Evaluating and comparing two theories of cognitive development.

December 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm 11 comments

The two theories evaluated and compared in this post have previously been posted on this blog. The first one is the theory by Jean Piaget, and the second is by Lev Vygotsky. If you would like to read more about their theories first, click the relevant name and you will be taken to that particular post.

Both Piaget and Vygotsky provided highly influential theories which had impact on the way children are taught. However, as with every theory and study, there are pro’s and con’s to be highlighted. I will first evaluate Jean Piaget’s theory, followed by Lev Vygotsky. I will then compare and contrast the two with each other, showing the main similarities and differences between the two.

Negative evaluations are in red.
Positive evaluations in green.

Evaluation of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

  • Piaget’s theory is based on a number of rigid, defined stages. In real life, how likely is it that cognitive development occurs as mechanically as his theory suggests? When a child acquires all they need to move onto the next stage, a ‘switch’ doesn’t just flick whereby they move into another stage. Cognitive development is much more ‘messy’ and fluid.
  • There is much contrary evidence (see the Jean Piaget post) that suggests some details of his study are inaccurate.
  • Further evidence suggests Piaget underestimated the ability of infants and children.
  • No way to account for individual differences; some children will naturally be very intelligent and storm through the stages much earlier than Piaget suggests. This links in with the problem of a stage theory.
  • The methodology used to develop his theory has been heavily criticised. Is it that children are incapable of certain cognitive functioning, or just that his methods were too complicated for a child to understand? (McGarrigle and Donaldson’s ‘Naughty Teddy’ experiment, for example).
  • There is little/no explanation for emotional/social development or developmental problems.
  • Piaget’s theory has had a huge impact on teaching methods over the world, and remains one of the most important cognitive development theories in education to date.
  • His theory provides a framework for understanding what might be happening when children acquire certain cognitive functions.
  • There is evidence suggesting certain parts of his theory do hold true (see Jean Piaget post).

Evaluation of Lev Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development

  • There is little scientific evidence to support or contradict the concepts described in Vygotsky’s theory (Thomas, 2000)
  • There is so much emphasis on social interaction and culture that many other aspects for development are missed (such as emotional aspects) (Feldman & Fowler, 1997)
  • As with Piaget, there is no full explanation for developmental problems and individual differences.
  • There is a large educational implication; it shows how adults and MKO’s can actively engage in helping others reach their full potential.
  • Studies have shown that children who work in pairs do actually produce better, more complex ideas than when alone (Tan-Niam et al., 1998)
  • Studies also show that children with parents that engage in scaffolding with them in early development achieve higher grades when in higher schools than those with parents who don’t (Neitzel & Stright, 2003)
  • Group learning is incorporated into the theory, as well as looking at individual cognitive development.

Piaget and Vygotsky together: rivals or not?

Although Piaget and Vygotsky are often presented as rival theorists with two competing theories, studies show that they’re actually not so different at all (DeVries, 2000; Matusov & Hayes, 2000). The table below contrasts the main two theories in their key areas.

Sorry if the table is poor quality or hard to read, it was made on MS word.

It’s worth considering, are the two theories competing, or just both tackling different chunks from a very broad, complex part of human nature? Development in children is never going to be easy to research and places theories on, especially not just in ONE theory.

I hope this has helped. As always, for references just let me know. The only reason I don’t include them is because I think it’s more beneficial to go off and read the sources yourself. You’ll gain a far better understanding that way! Plus, they take ages to type up – and there’s no point if nobody really needs them. Contact me for a list of references, if you should require them.

Thanks, take care.

Sam Eddy.


Entry filed under: Cognitive, Developmental.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marianne  |  February 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Hi Sam,

    I am writing an essay myself and would be very interested in reading the articles you read for your essay!

    If possible, could you email them to me?

    Thank you so much for your help,

    Kind regards,


    • 2. Sam Eddy  |  March 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      I’m afraid that when writing that, I used paper based materials provided by my college. These are at home along with all my other college materials, whereas I now live closer to my university. I’m sure a quick Google scholar search will bring up the relevant papers though?

      Good luck with your essay (if you haven’t already handed it in – I’m aware this reply is quite late).

  • 3. sukhvinder  |  March 25, 2012 at 1:09 am

    I wonder if you can supply me the reference for the

    Evaluating and comparing two theories of cognitive development.

  • 4. zain  |  April 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Sam, i was wondering if you have any information about the topic on psychology theory of mind?

  • 5. Andrew  |  September 28, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Hi both im also doing an essay too on both and really would love to have some articles if someone could e-mail to me, please

  • 6. Andrew  |  September 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Hi, very interesting stuff, could i also have a list of references and material too, it would help my research also.


  • 7. Anushkaa  |  April 7, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Sam , could you pls let me know the similarities betweem these two theorist. Thanks

  • 8. Steve Mtonga  |  June 25, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Thank you for the article.I found it helpful as it assisted me understand the theories better.Keep writing.

  • 9. Malgorzata  |  July 25, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Hi could you post a list of reference. I would be really grateful

    Kind regards

  • 11. Sarah  |  March 16, 2016 at 6:50 pm


    Would you be able to give me one or two references?
    Would really appreciate the help as I am writing an essay

    Thanks in advance,


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