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Critical Period: Lifelong Cognitive Development

Evaluate the argument that the early years are a critical period for lifelong cognitive development.

This is my plan:
1. Introduction
2. Cognitive development concerning young children:Piaget, Vygotsky, Bandura
3. Early years-- talk about the family, day care centre (Different forms of provision)
4. Evaluation-what works/doesn't
5. Conclusion

I need ideas and suggestions on what to include in this plan. Thank you.

Solution Preview

Please see response attached, which is presented below as well. I also attached three supporting articles for your consideration.


1. Introduction

The neural circuits in the human brain are determined both by genetic instructions and by experiences encountered in the environment. But the environment's influence on the brain varies greatly with a person's age. For example, the environment has a far greater impact on the nervous system of a newborn than on that of an adult. In fact, during certain early periods of life, the neural pathways are highly sensitive to environmental influences, and a veritable re-modeling of the brain is possible. These intervals of time are known as critical periods. One of the first examples of a critical period to be studied was the period when young birds are susceptible to imprinting, a form of learning first described by Konrad Lorenz, one of the fathers of the science of ethology. In the mid-1930s, Lorenz observed that just after birth, greylag goslings quickly become attached to the first large object that moves in front of them. Most of the time, this is their mother. But if their mother is not there, the goslings will form this attachment with any moving object of sufficient size and follow it around as if it were their mother. In Lorenz's experiments, the objects in question were his own wading boots! This imprint is acquired very rapidly and, once acquired, generally never goes away. (Indeed, Lorenz chose the term "imprint" to suggest the permanence of the trace thus left in the young animals' brains.) An imprint can form only during a limited period of time (in the goslings' case, no more than two days after the eggs have hatched), which is why the term "critical period " is used to describe this decisive phase in social attachment.

The story of Gene, the ferel child lends some support (see

2. Cognitive development concerning young children: Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bandura

An explosion of books, articles and media attention on the development of the baby brain is taking place. One question currently being debated is: how crucial are the experiences of the first three years to a child's future behavior, intelligence, and emotional health? Some developmental specialists believe that if 'critical periods' in brain development are not utilized, opportunities are lost, never to be regained. Others maintain that since brain growth continues after the age of three, opportunities for growth do not shut down. It is their belief that emphasis on providing early intervention services has resulted in neglect of attention to older children. It seems that all too often facts and fiction merge, and the details of research have been exaggerated and applied in unfortunate ways. The purpose of this paper is to...


Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the first people to examine this question systematically. His pioneering role in developmental psychology has often been compared to Darwin's pioneering role in our understanding of the development of species, which is no small compliment. But whereas Darwin had to sail around the world for five years to accumulate his data, Piaget began gathering his in his own home, by studying his own children! He thus became the first to show that children are not less intelligent than adults, but simply reason in a different manner.

However, Piaget (1926) is one psychologist reluctant to ascribe specific innate cognitive or linguistic abilities to children: he considers the brain a homogeneous computational system, with language acquisition being one part of general learning and cognitive development. He agrees this development may be innate, but claims there is no specific language acquisition module in the brain. Instead, he suggests external influences and social interaction trigger language acquisition: information collected from these sources constructs symbolic and functional schemata (thought or behaviour patterns). According to Piaget, cognitive development (and language acquisition) are life-long active processes that constantly update and re-organise schemata. He proposes children develop L1 as they build a sense of identity in reference to the environment, and describes phases of general cognitive development, with processes and patterns changing systematically with age. Piaget assumes language acquisition is part of this complex cognitive development, and that these developmental phases are the basis for an optimal period for language acquisition in childhood. Interactionist approaches derived from Piaget's ideas supports his theory. Some studies (e.g. Newport and Supalla, 1987) show that, rather than abrupt changes in SLA ability after puberty, language ability declines with age, coinciding with declines in other cognitive abilities, thus supporting Piaget. (see

See more information in the attached article(s) for consideration e.g., criticisms of Piaget, such as some critics argue that Piaget greatly underestimated the value of social learning, the kind that comes from parents or, later in life, from teachers.

You might also consider adding research that lends support for Piaget's ideas. Also see


Piaget's idea that all children go through fixed, sequential stages of development has been the target of much criticism. According to Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the development of human beings is too complex to be defined by such stages. Vygotsky, and others after him, accorded far more importance than Piaget did to the social and environmental influences on cognitive development. Contrary to what Piaget posited with his stages of development, Vygotsky's followers see a difference between what children can accomplish on their own and what they can do with the help of an adult. Vygotsky used the term "zone of proximal development" to denote the distance at any given time between what a child actually knows and what the child can learn under the supervision of an adult or through contact with other children.
According to Vygotsky, because the culture (in the large sense) that surrounds a child is thus a determining factor in that child's development, if one studies the development of this child in isolation, as Piaget does, one cannot adequately represent the process by which children actually acquire knowledge. It follows that language is the most effective means that adults have at their disposal to convey knowledge to children. As learning progresses, children's language itself becomes a learning tool that they internalize and use "in their heads " to think about the world. However, these interactions with other people, so essential for the child's development, require an emotional equilibrium and self-esteem that other researchers have placed at the centre of their conception of how the mind develops (see, and also a section of Vygotsky in the file, 'PIAGETS COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT MODLE').
Also see (p.4).


According to Bandura, knowledge is dynamic and individually constructed in ...

Solution Summary

Based on the specified plan, this solution assists to evaluate the argument that the early years are a critical period for lifelong cognitive development. Theory and research validated with references included.