Chapter 01:Background and Theories
Developmental Psychology and its Roots…
Child psychology, as a science, is only a little more than 100 years old.
What is developmental psychology?
o Changes in behaviour and abilities that occur as development proceeds.
o Has two basic goals:
Description: identify the child’s behaviour at each point in
E.g., when do babies start to detect colour?
E.g., how do children resolve conflicts with their peers?
Explanation: determining causes and processes that produce changes
in behaviour from one point to the next.
E.g., biology, environment, etc.
Why study children?
o Period of rapid development.
Makes sense to focus on the period where rapid change occurs.
More changes occur during this period than any other period.
Physical growth, social interaction, acquisition of language, memory
o Long-term influences.
Experiences during childhood strongly affect later development.
I.E., we are who we are because of our childhood.
o Insight into complex adult processes.
Useful to study complex processes during the stage where it is not so
E.g., language development.
o Real world applications.
Products of research benefit children in real life problems.
E.g., poverty, illiteracy, crime, etc.
Policy makers often look to psychologists for help.
Therefore, study children to make their lives better.
o Interesting subject matter.
Love for children and fascination with their development.
Historical views of childhood
o Ancient Greece and Rome
600 BCE to 400 CE.
Infanticide was common for illegitimate, sick, or unwanted babies.
Severe punishment and exploitation of children was neither
uncommon nor cruel.
Recognized importance of childhood, but did not care for their
o Medieval and Renaissance Periods After fall of Roman Empire, catholic churches tried to improve kids’
lives by making them pure and innocent.
Instead of infanticide, unwanted kids were shipped off to convents
Abuse and exploitation of kids continued through the middle ages.
Renaissance = 14 – 17 centuries.
Founding homes in Florence, Italy were set up for sick, unwanted
o John Locke (1632-1704)
All children are born equal, and the mind is a blank slate (tabula
All knowledge comes from experience and learning.
Had an environmentalist POV.
Children are not innately good or innately evil.
Stressed the use of rewards and punishments.
Did not favour material rewards or physical punishment.
Discipline = praise for desirable behaviours and scolding for
o Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Considered the father of French Romanticism.
Emphasized sentimentality, naturalness, and innocence.
In contrast to Locke, Rousseau believed children were born with ideas
and knowledge that unfolds with age.
Believed development followed a set of predictable stages.
Also, believed whatever the child didn’t know is acquired through
Therefore children should learn through discovery and
exploration, not formal instruction.
Rousseau’s views would be called nativism.
o Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803)
Socialization into a group or community.
Everyone is born into a specific cultural community with a shared
language and historical traditions.
Opposed attempts to force one’s culture on another.
Instead, argued for cultural relativism; in which each culture
should be evaluated on its own terms.
Importance of language; argued diversity in language = diversity in
Believed language and culture and continually reinterpreted and
changed by people of the culture.
“We live in the world we create”.
o Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Ideas have influenced almost every major theory of development.
Evolutionary Theories: Assumption #1: members of a species vary in many
o E.g., some are stronger, some are smaller, etc.
Assumption #2: Some of this variance is biological in origin.
o E.g., nature, not nurture.
o Can therefore be passed from parent to offspring.
Assumption #3: Most species produce more offspring than the
environment can sustain.
o Therefore, offspring must compete for survival.
o Some variance may increase chances for survival
Not directly involved with development, but his theories led others to
suggest recapitulation (G. Stanley Hall) = development of an
individual follows the development of the species.
No longer scientifically supported.
Darwin’s study of his son, “Doddy” was one of the first.
Baby biography = studying one’s own child’s development.
Pioneers of child psychology
o G. Stanley Hall (1846-1924)
Father of child psychology.
Conducted and published first studies in North America.
Founded and became the first president of the APA.
o James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934)
First academic psychologist in Canada.
Set up first psychology lab in UofT.
Used baby biography.
Examined handedness, colour vision, suggestibility, and imitation.
Stressed relationship between heredity and the environment.
Influenced Jean Piaget.
o John B. Watson (1878-1958)
Zeitgeist = “spirit of the times”; the shared ideas of scientists during a
When a science is very young, the zeitgeist can change dramatically.
First major psychologist to adapt Locke’s views.
This time called behaviourism.
Behaviour is a result of conditioning and learning.
Early career = animal psychology.
Introspection involves having clients complete a task, and then look
inwards and report what’s happening.
Said introspection wasn’t reliable:
Little agreement was ever found across participants’ answers.
Psychology should follow other sciences and deal with
objective, observable subject matter.
He rejected any method that couldn’t be used with other
species. Argued learning is due to associations, as described by Ivan Pavlov.
All human behaviour starts as simple reflexes.
Then through associations, we learn to respond to conditioned
o Arnold Gesell (1880-1961)
Biological model; one of G. Stanley Hall’s students.
Did not agree that development followed that of the species.
Believed development was guided primarily by biological processes.
Therefore, growth and motor development followed
Environment plays only a minor role.
o Perhaps affecting the age at which skills appear, but not
affecting the skills themselves.
Maturation is the complex set of biological mechanisms that guide
Used observational methods to study children.
First large scale study of children that revealed a high degree of
uniformity in children’s development.
Didn’t develop at the same time, but followed the same pattern.
E.g., all children walked before they ran, before they skipped,
before they hopped, etc.
Developed statistical norms, that is, an age range where
developmental milestones typically occur.
Pioneered the use of cameras to record children’s behaviour.
o Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Two major contributions to psychology:
In clinical psychology: model of personality and techniques of
psychoanalysis = major school of thought in psychotherapy.
In developmental psychology: stage theory of psychosexual
o Each child is born with a sexual energy (libido), which
is biologically guided towards certain location in the
body, called the erogenous zones.
o Sexual energy is the ability to experience physical
o Success at each stage requires the proper amount of
Theory of development is actually a theory of personality formation.
Many aspects of adult functioning are due to childhood.
If a child doesn’t get the right amount of physical pleasure, a part of
the libido becomes fixated at that stage.
This fixation will result in an adult continually seek pleasure in this
E.g., oral fixation = smoking, excessive eating, etc. The Oedipus complex at the phallic stage is when kids become
attracted to their opposite sex parent.
They realize their same-sex parent is a worthy opponent, so
they compensate via:
o Repression; pushing the desire into the unconscious,
o Identification; attempt to identify with the same-sex
Freud’s theories never fully accepted because:
Vague; cannot be scientifically proven or disproven.
Relied on unobservable mechanisms such as unconscious
However, two fundamental concepts still accepted today:
Rejection of purely nativistic and strictly environmentalistic
explanations. Argued for an interactionist perspective.
Suggestion that early experiences have an effect later in life.
o Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
Differed from Freud:
Believed development continued throughout life.
o Replaced Freud’s 5 stages with 8.
Can’t understand personality without looking at the
Developed the psychosocial model.
Model was based on the study of normal individuals and emphasized
the positive, healthy aspects of personality.
Where Freud studied his patients.
Erikson believed development followed a blueprint; it isn’t random.
Each individual’s ultimate goal is identity, which develops gradually
through the eight stages.
At each stage, a positive personality characteristic associated with the
search for identity conflicts with the negative characteristic resulting
from interaction with the social world.
Issues in Developmental Psychology…
Nature vs. Nurture
o Inborn, biological factors (nature) or environmental, experiential factors
o Has existed since Locke and Rousseau.
o Psychologists today mostly agree with the interactionist perspective, but
emphasize either nature or nurture.
E.g., gifted children; genetic contribution, parents are probably gifted
in similar areas. Also, probably in an environment that allows them to
E.g., aggressive behaviour. Nurture = exposure to violent models, or ineffective parenting
that rewards aggression.
Nature = inherited disposition that makes it difficult to
regulate emotions or process social cues.
However, appears to be a combination of the two.
Continuity vs. Discontinuity
o Is development continuous (smooth and stable, with new abilities, skills, and
knowledge gradually added at a relatively uniform place)?
Or discontinuous (development at different rates, alternating between
periods of little change and periods of rapid, abrupt change)?
o Continuity theorists contest that patterns in adulthood can be directly traced
back to childhood.
o Discontinuity theorists say that certain patterns occur relatively independent
of earlier life.
o Continuity models are often associated with the ideas that skills are
gradually added, and then combined and recombined to form more complex
This model emphasizes quantitative change; simplicity is added
together to create more advanced abilities.
Characterizes the environmental perspective.
o The discontinuity model holds that development is guided primarily by
internal biological factors.
E.g., stage theorists.
o Theorists argue that some processes are better described by one model,
while other processes are better described by the other model.
Normative vs. Idiographic Development
o Normative development is what children have in common or how
development is similar for all children.
Focuses on the “average” child, with the goal of identifying how
development occurs from one stage to the next.
The search for universals of development – behaviours or patterns
of development that characterize all children everywhere.
Associated with biological theories of development.
o Idiographic development is the differences in development from one child
to the next.
Associated with environmental and experiential theories.
o An example is research of language development:
Normative theorists look for common patterns of linguistic
Idiographic theorists may look at identifying and explaining the
individual differences between children.
Theories of Development: Cognitive-Developmental Approaches…
Emphasis on cognition; the changes we witness in children’s behaviours and
abilities arise largely from changes in their knowledge and intellectual skills. Major goals: specify what children know, how this knowledge is organized, and how
it changes or develops.
o Wasn’t interested so much in how many questions children get right on
intelligence tests, as much as he was interested as why they got a question
o Their answers revealed qualitative (style-related) differences in thinking vs.
quantitative (amount-related) differences.
o Called his area of interest genetic epistemology; the study of children’s
knowledge and how it changes with development.
o Was interested in how children think, not what they know.
o Developed the clinical method; where he asked a question or posed a
problem, and later determined the child’s reasoning or problem-solving
o Human development can be described in terms of functions and cognitive
Functions are inborn biological processes that are the same for
everyone and remain unchanged.
Purpose is to construct internal cognitive structures, which change
repeatedly as the child grows.
o Cognitive structures
Piaget believed intelligence is a process – not something a child has
but something a child does.
Piaget’s child gains knowledge by acting upon the world.
E.g., an infant’s knowledge of a ball is understood in terms of
the actions that can be performed with it: pushing, throwing,
These actions are a reflection of schemes, which are cognitive
structures in infancy comprised of two elements: the object in
the environment, and the infant’s reaction to that object.
As development proceeds, the number and complexity of
Schemes reflect certain flexibilities: children do not perform the same
action with every ball they come across.
Schemes become differentiated,