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Perry's Stages of Cognitive Development

A look at Perry's stages of cognitive development and the stages of dealing with loss. For use in the undergraduate college classroom.
by Devan Barker on 1 December 2011

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Transcript of Perry's Stages of Cognitive Development

The value of education does not lie only in acquired knowledge of facts and formulae, but rather in acquired higher thinking abilities.

The ability to think in new ways is dependent not just on the information we put in the brain,
but on the structure of the brain itself.
Studies reveal the characteristics of brains during varied stages as well as the sequence in which certain abilities develop, the time needed to develop them, and some side effects that occur. That is to say, we understand what abilities tend to come online, when. We know roughly when new intellectual rooms are added to the house and become available for use.
The Brain matures in
predictable stages.
These stages occur not as a slow, steady development, but in
jumps
that fundamentally reconfigure aspects of the structure of the brain. This stepwise restructuring of the brain isn't complete until late adolescence,
usually around age 25
. The wiring within the general structure is dependent on learning and experience.
So having a developing brain is a bit like owning a home that you gradually add on to.
Every once and awhile until our mid-twenties, new rooms or abilites that didn't use to be there will "come online" or become available for use.
Whether we furnish the new room, make use of it and move in, however, is up to us.
One of the best models that explains this step-wise development of the brain was created by Harvard professor William Perry. At its simplest, this model shows us four stages in cognitive development.
Stage One: Duality
1. In the early stages of development, a properly functioning brain displays the belief that all problems have correct answers, and that authorities (teachers, elders, scholars) can furnish these answers. Listening carefully to authority constitutes education. The brain can remain at this functional level for life. That life can be happy and contented, so long as it remains satisfied with authority. We can choose to not furnish or move into the new additions to our intellectual home.
Things tend to be seen as black or white
Good or Evil
Day or Night
And we know where truth is...
It's with the authorities.
Stage Two: Multiplicity
2. With further development, the brain learns that authority is fallible. A side effect is discomfort. Brains in this stage tend to withdraw from authority and seek comfort in the company of peers. Without authority to serve as arbiter, arguments appear to be only opinions, and they all appear equally valid. Ambiguity causes discomfort and is not appreciated. Becoming educated at this stage is mainly about learning factual content and skills. The brain must do such learning for a while before it can restructure further.
Stage Three: Contextual Relativism
3. Brains at the third stage recognize that important challenges have reasonable and unreasonable solutions rather than single correct answers. Yet, the brain not yet adept at resolving which argument is most reasonable among competing arguments when they all sound plausible. This stage brings feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and occasional anger.
Desire exists on one hand to learn and on the other to escape from struggle.
Struggle with ambiguous challenges for a time seems necessary before further development is possible. Many college students stop at about this stage.
Stage Four: Commitment within Relativism
4. The brain now
appreciates ambiguity
as a quality of the most interesting challenges.
It enjoys discovering and using evidence.
Brains at this stage recognize that reasonable answers often depend upon the settings and value systems in which the problems occur. Education is perceived as the opportunity to develop abilities to understand
when evidence is incomplete
and practice the research skills required to fill in the gaps. Associated feelings are focus and commitment.
But here's the problem. Moving from one stage of Perry's model to the next is not painless.

Any kind of change is likely to involve some negative emotion. Additionally, when we move to a new stage of cognitive development, we give up something; we lose something, and we mourn that loss.


Developing beyond DUALISM we lose our
sense of certainty
about the world in favor of a world filled with ambiguity.



Developing out of MULTIPLICITY we lose the
comfort of a situation in which our opinion, however poorly thought out, is equally valid with every other opinion.



Developing into CONTEXTUAL RELATIVISM, requires a great deal of work to discipline our thinking, evaluate evidence and weigh options.
It is hard
compared to the relatively easy relativism of stage two.



Finally, developing into COMMITMENT WITHIN CONTEXTUAL RELATIVISM requires us to act and take a
stand based on our best evidence and thinking, but in the absence of absolute certainty
. It requires both a trained mind and leap of faith. It also requires the recognition that learning, thinking and evaluating will be constant processes throughout life. We'll never reach the point of certitude that we had in duality, but we'll commit and act nonetheless.
At each stage is the potential for loss and grieving that loss. Grieving typically progresses in 5 recognizable steps of emotional response:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The distinctive quality that separates those who do high level thinking from those who cannot is
effective use of evidence.
Evaluative thinking is not the only kind of thinking that has value, but the ability to make evidence-based decisions is
one of the most important skills to modern life.
That is one benefit that can come through
the formal training of a college education.


Developing high-level thinking takes years and requires practice in making evidence-based commitments. We should expect to feel insecure, frustrated, doubt ourselves, and, at times, even want to quit. We may experience a profound sense of loss and the accompanying emotion.
While discomfort accompanies this development, persistence will bring success.
There are no known shortcuts to higher stages that don’t require time spent in the lower ones.
Perry's Model of Cognitive Development
During the College Years
We tend to reject authority in favor of peers.
We recognize that there can be multiple truths.
We might even conclude that no one truth exists. It is all perspective and opinion, each as valid or as subjective as the next.
After all, truth is in the perspective of the individual and so can only be an individual truth.
This is an easy relativism. We might need to memorize facts, but we don't need to come to any real conclusions....
We recognize that getting knowledge requires hard work and disciplined procedures.
We even recognize that it may never be possible to settle on one, absolute truth.
We recognize and even embrace paradox in our attempts to find truth.
Where do you see yourself in Perry's stages?

In your reaction to this class, have you experienced the emotions that attend change or loss?

Having a brain, understanding that brain, and learning how to use it
are different things.
Prezi Created by Devan Barker based on:

Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students' intellectual development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York: Basic Books.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Student development in college: Theory, research and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

King, P.M., and K.S. Kitchener (1994) Developing Reflective Judgment: Understanding and Promoting Intellectual Growth and Critical Thinking in Adolescents and Adults, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Simon & Schuster Ltd

Nuhfer, E. B. and Bhavsar, V. (2011). "Events a learner can expect to experience." Unpublished class exercise. California State University Channel Islands, Camarillo: CA.

Perry, W. G., Jr. (1999). Forms of intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years. (Reprint of the original 1968 1st edition with introduction by L. Knefelkamp). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Adapted from Baxter-Magolda (1992)
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