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date: 19 December 2018

Post-Piagetian Perspectives in the Study of Development

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

In the last century, Piaget’s constructivism theory influenced deeply the study of human development. Despite the progressive loss of influence of his theory, some contemporary perspectives based on his ideas have enriched the understanding of human development: neo-Piagetian perspective, theory of mind, embodied cognition, and representational redescription.

Thanks to the information-processing perspective, functional and executive components of cognition have been progressively integrated into Piaget’s theory. Concepts such as reflexive abstraction or self-regulation, already present in Piaget’s theory, have been developed and have transformed the traditional Piagetian point of view about cognitive development. This new perspective, defended by Pascual-Leone and Case among others, has been called “neo-Piagetian theory.” It offers a more dynamic way to understand cognitive development. Research on theory of mind has contributed to a better understanding of the development of children’s capacity to infer others’ mental states, an important aspect of cognitive and social development. Piaget analyzed how children become progressively less egocentric and more able to understand other perspectives, but these ideas have been deeply transformed and developed in the theory of mind perspective by authors such as Perner, Leslie, or Astington. From the embodied cognition perspective, the main role of the body is taken into account to understand the characteristics of cognition, a nuclear idea of Piaget’s constructivism that has been developed more accurately by some researchers (Varela, Lakoff, Damasio, among others). Finally, a more precise explanation of cognitive development than Piaget’s has been proposed by Karmiloff-Smith through the concept of “representational redescription.” This process describes how representations change along with development. These representational changes contribute to a more conscious and flexible way of thinking. All these theoretical approaches, grounded in Piaget’s theory, achieve a more diverse and dynamic way to understand human development.