Adolescence is considered a difficult time of life and one in which a number of changes occur as the individual achieves a certain integration of different aspects of personality. One approach to the cognitive and emotional transitions made at different times of life is to consider how the changes in, say, adolescence are linked to a continuum of change beginning in childhood and continuing throughout life. Some theorists, such as Piaget, were interested primarily in the transitions of childhood and youth, while others, such as Erikson, saw all of life as a series of transitions and offered a continuum of stages covering all of life.
Piaget became fascinated in his early studies with his discovery that children of the same age often gave the same incorrect answers to questions, suggesting that there were consistent, qualitative differences in the nature of reasoning at different ages, not simply a quantitative increase in the amount of intelligence or knowledge. This discovery marked the beginning of Piaget's continuing effort to identify changes in the way children think; how they perceive their world in different ways at different points in development. Piaget's contributions can be summarized by grouping them into four main areas. First, he produced literature on the general stages of intellectual development from infancy through adulthood. This concern occupied him from 1925 to 1940, and after 1940 he began to describe some of the developmental stages in formal, structural terms using models from symbolic logic (Flavell, 1963, 1-9).
The different stages postulated by Piaget help to explain different rats of learning at different ages as well as the types of learning possible at different ages for the majority of the population. Learning itself is seen by Piaget as a process of discovery on the part of the individual, and learning as a formal activity becomes a system of organization by which instruction is enhanced by the way the teacher arranges experience. Learning is thus experiential, and Piaget suggests that experiences have meaning to the extent that they can be assimilated. Such assimilation does not take place without accommodation, an aspect of considerable importance from the point of view of adaptation and possible development:
One of the principal aims of the teacher wil...
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...enerativity versus stagnation--the individual needs to be needed and to assist the younger members of society, and generativity is concerned with guiding the next generation. The last stage is that of ego integrity versus despair, and this is the time when the way the other conflicts were decided has an influence. If the preceding conflicts were not suitably handled, despair may result in later life (Liebert & Spiegler, 1982, 88-92).
Piaget was most interested in the learning stages for the child, while Erikson carried his stages through the life cycle. Both indicate how the stage of adolescence is part of a continuum, however, prepared for by childhood and leading to adulthood. Further research may differentiate even more divisions over the adolescent years.
Flavell, J.H. (1963). The developmental psychology of Jean Piaget. New York: D. Van Nostrand.
Furth, H.G. (1969). Piaget and Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Liebert, R. M. & M. D. Spiegler (1982). Personality: Strategies and issues. Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press.