sort, and process information from around them, using the data to develop perception and thinking skills.

Cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence , reasoning, language development , and memory.

Historically, the cognitive development of children has been studied in a variety of ways. The oldest is through intelligence tests, such as the widely used Stanford Binet Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test first adopted for use in the United States by psychologist Lewis Terman (1877–1956) in 1916 from a French model pioneered in 1905. IQ scoring is based on the concept of "mental age," according to which the scores of a child of average intelligence match his or her age, while a gifted child's performance is comparable to that of an older child, and a slow learner's scores are similar to those of a younger child. IQ tests are widely used in the United States, but they have come under increasing criticism for defining intelligence too narrowly and for being biased with regard to race and gender.

In contrast to the emphasis placed on a child's native abilities by intelligence testing, learning theory grew out of work by behaviorist researchers such as John Watson (1878–1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), who argued that children are completely malleable. Learning theory focuses on the role of environmental factors in shaping the intelligence of children, especially on a child's ability to learn by having certain behaviors rewarded and others discouraged.

Piaget's theory of cognitive development

The most well-known and influential theory of cognitive development is that of French psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). Piaget's theory, first published in 1952, grew out of decades of extensive observation of children, including his own, in their natural environments as opposed to the laboratory experiments of the behaviorists. Although Piaget was interested in how children reacted to their environment, he proposed a more active role for them than that suggested by learning theory. He envisioned a child's knowledge as composed of schemas, basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones.

Schemas are continually being modified by two complementary processes that Piaget termed assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation refers to the process of taking in new information by incorporating it into an existing schema. In other words, people assimilate new experiences by relating them to things they already know. On the other hand, accommodation is what happens when the schema itself changes to accommodate new knowledge. According to Piaget, cognitive development involves an ongoing attempt to achieve a balance between assimilation and accommodation that he termed equilibration.

At the center of Piaget's theory is the principle that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct, universal stages, each characterized by increasingly sophisticated and abstract levels of thought. These stages always occur in the same order, and each builds on what was learned in the previous stage. They are as follows:

The most significant alternative to the work of Piaget has been the information-processing approach, which uses the computer as a model to provide new insight into how the human mind receives, stores, retrieves, and uses information. Researchers using information-processing theory to study cognitive development in children have focused on areas such as the gradual improvements in children's ability to take in information and focus selectively on certain parts of it and their increasing attention spans and capacity for memory storage. For example, researchers have found that the superior memory skills of older children are due in part to memorization strategies, such as repeating items in order to memorize them or dividing them into categories.

4.2 Understanding socio-cultural difficulties and factors influencing cognition

The socio-cultural psychology examines the influences of social and cultural environments on behavior. Socio-culturalists argue that understanding a person’s behavior requires knowing about the cultural context in which the behavior occurs. (Culture refers to the shared knowledge, practices, and attitudes of groups of people and can include language, customs, and beliefs about what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate.)

Sociocultural theory is an emerging theory in psychology that looks at the important contributions that society makes to individual development. This theory stresses the interaction between developing people and the culture in which they live. Sociocultural theory also suggests that human learning is largely a social process.

Vygotsky and Sociocultural Theory

Sociocultural theory grew from the work of seminal psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who believed that parents, caregivers, peers, and the culture at large were responsible for developing higher-order functions. According to Vygotsky, learning has its basis in interacting with other people. Once this has occurred, the information is then integrated on the individual level.

Vygotsky was a contemporary of other great thinkers such as Freud, Skinner, and Piaget, but his early death at age 37 and the suppression of his work in Stalinist Russia left him in relative obscurity until fairly recently. As his work became more widely published, his ideas have grown increasingly influential in areas including child development, cognitive psychology, and education.

According to Vygotsky, children are born with basic biological constraints on their minds. Each culture, however, provides "tools of intellectual adaptation." These tools allow children to use their abilities in a way that is adaptive to the culture in which they live. For example, while one culture might emphasize memory strategies such as note-taking, another might use tools like reminders or rote memorization.

One key element of Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach is his idea of a Zone of Proximal Development.  Commonly abbreviated as ZPD, the Zone of Proximal Development is a way to gauge a child’s ability to learn and grow. Vygotsky believed that the ZPD was a far better way to gauge. A child’s intelligence than through the standard academic testing, which can often fail to account for cultural differences with regards to learning. Vygotsky claims that there are three cultural tools which children use to inform their cognitive abilities.

Image result for Zone of Proximal Development

Politics, cultural ethics, gender,values, beliefs, ethnicity, socioeconomic status influence our behavior in society and interactions in social groups.

The sociocultural approach provides researchers and psychologists with a more informed view and understanding of the motivations which cause a person to behave in a particular way. Instead of relying on biological factors alone, the approach promises to paint a more vivid picture of the human mind through a wider understanding of how we acquire cognitive abilities at an early age. In the years since English translations popularised Vygotsky's proposed Zone of Proximal Development, many psychologists have expanded upon his theory.

4.3 Role of cognition in learning

Cognition is the process of acquiring and understanding knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Learning involves acquiring knowledge through experience, study, or being taught. If you think that these two concepts are awfully similar, you're right. Both are inexorably linked - learning requires cognition and cognition involves learning. Whenever you see or hear something new, you go through a series of cognitive processes, which are the processes that result in learning.

What are cognitive processes? We can understand cognitive processes as the procedures we use to incorporate new knowledge and make decisions based on said knowledge. Different cognitive functions play a role in these cognitive processes: perceptionattention, memory, reasoning… Each of these cognitive functions work together to integrate the new knowledge and create an interpretation of the world around us.

·         ATTENTION AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Attention is the cognitive process that allows us to concentrate on a stimuli or activity in order to process it more thoroughly later. Attention is a fundamental cognitive function for the development of daily situations, and it is used in the majority of tasks that we carry-out day-to-day. In fact, it has been considered a mechanism that controls and regulates the rest of the cognitive processes: from perception (we need attention to be able to pay attention to the stimuli that don't reach our senses) to learning and complex reasoning.

·         MEMORY AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Memory is the cognitive function that allows us to code, store, and recover information from the past. Memory is a basic process for learning, as it is what allows us to create a sense of identity. There are many types of memory, like short-term memory, which is the ability to retain information for a short period of time (remember a telephone number until we can write it down on paper), and long-term memory, which are all of the memories that we keep for a long period of time. Long-term memory can be broken into smaller groups, declarative memory and procedural memory. Declarative memory consists of the knowledge that was acquired through language and education (like knowing that World War II ended in 1945), as well as knowledge learned through personal experiences (remembering what my grandma used to make for me). Procedural memory refers to learning though routines (learning how to drive or ride a bike). Other types of memory are auditory memory, contextual memory, naming, and recognition.

·         PERCEPTION AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Cognitive perception allows us to organize and understand the world through stimuli that we receive from our different senses, like sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. While most people are familiar with the common senses, there are some other, less-known senses, like propioception (stimuli which unconsciously perceives our position in space and judges spatial orientation) and interoception (which is the perception of our organs in our bodies. It is what allows us to know when we're hungry or thirsty). Once the stimuli is received, our brain integrates all of the information, creating a new memory.

·         LANGUAGE AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Language is the ability to express our thoughts and feelings through spoken word. It is a tool that we use to communicate and organize and transmit information that we have about ourselves and the world. Language and thought are developed together and are closely related, they mutually influence each other.

·         THOUGHT AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Thought is fundamental for all cognitive processes. It allows us to integrate all of the information that we've received and to establish relationships between events and knowledge. To do this, it uses reasoning, synthesis, and problem solving (executive functions).

·         LEARNING AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS: Learning is the cognitive process that we use to incorporate new information into our prior knowledge. Learning includes things as diverse as behaviors or habits, like brushing our teeth or learning how to walk, and knowledge that we learn through socialization. Piaget and other authors have talked about cognitive learning as the process of information entering our cognitive system and changing it.


The cognitive processes can happen naturally or artificially, consciously or unconsciously, but they usually happen fast. These cognitive processes work constantly and without us realizing them. For example, when we are walking on the street and we see a stoplight turn red, we start the cognitive process that tells us to make a decision (cross or don't cross). The first thing that we do is focus our attention on the stoplight, through our sight we can see that it is red. In just milliseconds, we recall from our memory that when the stoplight is red you shouldn't cross. This is probably where we make our first decision: wait until the light turns green, or look right and left (shifting our attention again) to see if any cars are coming and make the decision to cross quickly.

4.4 Intelligence: meaning, definition and measurement of IQ.

Intelligence derives from the Latin verb intelligere, to comprehend or perceive. It  is the ability to solve problems and to adapt and to learn from life’s everyday experiences. Intelligence has been defined in many different ways such as in terms of one's capacity for logic, abstract thoughts, understandings, perception and many more.

According to D. Wechsler intelligence is “A global concept that involves an individual’s ability to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with the environment.”

Nature of intelligence

         Distribution of intelligence

         Individual differences in intelligence

         Intelligence and changes in age

         Intelligence and racial or cultural differences

         Intelligence and sexes

Factors Influencing Intelligence

The Child’s Influence:

·        Genetics

·        Genotype–Environment

·        Interaction Gender

1.     Boys and girls tend to be equivalent in most aspects of intelligence 

·        The average IQ scores of boys and girls is virtually identical

·        The extremes (both low and high ends) are over- represented by boys

2.     Girls as a group:  Tend to be stronger in verbal fluency, in writing, in perceptual speed (starting as early as the toddler years)

3.     Boys as a group:  Tend to be stronger in visual-spatial processing, in science, and in mathematical problem solving (starting as early as age 3)

The Immediate Environment’s Influence

·        Family Environment

·        School Environment

1.     Attending school makes children smarter 

·        Children from families of low SES and those from families of high SES make comparable gains in school achievement during the school year

2.     What about during summer break? 

·        During the academic year -- schools provide children of all backgrounds with the same stimulating intellectual environment. 

·        Over the summer, children from low-SES families are less likely to have the kinds of experiences that would maintain their academic achievement.

The Society’s Influence

·        Poverty

·        Race/Ethnicity

Measuring Intelligence: Standardization and the Intelligence Quotient

The goal of most intelligence tests is to measure g, the general intelligence factor. Good intelligence tests are reliablemeaning that they are consistent over time, and also demonstrate construct validitymeaning that they actually measure intelligence rather than something else. Because intelligence is such an important individual difference dimension, psychologists have invested substantial effort in creating and improving measures of intelligence, and these tests are now the most accurate of all psychological tests. In fact, the ability to accurately assess intelligence is one of the most important contributions of psychology to everyday public life.

Intelligence changes with age. A three-year-old who could accurately multiply 183 by 39 would certainly be intelligent, but a 25-year-old who could not do so would be seen as unintelligent. Thus understanding intelligence requires that we know the norms or standards in a given population of people at a given age. The standardization of a test involves giving it to a large number of people at different ages and computing the average score on the test at each age level.

It is important that intelligence tests be standardized on a regular basis because the overall level of intelligence in a population may change over time. The Flynn effect refers to the observation that scores on intelligence tests worldwide have increased substantially over the past decades (Flynn, 1999). Although the increase varies somewhat from country to country, the average increase is about three intelligence (IQ) points every 10 years. There are many explanations for the Flynn effect, including better nutrition, increased access to information, and more familiarity with multiple-choice tests. But whether people are actually getting smarter is debatable.

Once the standardization has been accomplished, we have a picture of the average abilities of people at different ages and can calculate a person’s mental age, which is the age at which a person is performing intellectually. If we compare the mental age of a person to the person’s chronological age, the result is the IQa measure of intelligence that is adjusted for age. A simple way to calculate IQ is by using the following formula:

IQ = mental age ÷ chronological age × 100.

Thus a 10-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child has an IQ of 100 (10 ÷ 10 × 100), whereas an eight-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child would have an IQ of 125 (10 ÷ 8 × 100). Most modern intelligence tests are based the relative position of a person’s score among people of the same age, rather than on the basis of this formula, but the idea of an intelligence ratio or quotient provides a good description of the score’s meaning.

A number of scales are based on the IQ. The Wechsler Adult lntelligence Scale (WAIS) is the most widely used intelligence test for adults (Watkins, Campbell, Nieberding, & Hallmark, 1995). The current version of the WAIS, the WAIS-IV, was standardized on 2,200 people ranging from 16 to 90 years of age. It consists of 15 different tasks, each designed to assess intelligence, including working memory, arithmetic ability, spatial ability, and general knowledge about the world (see Figure 10.4, “Sample Items from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS)”). The WAIS-IV yields scores on four domains: verbal, perceptual, working memory, and processing speed. The reliability of the test is high (more than 0.95), and it shows substantial construct validity. The WAIS-IV is correlated highly with other IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet, as well as with criteria of academic and life success, including grades, measures of work performance, and occupational level. It also shows significant correlations with measures of everyday functioning among the mentally retarded.

The Wechsler scale has also been adapted for preschool children in the form of the Wechsler Primary and Preschool Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III) and for older children and adolescents in the form of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV).


4.5 Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligence

Gardner thinks there are nine types of intelligence. He believes each of us have all of the nine types of intelligence to varying degrees. These multiple intelligences are related to how an individual prefers to learn and process information.

Verbal skills: The ability to think in words and use language to express meaning

·        Sensitivity to the meanings and sounds of words, mastery of syntax, appreciation of the ways language can be used (authors, journalists, speakers, poets, teachers)

Mathematical skills: The ability to carry out mathematical operations

·        Understanding of objects and symbols and of actions that be performed on them and of the relations between these actions, ability for abstraction, ability to identify problems and seek explanations (scientists, engineers, accountants)

Spatial skills: The ability to think three-dimensionally

·        Capacity to perceive the visual world accurately, to perform transformations upon perceptions and to re-create aspects of visual experience in the absence of physical stimuli, sensitivity to tension, balance, and composition, ability to detect similar patterns (architects, artists, sailors, chess masters)

Bodily-kinesthetic skills: The ability to manipulate objects and be physically adept

·        Use of one’s body in highly skilled ways for expressive or goal-directed purposes, capacity to handle objects skillfully (surgeons, craftspeople, dancers, athletes, actors)

Musical skills: A sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone

·        Sensitivity to individual tones and phrases of music, an understanding of ways to combine tones and phrases into larger musical rhythms and structures, awareness of emotional aspects of music (musicians, composers, sensitive listeners)

Interpersonal skills: The ability to understand and effectively interact with others

·        Ability to notice and make distinctions among the moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions of other people and potentially to act on this knowledge (teachers, mental health professionals, parents, religious and political leaders)

Intrapersonal skills: The ability to understand oneself

·        Access to one’s own feelings, ability to draw on one’s emotions to guide and understand one’s behavior, recognition of personal strengths and weaknesses (theologians, novelists, psychologists, therapists)

Naturalistic skills: The ability to observe patterns in nature and understand natural and human-made systems

·        Sensitivity and understanding of plants, animals, and other aspects of nature (farmers, botanists, ecologists, landscapers, environmentalists)

Existential intelligence: Those with existential intelligence have a knack for tackling the big questions of life.

·        What is life? Where does it come from? Who am I? What should I do with my life? If you possess existential intelligence, you have a philosophical mind and have no trouble grappling with abstract concept and theory.