Human Development: John Locke and Jean Piaget

The nature versus nurture perspective of human development has been emphasized by many psychologists and researchers for years and relates to biological and environmental influences on human development. Two psychologists who put this perspective into consideration on their ideas on human development were John Locke and Jean Piaget who both emphasized the development of cognition and play.

John Locke born on August 29, 1632 in Wrighton, United Kingdom, was an English philosopher and physician best known for his contributions during the period of Enlightenment (John Locke). The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that emphasized reason and individualism. During this time Locke, known as the Father of Liberalism, played an important role in the establishment of the Whig party and many other revolutionary ideas. Locke’s writings such as the Two Treatises of Government put forth his own revolutionary ideas such as the idea that all men have natural rights surrounding life, liberty, and property (John Locke). During this time, Locke became interested in the human mind in a psychological aspect. He proposed his ideas on the influence of the environment on human development and became one of the earliest contributors to ideas based on behaviorism which refers to the conditioning of human individuals.

In relation to Human Development, Locke proposed ideas towards cognition such as his Tabula rasa theory, which is Latin for blank slate. He claimed that children are born devoid of any innate ideas. His empiricist perspective therefore focuses on the nurture aspect of nature vs nurture, by stating that all forms of knowledge are gained from perceptions or experiences. Locke believed morality and practicality played a very important role in the development of the mind. He stated that children are vulnerable to negative moral influences which can lead to a decline in thought and emphasizes the influence of parental figures and peers on the development of a “virtuous mind” (LIVESTRONG).

In another aspect of development, Locke emphasized the influence of play on character traits. Locke placed emphasis on the ideas of self denial, restraint, and will power to help guide positive character traits for the future. He claimed that spoiling your children will lead them down a path of selfishness. For example, if you let your children have as many toys as they want, play as much as they want, and not share what they have, as an adult they will be an unattractive individual in relation to characteristics (Giobbi). He believed toys should introduce good habits and manners and should be of the educational source instead of just for fun.

Jean Piaget a Swiss psychologist born on August 9, 1896 in Neuchatel, Switzerland is famous for his work in the field of child development (Jean Piaget). Before becoming interested in Psychology, Piaget studied history and philosophy at the University of Neuchatel. Piaget became interested in psychology after studying for a semester at the University of Zurich in Switzerland in which he acquired an interest for psychoanalysis. He left Switzerland for France where he worked under Alfred Binet at an all boys school (Jean Piaget). There, he developed an interest in cognition and intelligence which led to him developing his own studies relating to the mind. In 1923, he married his wife Valentine Châtenay and they had three children whom Piaget completed studies on in terms of intellectual development. In the 1930s through the 1950s, Piaget began developing his own theories based on cognition such as his ideas on play and his own theory of cognitive development.

Jean Piaget proposed many ideas related to cognitive development in humans. In contrast to John Locke, Piaget claimed that cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes based on the influence of both nature and nurture. He led a constructivist view on knowledge meaning that he believed people construct their own knowledge by taking what they already know along with their outward experiences to construct knowledge. In terms of the acquisition of cognition in an education and learning standpoint, Piaget focused his studies on three processes surrounding the idea of schemas or mental models. A schema in general is a cognitive framework that helps organize information into different models usually related to forms of class such as animals. The three basic components that work towards the development of schemas are assimilation, accomodation, and equilibration. During assimilation, individuals are taking in information and incorporating it into their preexisting schemes. The process of accommodation is based around revising or modifying existing schemes to help gain a better understanding for new information that has been acquired and accommodated for. Lastly, equilibration is going from a sense of cognitive disequilibrium or a sense of not understanding to a sense of understanding or equilibrium. To further elaborate, if a child has a schema that all animals that have tails are dogs they might see a cow and think that it is a dog. When they learn it is a cow, they have to assimilate this new information into their schema. They accommodate by creating a new schema for cows that is separate to the one for dogs. Lastly, they gain a sense of understanding on the idea that cows and dogs are separate animals.When reflecting on the increasing sophistication of child cognition, Piaget developed his theory on cognitive development which divides development into a series of stages which include the sensorimotor stage, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. The sensorimotor stage lasts from birth to the age of two and focuses on the development of seeing, hearing, touching, mouthing, and grabbing. During this stage, children tend to develop a sense of object permanence meaning that they understand that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be perceived. The preoperational stage (ages 2-6) focuses on the idea that many children are too young to understand mental processes such as conservation and therefore participate in activities such as symbolic thoughts, pretend play, and have imaginary friends. Children at this stage are very egocentric meaning that they believe that the world revolves around them. In the concrete operational stage (ages 7-11), children begin to understand operational and mathematical problems along with ideas such as shape and quantities including conservation. Lastly in the formal operational stage (ages 11 and up), children begin to have independent thoughts and participate in more abstract thinking, such as in ideas in relation to politics in a later age such as 17 (Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development).

Piaget also emphasized the importance of play. He claimed that play can play a role in assimilation in terms of concept matching. For example, when a child is pretending to be a nurse, they could implementing in what they saw a nurse do at the doctor’s office. Yet, he also downgraded play as well and simply stated that play can just be used for fun and as a way to make friends. Unlike Locke, Piaget didn’t believe that toys necessarily had to be educational. He believed that toys could be just for fun and even that children can participate in pretend play by having imaginary friends along with other symbolic aspects. In reference to the preoperational stage, Piaget stated that symbolic play was a ‘process reflective of emerging symbolic development, but contributing little to it’ (Hicks).

To conclude, John Locke and Jean Piaget both placed emphasis on cognition and play when establishing their ideas on human development. Locke, an English philosopher and physician, who made a heavy impact during the Enlightenment, claimed that children were born with a blank slate and learned specifically from the environment around them, while Jean Piaget a Swiss psychologist claimed that cognition came from both nature and nurture influences in which he implemented into his ideas on education and his theory of cognitive development. In terms of play, Locke believed play had a significant role on the development of character traits in the future, while Piaget believed play was, in general terms, usually just for fun.

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