Jean Piaget – The Three Mountains
Claudia Hammond revisits Jean Piaget's Swiss Mountain experiment to ask whether the conclusions concerning young children's essential egocentrism are accurate.
We have to thank the Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget for 'learning by play' applied to the classroom - a personal discovery which he believed to be far more effective than sitting in rows learning by rote. His idea was that children don't just store facts, they process them. As they interact with things around them every day they build a model of the world in their minds, so in the classroom they need the chance to experiment.
There's no disputing the importance of Piaget's educational legacy, but critics have questioned the methodology of much of his experimental work and have concluded that some of his experiments were basically flawed. One such is the Three Mountains - from this experiment Piaget concluded that, because young children could not imagine what someone on the other side of the mountain model from the side they were standing could see, they were incapable of empathy. Subsequent experiments allowing children to imagine different social, rather than spatial, situations have had very different results. Claudia Hammond asks how far we should rely on Piaget's findings today.