Identify a testable hypothesis about child development using one of the theories described in your course readings. After creating a hypothesis:
Child development is the scientific study of the growth, stability, and changes that occur from childhood through adolescence. However, many generations ago, children were not considered significantly different from adults. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, children were dressed like adults and expected to behave as such, regardless of his age.
Until the acceptance of child development research in the twentieth century, different thoughts (e.g., John Locke's concept of "tabula rasa") shaped our views on childhood. Fortunately, as centuries have progressed, our conceptualization of childhood and adolescence has expanded, becoming more scientifically oriented. For example, many years ago, it was assumed that children who displayed symptoms of autism (e.g., head banging, body rocking, delayed speech) were possessed by demons. These children were treated with extreme exorcisms and sometimes killed to drive the "demons" out of their bodies.
In our culture today, the scientific study of child development is a well-recognized area of study. Unlike the children of the previous generations, children are treated as individuals with skills and abilities distinct from adults.
Child Development Phases based on age We will discuss each of these types of development in relation to three distinct phases based on age. The preschool period ranges from three through six years, middle childhood ranges from six through twelve years, and adolescence ranges from twelve through twenty-one years. Physical Development A great deal of physical development occurs from age three through twenty-one. Chris will grow taller and heavier, his nervous system and muscles will grow, and his ability to engage in certain physical behaviors, such as sports, will improve. Cognitive Development Children and adolescents also experience significant cognitive development. Chris will increasingly acquire the ability to learn, solve problems, and form memories. Social Development Chris will also undergo social development as he experiences changes in his relationships with his family, peers, culture, and society.
Although child development is now a recognized and respected area of study, the field did not develop overnight. It has taken many theorists from many schools of thought to produce the advanced conceptualization of child development that we now accept. Different theories that have informed the field of child and adolescent development include psychodynamic theories, behavioral theories, cognitive theories, contextual theories, and evolutionary theories.
Although some of these theories may seem contradictory, they can also be complementary. It is often necessary to consider all these theories when considering child and adolescent development. There is no perfect theory that explains every feature of development. You cannot build a house with just one tool. Similarly, you cannot use just one theory to completely explain child development
Theories of Child Development Psychodynamic Theories When most people think of psychodynamic theories, they initially think of Sigmund Freud’s extreme beliefs regarding the unconscious and his strong focus on psychosexual development. Although Freud provided a basis for understanding child development, his theory is not the only psychodynamic theory. Erik Erikson, a psychodynamic theorist, was more focused on psychosocial development than on psychosexual development. Freud and Erikson shared a common belief that children must successfully complete a series of stages in order to function appropriately as adults. We will cover these stage theories in later weeks. Behavioral Theories Behavioral theories of child development came about as theorists became frustrated with the often vague and untestable predictions that psychodynamic theorists promoted. Behaviorists believed that the unconscious that Freud and Erikson relied on so heavily is a useless construct because it is not visible to the naked eye. Conversely, behaviorists had a “see it to believe it” perspective. Behavioral theorists, such as John Watson, B. F. Skinner, and Albert Bandura, held different views on how children learned behaviors, but they all agreed that children and adolescents develop their specific skills and abilities through the principles of reinforcement—reinforced behaviors persist but ignored or punished behaviors fade away. Cognitive Theories Until the late 1800s, theorists focused largely on child behavior but paid little attention to child cognition. Cognitive theories filled this gap by focusing on the process that children use to gain knowledge and to understand the world. Jean Piaget is the most well-known cognitive theorist because of his influential views on child cognitive development. Like Freud and Erikson, Piaget believed that children developed through a series of stages. Piaget provided a great deal of information on children’s thinking abilities, but
another cognitive theory, the information-processing model, has been much more influential when discussing the development of memory. By comparing the human brain to a computer, this model provides a framework for understanding how memories are formed and how this capability develops over time. Contextual Theories Understanding the impact of the environment on children (and vice versa) is necessary to form a complete picture of child and adolescent development. Two major theorists, Urie Bronfenbrenner and Lev Vygotsky, have provided a contextual perspective that explains the interaction between children (including their different physical and mental abilities) and their environments. Bronfenbrenner developed the bioecological approach to development, which focuses on children’s interactions within several “systems.” Cross-cultural researchers commonly use his approach to explain the impact of culture on a developing child. Vygotsky examined the social relationships among people within a culture. He strongly believed that interactions among children and the people in their environments are necessary for appropriate cognitive and social development. Evolutionary Theories Although the previously mentioned theories provide information on our physical, cognitive, and social development, no theories have addressed the impact of our genes and inheritance on our developmental trajectories. Evolutionary theories on development, which arose from Charles Darwin’s work, consider the impact of inherited genes on our development. Obviously, our genes influence our physical features, but evolutionary theorists believe that our behaviors can also be genetically preprogrammed. Konrad Lorenz, the most well-known developmental evolutionist, focused on genetic behavior patterns by studying these patterns in geese.
The scientific method typically involves three major steps:
A researcher using the information-processing approach to memory (i.e., a theory) expects children to form memories better at seven than at five (i.e., a hypothesis). If, through research, the researcher finds that children’s memory is better at seven than at five, the researcher has provided support for his theory.
When developing the hypothesis, the researcher is mindful that predictions determine the type of research methodology to use. The researcher must begin by operationalizing the hypothesis. In doing so, the hypothesis is made specific and measurable.
Continuing with the above example, the researcher could operationalize "memory" by measuring the exact number of words that a child remembers from a word list. If the child remembers significantly more words at seven than at five, then the researcher can conclude that age influences memory formation abilities.
Research on Child Development Types of Research The two major types of psychological research are correlational and experimental research. With correlational research, we can simply state that two constructs are related to each other. For example, age and memory may be positively correlated such that older children have better memories (i.e., as age increases, memory increases). Correlational studies usually involve conducting naturalistic observations, surveys, or brain scans. We choose to conduct correlational research when we expect that two naturally occurring constructs are associated with (or related to) each other but not when we want to determine whether one construct causes the other. A correlation between two variables can imply that there may be a causal relationship between two factors. However, because of the potential of other intervening variables, the correlation cannot guarantee that the effect is causal. In the memory and age example, the relationship between these variables can be explained by other factors, such as intelligence. To investigate cause-and-effect relationships, we have to conduct experimental research. The researchers control experimental studies. Experimental studies typically occur in laboratory settings. For example, if a researcher wants to conduct an experiment to determine whether age causally influences memory abilities, he or she would select children with equal intelligence levels. By controlling this variable (intelligence), he or she can be more confident that any difference between two age groups in memory abilities is due to age and not due to intelligence. Correlational and experimental studies are common across all types of psychological investigations, but there are also specific research strategies that must be considered when conducting developmental research. The objective of developmental research is to examine changes over time. Both correlational research and experimental research typically provide us with a snapshot of one time period, but neither of these options allows us to examine changes over time. Techniques To examine changes over time, we must use one of the three major developmental research techniques: cross-sectional research, longitudinal research, and sequential research. Cross-Sectional Research Cross-sectional research examines developmental changes by identifying groups of people at different ages and comparing them. For example, if a researcher is interested in the mathematical abilities of a child throughout the preschool period, he or she would take one sample from a group of three-year-olds, one from a group of four-year-olds, and one from a group of five-year- olds and compare their mathematical abilities. This technique has the advantage that it can be
conducted relatively quickly because each child will be tested only once. However, this technique has a weakness because you are comparing different children with presumably different skills and abilities. Longitudinal Research A strategy that solves the problem arising from having separate groups is longitudinal research. Longitudinal research involves following a group of children of one age over time rather than working with three separate groups of children. For example, a longitudinal study would take one group of children and test their mathematical abilities at ages three, four, and five. Longitudinal research techniques provide a great deal of information about changes over time without the weaknesses of cross-sectional studies. However, longitudinal research has its own weaknesses. Repeatedly working with the same group of children requires a greater time commitment from researchers (years as opposed to days). In addition, retention of the children under study over time can be quite difficult as children’s families often move and researchers may lose contact with participants. Sequential Research Sequential research is a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal research. This research strategy examines different groups of children over time. For example, a sequential study would take three samples of children aged three, four, and five and test each group once per year (i.e., testing the three-year-olds until they are five, testing the four-year-olds until they are six, and testing the five-year-olds until they are seven). This type of research is ideal because it allows researchers to focus not only on changes within children but also on differences among the children.
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