Genetic Psychology: What It Is And How It Was Developed By Jean Piaget

Genetic psychology is one of the areas of research that Jean ìaget promoted.

Genetic psychology

The name of genetic psychology is possibly unknown to many, and more than one will surely make you think about behavioral genetics, despite the fact that, as formulated by Piaget, this field of psychological study has little to do with heredity.

Genetic psychology focuses on finding out and describing the genesis of human thought throughout the development of the individual. Let’s take a closer look at this concept below.

Genetic psychology: what is it?

Genetic psychology is a psychological field that is responsible for investigating thought processes, their formation and their characteristics. Try to see how mental functions develop from childhood, and look for explanations that make sense of them. This psychological field was developed thanks to the contributions of Jean Piaget, a very important Swiss psychologist during the 20th century, especially with regard to constructivism.

Piaget, from his constructivist perspective, postulated that all thought processes and individual characteristics of the mind are aspects that are formed throughout life. The factors that would influence the development of a specific style of thinking and associated knowledge and intelligence would be, basically, any external influence that one receives during his life.

It is possible that the name genetic psychology misleads into thinking that it has something to do with the study of genes and DNA in general; however, it can be said that this field of study has little to do with biological inheritance. This psychology is genetic insofar as it addresses the genesis of mental processes, that is, when, how and why the thoughts of human beings are formed.

Jean Piaget as a reference

As we have already seen, the most representative figure within the concept of genetic psychology is the person of Jean Piaget, who is considered, especially in developmental psychology, one of the most influential psychologists of all time, along with Freud. and Skinner.

Piaget, after obtaining a doctorate in biology, began to deepen in psychology, being under the tutelage of Carl Jung and Eugen Bleuler. Some time later, he began working as a teacher in a school in France, where he had first-hand contact with the way in which children were developing cognitively, which led him to start his study in developmental psychology.

While there, he became interested in understanding how thought processes were being formed from the earliest childhood, in addition to being interested in seeing what changes were taking place depending on the stage in which the infant was and how this could affect , very long term, in their adolescence and adulthood.

Although his first studies were something that went largely unnoticed, it was from the sixties that he began to acquire greater prominence within the behavioral sciences and, especially, in developmental psychology.

Piaget wanted to know how knowledge was formed and, more specifically, how it passed from properly infantile knowledge, in which simplistic explanations abound and little remote from the ‘here and now’, to a more complex one, such as the adult, in the that abstract thinking has a place.

This psychologist was not a constructivist from the beginning. When he started his research, he was exposed to multiple influences. Jung and Breuler, under whom he was tutored, were closer to psychoanalysis and eugenic theories, while the general trend in research was empiricist and rationalist, sometimes closer to behaviorism. However, Piaget knew how to extract what was for him the best of each branch, adopting a position of the interactionist type.

Behavioral psychology, led by Burrhus Frederic Skinner, was the current most defended by those who tried, from a scientific perspective, to describe human behavior. The most radical behaviorism defended that personality and mental capacities depended in a very relevant way on the external stimuli to which the person was exposed.

Although Piaget defended this idea partially, he also considered aspects of rationalism. The rationalists considered that the source of knowledge is based on our own reason, which is something more internal than what the empiricists defended and that is what makes us interpret the world in a very variable way.

Thus, Piaget opted for a vision in which he combined both the importance of the external aspects of the person and his own reason and ability to discern between what must be learned, in addition to the way in which that stimulus learns.

Piaget understood that the environment is the main cause of the intellectual development of each one, however, the way in which the person interacts with that same environment is also important, which causes them to end up developing certain new knowledge.

Development of genetic psychology

Once his interactionist vision of thought was established, which ultimately ended up being transformed into Piagetian constructivism as it is understood today, Piaget carried out research to clarify more exactly what was the intellectual development of children.

At first, the Swiss psychologist collected data in a similar way to how it is done in more traditional research, however he did not like this, for this reason he chose to invent his own method to investigate children. Among them were naturalistic observation, examination of clinical cases, and psychometry.

As he had originally been in contact with psychoanalysis, in his time as a researcher he could not avoid using techniques typical of this current of psychology; however, he later became aware of how little empirical the psychoanalytic method is.

On his way trying to discern how human thought is generated throughout development and increasingly specifying what he understood as genetic psychology, Piaget wrote a book in which he tried to capture each of his discoveries and expose the best way to address the study of cognitive development in childhood: Language and thinking in young children .

The development of thought

Within genetic psychology, and from the hand of Piaget, some stages of cognitive development have been proposed, which allow us to understand the evolution of the mental structures of children.

These stages are the ones that come next, which we are going to address very quickly and simply highlighting which are the mental processes that stand out in each of them.

  • Sensorimotor stage (0 to 4 years): The notion of space and time is acquired.
  • Preoperational stage (2-7 years): Symbolic function of language and thought.
  • Operational logical stage (7-11): ability to classify elements into groups.
  • Formal logical stage (from the age of 11): hypothetical-deductive thinking.

How did Piaget understand knowledge?

For Piaget, knowledge is not a static state, but an active process. The subject who tries to know a certain matter or aspect of reality changes according to what he tries to know. That is, there is an interaction between the subject and knowledge.

Empiricism defended an idea contrary to the Piagetian. The empiricists argued that knowledge is rather a passive state, in which the subject incorporates knowledge from sensible experience, without having the need to intervene around him to acquire this new knowledge.

However, the empiricist vision does not allow to explain in a reliable way how the genesis of thought and new knowledge occurs in real life. An example of this we have with science, which is constantly advancing. It does not do so by passive observation of the world, but by hypothesizing, reformulating arguments and testing methods, which vary depending on the findings that are made.

Bibliographic references:

  • Coll, C. and Martí, E. (2001). Learning and development: the genetic-cognitive conception of learning. In C. Coll, J. Palacios and A. Marchesi (Comp.), Psychological development and education. 2. Psychology of school education. 2nd ed. (pp. 67-88). Madrid: Editorial Alliance.
  • Piaget, J. (1947) La psychologie de l’intelligence. Paris: A. Colin. (Cast. Trad .: The psychology of intelligence. Barcelona: Critique, 1983).
  • Jáuregui, CA, Mora, CA, Carrillo DM et al. (2016). Practical manual for children with learning difficulties. Latin America: Panamerican Medical Editorial.

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