Chapter 1 BACKROUND AND THEORIES
What is developmental psychology?
Definition: the study of changes in behavior and abilities that occur as
Has two basic goals:
o Description: to identify children’s behavior in each point of their
o Explanation: finding out the causes and processes that produce changes in
behavior from one point to the next.
Why do we study children?
1. Period of Rapid development
o physical, cognitive, social and emotional changes occur
2. Long term influences
o early influences can be critical influencing later adult development
3. Insight into complex adult processes
o Research on children is useful for understanding complex adult behavior
Ex: studying languages is easier to study when its just being learnt
as oppose to when its already learnt and becomes complex.
4. Realworld applications
o Research usually happens in labs, so the products help the children in the
5. Interesting subject matter
Ancient Greece and Rome
o In Greece, infanticide (killing newborns) was a common thing for babies
who were mentally ill, illegitimate or unwanted
o In Rome, children were bought and sold for various reasons
Medieval and Renaissance Period
o In the medieval ages, infanticide was gotten rid of and children were
instead shipped away to monasteries, but abuse was still present.
o In the renaissance period, a home (foundling homes) was created for the
unwanted or mentally ill children.
Major theoretical traditions found in child psychology today:
Influence of the child’s environment
Role of child’s cognitive development
Development is shaped by and embedded in a sociocultural context
Evolutionary origins of behavior
Early Theorists: John Locke
o Says that all children are born equal and the mind of a newborn is like a
tabula rasa (blank slate).
o He stressed the use of rewards and punishments but detested material
rewards and physical punishment.
o Environmentalist point of view: children are products of their environment
o He believed that children are born with knowledge and ideas that unfold
naturally with age and that the information that they do not know, is
gained as they grow and interact with the environment.
o Believes in nativism: theory that human development comes from inborn
processes that guide behaviors in a predictable manner.
Johann Gottfried Von Herder
o He believed that everyone is born into a specific cultural community with
a shared language and historical traditions.
o He believed in cultural relativism: belief that each culture should be
examined and evaluated on its own terms.
o Put a specific emphasis on language.
o “We live in a world we create”
o Theory begins with three assumptions:
1. Individual members of a species vary in many characteristics
2. Some of these characteristics are biological
3. Most species produce more offspring than their environment can
hold so they have to fight for survival.
o Natural selection: the characteristics of an individual that increase its
chances of survival are more likely to be passed along to further
o His theory led to recapitulation: the development of the individual
repeats the development of the species.
o He did baby biography: method by which parents study the development
of their own child.
Pioneers of Child Psychology
G. Stanley Hall:
o Founded the field of developmental psychology
o He favored the theory of recapitulation
o Referred to as the father of child psychology
James Mark Baldwin
o First academic psychologist and set up the first psychology lab in Canada. o Believed that development progresses through a sequence of stages and
the stressed the interaction of hereditary and environment.
John B. Watson
o Zeitgeist: the ideas shared by most scientists during a given period of
o He believed in behaviorism: human development results primarily from
conditioning and learning processes.
o He believed that all human behavior begins as simple reflexes.
Ex. Language: begins as simple infant sounds that grow as they
continue to be conditioned to objects and events in their
environment. (Takes this off Pavlov)
o The most common research method during this time is introspection:
engaging research participants in a task and having them look into it and
report the processes occurring.
Watson rejected this research for three reasons:
• 1. There were never many similarities between the
descriptions of the participants.
• 2. He felt that psychology should follow the example of
other natural sciences and deal only with observable
• 3. This method could not be used for any other species
other than humans.
o He believed that development I guided primarily by biological processes.
To him, the environment played a minor role.
o His theory was maturation: the biological process that is primarily
responsible for human development.
o He established norms: a timetable of age ranges indicating when normal
growth and developmental milestones are reached.
o Produced agerelated norms for development
o His theory of child development = theory of personality formation
o His five stages:
o He was the first to argue for an interactionist perspective: theory that
human development comes from the combination of inborn processes and
o His theory of child development have two concepts:
1. The rejection of both a purely nativistic and a strictly
environmentalist explanation of human behavior. 2. Early experiences can have important effects on behavior in later
o Focused his attention on early childhood experiences
o He said that libido (each child is born with a certain amount of sexual
energy) is biologically guided to certain locations on the body which is
called the erogenous zone.
o Came up with the theory of psychosexual development. If some stage of
this development doesn’t work, the libido will stay fixated in the
There are five stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital.
The most complex is the phallic stage. They go through the
Oedipus complex that is resolved in one of two ways:
• 1. Repression: their desires are forced into the
unconscious, which wipes out their memory or feeling on
• Identification: they adopt the characteristics of the same
o He believed that development continues throughout life.
o He created a psychosocial model whereas Freud created a psychosexual
model. Erikson’s model included a major role for social and cultural
o According to him, each individuals goal is the quest for identity, which
develops gradually across the eight stages if life.
o His eight stages:
01.5: Trust vs. Mistrust
1.53: Autonomy vs. Shame
36: Initiative vs. guilt
612: Industry vs. Inferiority
1218: Identity vs. Role confusion
Young adult: intimacy vs. Isolation
Adult: Generativity vs. Stagnition
Older adult: Ego Integrity vs. Despair
**Look over table 1.1 on page 11
Issues In Developmental Psychology
Nature vs. Nurture
Does developmental psychology occur due to biological or environmental
o Ex. A child who excels in sports or academics. This can be viewed as the
child has been passed on good genes from their parents, or the
environment has helped them excel. Continuity vs. Discontinuity
Is developmental change smooth and constant (continuous) or stagelike
Has two components
o Development is continuous
Continuity theorists say that the behavior and abilities we see in
adolescents are adults can be predisposed to their development
early in life.
This approach is assimilated with the belief that human behavior
consists of many individual skills that added one at a time through
learning and experience
This approach emphasizes quantitative changes – the simpler
elements are added together to produce more advanced
o Development is discontinuous
Discontinuity theorists say that the behavior and abilities of
adolescents and adults come independently from their early
development and cannot be predicted from the child’s
This approach emphasized qualitative changes – the discontinuous
nature of the changes taking place in the underlying structures of
the body and brain.
Normative vs. Idiographic development
Is the focus of the researcher on universals of development (normative – studying
what children have in common or how development is similar for all children) or
on individual differences (idiographic – differences in development from one
child to the next)?
Universals of development: behaviors or patterns of development that
characterize all children.
Ex: in language development…
o Normative perspective: researchers study the common patterns of
o Idiographic perspective: researchers identify and explain the individual
differences that are shown as children master language.
Theories of Development:
Child psychologists identify themselves with one of four views:
o Cognitivedevelopmental approach
o Sociocultural approach
o Environmental/learning approach
o Evolutionary approach CognitiveDevelopmental Approach
The changes we see in children’s behavior and abilities come from changes in
their knowledge and intellectual skills.
Goals for psychologists:
o Specify what children know
o How this knowledge is organized
o How it changes or develops
Jean Piaget’s theory:
o He was interested in how children acquire knowledge.
o He called his interest genetic epistemology: the study of children’s
knowledge and how it changes with development.
o His technique was called the clinical method: a semistructured interview
with question designed to probe children’s understanding of various
o According to him, human development is described in terms of functions
and cognitive structures.
o Cognitive structures:
He goes by schemes: set of skilled action patterns of how a child
understands the world and becomes differentiated
• As development proceeds, schemes increase in number and
• Schemes have two elements:
o 1. An object in the environment
o 2. How the child reacts to the object
These functions guide cognitive developments. There are two
major general functions:
• Organization: tendency for new knowledge to merged
with old knowledge
• Adaptation: the survival of an organism depends on its
ability to fit with the environment
o Involves two processes:
Assimilation: interpreting new experiences
in terms of already existing information.
Accommodation: changing the already
existing information to fit new experiences.
• Constructivism: children actively create knowledge rather
than passively receiving it from the en