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Developmental Psychology on Reversibility - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 92
Reversibility/preoperational thinking/Developmental psychology/Upton: a lack of understanding of hierarchical classification can be seen in Piaget’s class inclusion test (Inhelder and Piaget, 1964)(1): In this task children are shown a picture of a set of objects such as horses and cows and are asked ‘Are there more cows or more animals?’ Despite knowing that cows are a type of animal and being able to count the number of cows and animals correctly, children aged six or seven will say that there are more cows. According to Piaget, this is because preoperational children can only make one grouping at a time. Once they have put the cows in the class ‘cows’, they cannot mentally undo that to include the cows in the larger ‘animal’ class and so are unable to understand the relationship between cows and animals. Without reversible mental operations, the classes ‘cow’ and ‘animal’ cannot exist simultaneously in the child’s mind.

Children develop reversible mental operations and learn to decentre around the age of seven to eight years. This means that they are able to conserve and answer the class inclusion questions correctly. More importantly, they can give a logical reason for their answers. However, reasoning is still limited between seven and 11 years of age. Piaget (1923)(2) calls this the concrete operational stage because, although children can
Upton I 93
reason logically and understand about causal relationships, they can only do so if that reasoning is tied to specific concrete examples. >Classes/Piaget, >Operational thinking/Piaget.



1. Inhelder, B and Piaget, J (1964) The Early Growth of Logic in the Child (trans. 1969). New York: Norton.
2. Piaget, J (1923) Language and Thought of the Child. London: Routledge.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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