Developmental psychology is the study of the human mind across the life span. Unlike other areas of psychology–personality, cognitive, social–developmental psychology is explicitly concerned with how the rules of human behavior change over time. All of the methods used in psychology can be, and are, applied to the study of development. These range from neurobiological studies of the brain’s growth to studies of the effect of social context on a child’s future behavior. There is currently no overarching theory of developmental psychology, but there are several approaches to which researchers more or less adhere.
One useful way of categorizing these theoretical approaches is based on the way each theory passes the developmental trajectory. Some theories, called stage theories, divide the life span into qualitatively different segments. Jean Piaget introduced the most influential stage theory, in fact, the most influential theory in developmental psychology, in books and papers written in the 1920s and the decades after. Piaget suggested that children went through four stages of development through their childhood, during which qualitatively different rules applied to their behavior and growth.
Although there were some similarities between the stages and some rules of behavior that applied throughout the life course, Piaget argued that the best way to understand development was by focusing on the qualitative differences between each stage and the processes involved in moving from one stage to the next. Although stage theories are less popular now than when Piaget introduced his; they still hold some sway over developmental psychologists’ explanations of behavior. The issue of why lies behind every developmental study or theory.
Whether one studies development observationally or experimentally, cross-sectionally or longitudinally, within a stage-based or an incremental theoretical framework, the central question remains: What is the source of development change? The answer to this question has important consequences not only for our understanding of development but also for the kinds of strategies we should pursue to solve real-world problems. The principle solutions to the question of specifics in the developmental growth process are explanations of gene-based characteristics, and environmental influences.
In contrast to gene-based explanations, many have argued that the environment is the primary cause of developmental change. Support for this claim comes from the wide range of studies that show that experience in the world is crucial for any kind of development, and that differences in the environment can have enormous consequences for the direction of development. Perhaps the most important part of the environment is the social environment: the people or characters with whom the child interacts on a daily basis.
Many parents read fairy tales to their children, filled with dragons, witches, damsels in distress and heroes; these tales stay vivid in the mind of children for years to come. However these young listeners are getting much more than a happy ending. Fairy tales reflect principles governing behavior, which are outlined in analytical psychological theory. In fairy tales such as The Goose Girl, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White, one can find correlation to theories of social development, as well as theories of the map of the mind and the controversial Oedipal complex.
These hypotheses present behavioral and moral guidelines, which influence and foster a child in his development, if the story is a predominate factor in his upbringing. Within in every fairy tale there lies a hidden lesson is psychology. Famed child psychologist Jean Piaget details that a child develops cognitively through distinctively outlined stages; he details these stages as the Sensory-Motor Stage, the Pre-Operational Stage, the Stage of Concrete Operations, and finally the Formal Operations Stage.
Within each stage, Piaget outlines that the child develops along a pre-determined path, which can be moderately reformed along various supplemental factors of influence, for example his environment . Sensory-Motor Stage: Ages Birth Through Two A newborn baby manifests only innate reflex behaviors, such as grasping, sucking and random movement of the arms and legs. He does not really think, he reacts. Intelligence is first displayed when these reflex movements become more refined. The baby now imitates what he sees, and grasps on to his favorite things.
The childs understanding of the world involves only perceptions and objects with which he has had direct experience. Actions discovered first by sight are repeated and applied to new situations to obtain the same results. If an infant wants a rattle, which is dangling, above his crib, he will repeat the actions he saw of another taking the rattle, and continue to grasp for it until these actions are coordinated into a plan. Toward the end of the sensory-motor stage, the ability to form primitive mental images develops as the infant acquires object permanence.
Up to that time and infant doesnt realize that objects can exist apart from himself. If a six-month old baby is shown a toy, which is then hidden under a pillow, he will not search for it. At eighteen to twenty-four months, however, the child can understand that even though he cant see the hidden object, it still exists. This theory can be applied to interaction with fairy tales, as though a child will not be able to fully assess the moral path paved by the fairy tale, due to frequent interaction with the story he will become accustomed to it.
Towards the end of the stage, the child realizes that the story continues to exist long after it has been read, and he will begin to ask for the specific book. This sense of comfort and attachment will then enhance further development in the subsequent stages of cognitive development. Preoperational Stage: Ages Two Through Seven The child in the preoperational stage is not yet able to think logically. With the acquisition of language, the child is able to represent the world through mental images and symbols, but in this stage, these symbols depend on his own perception and his intuition.
The preoperational child is completely egocentric. Although he is beginning to take a greater interest in the object and people around him, he sees them from only one point of view: his own. This stage is the age of curiosity, where the preschooler will imitate whatever he perceives in his surroundings, and question and investigate these new things. Since he knows the world only from his limited experience, the child will believe what he is assessing to be a fundamental way, reason or law. The attachment to a specific story during the sensory-motor stage creates a model by which the preoperational child lives.
He will imitate a character, scene or idea portrayed in his favorite story, discarding the ways of the outside world. This imitation, or hero-worship, both of physical and psychological nature, forms a basis for the childs psychological development and his understanding of social norms. Stage of Concrete Operations: Ages Seven Through Eleven The stage of concrete operations begins when the child is able to perform mental operations. Piaget defines an operation as an interiorized action, an action performed in the mind.
Operations permit the child to think about actions which he previously had to perform physically. The primary characteristic of operation thought is its reversibility. The child can mentally reverse the direction of his thought; he realizes that things can be altered to come to new conclusions. The child is able to do so with only tangible things; operations are labeled concrete because it is applicable to those objects which are physically present; the child still maintains psychological notions that were learnt during the first two stages through imitation.
At this pivotal stage, the child retains few of the characteristics which he developed during his first two stages of cognitive thinking. The child begins to reform all which he practiced at early ages, and conforms it to socially acceptable actions and thoughts. In relation to environment, as oppose to the direct imitation expressed in the Pre-Operational Stage, the child now demonstrates environmental conditioning by conforming the hallowed imitations of his early youth to the social guidelines learnt from his interaction with the outside world.
Stage Of Formal Operations: Ages Eleven Through Sixteen The child in the concrete operational stage deals with the present, the here and now; the child who can use formal operational thought can think about the future, the abstract, the hypothetical. Piagets final stage coincides with the beginning of adolescence, and marks the start of abstract thought and deductive reasoning. Thought is more flexible, rational, and systematic. The individual can now conceive all the possible way a problem might be solved, and can look at a problem from several points of view.
The adolescent searches for a solution in a systematic fashion. Although he claims he lacks brains, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz is able to reason in such a deductive manner. When faced with the problem of crossing a huge mountain crevice he reasons, We cannot fly, that is certain,; neither can we climb down into this great ditch. Therefore, if we cannot jump over it, we must stop where we are. The adolescent can think about thoughts and operate on operations, not just concrete objects.
He can think about such abstract concepts as space and time, and can question the policies taught to him earlier on in life. He develops an inner value system and a sense of moral judgment, and no longer imitates that which he did in his younger years. The final stage in developmental thinking represents the childs shedding his skin, or his childhood beliefs. The child begins to think outside the box, and sheds many of the outdated ideals he learned through his imitation of the fairy tale, in many cases, modified behavioral traits planted by the fairy tale continue to play roles in the childs life.