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Lecture 2

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Western University
Psychology 2410A/B
Adam Cohen

WEEK 2: THEORIES AND METHODS IN DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development • Piaget believed that children spent some period of time in a given stage with an unchanging set of skills, and that they rather suddenly moved into a new stage, exhibiting a whole array of new skills in a number of areas more of less at once • Piaget saw development as discontinuous • According to Piaget, children moved through stages in the same order • The Four Stages • Piaget examined four stages of development • The first stage is called the sensorimotor stage •Birth to 2 years old •Piaget emphasized the use of motor activity and physical interaction for knowledge acquisition •Engaged in experimental trial and error •Early language development starts during this stage, and according to Piaget, object permanence develops at around 8 months •Object Permanence: a child’s understanding that an object still exists even when it can no longer be observed directly. A major development in the sensorimotor period, according to Piaget •Six substages of this stage: exercising reflexes. developing schemes, discovering procedures, intentional behaviour, novelty and exploration, and mental representation • The second stage is called the pre-operational stage •2 years to 7 years old •Cognitive development is rapid •Children understand past and future, but knowledge is still very egocentric and very concrete • The third stage is called the concrete operational stage •7 to 11 years old •Begin to understand and use symbols •Thinking is less egocentric and children understand concrete operations • The fourth stage is called the formal operational stage •12 to adulthood •Adept symbols and can relate them to abstract concepts •Can think about multiple variables to predict outcomes and can formulate hypotheses about either concrete or abstract relationships •Once this stage is reached no new structures develop • Sources of Developmental Change • Piaget described three sources of developmental change: assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium • Assimilation: the process of interpreting new information in terms of previously understood theories and knowledge When an adult or a child hears something new, they can translate it into information that makes sense • Accommodation: the process of changing one’s current theory, understanding, or knowledge in order to cope with new information WEEK 2: THEORIES AND METHODS IN DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY • This is a learning process and the process by which a child may develop new categories • Equilibrium: the process of balancing assimilation and accommodation in order to maintain a stable understanding of the world while still allowing for development • If children come to a state of disequilibirum, then they are not satisfied that they can make sense of a new experience with their current understanding • As a result, their understanding changes, and they return to equilibrium • Shortcomings of Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory • Piaget greatly underestimated the cognitive competence of infants and children • A second major shortcoming is that the stage model is overstated • Piaget thought that child’s stage determined modes of thinking in a wide number of domains and that thinking was consistent until the child moved into a new stage • There does not seem to be any evidence, however, of concurrent changes across a large number of domains at the moment of stage change • Recent research shows more variability across domains • A third shortcoming of Piaget’s theory is Piaget’s underestimation of the importance of social and emotional contributions to development Associationism and Social Learning Theory • Associationist Perspective: an approach that encompasses learning theories in general and social learning theory as well. This perspective suggests that people gave only general-purpose learning mechanisms, allowing them to associate one stimulus with another. Other than these associationist learning mechanisms, the newborn mind is a blank slate • Classical Conditioning • Classical Conditioning: a learning process in which a neural stimulus comes to be associated with a naturally motivating stimulus so that each evokes the same response • Unconditioned Stimulus: the stimulus that elicits a response before any training has taken place • Unconditioned Response: the response that follow the presentation of the unconditioned stimulus • Conditioned Stimulus: the stimulus with which the unconditioned stimulus has been associated and which elicits a response after training has taken place • Conditioned Response: the response to the conditioned stimulus once training has taken place • Behaviourism • Watson believed that a child’s behaviour and development was best explained by his or her experiences in life • Developed “Little Albert” experiments • This conditioning approach can be used for systematic desensitization • He believed that if conditioned to eat at regular intervals, a child would not be hungry or cry in between feedings • Operant Conditioning • Operant Conditioning: a type of learning in which a specific behaviour becomes more or less likely as a result of rewards or punishments WEEK 2: THEORIES AND METHODS IN DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY • Learning theorists see operant conditioning as playing a major role in child development and potentially child rearing • Reinforcer: any consequence that makes a behaviour more likely to occur • Reinforcers may work for negative as well as positive behaviours • Punisher: any consequence that makes a behaviour less likely to occur • Behaviourism and Operant Conditioning • Skinner was a strong empiricist, believing that a child is passively shaped by his or her environment • Social Learning Theory • Bandura sought to explain a child’s behaviour and development in terms of experience, and social learning theorists explained all behaviour in terms of stimulus and response learning • Bandura focused on personality and social development; the focus of social earning theory was the process by which adults taught children to behave as proper adults • Social learning theories had argued that imitation was one of the most powerful forces when it came to socialization • Observational Learning: the learning process by which an actor’s behaviour changes as a result of observing a model • Experiments are frequently designed to falsify simple associationist pairings in order to reveal more powerful, better-designed psychological mechanisms • Shortcomings of the Associationist and Social Learning Views • Associationist accounts deeply underestimate the power and specificity of learning mechanisms • Problem for associationists is describing how the child knows when two objects or events are similar • Even if their theories are correct, associationists cannot ignore evolution since no matter how simple the learning rules are, their rewards have an evolutionary history • To claim that these are the processes that comprise human learning is to claim that these learning mechanisms have been able to outcompete other possible developmental strategies Developmental Systems Theory • Developmental Systems Theory: a perspective that emphasizes that when it comes to complex systems, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This perspective reminds up to consider all of the resources contributing to development, genetic and environmental, rather than emphasizing the contribution of one over the other • This approach is primarily characterized by the view that all of the developmental resources act together as a system to create the developing organism • There is no one part that has casual primacy; without all of the resources the organism would not develop as it does, and altering any of the resources would change the outcome • Developmental systems theorists think of the resources as being hierarchal • Influences throughout the levels of the hierarchy are bidirectional WEEK 2: THEORIES AND METHODS IN DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY • Developmental systems theorists encourage us to remember that human environments include many aspects that are inherited from one generation to the next and that are as much a part of a newborn’s developmental inheritance as the genome • One implication of developmental systems theory is that small initial changes in the system early in development can have far-reaching and massive effect for years to come • The brain itself is complex, and developmental systems theorists acknowledge the continual interaction among genes, the brain, behaviour, and environment during development • Shortcomings of the DST Perspective • Making this interactionist claim is just a trail marker. It does not answer the complex question of development • Developmental systems theorists insist that no component of the system be credited with a special role in either development or evolution • All complex systems tend toward less order, less complexity, and less functionality Evolutionary Psychology • Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychological research that is mindful of our evolutionary history and the processes by which complex organisms are created and that scientists believe will be a benefit to those trying to understand the human mind • Ethology: the study of fit
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