Big Questions of Developmental Psychology

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1 Big Questions of Developmental Psychology How did developmental psychologists understand something as incredibly complicated as children and our development? We 'break' the child into parts by studying very specific things in very specific contexts. This is an underlying philosophy of science called "reductionism." Sometimes all of this reductionism can make it feel like our results are not really about children, but are about answering an inanely small question about a particular variation of a particular task with a particular group of kids at a particular time. But all of these particular studies are about answering big questions. How we answer these questions is part of a theory. Different developmental psychologists ask these questions differently, but almost all of us come to the similar questions. Consider how all the studies and topics help answer these questions and support or refute different developmental theories during the lectures. Nature vs. Nurture: Is it nature or nurture? Or is the question, itself, misleading? Individual Differences: How come we begin life as babies, who are so similar to one another, and yet we grow into such distinct adults? Social Context: How do we come to understand ourselves and our relationships with others? Is our social learning experience different from the way we learn about the physical world? Passive vs. Active Child: Are children passive recipients of experience, or do we actively construct the way we develop? Quantitatve Change vs. Qualitative Stages: Are we almost different people at different phases of our lives, or are we always about the same with more experience to go by? 1

2 Milestones "Though theories of development may be very different, all share in common having milestones. What are some of the important milestones in your life and the lives of others?" Which milestones would you say are important steps in emotional and social development and which aren't?" Is any change development? Consider individual differences and different developmental trajectories through life? The following are just a few of the many child development theories that have been proposed by theorists and researchers. More recent theories outline the developmental stages of children and identify the typical ages at which these growth milestones occur. Psychoanalytic Child Development Theories Sigmund Freud The theories proposed by Sigmund Freud stressed the importance of childhood events and experiences, but almost exclusively focused on mental disorders rather that normal functioning. According to Freud, child development is described as a series of 'psychosexual stages.' In "Three Essays on Sexuality" (1915), Freud outlined these stages as oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Each stage involves the satisfaction of a libidinal desire and can later play a role in adult personality. If a child does not successfully complete a stage, Freud suggested that he or she would develop a fixation that would later influence adult personality and behaviour. Erik Erikson Theorist Erik Erikson also proposed a stage theory of development, but his theory encompassed development throughout the entire human lifespan. Erikson believed that each stage of development was focused on overcoming a conflict. For example, the primary conflict during the adolescent period involves establishing a sense of personal identity. Success or failure in dealing with the conflicts at each stage can impact overall functioning. During the adolescent stage, for example, failure to develop an identity results in role confusion. Learn more about this theory in this article on Erikson s stages of psychosocial development. Cognitive Child Development Theories Theorist Jean Piaget suggested that children think differently than adults and proposed a stage theory of cognitive development. He was the first to note that children play an active role in gaining knowledge of the world. According to his theory, children can be thought of as "little 2

3 scientists" who actively construct their knowledge and understanding of the world. Learn more in this article on Piaget s stages of cognitive development. Behavioral Child Development Theories Behavioral theories of child development focus on how environmental interaction influences behavior and are based upon the theories of theorists such as John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. These theories deal only with observable behaviors. Development is considered a reaction to rewards, punishments, stimuli and reinforcement. This theory differs considerably from other child development theories because it gives no consideration to internal thoughts or feelings. Instead, it focuses purely on how experience shapes who we are. Learn more about these behavioral theories in these articles on classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Social Child Development Theories John Bowlby There is a great deal of research on the social development of children. John Bowbly proposed one of the earliest theories of social development. Bowlby believed that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in child development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life. Albert Bandura Psychologist Albert Bandura proposed what is known as social learning theory. According to this theory of child development, children learn new behaviors from observing other people. Unlike behavioral theories, Bandura believed that external reinforcement was not the only way that people learned new things. Instead, intrinsic reinforcements such as a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment could also lead to learning. By observing the actions of others, including parents and peers, children develop new skills and acquire new information. Lev Vygotsky Another psychologist named Lev Vygotsky proposed a seminal learning theory that has gone on to become very influential, especially in the field of education. Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that children learn actively and through hands-on experiences. His sociocultural theory also suggested that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large were responsible for the development of higher order functions. Final Thoughts As you can see, some of psychology's best known thinkers have developed theories to help explore and explain different aspects of child development. Today, contemporary psychologists often draw on a variety of theories and perspectives in order to understand how kids grow, behave and think. Different theories of development consider different milestones important and have different takes on just what counts as development (e.g., Piagetian vs. Information Processing). 3

4 Mechanisms "It's not enough for a theory to just list milestones, all theories share in common having mechanisms. Mechanisms are what takes us along the path from one milestone to another. What are some mechanisms in your life and the lives of others?" some mechanism are "nature" and others are "nurture." Some mechanisms illustrate a special role for the social context. Describe how some mechanisms are what the child brings to the situation (e.g., personality, motivation) and others are things they are passive recipients of (i.e., active vs. passive child). Different theories of development consider different mechanisms as central to moving us through milestones. Quantitative versus Qualitative Change Example: a tree growing bigger and a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. Different milestones and mechanism lead to different metaphors for development. Think back to when you were 10 years old. Do you now see yourself as more sophisticated and more experienced versions of the person you were at 10 yrs old?(note the tree metaphor) or if they look back and see an almost different person (note the butterfly metaphor). Discuss why you see development in each of these ways. This is how different theories suggest each of these different metaphors. 4

5 The lecture will focus on the role of emotional and social development during Childhood, we will then review research relating to the inability to form close meaningful relationships with others during childhood that has been shown to be a strong factor in committing sexual offenses by exploring the role of childhood development in terms of relationship to parentalbonding; emotional openness; body image problems relating to the ego; and the role of emotional cues. 5

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