Cognitive Dev 5023

/Cognitive Dev 5023
Cognitive Dev 50232021-09-22T19:02:37+00:00

5023 Cognitive Development Class, Fall 2021

Semester Dates: September 8th to December 15th

Reading Assignments and Class Instructions

Shared Google Doc Link:

(with Dr. Siegler’s Study Questions)

Class of 9-15-21:

Introduction to Children’s Thinking (CT, Chapter 1: pp 1-19)

  1. What areas fall under the heading of “children’s thinking”? Which among these strike you as core areas, and which as more peripheral?
  2. What does it mean for a quality to be innate? What are some innate qualities of children? Why have philosophers for the past 2000 years been interested in what qualities of children are innate? What difference does it make?
  3. What does it mean to say that a child is in a particular stage? Why do some theorists believe that development occurs in stages whereas others do not?
  4. Why are psychologists interested in individual differences in children’s thinking? Is the interest primarily for practical reasons, for theoretical ones, or both?
  5. Do infants have intelligence in the same sense as older children? What does it mean for an infant to be intelligent? What does it mean for an older child or adult to be intelligent?
  6. Contrast Piagetian and information processing accounts of the processes that produce cognitive change. Which strikes you as more useful?
  7. What do you think are the major advantages of knowing about cognitive development research for educators and others interested in helping children learn more effectively?

Additional Reading:

Siegler, R. S., Saffran, J. R., Eisenberg, N., DeLoache, J. S., & Gershoff, E. (2020). Chapter 1: An introduction to child development (pp. 1-24). How children develop, 6th edition. New York: Worth.  

  1. Longitudinal studies, such as Werner’s study that is described on pp 1-2, play a very large role in developmental psychology, though there are far fewer of them than of cross-sectional studies. What are longitudinal studies, why are they so much more common in developmental psychology than in other areas of psychology, and why are there far fewer of them than cross sectional studies?
  2. Children such as Michael who encounter both biological and environmental challenges are far more likely to encounter later adversity than other children, but a reasonable size minority of such children thrive nonetheless. What do you think accounts for their overcoming their challenges?
  3. Adoption studies of children who had varying amounts of time in harsh orphanages in Romania and other countries have illuminated the roles of nature and nurture in several aspects of child development? What do you consider the main contributions of these studies?
  4. In what ways do children shape their own environments? How might such “environment shopping” contribute to the finding that with age, comparisons of twins of differing degrees of relatedness (identical twins, fraternal twins, siblings, cousins, parent and child, etc.) who are raised apart indicate a growing contribution of genetics to individual differences and a decreasing contribution of shared environment?
  5. Research regarding the development of effortful attention is among the most successful demonstrations of the potential of cognitive developmental neuroscience to explain important developmental changes. Describe what has been done and what has been found in this area. What are the implications for education of this research?
  6. Did findings on the role of sleep in learning surprise you? Will that lead you to try to get more sleep? How about the description of sleeping arrangements around the world: Did that surprise you? If you are thinking of having children or already have them, did learning this material make you think about having your children sleep in the same room with you for several years, rather than the period of a few months that is typical in the U.S.?
  7. Scarr (1992) cited four factors that lead to individual differences among children, even within a single family: genetic differences, differing treatment by other people, differing reactions to that treatment, and differing choices of environments. How do these factors interact; for example, how do differences in children’s characteristics lead to differing treatment by other people and differences in the children’s choices of environments?

Class of 9-22-21

Piaget’s Theory (CT, Chapter 2: pp 20-49)`

  1. Why has Piaget’s theory endured so long?
  2. What does Piaget mean when he says a child is in a particular stage?
  3. What evidence indicates that a child is in a particular stage?
  4. What are assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration, and how do they work together to produce cognitive growth?
  5. Has the use of new methods provided more support or more evidence against the view that Piaget’s theory is a valuable description of cognitive development?
  6. What are the implications of findings of early competence for Piaget’s theory?
  7. In what senses does children’s thinking show qualitative changes and in what senses doesn’t it?
  8. How well do Piaget’s general characterizations, such as preoperational stage children being described as egocentric, or adolescents reasoning at the formal operational level, fit children’s thinking?
  9. How have modern theories built on the legacy of Piaget’s research?

Additional Reading:

Piaget, J. (1952). Chapter 1: Conservation of continuous quantities. The child’s conception of number (pp. 3-24). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

  1. Piaget’s conservation problems are quite distant from the type of conservation of motion (inertia) that he uses to justify the importance of the concept. What does this “far transfer” tell you about his general approach to studying development?
  2. What is the difference between continuous and discontinuous quantity?
  3. Why does Piaget claim that “The child does not first acquire the notion of quantity and then attribute constancy to it; he discovers true quantification only when he is capable of constructing wholes that are preserved” (p. 5).
  4. How did Piaget generate his tasks? What were the desired properties that he was seeking and that guided his generation process?
  5. Is Clairette being illogical when she believes that there was more liquid when it was poured into a tall thin glass? Can you think of any analogous situations where similar transformations yield results where the relevant property is not conserved?
  6. Piaget raises the issue that people might attribute his findings to children not understanding the question. Do you think that interpretation is correct? How could you test the interpretation?
  7. Piaget also notes that his task places reasoning and perceptions in opposition. Is this a flaw or a feature for efforts to assess children’s knowledge?
  8. What is transitivity? Why does Piaget view transitivity as important in the context of conservation judgments? Are all quantitative relations transitive?
  9. If you were shown two glasses with the same amount of water, one glass tall and thin and the other short and squat, do you think you’d judge their quantity equal? In other words, can you do “logical multiplication” (p. 16)? What does this tell us about the nature of the conservation concept?
  10. Does it surprise you that here and elsewhere, Piaget postulates 3 rather than 2 developmental levels? How would you characterize the three? What do the intermediary reactions (pp. 13-14) tell us about the development of conservation understanding?
  11. Piaget emphasizes that what makes Stage 3 understanding of conservation possible is the insight that the difference in heights of the liquid columns exactly offsets the difference in cross sectional areas. How would children have to conceptualize the differences in order to reach this conclusion? Are 7-year-olds likely to be able to do this?
  12. Given subsequent findings that there are some versions of conservation tasks (e.g., number conservation tasks with small numbers of objects in each row), does this invalidate Piaget’s conclusion that children do not understand conservation? How can we accommodate both Piaget’s observations and those of subsequent studies where children were more successful?
  13. Now that you know about the liquid quantity conservation task, can you generate other conservation tasks that would show similar development?


Class of 9-29-21

Information Processing Theories (CT, Chapter 3: pp 65-106)

  1. What similarities unite information processing theories?
  2. Within multistore models what are the main structures of the information processing (memory) system? What are the main processes of the system? Which aspects of the system change with age and experience, and which remain constant?
  3. What is automatization? How does automatization contribute to age-related improvements in the amount of material that children can remember? How can it be harmful?
  4. What is encoding? How does improved encoding contribute to age related improvements in the amount of material that children remember?
  5. What are the structures within production system models? What information is included in each production? How does thinking occur within a production system?
  6. In the Taatgen and Anderson model, what factors influence which production is chosen to fire when several productions meet the conditions? How does the system learn?
  7. What are the main components within connectionist units? How does processing occur within connectionist models? How do connectionist models learn?
  8. What are the main concepts of dynamic systems models? What is self-organization? What are attractor states? What leads belly crawling and hand-and-knee crawling to be attractor sites?

Additional Reading:

Siegler, R. S., Im, S. H., Tian, J., Schiller, L. S., & Braithwaite, D. W. (in press). The sleep of reason produces monsters: How and when biased input shapes mathematics learning. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology.

Class of 10-6-21

Sociocultural Theories (CT, Chapter 4: pp 107-140)

  1. What are the main differences between sociocultural theories, on the one hand, and Piagetian and information processing theory on the other?
  2. What is the “internalization of socially-shared processes”? What is the difference between the intermental and the intramental levels of learning? Why are both necessary within Vygotsky’s theory? How does learning to tie one’s shoes illustrate both levels of learning?
  3. How does research on the development of abacus expertise illustrate the role of cultural tools in cognitive development?
  4. What is the zone of proximal development? Why did Vygotsky emphasize it within his theory, and what does this concept, and the lack of a corresponding concept in Piaget’s theory, say about the differences between the two theories?
  5. Why does Vygotsky view language as a “cultural tool?” Can you name 10 other cultural tools, other than objects that are usually referred to as tools?
  6. What is intersubjectivity, how does it develop, and why is it such an important concept within sociocultural theories?
  7. According to Tomasello, what are the key factors that distinguish people from other animals? Do you agree with his claim?
  8. What are imitative learning, instructed learning, and collaborative learning? What is the order in which these become important in children’s lives?
  9. What is social scaffolding? Why is the metaphor of a scaffold a good one? How do adults vary in the scaffolding they provide, and how do these variations influence children’s learning?
  10. What variables influence the quality of children’s collaborative interactions?
  11. What is guided participation? How is it similar and different across different cultures, and why do you think these similarities and differences occur?
  12. How does language influence thought, particularly thinking about spatial relations? Can you think of other concepts where language influences the way in which people think?
  13. What is dynamic assessment? What are its advantages and disadvantages? Would dynamic assessment be a superior alternative to current standardized tests?
  14. Why do you think the fostering communities of learners methods are effective? What demands do these approaches place on teachers?

Additional Readings:

Göncü, A., & Gauvain, M. (2012). Sociocultural approaches to educational psychology: Theory, research, and application. In K. R. Harris, et al. (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 1: Theories, constructs, and critical issues (pp. 123-152). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Class of 10-13-21

Language Development (CT, Chapter 6: pp 186-224)

  1. Describe four major aspects of language. What is the difference between comprehension and production of each of these? In what order do they first become important in language development?
  2. What evidence has led some researchers to conclude that language development requires special mechanisms, different than other aspects of development? Is language processing localized in special areas of the brain (and if so, where)?
  3. Why does early-occurring brain damage have less adverse effects on language development than later-occurring damage? Why does early brain damage to the left hemisphere often result in reduced spatial processing, given that spatial processing mainly occurs in the right hemisphere?
  4. What is the developmental sequence that leads to production of patterned speech? Is “manual babbling” part of the same phenomenon?
  5. In what ways do languages accommodate the abilities of toddlers?
  6. What do infants’ first words tell us about their thinking?
  7. How do babies choose which words to include (and not include) in their early utterances? What do their choices tell us about their purpose in talking?
  8. Which are most common: underextensions or overextensions? Describe the evidence on which your conclusion is reached. What are the implications of this finding for learning in general?
  9. What is the “language explosion,” and what does it tell us about the developing child?
  10. What constraints are present on children’s language learning, and how do they help or hinder language development?
  11. How does understanding of the social world contribute to language learning?
  12. What is grammar? What evidence is there that it is separate from meaning psychologically?
  13. What evidence indicates early sensitivity to word order? Why is this sensitivity crucial for learning grammar?
  14. Describe the sequence in which most English-speaking children learn to ask questions. Why do you think it takes most children a couple of years to master the grammar of doing so?
  15. What evidence is there for critical periods in language learning? Why is the evidence more dramatic for people whose native language is Chinese or Japanese than for people whose native language is Spanish or French?
  16. Describe each of the four main explanations for grammatical development: Basic child grammar, semantic bootstrapping, construction grammar, or connectionist accounts? Which seems most plausible to you?
  17. How does communication differ from meaning?
  18. What does research on gestural development tell us about language development in general?

Additional Readings:

Senghas, A., & Coppola, M. (2001). Children creating language: How Nicaraguan sign language acquired a spatial grammar. Psychological Science, 12, 323-328.

Smith, L. B., Jones, S. S., Landau, B., Gershkoff-Stowe, L., & Samuelson, L. (2002). Object name learning provides on-the-job training for attention. Psychological Science, 13, 13-19.


Class of 10-20-21

Memory Development (CT, Chapter 7: pp 226-267)

  1. What are the main memory systems, and the main subsystems within each? How do these systems and sub-systems differ from each other? Cite both behavioral and neural evidence,
  2. What are the differences among encoding, storage, and retrieval? Why are all necessary for memory to function?
  3. What distinguishes verbatim from gist memory. How does the distinction help explain age-related improvements in memory? Why do young children rely on gist less than older children?
  4. Why is it so dangerous to err in either direction in child eyewitness testimony cases?
  5. Why are young children more suggestible than older ones?
  6. Why is prior knowledge both helpful and harmful in children’s eyewitness testimony? If you were a jury member, would you put more credence in the eyewitness testimony of a child who had a lot of prior knowledge about the person who was accused of a crime or a child who had never met the person?
  7. What are open-ended questions and leading questions? Provide examples of each. Why are leading questions dangerous?
  8. What are the differences between elaborative and non-elaborative styles? What beneficial effects do elaborative styles seem to have?
  9. What evidence indicates that teachers’ approaches to remembering influences children’s memory?
  10. How does culture influence what children remember?
  11. What is infantile amnesia? What explanation(s) of it seem(s) the most plausible to you?
  12. What basic memory abilities are present even in infancy, and what do they allow infants to do?
  13. What are memory strategies, and how do they contribute to development? How does culture influence use of such strategies?
  14. What general patterns of development are present across such memory strategies as rehearsal, organization, and selective attention?
  15. What are utilization deficiencies? Why do children continue to use strategies that do them little good or no good?
  16. What difference does it make what children know about their memories? Give examples of explicit and implicit metacognition other than those in the book, especially ones relevant to education.
  17. What good does it do people to have good self-monitoring skills? Why might younger children be less good at self-monitoring than older ones?
  18. High IQ children with little knowledge of soccer learn less about new soccer games they are told about than do low IQ children with more knowledge of soccer. What are the implications of this finding?
  19. How does knowledge shape what is remembered, as well as how much is remembered? How can information given after an event shape memory for the event?
  20. Why do children form scripts? How do they help children remember events in their lives?
  21. What do children’s retelling of stories reveal about their understanding of the stories?
  22. Describe the interrelations between increasing content knowledge and improvements in basic processes, strategies, and metacognition.
  23. Through what mechanisms does content knowledge influence memory?

Additional Readings:

Eacott, M. J. (1999). Memory for the events of early childhood. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(2), pp 46-49. Stable URL:

Brown, D. A., & Lamb, M. E. (2015). Can children be useful witnesses? It depends on how they’re questioned. Child Development Perspectives. 9, 250-255.


Class of 10-27-21

Conceptual Development I (CT, Chapter 8: pp 268-304)

  1. Why do you think researchers sometimes look at conceptual development in general, and other times at the development of particular concepts?
  2. Defining features representations are the oldest approach to conceptual understanding. Why did they develop so early, why have they endured so long, and what is their current status?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of probabilistic representations relative to defining features representations? In what ways are the concepts of cue validities, basic-level categories, correlations among features of natural concepts, and prototypes useful for analyzing conceptual development?
  4. Theory-based representations are the most recent approach to conceptual development. Why do you think this was the last approach to be proposed? What phenomena were people trying to capture by proposing it? Do infants really have implicit theories of complex phenomena like the activities of physical objects? What does it mean to say that infants have a theory anyway?
  5. Carey has proposed that the number of theories develops from an initial two—theories of physics and psychology—to about a dozen. Is this a useful way of viewing cognitive development? What evidence would be most useful for evaluating it?
  6. What is the difference between experiential time and logical time, and why does understanding of the one precede understanding of the other in development?
  7. How do egocentric, landmark-based, and allocentric senses of space differ?
  8. How does self-produced locomotion contribute to a more mature sense of space, both in performance at one time and over the course of development?
  9. How do culture and everyday experience influence children’s spatial strategies?
  10. In what senses do infants understand arithmetic, and in what senses don’t they understand it?
  11. What are the implications of whether children understand counting principles before or after they become able to count?
  12. Why is it so much easier for children to form the animate/inanimate distinction than the living/nonliving distinction?
  13. Do you think children are predisposed to learn quickly about biology, as they are about language?
  14. Do children have theories of biology or just some knowledge about biology? What criteria does children’s knowledge need to meet to count as a theory?

Additional Readings:

Smith, E. D., & Lillard, A. S. (2012). Play on: Retrospective reports on the persistence of pretend play into middle childhood. Journal of Cognition and Development, 13, 524-549.

Taylor, M. & Mannering, A. M. (2007). Of Hobbes and Harvey: The imaginary companions of children and adults. In A. Göncü & S. Gaskins (Eds.), Play and development: Evolutionary, socicocultural, and functional perspectives (pp. 227-247). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Class of 11-3-21: Midterm

Class of 11-10-21

Social Cognition (CT, Chapter 9: pp 305-340)

  1. What evidence indicates that infants come to the world prepared to interact with other people and learn from them?
  2. How do children’s concepts of other people change with age and experience?
  3. How does understanding of the self — physical, perceptual, social, and psychological — change in the first five years?
  4. Why is understanding of intention so basic to people’s theory of mind?
  5. What role do understanding of desires and beliefs play in the development of social cognition? Cite evidence for your claims.
  6. What do preschoolers understand about thinking; what don’t they understand?
  7. Describe the basic tasks used to study understanding of false belief and children’s behavior on them. What are the main interpretations of the findings, and which do you think is most compelling?
  8. Do 4- to 8-year-olds truly believe in magic, or do they just view it as a form of play or pretending? On what evidence do you base your conclusion?
  9. Why do children develop imaginary companions if they understand they are not real? In what ways are their ideas about imaginary companions related to their ideas about fantasy figures such as monsters, ghosts, and witches?
  10. What are the main explanations for the development of theory of mind? Which of them strikes you as most persuasive, and why?
  11. What role does imitation play in children’s learning from other people? Why do children “over-imitate?”
  12. What is “natural pedagogy”? What evidence exists that even infants and young children benefit from older people’s efforts to teach them?
  13. What is shared intentionality? How does the desire for it help children learn?
  14. How do children decide who to trust in the process of knowledge acquisition?

Additional Readings:

Harris, P. L., & Corriveau, K. H. (2011). Young children’s selective trust in informants. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), 1179–1187. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01356.x

Spelke, E. S., & Kinzler, K. D. (2007). Core knowledge. Developmental Science, 10(1), 89–96. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2007.00569.x


Class of 11-17-21

Problem Solving (CT, Chapter 10: pp 341-380)

  1. Why do you think that problem solving is a bigger part of research on children’s thinking than of that of adults?
  2. What is the “bricoleur” metaphor? Is it a useful characterization of children’s problem solving?
  3. How do conflicts among goals influence problem solving, for example in the context of Klahr’s research on the dog-cat-mouse problem?
  4. What is encoding? Why is it difficult to encode balls falling from flatcars?
  5. What are mental models? Why do so many children develop faulty mental models of the earth?
  6. What are the main lessons of microgenetic studies? What are the advantages of this approach relative to typical cross sectional and longitudinal approaches?
  7. What does it mean for children to have a rule for solving problems, and how can we tell whether a child is using a specific rule (for example on the balance scale)?
  8. How did encoding contribute to developmental differences in learning about balance scales? On what other tasks might encoding influence the development of problem solving?
  9. What leads to 5-year-olds so often relying on a single dimension to solve problems?
  10. Why do children so often fail to plan in situations where planning would help them?
  11. In what ways does children’s planning improve with age and experience? Describe some examples.
  12. What are some of the main ways that tool use improves with age and experience?
  13. What led DeLoache to conclude that 2 1/2-year-olds’ difficulty in using scale models was a conflict between viewing the scale models as interesting objects in their own right and viewing them as symbols?
  14. When do children rely on the Humean variables (the variables identified by Hume) to draw causal inferences, and when do they rely on understanding of mechanisms?
  15. What evidence indicates that infants and young children can draw causal inferences from patterns of observations, even about events they have not seen? In what ways is this similar, and in what ways different, from the Humean perspective?
  16. What is an analogy, and why is the ability to draw analogies important within cognitive development? How does encoding affect the analogies that people draw? Why does inhibitory control influence success as drawing appropriate analogies? How do teachers use analogies to help students learn?
  17. Why is the ability to draw causal inferences crucial for the ability to draw analogies?
  18. How do inductive and deductive reasoning differ? What evidence led to the conclusion that young children do not understand the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning? What leads to their later understanding the difference?

Additional Readings:

Alibali, M. W., Spencer, R. C., Knox, L., & Kita, S. (2011). Spontaneous gestures influence strategy choices in problem solving. Psychological Science, 22, 1138-1144.

Uttal, D. and Yuan, L. (2014). Using symbols: Developmental perspectives. Wiley Interdisciplinary Review: Cognitive Science, 5, 295-304.


Class of 11-24-21 – No Class (Thanksgiving Holiday)

Class of 12-1-21

Development of Academic Skills (CT, Chapter 11: pp 381-421)

  1. What are the implications of children who attend first grade learning the same amount of math regardless of which side of the age cutoff they were? What are the implications of number conservation knowledge being unaffected by children’s age being unaffected by whether their birthday is just before or just after the cutoff? Would this information influence your decision of when to start your child in school if their birthday was near the cutoff?
  2. Why do 4- to 8-year-olds use such a wide variety of strategies on arithmetic problems?
  3. Are teachers making a mistake when they tell children not to use their fingers to solve arithmetic problems?
  4. How does the analysis of individual differences that comes out of the strategy choice model differ from that which would emerge from standardized tests?
  5. How do children with mathematics disabilities differ from other children? Which problem do you think is most central to their difficulty in learning math?
  6. Why does it take children so long to understand problems such as a+b-b=__? and a+b+c=__+c?
  7. What process leads children to generate the types of bugs that are described in long subtraction, fractions, and algebra?
  8. What is representational fluency, and how does it help children learn?
  9. What are the basic stages of reading development, and when do they occur?
  10. Why is phonemic awareness now thought to be more crucial to learning to read than knowing the names of the letters?
  11. Why is it important for children to possess both phonological decoding and retrieval skills?
  12. In what ways are choices among strategies for decoding words similar to, and different from, strategy choices in the context of arithmetic?
  13. Why are oral comprehension and reading comprehension correlated positively, but not perfectly?
  14. Why does early automaticity of reading predict later reading comprehension?
  15. Why is background knowledge a critical determinant of reading comprehension? How is this illustrated in the Mrs. McGinnis and the Raccoon story?
  16. What do you think is the key factor in producing the effectiveness of reciprocal instruction?
  17. Given the several reasons for why writing well is difficult. How would you go about helping children write better? Will word processing help?

Additional Readings:

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2011). Early childhood mathematics intervention. Science, 333, 968-970.

Fuchs, L. S., Schumacher, R. F., Long, J., Namkung, J., Hamlett, C. L., Cirino, P. T., Jordan N. C., Siegler, R., Gersten R., & Changas, P. (2013). Improving at-risk learners’ understanding of fractions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 683-700. doi: 10.1037/a0032446

Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L (2004). Early learning and school readiness: Can early intervention make a difference? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50, 471-491.

Class of 12-8-21

Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through Third Grade, pp. 1-39 (You can download this What Works Practice Guide from here:

Additional Readings:

Palinscar, A. S. (1986). Reciprocal teaching. In A. S. Palincsar, D. S. Ogle, B. F. Jones, & E. G. Carr (Eds.), Teaching reading as thinking (pp. 5-10). Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(4), 437–447.

Compton, D. L., Miller, A. C., Elleman, A. M., & Steacy, L. M. (2014). Have we forsaken reading theory in the name of “Quick Fix” interventions for children with reading disability? Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 55-73. doi 10.1080/10888438.2013.836200.


Class of 12-15-21: Final Exam

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