Cognitive and Brain Development: Executive Function, Piaget, and the Prefrontal Cortex
Piaget was the first psychologist to systematically investigate cognitive development by proposing the theory of constructivism and thereby creating a new approach to examine learning. He stated that children think and reason differently at distinct periods in their lives. Based on this theory, educators and researchers have been exploring the idea of staggered childhood development of cognition and learning. However, there has been a distinct lack of consideration of the concurrent anatomical and physiological development of the brain. This literature review explores the Piagetian and neo-Piagetian theories in the context of recent findings concerning anatomical and physiological brain development with respect to executive function development. This review suggests that Piagetian development theory may be closely aligned with changes in the anatomical and physiological development of the brain—in particular, the prefrontal cortex and its associated connections. The maturation of an individual’s brain and increases in its complexity during childhood and adolescence appear to occur in stages that parallel the stages of cognitive development identified by Piaget.