MCAT Social and Behavioral Sciences : Cognitive Development

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Cognitive Development

With regard to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, at what age would a normal child most likely be in the concrete operational stage?

Possible Answers:

16 years

14 years

4 months

3 years

9 years

Correct answer:

9 years

Explanation:

Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Each stage is correlated with a series of essential developmental milestones, such as language acquisition and ability to perform simple mathematical calculations. The sensorimotor stage extends from birth to approximately age two, when the child first begins to speak. The pre-operational stage extends from age two to age seven, encompassing the development of imaginative rather than logical or concrete capabilities. The concrete operational stage takes place between ages seven and eleven, during which the child develops logical processing. The formal operational stage extends from age eleven to late teens (15-20) and is defined by the development of higher level thought, such as deductive reasoning, hypothetical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

For this question, we are looking for an answer choice between ages seven and eleven.

Example Question #2 : Cognitive Development

Though the bond between parent and child begins at birth, attachment patterns can be better identified once the child becomes mobile and is able to walk and explore their surroundings. Thus, birth to 18 months of age is a critical time in which attachment bonds form and in which attachment styles begin to be observed and solidified.

Erik Erikson’s first stage of development, which also encompasses birth to 18 months of age, coincides nicely with attachment theory and its tenets. Which of the following best describes the basic conflict in Erikson’s first stage?

Possible Answers:

Trust vs. mistrust

Initiative vs. guilt

Industry vs. Inferiority

None of these

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

Correct answer:

Trust vs. mistrust

Explanation:

Each stage reflects a dialectical struggle between two tendencies, resolution of each conflict results in healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues.

The first stage occurs during infancy, and its basic conflict is Trust vs. Mistrust. At this stage, the child develops a sense of trust when caregivers provide consistent and reliable care and affection. This is akin to the formation of secure attachment as described by attachment theory.

The second stage in Erikson’s model occurs during early childhood. During this stage, the child must resolve the conflict of Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Children discover their independence using different skills and abilities (e.g. potty training, learning to tie their own shoes, etc.). Success leads to feelings of autonomy, while failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.

The third stage occurs during the preschool years; the conflict to be resolved is Initiative vs. Guilt. Children try to assert control over their environment and begin to feel a sense of purpose when they succeed. If the child experiences disapproval as a result of their attempts, a sense of guilt is instilled.

The fourth stage in Erikson’s model deals with the conflict of Industry vs. Inferiority. Children are in the midst of coping with new academic and social demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.

Example Question #3 : Cognitive Development

A child that can think in abstract concepts and is able to systematically solve a problem in a logical way—rather than through trial-and-error—is at what stage of cognitive development?

Possible Answers:

Preoperational stage

Sensorimotor stage

Formal operational stage

Concrete operational stage

Assimilation-accommodation stage

Correct answer:

Formal operational stage

Explanation:

The use of abstract reasoning and logic emerges during the formal operational stage. Adolescents who reach this fourth stage of intellectual development are able to logically use symbols related to abstract concepts, such as algebra and science.

While intriguing, the other choices are incorrect. The key feature of the preoperational stage is egocentrism. During this stage, children are able to think about things symbolically. Their language becomes more mature and they develop memory and imagination; however, their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical (i.e. they cannot yet grasp more complex concepts such as cause and effect or comparisons). At the concrete operational stage, children’s thinking becomes less egocentric and they are increasingly aware of external events. Children develop operational thinking, but still can’t tackle a problem with several variables in a systematic way. The sensorimotor stage occurs during the first two years of life. Infants are constantly experimenting with objects, using their senses to familiarize themselves with the world, such as by putting things in their mouths, and learning about the world through trial and error. Last, the assimilation-accommodation stage is not one of Piaget's developmental stages.

Example Question #4 : Cognitive Development

Milgram’s experiment was designed to test the conditions under which a person’s morality could be overridden by an authority figure who asked the person to carry out an action contradictory to his or her moral beliefs. A person’s morality develops through which of the following?

Possible Answers:

None of these

Socialization

Compliance

Genetics

Isolation

Correct answer:

Socialization

Explanation:

Morality is a set of standards of conduct that is specific to the social group one is embedded in. Socialization is the process by which one person becomes a member of a group, and learning the moral standards of the group is important to retaining group membership. This means that morality cannot develop in isolation, since it is a group-level concept. Morality also does not develop through genetics; although genetics may play a role in a person’s ability to behave morally, the particular moral standards a person holds are learned from the social group they are embedded in. Last, compliance is defined as going along with what others in a group think is right, but it does not imply that the person who is compliant actually agrees with the actions of the group.

Example Question #5 : Cognitive Development

A father has two identical juice boxes. He pours one into a tall, skinny cup for his daughter Sarah, and one into a short, wide cup for his son Max. Max begins crying, insisting that Sarah got more juice. 

According to Piaget's stages of cognitive development, which stage must Max meet in order to understand that he and Sarah received the same amount of juice?

Possible Answers:

Formal operational stage

Concrete operational stage

Object permanence stage

Preoperational stage

Sensorimotor stage

Correct answer:

Concrete operational stage

Explanation:

The concept being addressed in this question is the principle of conservation, in which children learn that quantity stays the same even with changes in shape. The best example is when pouring the same amount of liquid into containers of varying shapes. Children learn this principle in Piaget's concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11). 

The other listed stages in Piaget’s model are incorrect. The sensorimotor stage is from infancy to age 2, during which they learn the principle of object permanence—objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. The preoperational stage is from ages 2 to 7. It is when children learn that symbols and language can be used to represent things; however, they still cannot use logical reasoning. The final stage is the formal operational stage, from age 12 through adulthood. Abstract and moral reasoning develop during this stage. 

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