Human cognitive development was described in several theories, and one of the major contemporary issues in developmental psychology is sociocultural influences on the progress of the human mind through the life span. The present paper addresses the social and cultural components of cognitive development.
According to Lev Vygotsky, social interaction plays an important role in cognitive development. As he states, “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 49). The primary social environment, the first reference group from which the personal originates is family, so its patterns either accelerate or slow down the harmonious development of a child’s mind. In particular, socioeconomic status is believed to be a predictor of the development of critical and creative thinking abilities and academic success: in poorer and working-class families, children are less likely to learn the respective reasoning patterns, as opposed to the descendants of middle-class households. The distribution of gender roles within the family might also matter: in traditional families, where females have access only to unpaid domestic work, girls are less motivated for growing their self-awareness and intellectual abilities, as they are not expected to display a high level of cognitive development. Parenting style is also a powerful factor, as according to Vygotsky, the More Knowledgeable Other (or a parent) is supposed to invest their energy and resources into child learning, whereas in authoritarian families, parents normally impose on their children high demands without dedicating their time and attention to minors (Astington, Harris & Olson, 1988, p.109). In such families, children are often inhibited emotionally and appear to be less inquisitive subsequently, since their world exploration activities are prevented by parents, who use “commanding/banning” mode of communication. This tendency is also obvious in overprotective families, which try to safeguard their children from the world.
Children are extremely sensitive to family influences before school age; for instance, in early childhood, i.e. 4-6(7) years of age. In Piaget’s terms, this stage of cognitive development is called “pre-operational”, as children aged 4-6 are not able to understand concrete logic and draw conclusions from the apparent evidence. They are still egocentric, and the mission of parents, bringing up a child of this age, is to help their son or daughter in eliminating egocentrism, i.e. teaching them to take into consideration others’ interests. However, if the parents or caregivers are themselves competent in negotiating, finding common ground, and viewing the situation from an interlocutor’s perspective, the child is likely to remain egocentric and have problems in peer interactions at school and kindergarten. At this age, children also learn to use symbols (measurements of time, length, understanding of the role of money), and it is highly important to explain to them these symbols, as this would improve their perception of space and time. In addition, caregivers are supposed to explain how the object and phenomena are interrelated, so that that the basic logic develops. In those families, which fail to provide this education to minors, children might remain at the preoperational stage for a long time.
In terms of physical development, parental eating patterns, attitude towards alcohol, drugs, sports, and personal hygiene play a vital role. In some families, children are not taught even the basic skills of personal care, which might result in a higher number of contagious diseases they catch. Destructive familial eating habits might cause the development of obesity in the child, who is not taught to distinguish between normal and excessive nutrition. If parents neglect child nutrition issues, this might result in life-long problems with the digestive tract, as few individuals are not able to control what they eat until adolescence. The intrafamilial abuse of alcohol and tobacco might develop in the child a view that such consumption patterns are appropriate and make them a heavy drinker or smoker in the future.
As one can conclude, children tend to imitate the behavior of significant others and adopt their views, so it is important to start nurturing a healthy and constructive outlook in a child from the early years. Adults are not able to teach their children those skills which they do not practice or those views, which they do not believe, whereas familial factors play a crucial role in cognitive and physical development.
- Astington, J., Harris, P.L., & Olson, D.R. (1988). Developing theories of mind. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press