Psychology Retooling Institute and Seminar for the Mid-AtlanticII

Learning and Memory



Child and Adult Development

Social Psychology

Child Development

 Biological Psychology



Child Development

Wanda L. Ruffin, Ph.D.
Psychology Department
Hood College

Robin Hailstorks, Ph.D.
Psychology Department    
Prince George's Community College

Diane L. Finley, Ph.D.
Psychology Department
Community College of Baltimore County - Catonsville


1.  Objectives
2.  Content Outline
3.  Videos/Films on Piagetian    Cognitive Development
1.  Objectives
2.  Lecture Outline
3.  Activities
1.  Objectives
2.  Outline Information
3.  Activities



Developmental psychology often seems to be scattered among the other areas of psychology such as biological psychology or learning. Students sometimes fail to see that the field of developmental psychology is not scattered but is instead a coherent whole in which topics build one upon another. This can especially be seen when examining the topics of cognitive development, gender and moral development.

This three-day unit is designed to introduce students to Piaget, to theories of gender development based on Piagetian theory and to the issue of moral development as presented by Piaget and Kohlberg. The unit begins with a look at Piaget's theory, goes to a look at cognitive-developmental theories of gender and concludes with a look a moral development. Each builds upon the next and is designed to give students a sense of the interconnectedness of developmental psychology.




By the end of this module, a student should be able to:

1.         Explain key Piagetian concepts
2.         List & describe Piaget’s four stages of development
3.         Participate in classroom activities that will emphasize Piaget’s key ideas.             


Content Outline

1. Key Concepts

According to Piaget, children’s cognitive abilities change as they grow older.  Therefore, the child is an active participant who tries to make sense out of a complex world.  Piaget explained this process according to the following key concepts:

  1. Schemas - organized patterns of thought about how things work and how they relate to each other.

  2. Assimilation - encoding incoming information to fit what the child already knows about  the world (existing schemas).          

  3. Accommodation - modifying existing schemas to fit new information or ways of understanding the world.


2. Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget believed in universal, sequential stages of cognitive development.  Each stage depends upon knowledge gained from the previous stage which is qualitatively different and more sophisticated than the earlier stage.   They are as follows:

  1. Sensorimotor Stage (birth - two)  The child experiences the world through sensory experiences and motor activities and begins to differentiate self from external world.  Knowledge acquired includes object permanence and some appreciation of time and  space.

  2. Preoperational Stage (2 - 7)  The child learns to represent the world mentally with words, but is very egocentric.  Knowledge acquired includes mental representation and imagery.

  3. Concrete Operational Stage (7 - 11)  The child can now experience the world through logical manipulation of concrete objects.  Knowledge acquired includes conservation and reversibility.    

  4. Formal Operational Stage (11 years and older)  This stage allows adolescents to think abstractly, to think about their own ideas, probabilities  and analogies.


3.  Classroom Activities

 Activity 1
Arrange for students to observe children at a daycare facility, school, or playground.   Students should pair up and document any Piagetian concepts observed.  After the observation, the pairs are to come together and present their findings to the rest of the class.

Activity 2 
Infants are capable of imitating sounds, expressions, and movements.  Ask students to interview their own parents or relatives in order to determine how the student imitated sounds, expressions, sounds, movements, etc. during their infancy.  This concept may be used for any of  Piaget’s cognitive stages.  The added bonus is that the student becomes more familiar with early development.

Activity 3
Bringing infants and children to class provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate
Piagetian tasks.  Appropriate examples for this demonstration could include:  (1) conservation problems;  (2) class inclusion problems;  (3) seriation problems 


Videos/Films on Piagetian Cognitive Development on Piagetian Cognitive Development            
Adolescent Mental Development (1988, Insight Media, 30 min., color).  Examines Piaget’s formal operational stage and explains adolescent egocentrism, the imaginary audience, and the personal fable.

Cognitive Development  (1990, RMI Media Productions, Inc., 30 min., color).  Examines Piaget’s theory and its impact on the field of child development.   Includes a discussion of Piagetian stages illustrated by live footage of children at each.  some aspects of Piaget’s work are called into question and others, such as cultural influences and social interaction are examined.

The First 2 1/2 Years:   Cognitive Development  (1991, Concept Media, 25 min., color).  Studies the process by which infants from birth to 2 1/2 years acquire and use knowledge.  Discussion topics include habituation, perception, memory, and problem solving.  Observations by Piaget and Kagan are reviewed and suggestions for optimizing cognitive development are given.

How Young Children Learn to Think  (1986, National Association for the Education of Young Children, 19 min., color).  Provides a discussion with noted early childhood educator Constance Kamii, who explains Piaget’s theory.

Piaget’s Developmental Theory:  An Overview  (1989, Davidson Films, 30 min., color).  Presents an overview of Piaget’s developmental theory, using archival footage of Jean Piaget and newly shot footage of David Elkind conducting interviews with children of varying ages.


Suggested Reading:

Beilin, H.  (1992).  Piaget’s enduring contribution to developmental psychology.  Developmental Psychology, 28, 191-204.

Ginsburg, H., & Opper, S.  (1988).  Piaget’s theory of intellectual development (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall

Piaget, J. (1952).  Jean Piaget (autobiographical sketch).  In E. G. Boring, H. S. Langfeld, H. Werner, & R. M. Yerkes (Eds.), A history of psychology in autobiography (pp. 237-256). Worcester, MA:  Clark University Press.



Students typically confuse the meaning of the terms sex and gender. They usually perceive these concepts as synonymous. It is almost imperative that any lecture on theories of gender development begin with defining key concepts and then proceed to a discussion of cognitive-developmental theories. Once the parameters for the lecture have been established it easy to prevent class discussions on human sexuality or other topics related to human anatomy. These are important topics of discussion. However, these topics generate a lot of class discussion that may distract from the topic at hand. 

1. To define key concepts related to this aspect of development

2. To contrast theories of gender development

3. To discuss influences on gender development


Lecture Outline

Some of the key concepts to be define are as follows:

  1. sex- a biologically determined characteristic that identifies one as a male or female; partially determined by physical features.

  2. gender- understanding the cultural meaning of maleness and  femaleness

  3. gender identity- an awareness or recognition of one's gender and all that it implies in a given culture

  4. gender roles- socially appropriate roles for males and females in a given culture; not static, but always discussed in a social cultural context;  the  behaviors, attitudes, skills and traits that are assigned to males or females in a given culture.

  5. gender differences- behavioral differences between males and females that are culturally based

  6. gender typing- learning the appropriate behaviors for males and females in a given culture

  7. gender stereotypes- generalizations about males or females  in a given culture that are not based on facts or critical judgement


Theories of Gender Development
A. Sigmund Freud- Theory of Sex-Role Identification
Freud believed that anatomy was destiny. According to this theory, little girls had penis envy and little boys possessed the desired sexual object: penises. During the preschool period little girls and little boys must resolve the Electra and Oedipus complexes respectively. Successful resolution of these complexes encourages the development of sex-role identification. That is, once children give up or repress the notion of desiring the parent of the opposite sex, they can then begin to see the similarity between themselves and the same sex parent. In this theory, your gender role is determined by your biological sex.

This theory does not receive widespread acceptance today. Most  psychologists embrace a cognitive-developmental or cognitive-social view of gender development.

B. Piaget's Influence
According to Kohlberg, children learn their gender identity around the second year of life. Borrowing from Piagets' theory of cognitive development, Kohlberg believes that children classify behavior as acceptable or unacceptable based for their gender and based on what they perceive to be related or unrelated to their schema for their gender. They don't learn their gender from observing adult models, but they learn gender by assimilating and accommodating information from their environment. In this theory, by age two most children know their gender identity. That is, they know whether or not they are male or female. By age 4, they recognize that gender is constant or that it remains the same dispute superficial external changes a person may make such changing ones dress or voice. Hence the concept gender constancy is relevant here.

C. Social Learning Theory
Social learning theorists believe that one's gender is learned by observing parents and other role models. Supposedly, children observe the behavior of the same sex parent, and they imitate this parent's behavior. Children receive reinforcement for displaying behaviors that deemed socially appropriate and punishment for behaviors deemed inappropriate.

This theory of gender development is still embraced by many psychologists. However, it has been challenged on the grounds that it does not fully explain how gender is learned, especially since some children do not imitate the behavior of the same sex parent. Also, research has demonstrated that personality and other social behaviors are not necessarily learned in this way.

D. Gender Schema Theory
According to Bem, children learn their gender by developing cognitive schemes about what is means to be male or female in a given culture. This theory is based on elements of Piaget's theory of cognitive development and tenets of social learning theory. Bem believes that children develop these schemes by observing the behavior of males and females in a given culture and by interacting with people. She also notes that these schemes are not fixed and can be altered by the child receiving additional cultural information.

This theory of gender development receives the greatest amount of acceptance from psychologists because of its inclusiveness. It offers a balanced view of gender development that examines social and cognitive views.


After lecturing on the key concepts and theories of gender development, students can be challenged to find support for these concepts /theories by examining children's literature, by previewing children's videotapes and programs, and by reading periodicals and newspapers. If time permits, you could also have students observe preschoolers at play time or videotape preschoolers while they are playing.

Divide the class into four or five groups, and assign each group one of the tasks listed above (e.g., read children's literature and look for examples of the concepts and/or theories discussed in class).  Using index cards for each reference, have students cite the incidence of gender stereotype in each context or to describe how gender is presented in each situation. Typically, I have students review 10-12 books and/or 10-12 newspaper articles. The number of television programs and videotapes previewed varies.

Videotaping preschoolers requires the consent of the parents and the preschool center. This may be very difficult to do unless you have a pre-existing relationship with a preschool center.



1) To explain the theories of Piaget and Kohlberg.
2) To apply the theory of Kohlberg to the development of a game for 11 year olds.

Outline Information:
Moral development is related to the rules that people have for their interactions with others. It includes both the reasoning process by which people decide what is right and what is wrong as well as behavior in situations in which morality comes into play. As such, it is related to the development of cognitive skills as described by Piaget.

Piaget divides moral development into 2 stages:

Heteronomous morality occurs from 4-7 years of age. In this stage children believe that punishment will occur immediately if a rule is broken. Rules are unchangeable.

Autonomous morality occurs in older children (around 10 years of age). Children become aware that rules are created by people and that intentions should be considered.

Children between 7-10 years of age are in transitions between the stages. They exhibit features of both stages.

Kohlberg's theory is an extension of Piaget's theory. Kohlberg has 6 stages. He developed his theory by presenting moral dilemmas and examining the reasoning in solving the dilemma. The dilemma (called the Heinz dilemma after the main character) can be found in most introduction to psychology texts. Reasoning can occur at any level on both the pro and con side of an argument.  The description of these can also be found in most introduction or developmental texts.

Level One  -  Preconventional
Stage 1 Punishment/Obedience:  Avoid punishment; Obedience for its own sake 
Stage 2         

Instrumental:  Desire for reward; Acts in own interest
Concrete perspective


Level Two  -  Conventional
Stage 3   Good boy/girl:  Do what is expected; Golden Rule            
Stage 4        Law & Order:  Uphold the Law ;  Respect for authority


Level Three  -   Postconventiona
Stage 5  Social-contract: Welfare of the group; Societal standards
Stage 6 Universal Ethical Principles: Self-chosen principles
Universal moral principles


Research has shown that there are shifts in children's thinking about moral dilemmas as they age.  Both Piaget and Kohlberg hypothesize that social experiences help to promote advances in moral reasoning. Studies confirm that there is a cognitive basis for moral judgment as educational level correlates with score on moral reasoning tests. However, the dilemmas used for these tests are seldom similar to the type faced in real-life.

Critics of Kohlberg have problems with his findings on gender differences in moral development. He consistently found that men are at stage 4 whereas women are at stage 3. Carol Gilligan suggests that females work from a different basis than do men. Women work from a morality of care and responsibility whereas men focus on a morality of justice as described by Kohlberg.

Two other issues arise. One is the influence of sociocultural factors on moral reasoning. His scoring tends to exclude cultures that are more cooperative-oriented. The second issue is the relationship of moral reasoning to moral behavior. Research has not found a strong relationship.

Opening Activity:
Create a dilemma that students are most likely to encounter. Dilemmas related to friends cheating work very well.  It should be customized to the students in the class. Divide students into groups. (You can create mixed groups, same sex groups, mixed culture groups - any way produces good material for discussion.) Have each group decide how to solve the dilemma. Have them include their reasoning process. (If you have access to small tape recorders, you can have them tape it which is useful when students try to change their answers during the discussion.)

Learning Activity:
One activity that seems to help students understand the intricacies of moral development theory and to appreciate the subtleties as well as the developmental components is to have students apply such concepts to a "real-life" situation. In this case, students create a game. Games involve various elements of morality and decision making and there is a clear progression of complexity in the rules in children's game playing abilities and interests. Creating a game as 10 and 11 year old would, playing the game and subsequently analyzing the process gives students a better understanding of the topic. 

Students are divided into groups of four by the instructor (This avoids close friends from being in the same group. I have sometimes purposely created all male and all female groups to discuss gender differences in rule making.)

Each group is given a plastic bag with 10 large, soft plastic jacks (colors vary), 5 marbles, and 2 superball-like balls. One ball is large, one is small. (Items can be purchased at most dollar stores.) Groups also get one aggie (large marble). Each group also gets one overhead and an overhead marker.

The group's task is to create a game, as 10 or 11 year olds would. All items in the plastic bag must be used (the bag does not have to be used). The rules must fit on one overhead.  (Early on, I did not put this one overhead limit on the rules. I learned quickly to limit the rules to one page.)

Students are not told that there must be winners or losers or how to use any of the items. They are merely told to create a game. (Another variation is to assign different ages to the groups so they create games for those ages which allows for age comparisons.)

Students are given 20-30 minutes to create a game.

When students return to the classroom, each group presents their game and overhead of rules.

Once all groups have presented, the class discusses the games: commonalities, differences, developmental issues related to these things.

As a final step, we review Kohlberg and apply the games to his framework.

(This activity was presented at the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, August 1998 by Diane L Finley, Ph.D.)



Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kohlberg, L. (1976).  Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive developmental approach. In T.

Lickona (Ed.) Moral development and behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Turiel, E.  (1997). The development of morality. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, (5th Ed., Vol 111). New York: Wiley.

For information on the sections of the above module contact:


Section 1:
Wanda L. Ruffin, Ph.D.
Psychology Department    
Hood College
401 Rosemont Avenue
Frederick, MD  21701
(301) 696-3761 bus.;  (301) 696-3847 fax

Wanda L. Ruffin, Ph.D.
Psychology Department    
Hood College
401 Rosemont Avenue
Frederick, MD  21701
(301) 696-3761 bus.;  (301) 696-3847 fax

Section 2:
Robin Hailstorks, Ph.D.
Prince George's Community College
301 Largo Road
Largo MD 20774
(301)  322-0525


Section 3:
Diane L. Finley, Ph.D.
Towson University
York Road
Towson MD 21204
(410) 830-3201