Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint 3 Edition
Child Development - A field of study that seeks to account for the gradual
evolution of the child's cognitive, social and other capacities first by describing
changes in the child's observed behaviours and then by uncovering the processes
and strategies that underlie these changes.
Maturation – A genetically determined process of growth that unfolds naturally
over a period of time.
Arneld Gesell (1928) – believed course of development was largely
predetermined by biological factors.
John B. Watson (1928, a behaviourist) – placed emphasis strictly on the
environment, assumed that biological factors placed no restrictions on the ways
that the environment can shape the course of a child's development.
There are two patterns of development
− Continuous: each new event builds on earlier experiences, development is
− Discontinuous: a series of discrete steps or stages in which behaviours get
reorganized into a qualitatively new set of behaviours.
Most contemporary child researchers see development as basically continuous or
quantitative, but sometimes interspersed with periods of change that are
discontinuous or more qualitative. Many developmental psychologists adopt an
interactionist viewpoint when it comes to individual and contextual factors, i.e.
Children with aggressive personality traits are more likely to join a gang or enrol in
a karate class.
Risks to healthy development
− “Sleeper” effect: children cope well initiallywith environmental or
psychological problems, but exhibit problems later in development.
Theoretical Perspectives on Development
− Structural-Organismic Perspectives: Theoretical approaches that describe
psychological structures and processes that undergo qualitative or stage-
like changes over the course of development. Both Piaget and Freud shared
the view that the organism goes through an organized or structured series
of stages, or discontinuous changes, over the course of development. Both
also saw the stages that they proposed as universal, although their theories
are quite different from each other.
Psychodynamic theory – Freud's theory that development, which proceeds in
discrete stages, is determined largely by biologically based drives shaped by
encounters with the environment and through the interaction of three
components of personality-the id, ego, and superego. − Id – The person's instinctual drives; the first component of the personality to
evolve, the id operates on the basis of the pleasure principle.
− Ego – The rational, controlling component of the personality, which tries to
satisfy needs through appropriate, socially, acceptable behaviours.
− Superego – The personality component that is the repository of the child's
internalization of parental or societal values, morals, and roles.
Piagetian Theory – a theory of cognitive development that sees the child as
actively seeking new information and incorporating it into his knowledge base
through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. This theory uses two
basic principles of biological change: organization (reflects the view that human
development is a biologically organized process), and adaptation (the process by
which intellectual change occurs as the human mind becomes increasingly
adapted to the world). Piaget proposed that all children go through four stages of
cognitive development, each characterized by qualitatively different ways of
Behaviourism – A school of psychology that holds that theories of behaviour
must be based on direct observations of actual behaviour and not on speculations
about such unobservable things as human motives.
Classical Conditioning – A type of learning in which individual learn to respond
to unfamiliar stimuli in the same way they are accustomed to respond to familiar
stimuli if the two stimuli are repeatedly presented together.
Operant Conditioning – A type of learning in which learning depends on the
consequences of behaviour; rewards increase the likelihood that a behaviour will
recur, whereas punishment decreases that likelihood.
Cognitive social learning theory (Albert Bandura) – According to this theory
children learn not only through classical and operant conditioning but also by
observing and imitating others. Ex: a group of nursery school children watched an
adult punch, kick, and pummel a large Bobo doll, those children were more likely
to play aggressively with the doll than were a group of children who had not seen
the model. To produce a behaviour that matches that of a model, a child goes
through four sets of processes (Modelled Behaviour = Attention --> Retention -->
Reproduction --> Motivation = Matching Behaviour).
Information processing approaches – focus on the flow of information through
the child's cognitive system, particularly on the specific operations the child
performs between input and stimulus phases.
Dynamic systems theory – A theory that proposed that individuals develop and
function within systems; it studies the relationships among individuals and
systems and the processes by which these relationships operate. Dynamic system
theories are a diverse group that cover a wide range of topics in child
development. Some principles of dynamic systems theory include:
− Complexity: each part of the system is unique but also related to one or more of the system's other parts.
− Wholeness and Organization: The whole system is organized and more than
just the sum of its parts.
− Identity and stabilization: No matter how a system may change, its identity
− Morphogenesis: A system must be able to grow and adapt to internal and
− Equifinality: Most individuals reach essentially the same developmental
milestones, even though in the process, each one experiences varying
combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
Humans function in many different settings, in response to this some theorists
have concentrated on the role of contextual factors in human development. Three
perspectives that illustrate contextual approaches to development are:
1) Sociocultural Theory (Lev Vygotsky): sees development as evolving out of
children's interactions with more skilled others in their social environment. It
places emphasis on the impact of social and cultural experience on child
2) Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory: stressed the importance of
understanding not only the relationships between the organism and various
environmental systems but also the relations among such systems
themselves. It consists of four systems:
1. Microsystem – the setting in which the child lives and interacts with
people and institutions closest to them.
2. Mesosystem – the interrelations that occur among the components of the
microsystem with which the child interacts.
3. Exosystem – collection of setting that impinge on a child's development
but in which the child does not play a direct role (i.e. A parent's work
may affect the child if it requires the parent to travel a lot).
4. Macrosystem – system that surrounds the microsystem, mesosystem,
and exosystem and that represents the values of the society or culture.
All four of these systems change over time, this process is referred to as the
3)The Lifespan Perspective: A theory that sees development as a process that
continues throughout the life cycle, from infancy to adult-hood and old age. It
incorporates historical factors that may influence psychological development, this
phenomena is referred to as the age cohort affect. Age cohort means a group of
individuals born in the same year or historical period, as these cohorts develop
they share the same historical experiences.
Ethological and evolutionary approaches – Scientists have sought to understand
the evolution of behaviour and its adaptive or survival value to the species
exhibiting it. In order for them to understand children's cognitive skills and
behaviour, it is important to understand the child’s' biological nature and needs
and the nature of the setting in which the behaviour takes place.
− Ethological Theory: a theory that holds that behaviour must be viewed and
understood as occurring in a particular context and as having adaptive and survival value. For example crying can be viewed as an ''elicitor” of parental
behaviour, therefore it has clear survival value. Human ethologists view
many elicitors, such as crying, biologically based they assume these
behaviours are modified by environmentally based experiences.
− Evolutionary Psychology: an approach which holds that critical components
of psychological functioning reflect evolutionary changes and are critical to
the survival of the species. This perspective holds that the critical
components of human evolutionary change are in the areas of the brain
changes and cognitive functioning.
Research Methods in Child Psychology
Scientists formulate hypothesis on the basis of a theory and use measurable and
replicable techniques to collect, study, and analyze data in an effort to test