Questioning Moshman on Cognitive Development

Now that UNL’s Adolescent Psychology class is finished with David Elkind’s All Grown Up and No Place To Go (which was questioned twice here: I, II), our next book is Adolescent Psychological Development (2nd Edition. The book is written by UNL’s own David Moshman.


Our professor has done a good job going over Moshman’s concepts, so there’s only four questions for this week’s reading. Some information from this section will go into a short reaction paper based on my four-part series, Liberal Education (I, II, III, IV).

On page 7, Moshman writes that “cognitive changes, rather than being arbitrary and idiosyncratic, show a natural tendency to move in the direction of greater rationality.” How does Moshman square this with studies that shows greater genetic influence of beliefs after the age of 20?

On page 15, Moshman writes that “Cognitive development, according to Piaget, is the construction of increasingly sophisticated forms of logic, culminating in the formal operational logic of the adolescent.” On what grounds does Piaget beleive that formal logic is the culmination of cognitive development? Specifically, does he deny the existence of a third-order logic of humans?

On page 16, Mosham says that “Rationality, in its oldest, broadest, and deepest sense, is a matter of having good reasons for one’s beliefs and actions.” If “good” is defined as good for one’s mental or physical health, this impleis that beliefs which are logically sound but detrimental are not good. Doesn’t this imply the existence of a third-order logic which better approximates “rationality”?

From pages 17 to 23, Mosham describes both the dialectic and scientific reasoning as possible stages beyond second-order reasoning. But in both cases, all that is done is the introduction of postulates. This is hardly qualitatively different thinking of the sort that allows one to jump from concrete to logical thinking. Does this add anything new, or merely subtract from formal operations by introducing the constraining postulates?

Update: Questions for the next reading section, also on cognitive development:

On page 28, Moshman describes an experiment where children, adolescents, and young adults were given logical problems based on promises that the audience would view as true, neutral, or false. However, all of these ages are very much under the guidance of learned beliefs. How would the tests have turned out if the subjects were older, and the information went against genetic predispositions?

On pages 28-29, Moshman argues that all children naturally develop a constructivist theory of mind. If this is the true, then why was constructivism not the first psychological theory to be widely accepted?

On 31, Moshman says traditional research on epistemic cognition involved interviews based on justification for beliefs. Isn’t this just measuring linguistic and interpersonal intelligence — and not intrapersonal intelligence at all? That is, “high performing” subjects know what they “should” say and they know how to say it. Isn’t this quite different from metacognition?

On 33, Moshman writers “research does not support a categorical distinction between cultural groups in reasoning. Neither East Asians, Westerners, nor any other culturla groups has been shown to rely on a paritcular kind of reasoning to the exclusion of the other.” This seems to be a straw-man argument. The party of the brain that comprehend western characters and chinese characters are different, for instance, and this is shown by stroke survivors who lose the ability to use one but not the other. Wouldn’t the cululative effect of this mental exercises naturally produce different thinking patterns?

On page 37, Moshman notes that while individual scores for the card turning experiment are terrible, collective scores are quite high. What is the broader relation of Moshman’s to the work of Surowiecki (author of The Wisdom of Crowds)?

On page 44, Moshman lists rationality has constructed by the processes of reflection, coordination, and peer interaction. Yet is reflection really necessary? If instead of a cooperative exercise, Nora North and Simon South were playing some high-tempo game, which gave them coordination of experiences and peer interaction, wouldn’t they have rationally realized the “true” location of objections without reflection? Or is reflection defined so broadly that even reflection that occurs subconsciously count? If so, is this a useful definition?

On pages 45 and 46, Moshman says that asymmetric power relationships are more educative than symmetric power relationships. If this is true, wouldn’t schools do well be to structured around free-play and free-gossip, and keeping classroom time to a minimum?

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