Interaction with Other People Promote Development
Language facilitates cognitive development in a very different way as well: It enables children to exchange ideas with adults and peers. Both Piaget and Vygotsky suggested that social interaction is critical for cognitive development. In Piaget’s view, exchanging ideas with others helps children realize that different individuals see things differently than they themselves do and that their own perspectives are not necessarily completely accurate or logical ones. For example, a 9-year-old may recognize the logical inconsistencies in what she says and does only after someone else points them out. And through discussions with peers or adults about social and political issues, a high school student may modify some initially abstract and idealistic notions about how the world “should” be to reflect the constraints the real world imposes.
For Vygotsky, social interactions are even more important. In fact, they provide the very foundations for cognitive development. For one thing, as children and adults interact, the adults often share the meanings and interpretations they attach to objects, events, and, more generally, human experience. In the process adults transform, or mediate, the situations that children encounter (recall our discussion of mediated learning experiences). Not only do adults help children interpret experiences, but they also share concepts, procedures, strategies, and other cognitive tools that enable children to deal effectively with complex tasks and problems. To the extent that specific cultures pass along unique interpretations, beliefs, concepts, ideas, procedures, strategies, and so on, children in different cultures will acquire somewhat different knowledge, skills, and ways of thinking.
Vygotsky further proposed that social activities provide the seeds from which complex cognitive processes can grow. Essentially, children use complex processes first in interactions with other people and gradually become able to use them independently in their own thought processes. Vygotsky called this process internalization. The progression from self-talk to inner speech just described illustrates this process: Over time, children gradually internalize adults’ directions so that they are eventually giving themselves directions. Yet keep in mind that children do not necessarily internalize exactly what they see and hear in a social context. Rather, internalization often involves transforming ideas and processes to make them uniquely one’s own.
Not all mental processes evolve as children interact with adults. Some also develop as children interact with peers. As an example, children frequently argue with one another about a variety of matters—how best to carry out an activity, what games to play, who did what to whom, and so on. Childhood arguments can help children discover that there are often several ways to view the same situation. Eventually, children internalize the “arguing” process, developing the ability to look at a situation from several different angles on their own. (Vygotsky, 1978.)
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