Conceptual Development: Piaget's Legacy

By Ellin Kofsky Scholnick; Katherine Nelson et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
A Reconsideration of Concepts: On the Compatibility of Psychological Essentialism and Context Sensitivity

Susan A. Gelman University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Gil Diesendruck University of Arizona


INTRODUCTION

In this chapter we focus on the representation of concepts. As researchers studying concept development, we are indebted to Piaget for raising fundamental questions that current scholars continue to grapple with, including: When do basic ontological distinctions emerge? What are the logical structures implicit in children's groupings of objects? How do conceptual hierarchies get constructed, and how do they change over time? How does the meaning of a word change as the underlying conceptual understanding changes? What is the content of children's concepts and, correspondingly, the nature of children's understanding of the world at large (what we might now call implicit theories)? (See, for example, Inhelder & Piaget, 1964; Piaget, 1929.)

Although Piaget's answers to these questions have been in considerable dispute, and his developmental claims about concepts have come under close critical scrutiny (see R. Gelman & Baillargeon, 1983; Markman & Callanan, 1984, for detailed reviews), there were two broad insights in his work on concepts that we explore here in some detail. These insights might seem at first to pose a paradox. On the one hand, Inhelder and Piaget ( 1964), in The Early Growth of Logic in the Child, noted that, for young children, concepts (or preconcepts) are highly sensitive to context, especially perceptual aspects of context. In forming graphic collections, for example, children are guided by the spatial configuration of objects in the array and "allow themselves to be guided by what they can perceive" (p.

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Conceptual Development: Piaget's Legacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Chapter 1 1
  • Part 1 - How Should We Represent the Workings and Contents of the Mind? 21
  • Chapter 2 23
  • Chapter 3 53
  • Chapter 4 79
  • Chapter 5 103
  • Chapter 6 131
  • Part II - How Does the Child Construct a Mental Model during the Course of Development? What Is the Developmental Origin of This Model? 163
  • Chapter 7 165
  • Chapter 8 185
  • Chapter 9 209
  • Part III - What Accounts for the Novelties That Are the Products and Producers of Developmental Change? 241
  • Chapter 10 243
  • Chapter 11 253
  • Chapter 12 269
  • Chapter 13 293
  • Author Index 327
  • Subject Index 337
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