PSYCH – Week 16 Online Readings
Week 16: Major Theories of Developmental Psychology
Focus Question: Why do developmental theories matter?
Theory, Hypothesis, Framework
- One’s genetic potential
- Cultural differences
- Master control over many different skills that are basic, but often culture plays a
part in this.
Early 20 Century Theories
- Classical conditioning in developmental psychology
- John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner in 1920 studied a baby calledAlbert B
between he ages of 8 and 11 months.
- After exposures to the rat (which hadn’t elicited fear before) paired with a
frightening noise, the baby displayed fear when presented with rat. He also
generalized this fear to other animals similar to the rat, like rabbits, dogs, furry
objects and a white mask (rat was white)
- Interested in what motivates behaviours, thinking people repeat behaviours that
are rewarded (reinforcement) and avoid those that have unfavourable outcomes
(punishment). Operant conditioning.
- In developmental context Skinner made 2 important discoveries
o Receiving attention is a powerful reinforcer for young children. They will
act out in hopes of receiving even negative attention.
o It’s far more difficult to extinguish behaviour that has been consistently
reinforced. Intermittently reinforced behaviour keeps the expectation that
maybe ‘this time’there will be a reward.
- We reinforce unwanted behaviour in children by giving in to their demands, even
occasionally. This is providing intermittent reinforcement of negative behaviours.
- Children’s behaviour is affected by their environment and by interactions with
their environment. Jean Piaget
- Perhaps most influential developmental psychologist of 20 century, theorized
that humans develop through a series of four stages that roughly map onto key
- Emphasized importance of interaction between environmental and maturational
factors in development.
- He developed theory of cognitive development largely from naturalistic
observation of children. Proposed that cognitive abilities develop in stages and
that children of similar ages have similar cognitive abilities.
- Also proposed that children of similar ages make similar errors in problem-
solving tasks, and that all typically developing children go through the same
sequences of developmental stages (make same errors in reasoning.) His idea was
that they must be proficient/capable at each stage before moving on to the next.
Assimilation, Accommodation, and Equilibration
- Piaget believed that our progression through these stages is marked by the
building and rebuilding of schemata (singular: schema) through the cyclic
processes of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration.
- Schema: Mental framework or body of knowledge that organizes and synthesizes
information about a person, place, or thing.
- Assimilation (Piaget): Process by which new information about the world is
incorporated into existing schemata.
o No needs to revise the scope of the schema, only incorporates new data.
- Accommodation (Piaget): Process by which existing schemata are modified or
changed by new experiences.
o Process by which we incorporate information into a schema that may have
a result where we must adjust our parameters of that schema. (Exceptions)
- Equilibration (Piaget): Process within Piaget’s theory that reorganizes schemata.
o It occurs when we accommodate information to the point where the
original schema no longer holds true and we must form entirely new
schemata.After this stage a person will hold a more advanced schema that
is more stable and less vulnerable to contradiction. Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
- Sensorimotor (0-2 years)
o Infants build understanding of environment through sensory and motor
abilities. Orderly progression of increasingly complex cognitive
o Object permanence – after 8 months concept gained by infants that objects
don’t disappear when they’re out of sight.
o A-not-B error – infant continues to look for object where it was last,
despite seeing the object placed elsewhere.
- Preoperational (2-6 years)
o Emphasizes the inability of child to perform operations, or reversible
mental processes, at this time.
o Marked by substantial cognitive development in symbolic representation
and beginnings of logical reasoning.
o Children at this time are egocentric, self-centered, see world only from
o Concept of conservation is problematic – ex: tall glass holds more water
when in fact it holds the same amount as a shorter glass.
- Concrete operational (7-12 years)
o End of this stage marks transition into adolescence.
o Children master the conservation problems and problems with more than
one variable.Also growth in understanding of feelings/emotions of others
(perspective taking).Also will comprehend more logical problem solving.
o They also approach logical problem solving in a non-systematic fashion or
ignore premises that do not support their assumptions. EX: glass broken
by feather/hammer video.
- Formal operational (12 years-adult)
o Individuals first become capable of more formal kinds of abstract thnking
and hypothetical reasoning (testing of hypotheses).
Problems with Piaget’s Theory
- One criticism of the stage theory is that it does not account for variability in child
development.Also, cognitive ability of infants is much greater than Piaget
theorized. Piaget emphasized the physical environment much more than the social
- Another criticism stems from the vagueness of the mechanisms for change. While
concepts of assimilation, accommodation and equilibration may make intuitive
sense, exactly how they work is difficult to define clearly.
o So we need to develop a new theory and generate new questions to test it. Socio-Cultural Theory
- The theory of cognitive development that places emphasis on environmental
factors, including cultural influences.
- Lev Vygotsky in early 1900s.
- Intersubjectivity:An understanding between two individuals of the topic they are
discussing. It encompasses the following concepts:
o Joint attention: The ability to share attention with another towards the
same object or event.
o Social referencing: The tendency to look to another in an ambiguous
situation to obtain clarifying information.
- Social Scaffolding: When a mentor or guide supports a learner by matching his
or her efforts to a child's developmental level, changing the level of support to fit
the child's current performance.As a child's competence increases, less guidance
- Zone of proximal development: The increased potential for problem solving and
conceptual ability that exists for a child if expert mentoring and guidance are
available. These tasks are challenging, not boring nor frustrating. (Vygotsky)
Why might it be useful to have a psychological theory that explains development?
- Theories guide us as we frame questions or come to solutions.
- Some theories of development lean towards biological development, while others
explore the effects of environmental influence. Some focus on behaviour while
others focus on thoughts.
Speech, Language and Thought
- Vygotsky viewed language as one of the driving forces behind development. This
is an area where Vygotsky differed from Piaget, who saw language as a product of
- Until around the age of seven children often speak aloud to themselves about the
things they will do. Piaget viewed this type of self-talk as a function of the
egocentrism of the mind, and that the child didn’t understand its true
- Vygotsky on the other hand viewed this as their construction of a mental plan of
action, that it was a mental progression and a way to inte