Chapter 4, The Developing Person 1
Prenatal Development and the Newborn
Developmental psychologists examine how we develop physically, cognitively,
and socially, from conception to death. The life cycle begins when one sperm
cell, out of the some 200 million ejaculated, unites with an egg to form a
zygote. Attached to the uterine wall, the developing embryo begins to form
body organs. By the ninth week, the fetus becomes recognizably human. The
mother eats, drinks, and breathes for two, so that any teratogens she
ingests can reach the developing child and place it at risk.
The Competent Newborn
Using new methods, researchers have discovered that newborns are born
with sensory equipment and reflexes that facilitate their interacting with
adults and securing nourishment. For example, they quickly learn to
discriminate the smell and sound of their mothers.
Physical Development in Infancy and Childhood
Within the brain, nerve cells form before birth. Sculpted by maturation and
experience, their interconnections multiply rapidly after birth.
Maturation and Infant Memory
We lose conscious memories of experiences from our earliest years.
Experiments do, however, show that infants can retain learning over time.
Infants' more complex physical skills--sitting, standing, walking--develop in a
predictable sequence whose actual timing is a function of individual
maturation rate and culture.
Cognitive Development in Infancy and Childhood
Jean Piaget's observations of children convinced him--and almost everyone
else--that the mind of the child is not that of a miniature adult. Piaget
theorized that our mind develops by forming schemas that help us assimilate
our experiences and that must occasionally be altered to accommodate new
Chapter 4, The Developing Person 2
information. In this way, children progress from the simplicity of the
sensorimotor stage in the first two years to more complex stages of
thinking, which include a developing "theory of mind."
Piaget believed that preschool children, in the preoperational stage, are
egocentric and unable to perform simple logical operations. At about age 6 or
7 they enter the concrete operational stage and can perform concrete
operations, such as those required to comprehend the principle of
conservation. Finally, at about age 12, children enter the formal operational
stage, in which abstract reasoning is within their grasp.
Recent research indicates that human cognition, regardless of culture, tends
to unfold basically in the sequence Piaget proposed. However, young children
are more capable, and development more continuous, than Piaget believed.
The cognitive abilities that emerge at each stage apparently begin
developing in a rudimentary form in the previous stage.
Social Development in Infancy and Childhood
Origins and Effects of Attachment
Attachment style in infancy predicts later social development. Infants
become attached to their mothers and fathers not simply because mothers
and fathers gratify biological needs but, more importantly, because they are
comfortable, familiar, and responsive. If denied such care, both monkey and
human infants may become pathetically withdrawn, anxious, and eventually
abusive. Once an attachment forms, infants who are separated from their
caregivers will, for a time, be distressed.
Self-Concept and Child-Rearing Practices
As with cognitive abilities, a self-concept develops gradually. By 18 months,
infants recognize themselves in a mirror. By age 8 or 10, children's self-
images are quite stable and are linked with their independence, optimism,
and sociability. Children who develop a positive self-image and a happy, self-
reliant manner tend to have been reared by parents who are neither
permissive nor authoritarian, but authoritative while allowing their children a
sense of control. The parenting-competence link is, however, correlational
and does not explain cause and effect.
Chapter 4, The Developing Person 3
Due to earlier maturation and prolonged education, adolescence--the
transition years between biological maturity and social independence--has
lengthened in many countries.
Adolescence begins with a growth spurt that heralds the period of sexual
maturation we call puberty and ends with the achievement of adult
independence. Depending on how other people react, early or late maturation
can influence adjustment, again illustrating how our genes and our
environment interact in shaping us.
Piaget theorized that adolescents develop the capacity for formal
operations, which enables them to reason abstractly. Today's
developmentalists find the rudiments of formal logic appearing earlier than
Following Piaget's lead, Lawrence Kohlberg contended that moral thinking
likewise proceeds through a sequence of stages, from a preconventional
morality of self-interest, to a conventional morality concerned with gaining
others' approval or doing one's duty, to (in some people) a postconventional
morality of agreed-upon rights or universal ethical principles. But morality
also lies in actions, which are influenced by the social situation and inner
attitudes as well as by moral reasoning. Moreover, say Kohlberg's critics, the
postconventional level represents morality from the perspective of
individualist, liberal-minded males. The social intuitionist perspective on
morality suggests that moral feelings may precede moral judgments and
influence our actions.
Erik Erikson theorized that a chief task of adolescence is solidifying one's
sense of self--one's identity. For many people, this struggle continues into
the adult years as new relationships emerge and new roles are assumed.
Although adolescence has traditionally been viewed as a time of storm and
stress, researchers have found that most teenagers relate to their parents
Chapter 4, The Developing Person 4
reasonably well and generally affirm their parents' beliefs and attitudes.
Gender differences in connectedness and other traits tend to peak during
late adolescence and early adulthood.
During early life, we sail a narrow channel, constrained by biological
maturation. As the years pass, the channel widens, allowing us to diverge
more and more. By adulthood, age no longer neatly predicts a person's life
experience and traits. Yet in some ways our bodies, minds, and relationships
still undergo predictable changes. As long as we live, we adapt.
The barely perceptible physical declines of early adulthood begin to
accelerate during middle adulthood. For women, a significant physical change
is menopause, which generally seems to be a smooth rather than rough
transition. For both men and women perceptual acuity, strength, and stamina
decline after 65, but short-term ailments are fewer. Neural processes slow,
and except for those who suffer brain disease, such as the progressive
deterioration of Alzheimer's disease, the brain remains healthy.
As the years pass, recognition memory remains strong, although recall begins
to decline, especially for meaningless information. Research on how
intelligence changes with age has progressed through several phases: cross-
sectional studies suggesting a steady intellectual decline after early
adulthood; longitudinal studies suggesting intellectual stability until very late
in life; and today's view that fluid intelligence declines in later life, but
crystallized intelligence does not.
From close study of small samples of individuals, some theorists maintain
that adults pass through an orderly sequence of life stages. Some theorists
have contended that moving from one stage to the next entails recurring
times of crisis, such as the transition to midlife during the early forties. But
people are not so predictable. Adult life is influenced in unanticipated ways,
not only by events involving love and work but also by chance occurrences.
Chapter 4, The Developing Person 5
Since 1960, marriage has been in decline, as reflected in later marriages,
increased cohabitation, and doubled divorce rates.
Although few people grow old gratefully, most age gracefully, retaining a
sense of well-being throughout life. Those who live to old age must, however,
cope with the deaths of friends and family members and with the prospect
of their own deaths. Our experience with death is influenced by our
experiences in life.
Reflections on Two Major Developmental Issues
We have touched on two of developmental psychology's pervasive issues:
continuity and discrete stages, and stability and change in personality.
Although the stage theories of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson have been
modified in light of later research, each theory usefully alerts us to
differences among people of different ages and helps us keep the life-span
perspective in view. Research findings that reveal how people's traits
continue to change in later life have helped create a new emphasis on lifelong
development. Nevertheless, there is also an underlying consistency to most
people's temperaments and personality traits.
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