Psychology A2 Unit Revision: Cognition and Development and Aggression



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Outline: Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development


  • schemas- self constructed mental structures, developed over time via interaction with the world.
  • assimilation- existing schema is used on a new object.
  • accomadation- adaption of existing schema to understand new information.
  • equilibration- resovling of schema issue due to short-comings in thinking.
  • operations- logical mental rules which can change during development.


  • Sensorimotor (0-2) - circular reactions (repeating the same action) and object permenance.
  • PreOperational (2-7) - lacks internally consistent logic and revesibility of thought, egocentric.
  • ConcreteOperational (7-11) - conservation of quantities shows logic in concrete context.
  • FormalOperational (11+) - idealistic thinking and hypodeductive reasoning.
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Evaluate: Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Evidence for Stages:

  • Sensorimotor - Rolling car task with small or large carrot behind screen, infants looked longer when the carrot didn't appear suggesting they expect the top 1/2 to be visible which demonstrates object permenance.
  • PreOperational - 3 Mountains task, 4 year olds tend to choose their own perspective rather than the one from the doll showing egocentricity.
  • ConcreteOperational - Conservation of quantity using beakers of different shapes, by age 7 children can conserve
  • FormalOperational - Beaker problem of how to make yellow, younger children use random combinations whilst older children use a strategy, showing hypodeductive reasoning.

Limitations of Piaget's research:

  • too much logic, ignores social factors such as group work
  • methodology may confuse younger participants
  • underestimated children's abilities at younger ages.
  • Dasen found only 1/3 of adults reach FormalOperational Stage.
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Outline: Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Developmen

Social interaction plays a fundamental role in cognitive development.

Mental Processes:

  • Children are born with elementary mental functions which are converted to higher mental functions through culture, this is exclusively human.
  • Both the knowledge and the thinking processes are aquired through culture.
  • Cognitive maturation is driven by biological maturation.

Processes of Cultural Influence:

  • Children learn with an expert and as learning progresses responsibility is transfered from the expert to the child.
  • Culture is transmitted through language from a pre-intellectual shared dialogue to an inner speech.
  • All functions appear twice, once on a social level and then on an individual level.
  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is where children learn through interaction
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Evaluate: Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Developme

Research Evidence:

  • Culture claims are supported by cross-cultural research from Papua New Guinea where a primitive counting system is used, this shows that culture can limit development.
  • Language priniciples suggest that a new word is the beginning of a concept, Carmichael gave 2 alternative labels for drawings and subsequent drawings differed according to the label given.
  • ZPD was demonstrated in a puzzle study, children reached a higher difficulty level with their mothers than alone so defining their ZPD, when puzzles were too easy the focus was on keeping going, in the ZPD focus was on helping child do the puzzle themself, beyond ZPD the focus was on completing the puzzle by any means.


  • relatively little research compared to Piaget.
  • concepts more difficult to operationalise
  • overplayed importance of social factors
  • lacks detail
  • higher mental functions are not exculsively human as shown by Savage-Rumbaugh.
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Outline: Applying Cognitive Theories to Education


  • Readiness - a child cannot do things before being biological ready so activities should be kept at an appropraite level for the child's age and ability
  • Cognitive growth - comes from a desire to resolve disequilibrium caused so teachers should create an environment which challenges existing schemas
  • Logical thinking - this is not innate so Maths and Science on the curriculum develops this


  • Collaboration - children of varied performance levels work together towards a common goal, they share responsibility for each other's learning which brings different perspectives together to better generate a solution.
  • MKO - a more knowledgable other may peer tutor a child.
  • Scaffolding - involves assisting a child through their ZPD, the expert creates a temporary support which is withdrawn as the child progresses.
  • ZPD - provides motivation from MKO's who encourage more difficult tasks, take control when nessesary and hand over responsibility gradually.
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Evaluate: Applying Cognitive Theories to Education


  • Readiness implies that practise on a task shouldn't lead to improved performance but Bryant showed that PreOperational children can be trained to perform logical tasks and that failure is down to memeory not logic. Dunner and Day tutored 10 year olds on formal operations tasks but no improvement was shown.
  • Piagetian view is culturally biased in individualistic European ideals.
  • Real learning is more complex as teachers using the same method may secure different results.


  • Students who participate in collaborative learning perform better on individual critical thinking tasks.
  • Peer tutoring leads to development in both the tutor and the tutees' academic and social development.
  • Successful scaffolding relies on contingency regulation, task mastery is related to MKO's responses to different situations.
  • Mainly concerned with problem solving abilities and misses out emotional intelligence
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Outline: Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg collected data using 9 hypothetic moral dilemmas and interviewed 84 boys aged 10, 13 and 16 with open-ended questions to create a stage theory. The stages are invarient, universal, require biological maturation, disequilibrium and gains in perspective taking.

PreConventional Level: Acceptance of rules, punishment is bad whilst reward is good

  • Punishment/obedience orientation - "stealing is wrong"
  • Instrumental purpose - "he had to save his wife"

Conventional Level: conformity to social rules is desirable to ensure positive relationships

  • Interpersonal cooperation - "he would be inhuman if he didn't save his wife"
  • Social order maintainance - "it his duty to obey the law"

PostConventional Level: morality is defined in terms of abstract moral principles

  • Social contract - "law wasn't meant to violate life"
  • Universal ethical principles - "respect for property is less important than respect for life"
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Evaluate: Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

  • The theory concerns itself with moral thinking rather than moral behaviour, Kohlberg predicted that those who think more maturaly, act more maturaly, for example: 70% of those at a PreConventional Level cheated compared to 15% at a PostConventional Level.
  • However, they may only behave consistently with their moral principles in certain situations, other factors are also significant such as reward or punishment.
  • Participants didn't make consistent judgement, some gave Stage 1 reasoning for one question and Stage 3 for another question as moral behaviour may be overidden by other factors such as the possiblity for financial gain or moral reasoning is used after the event not before.
  • The classification was based on a morality of justice, Gilligan suggested that women focus on care rather than justice.
  • The scenarios were not based on real-life decisions so may have made little sense, especially to younger participants.
  • The PostConventional Level is much more prevelent in industrial society than in rural society as industrial society promotes more opportunites for conflict and thus requires moral reasoning. 
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Outline: Development of a Child's Sense of Self

Subjective Self-Awareness: At two months, infants have personal agency. Bahrick showed that at 5 months infants had an awareness of what their legs were doing. 5-8 month olds looked at pictures of other children longer than pictures of themselves suggesting they know they are different from others.

Objective Self-Awareness: Lewis suggested that this is the ability to reflect upon oneself, the Mirror (or Rouge) Test was used to prove this. By 2 years old, babies touched their own nose. This is also the age personal pronouns are first used.

Psychological Self: 4 year olds describe themselves by physical characteristics but when questions were used to gain insight the choices were stable over time. At this age, self esteem first appears.

Theory of Mind (ToM): ToM is an intuitive set of beliefs and an understanding that others have different mind. By age 2, an understanding is beginning to develop as children can comfort others. Social relationships require Tom which generally appear around age 3 or 4 and is tested using the Sally-Anne Test.

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Evaluate: Development of a Child's Sense of Self

Subjective Self-Awareness: Freudians take the view that the infant has no sense of seperateness and that indviduation occurs within the first few months of life.

Objective Self-Awareness: Self-recognition occurs first in those who are securely attached and encouraged to be independent, North American children reached this stage nealy 2 years before Chinese children. Securely attached individuals also had higher self esteem.

ToM: Baron-Cohen found that autistic children lack ToM but those with Down's Syndrome don't showing that the social abnormalities typical of autism are due to a lack of ToM not a low IQ. ToM is not purely a biological development as it appears faster in children from large families.

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Outline: Development of a Child's Understanding

Wellman and Woolley distinguished between knowing someone's internal state and knowing their representation of the world.

Imitation: newborns who are less than 72 hours old can mimic facial expressions as well as munual gestures.

Intentions: infants of 3 months can follow a person's gaze to a nearby object suggesting an understanding of communicative intent. By 1 year, they can reliably follow gaze or gesture to more distant objects. Autistic children can do this normally suggesting the ability to gauge intent is different from ToM.

Egocentricity: Piaget said that the preoperational child was egocentric as demonstrated by the 3 Mountains task which shows perceptual perspective taking.

Roletaking: Selman said this was central to social development as it led to prosocial behaviour, he developed a theory which explained the transition from a child's own perspective to a societal perspective.

Deception: Aged 3 children are capable of planting a false belief, Cole found they could hide disappointment at recieving a bad present.

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Evaluate: Development of a Child's Understanding

Seperate Modules: one theory suggests that there are seperate modules for different abilities which appear at different times which would explain why autistic children can understand intention and perform the 3 mountains task like other children their age but don't develop ToM.

Interdependence: another theory argues for a continuum of imitation to intention to ToM as percuptual perspective-taking is an essential component of ToM and children with sensory impairments develop ToM later.

Importance: role taking is an essential part of moral understanding, popular children have better role taking abilities so social success is related to understanding mental states of others. ToM evolved so animals of the same species could understand each other. Machiavellian intelligence is also evolutionary as it gives members on adaptive advantage.

Real World Application: Selman's role taking is especially important in primary schools and SST can be used with older children. SST is also effective with criminals as a lack of ability to role take may explain criminal behaviour.

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Outline: Social Learning Theory

SLT suggests we learn by observing others, this is how we learn the specifics of aggressive behaviour. Our biological makeup creates the potential for aggression and the expression of aggression is learnt.

Children learn through observation and imitation of role models they identify with, the consequences of aggression are learnt via vicarious reinforcement: watching others be reward or punished for aggression. Thus, a child learns when it appropriate or effective to use aggression and whether the behaviour is worth repeating.

Children form representations of these events in the social environment and represent possible rewards and punishments. They will display the behaviour in the future if the reward is more likely than punishment.

If rewarded, a child is likely to repeat the behaviour and develops confidence in their ability to repeat the behaviour successfully, if the behaviour is disarterous they are unlikely to repeat it and may try a different strategy.

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Evaluate: Social Learning Theory

In a later study, Bandura rewarded the model for aggression in one group which led to higher levels of aggression in the group who saw this. If the model was punished for aggression, then the levels of aggression in the group went down. The no reward, no punishment group was inbetween the two levels.

Group 2 may have showed low levels of aggression because punishment prevented learning or performance. In a repeat of the study, Bandura now offered rewards to all groups and all produced similar levels of aggression, production of aggression is therefore related to reinforcement.

Philips found that amongst adults the daily homicide rate went up after major boxing matches.


  • explains aggression in the absence of direct reinforcement
  • explains differences in aggression and non-aggression in terms of behaviour between and within individuals
  • some cultures emphasise and model low levels of aggression, people react differently in different situation.
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Outline: Deindividuation

DI is based on crowd theory by LeBon, an individual is transformed as part of the crowd's 'collective mind'

Low self-evaluation and low concern about evaluation by others results in an increase in behaviour normally inhibited by personal and social norms. Factors include: uniforms and altered conscience due to alcohol or drugs. Same conditions can lead to prosocial behaviour as well but DI focuses on anti-social consequences.

People are not usually aggressive due to social norms and easy identification. Being anonymous reduces awareness of individuality, lowers guilt and chance of negative evaluation.

Zimbado asked female students to give electric shocks to aid learning, 1/2 were anonymous, 1/2 were normal. The DI condition produced shocks 2x the length of the other group.

Rehm found that German school children who wore orange shirts were more aggressive in a handball game than those in their street clothes due to DI.

Mullen studied reports of 60 lynchings and found an increase in savagery in a larger crowd

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Evaluation: Deindividuation

Local group norms are also significant, Zimbado did another experiment, 1/2 were dressed as nurses and 1/2 as KKK members. The shocks were much higher from the KKK group compared to the nurses showinng social context is important.

Postmes did a meta-analysis and found insufficient support for DI, aggression was not more common in groups, anonymous conditions or those with reduced private self awareness.

DI also has consequences in prosocial behaviour depending on the situation and factors such as a prosocial model which led to a greater production of altrusistic acts. Equally, online in a DI condition of interent chatrooms led to those seeking help with mental health conditions prefering to go online than to an individual meeting with a therapist.

Cultural differences are also significant, those who changed their appearance before war were more likely to torture, mutilate and kill their enemy than those who did not.

MANN studied suicide jumpers and found that 10/21 occasions where a crowd had gathered and baited were at night, there was a large crowd, they were far away from the jumper.

Males are more likely to be aggressive in a DI condition than females

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Outline: Genetic Factors in Aggression

Twin Studies: 50% of variance can be attributed to genetic factors generally however, if MZ twins are alike this amy be more due to environment than genetic factors.

Adoption Studies: allow environment and genetic factors to be disentangled, a study of 14000 adoptions in Denmark found that adopted boys with criminal convictions also had biological fathers with criminal convictions.

Highest rates of criminal violence occur when biological and environmental interact

MAOA: is a gene associated with aggression, it regulates serotonin and low levels of Serotonin are linked to aggression. A study of aggressive and violent Dutch family showed many male members had a low MAOA and a defect in this gene.

Caspi studied 500 male children who had low MAOA levels and found they were significantly more likely to grow up to aggressive behaviour if they had been mal-treated. Those with high levels who were mal-treated were not aggressive and those with low levels who were not mal-treated were not aggressive.

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Evaluate: Genetic Factors in Aggression

The connection between aggression and genes is not a straightforward one:

  • more than 1 gene is responsible for the production of aggression.
  • there are other factors that contribute to aggression
  • influences interact.

Miles and Cary supported the finding of 50% of variance in aggression, genes and family situation are important indicators of aggression early in life and genes become more significant later on. The mode of assessment was also crucial, parental or selfreport techniques often showed higher levels of genetic contribution whilst observation showed a more crucial role for enviornment.

Convictions for violent crimes are fairly rare and only a proportion of those involved in aggression are violent criminals. Offenders who are violent are not nessesarily the worst.

Studies often fail to distinguish between violent and non-violent crime making it diffifcult to untangle the genetic role.

Evidence is often inconclusive, better designed and more recent studies provide less support for the gene-crime relationship.

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Outline: Evolutionary Explanations of Aggression

Daly and Wilson found that men develop strategies to deter their partners from adultry.

Men cannot be certain they are the father of the child so they are at risk of cuckoldry, and may invest in the offspring of another. The function of sexual jealousy is therefore to deter infidelity and reduce the risk of cuckoldry.

Restricting a partner's autonomy and negative inducements are used as mate retention techniques. Those who are percieved as threatening infidelity are more at risk of violence, women cite extreme jealousy from the partners as the main cause of aggression.

Sexual jealousy is the most common motivation for killing in domestic violence, 92% are male-male murders.

Detection or suspision of infidelity can be a key predictor in partner violence, **** of a woman by her male partner was also linked to the percieved risk of infidelty. Female victims of **** were more likely to to admit to infidelity than those who hadn' been ****d.

Violence during pregnancy is also more likely if infidelity is admitted to elinimate rival offspring.Men guard against infidelity by confereing benefits or inflicting costs, death can be an intented consquence or a control mechanism.

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Evaluate: Evolutionary Explanations of Aggression

Shackleford's survey of 461 men and 560 women found men's use of mate retention strategies positively correlated with violence scoress. Emotional manipulation was also a predictor of violence, females answers also showed the same trend. DISCUSS SOCIAL DESIRABILITY BIAS

Men who suspected infidelity used more aggression towards their female partner than those who didn't says Buss, specifics from this study were used as alerts against incidents.

Frequency of aggression towards pregnant partners was 2x greater than against non-pregnant partners, sexual jealousy was the main cause and women were more likely to be abused when the child was suspected to be from another man.

A Nicaraguen study showed that women reported men directed blows against their abdomen showing support for the idea of termination for a suspected child of another man.

The evolutionary explanation fails to explain why people react in different ways to the same stimulus.

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Outline: Group Display as an Adaption

Xenophobia is found in every group of animals with social organisation, natural selection favours those who are wary of outgroup members and are altruistic towards their own species. This enables attack avoidance and the over perception of threat.

Podaliri found evidence of xenophobia on Italian football terraces, the use of the Roman salute to support own side and to provoke the opposition.

Territorality is often found in animals, threat towards outsiders means that attack can be performed with greater vigour. Aggressive and territorial displays by sports teams, such as the Haka, have evolved as teams get a testorsterone surge when they are planning to defend their home territory. Team members with increased responsiblity for defence, such as goal keepers, have a higher surge.

In warfare, aggressive displays are used to attract sexual partners especially in societies where males escape infanticide more often than females. Those who are better in battle get more sexual partners and displays are also used to aquire status in groups. Ritual displays promote solidarity and scars show commitment. These also minimise the risk of defection and lead to increased group commitment.

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Evaluate: Group Display as an Adaption

Foldesi found that racist conduct and xenophobic outbursts led to increased levels of aggression observed in all stadia. Crowd support is the most significant reasons for the home advantage but the precise way such displays help is unknown as the advantage appears to opporate even in small crowds.

However, of 11 analysed basketball games without crowd support compared to 11 with the points average was 10 points higher in games without the crowd suggesting home support doesn't provide an advantage.

Warfare: Palmer and Tilly found that male streetgang members had more sexual partners and military men had higher sex appeal if they had performed brave acts in combat.

Warfare is an evolutionary response from being tied to home territory and it is caused by an increase in population as well as a decline in food, this fails to explain why cruelty is used in human wars (consequence of DI?)

Real World Application: football clubs have been trying to prevent such xenophobic behaviour with campaignes such as 'show racism the red card'.

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Outline: Institutional Aggression

Prison: Irwin and Cressey's importation model suggests that prisoners bring in their social history as they as not blank slates.

Gang membership is a significant factor as gang members engage in higher levels of prison violence and are 10x more likely to murder and 3x more likely to assult.

Deprevation model suggests that stressful, oppressive conditions are responsible as well as staff experience, junior nurses more likely to suffer assult.

Genocide: difficult social conditions lead to scapegoating leads to dehumanisation leads to moral values becoming inapplicable, compounded by bystander passivity.

Being seen as animals not worthy of moral consideration causes dehumanisation, such as in Rwanda where the Hutu called the Tutsi 'cockroaches'.

Milgrim shows the significance of obedience to authority in his electric shock experiments.

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Evaluate: Evolutionary Explanations of Aggression

Prison: Importation model has recieved support in a study of 58 prisons which showed that blacks had higher levels of violence but lower levels of drink/drug related crime which mirrors society. 

Gang membership doesn't predict prison violence, they are no more likely to commit a crime than any other prisoner. However, aggressive gang members are often isolated which reduced levels of violence by 50%.

Overcrowding and a lack of privacy all increase aggression but in phyciatric institutions an increase of personal space didn't lower levels of aggression.

Genocide: bystander passivity allows the violence to continue but also becoming involved can cause an increase in violence, such as in Rwanda where there were 8000 deaths a day.

Milgrim's account is monocausal as anti-semitism was so deeply entrenched in German people that this may explain their ability to kill their Jewish neighbours.

HMP Woodhill, 2 units were made less crowded which led to less violence, however this can not be implamented in other prisons due to political pressure.

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