Cognitive skills start to developed from the time when the foetus is in the womb. As the child grows up, environmental factors can affect such development. Of course, different theorists have had various ideas about the extent of environmental impact on cognitive development. Jean Piaget, for example, believed that children were ‘little scientists’, actively putting together their own theories and testing them in order to learn. If this is true then, arguably, a child can create their own learning opportunities in any environment. However, if like other psychologists have contested, children are more like a blank canvas and are open to new experiences and information, but they need to be taught, then environment is likely to have a more significant influence. According to this perspective, a child who has parents who actively teach him and expose him to new experiences, is more likely to develop more quickly cognitively than a child who is left alone in a cot for long periods of time.
Cognitive abilities vary among individuals of all ages. Some people are simply more able in terms of certain cognitive skills. It is possible that those with more developed cognitive skills are more open to developing their existing ones. Elderly people, for example, often start to deteriorate in terms of their cognitive abilities. Such people tend to become much more withdrawn and nervous. However, it is difficult to conclude whether this is because they know their brain is deteriorating, or whether it is part of their illness affecting their overall character.
Overall, I have found preschool cognition to be the most surprising. It appears that children advance cognitively in huge steps, during this age period. As Piaget claimed, children of this age group partake in preoperational thought, which refers to the use of internal reflection in order to solve problems. At this age, a child develops the ability to remember and think about objects and people who are not around at that moment, and also to reflect upon more abstract thoughts and not necessarily objects or situations that they can touch, see or hear. Even more astonishing is that, in such a short period of time, children develop the ability to imagine things; people, objects or animals can be conjured up in a child’s brain, and other objects can stand in for real objects in games of ‘make believe’. Moreover, the child can now apprehend future situations and remember past ones, and be able to distinguish between the two.
Also interesting is, while children of preschool age have developed such skills, they are still distinctly lacking in others. For example, very young children are still egocentric and struggle with understanding the perspectives of peers or adults. I find this particularly interesting as children of this age group do appear to have a sense of empathy; they feel badly for a peer who falls over and hurts themselves, and can be kind in helping that peer to feel better. However, the same child may have difficulty in understanding why another person disagrees with them about something.
Preschool children seem to have highly developed cognitive skills in some areas, and much less so in others. I find this fascinating as I did not expect certain skills to develop at different times. The development of empathy vs. the development of understanding other perspectives, is a good example.