PSYB20: Developmental Psychology Meera Mehta Fall 2013
Chapter 1: Child Development- Themes, Theories and Methods
- Child development—subfield of developmental psychology. 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
cognitive/motor/linguistic/emotional/social behaviours and then by uncovering the processes and strategies that underlie
these changes. (ie- examine what changes occur and how they occur)
o Child development – young field; got its start barely a century ago
Darwin conducted research on infants’ sensory capacities and young children’s emotions, clearly
demonstrating that scientists could study children and infants.
Watson, Freud and Piaget continued analysis of children’s learning capacities.
- Canadian study of child psychology is about as old as US study of child psychology, though CPA was formed much later than
o Baldwin—established first laboratory of psychology in Canada + published papers on child handedness, suggestion
& will in infancy, imitation.
o 1926- St. George’s School for Child Study (now known as Institute for Child Study) opened in Toronto
Headed by Blatz, who performed a 3-year study on the Dionne quintuplets
- Better information about child development can help society protect and advance the well-being of children + can be used
to shape social policy on behalf of children.
Themes of Development
1. 2. 3.
- Themes concern the origins of human behaviour, pattern of developmental change over time, individual and
contextual factors that define and direct child development
ORIGINS OF BEHAVIOUR: BIOLOGICAL VERSUS ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE
- Previously, psychologists were either on the nature side or the nurture side.
o Psychologists like Gesell thought development was just biological. Studied maturation—genetically determined
process of growth that unfolds naturally over a period of time.
o Watson and behaviourists thought development was environmental. Watson assumed that biological factors
played no restrictions on the ways that the environment can shape the course of child development.
- Now, we study the dynamic interactions between nature and nurture that produce developmental variations.
o Children intentionally try to understand and explore the world about them active nature of humans supports
interaction between genes and environment over course of development.
- Socializing agents don’t mold the child; instead, children actively influence and modify the actions of their parents and
other people with whom they interact.
PATTERN OF DEVELOPMENTAL CHANGE: CONTINUITY VERSUS DISCONTINUITY
o Development is a continuous process whereby each new event builds on earlier experiences. Gradual shifts in
capacities, skills and behaviour without abrupt changes.
o Development is a discontinuous process comprised of a series of discrete steps/stages in which behaviours get
reorganized into a qualitatively new set of behaviours.
o Most contemporary child researchers see development as basically continuous or quantitative, but sometimes
interspersed with periods of change that are discontinuous or more qualitative.
Siegler’s “overlapping waves” model suggests that children use a variety of strategies in thinking and
learning, and that cognition involves constant competition among different strategies, rather than the use
of a single strategy at a given age.
Although each strategy may take a qualitative step forward in effectiveness, at any given point in
time, the child uses several strategies of varying levels of sophistication. It is only gradually that
the most successful strategies predominate while the others fade away.
FORCES AFFECT DEVELOPMENT: INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS VS CONTEXTUAL & CULTURAL INFLUENCES
- Developmental psychologists differ in their emphasis on individual characteristics vs situational or contextual influences
o Resolve controversy by adopting an interactionist viewpoint, stressing the dual role of individual + contextual
Ex. children with aggressive personality traits may often seek out contexts in which they can display these
characteristics; thus, they’re more likely to join a gang or enroll in a karate class than to opt for the chess
club. But in settings that don’t allow/promote aggressive behaviour, these same children are less likely to
behave aggressively and may even be cooperative.
1 | P a g e PSYB20: Developmental Psychology Meera Mehta Fall 2013
Risks to Healthy Development and Individual Resilience
- Examination of how children respond when they are confronted with biological/psychological/environmental situational
challenges or risks to healthy development.
o Many children seem to suffer permanent developmental disruptions.
o Others show “sleeper” effects; they cope well initially but exhibit problems later in development.
o Still others show resilience and are able to deal with the challenge.
o Some children who’ve experienced risks later in live seem better able to adapt to challenges than children who
have experiences little/no risk.
Researching Across Cultures
- Examining child development across cultures provides information about variation in the range of human potential and
expression that may emerge in different circumstances of growth.
Theoretical Perspectives on Development
- Developmental theories serve two main functions:
o Help organize and integrate existing information into coherent and interesting accounts of how children develop.
o Generate testable hypotheses/predictions about children’s behaviour.
- Good scientific theory allows one to make sense of a great number of observations, usually based on the fewest number of
premises, and can then be subsequently used to formulate settings for the collection of new observations.
- Most developmental psychologists mix and match concepts from different theories to explain different types of
o Each theory is framed by specific questions about development. Different theories favour particular ways of
- Group main theories of child development in relation five general approaches in the field: 1.structural-organismic,
2learning, dynamic systems, contextual, ethological and evolutionary views.
- Early 20 century—scholars from many disciplines wanted to understand how complex systems, such as societies and kin
systems, worked. To do so, they tried to describe the formal structure of the system in which they were interested.
o Freud and Piaget adopted this structuralism approach.
Shared the view that the organism goes through a series of stages, or discontinuous changes, over the
course of development.
Both also thought the stages that they proposed were universal.
- Psychodynamic theory—Freud’s theory that development, which proceeds in discrete stages, is determined largely by
biologically based dives shaped by encounters with the environment and through the interaction of three components of
personality: the id, ego and superego.
o Id—the person’s instinctual drives; the first component of the personality to evolve, the id operates on the basis of
the pleasure principle.
Gradually becomes controlled by ego.
o Ego—the rational, controlling component of the personality, which tries to satisfy needs through appropriate,
socially acceptable behaviours.
With further development, superego emerges.
o Superego—the personality component that is the repository of the child’s conscience and internalization of
parental or societal values, morals and roles.
One of Freud’s main contributions to developmental psychology was his emphasis on how early experiences, especially in
the first 6 years of live influence later development. (Ex. infants with unsatisfied needs in oral stage will be more likely to
smoke later on.)
- Psychosocial theory—Erikson’s theory of development that sees children developing through a series of stages largely
through accomplishing tasks that involve them in interaction with their social environment.
o Each stage characterized by the personal and social tasks that the individual must accomplish as well as the risks
the individual confronts if he/she fails to proceed through the stages successfully.
Most influential stage for research: adolescence (identity vs. role confusion)
2 | P a g e PSYB20: Developmental Psychology Meera Mehta Fall 2013
- Freud’s and Erikson’s stages of development:
Stage of Development
Age Period (Years) Freudian Eriksonian
0-1 Oral- focus on eating and taking things into mouth Infancy- Task: to develop basic trust in oneself
and others. Risk: Mistrust of others and lack of
1-3 Anal- emphasis on toilet training; first experience with Early childhood- Task: to learn self-control and
discipline and authority establish autonomy/ Risk: Shame and doubt
about one’s own capabilities.
3-6 Phallic- increase in sexual urges arouses curiosity and Play age- Task: to develop initiative in
alerts children to gender difference; period is critical to mastering environment. Risk: Feelings of guilt
formation of gender identity over aggressiveness and daring.
6-12 Latency- sexual urges repressed; emphasis on education School age- Task: to develop industry. Risk:
and the beginnings of concern for others feelings of inferiority over real or imagined
failure to master tasks.
12-20 Adolescence- Task: to achieve a sense of
identity. Risk: role-confusion over who and
what the individual wants to be.
20-30 Genital- altruistic love joins selfish love; Young adulthood- Task: to achieve intimacy
with others. Risk: Shaky identity may lead to
avoidance of others and isolation.
30-65 Need for reproduction of species underlies adoption of Adulthood- Task: to express oneself through
adult responsibilities generativity. Risk: Inability to create children,
ideas or products may lead to stagnation.
65+ Mature age- Task: to achieve a sense of
integrity. Risk: Doubts and unfulfilled desires
may lead to despair.
- 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 process of assimilation and accommodation.
o Uses principles of organization and adaptation.
Organization— reflects the view that human intellectual development is a biologically organized process.
Adaptation—used to describe the process by which intellectual change occurs as the human mind
becomes increasingly adapted to the world.
- 4 stages of cognitive development, each characterized by qualitatively different ways of thinking.
o While infants rely on sensory and motor abilities to learn about the world, preschool children rely more on mental
structure and symbols, especially language. In school years, children begin to use logic, and in adolescence,
children can reason about abstract ideas.
- Piaget believed that cognitive development was a process in which the child shifts from a focus on the self, immediate
sensory experiences and simple problems, to a more complex, multi-faceted and abstract understanding of the world.
- Behaviourism—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.
o Focuses on learning of behaviours and emphasizes role of experience.
o Gradual, continuous view.
- Behaviourists: Pavlov, Watson, Skinner
o Pavlov: classical conditioning—a type of learning in which individuals learn to respond to unfamiliar stimuli (CS) in
the same way they are accustomed to respond to familiar stimuli (US) if the two stimuli are repeatedly paired
Watson used Pavlov’s notion of classical conditioning to explain many aspects of children’s behaviour, like
fear. (Little Albert experiment)
3 | P a g e PSYB20: Developmental Psychology Meera Mehta Fall 2013
o Skinner: operant conditioning—a type of learning in which learning depends on the consequences of behaviour;
rewards (positive/negative reinforcement) increase the likelihood that a behaviour will recur, whereas
(positive/negative) punishment decreases that likelihood.
Patterson et al. have shown how children’s anti-social behaviour is the result of how parents and children
mutually train each other to behave in ways that reinforce aggressive behavioural problems, and that
parents will then have decreased control over the problem behaviours.
Cognitive Social Learning Theory
- Cognitive social learning theory—stresses learning by observation and imitation medicated by cognitive processes and
skills. (Ex. Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment)
o Children do not imitate blindly or automatically; rather they select specific behaviours to imitate, and their
imitation relies on how they process this information.
4 cognitive processes govern how well a child will learn by observing another person.
Modeled behaviour attention (experience, personality characteristics, relationship with model,
situational variables) retention (rehearsal, organization, recall, other cognitive skills)
reproduction (cognitive representation, concept matching use of feedback) motivation
(external incentives, vicarious incentives, self-evaluation and incentives, internalized standards,
social comparison) matching behaviour
- Information processing approaches—theories of development that focus on the flow of information through the child’s
cognitive system and particularly on the specific operations that the child performs between input and stimulus phases.
o Interested in cognitive processes that a child uses to operate on knowledge and the gradual changes over the
course of development in children’s ability to use these processes.
Child attends to information, changes it into a mental or cognitive representation, stores it in memory,
compares it with other memories, generates various responses, makes a decision about the most
appropriate response, takes some specific action.
DYNAMIC SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVES
- Dynamic systems theory—a theory that proposes that individuals develop and function within systems (ex.
biological/physiological, social); it studies the relationships among individuals and systems and the processes by which
these relationships operate.
o Dynamic—underscores the constant interaction and mutual influence of the elements of the system.
Principles of dynamic systems theory:
Wholeness and Organization 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 remains intact. (“When the snows fall and the
white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” –Ned Stark)
Morphogenesis Changes in the system. A system must be able to grow and adapt to internal and external changes.
Equifinality Most individuals reach essentially the same developmental milestones, even though, in the
process, each one also experiences varying combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
Complexity Each part of a system is unique but also related to one or more of the system’s other parts.
- Sociocultural theory—theory of development proposed by Vygotsky that sees development as evolving out of children’s
interactions with more skilled others in their social environment.
o Experienced social world mediates individual cognitive development.
Example: Peer tutoring
- The ways in which adults support and direct child development are influenced by culture, especially the values and
practices that organize what and how adults and children think and work together and use cultural tools to understand the
word and solve cognitive problems.
o Tools devised by cultures + take o