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Developmental Psychology: An introduction

 Most science courses don't begin by promising to be fun (or, if they do, no one believes it), but this is an exception. It is not uncommon for developmental psychology textbooks to start out by telling you that you will enjoy the book (and the course) and this, in my experience teaching, is usually true.

 Why? Because learning about developmental psychology is learning about other people and yourself (and most people are INTENSELY interested in themselves, no matter what they say). Of course, a lot of courses could make that claim - anatomy, physiology, microbiology, general psychology, and to some extent, all are telling the truth. However, I am willing to bet that you probably have not often wondered very much about how your digestive system works or exactly what is the process by which your body metabolizes complex carbohydrates, and that you HAVE, on the other hand, frequently wondered about such things as:

cartoon of uncle
•  why your Uncle Earl suddenly began wearing his shirts unbuttoned half-way to his navel and a half-dozen gold  chains, even though it is clear to everyone in the family but him that he is acting like a COMPLETE IDIOT

•  why children from the same family sometimes turn out so different from one another

• if a certain type of disorder runs in your family, such as epilepsy, diabetes, or even mental illness or alcoholism, what are the chances that you or any children you might have will experience the same problem

• whether the type of acting out you did as an adolescent (or that your child/niece/brother is doing), such as drinking, smoking marijuana and shoplifting, is normal for that age or the first sign of an adult criminal career.

The list could go on and on, but you get my point, and if you don't, you're clueless and beyond hope and should quit the course right now (I'M KIDDING, OKAY?!!)

In this course, you will get partial answers to those questions and many others that you have been wondering about or will begin wondering about during this course. Notice that I said partial answers, developmental psychology is not an EXACT science. (Here's a tip for you - the so-called hard sciences such as biology, chemistry and physics aren't all as exact as people think they are, either. Every field is constantly coming up with newer - and hopefully better- explanations of how and why the world is the way it is).

 Many beginning students in psychology find it frustrating that they cannot get “a straight answer” to such questions as, “Why did my cousin, who has two parents who never drink, become an alcoholic?” or “Why do some children who seem to be developing so well before school suddenly have problems when they begin kindergarten or first grade?”
Such frustrations led Urie Bronfenbrenner to comment that we are left with “... a science that tells us precious little about the questions which beckon us to it.”
 In fact, with all due respect to Dr. Bronfenbrenner, it seems to me a little naive that we should expect COMPLETE answers to any complex question about human behavior. Let's take you as an example. (Yes, I am talking about you). You no doubt have relatives or classmates who did not attend college, despite the fact that they are about your age, perhaps from the same family, had some of the same teachers, lived in the same community. So, why are you in college and not them? I challenge you to name a SINGLE reason. I bet you can name a great many reasons, but not point to the ONE and ONLY ONE reason why you are in college and they are not. Some differences in your experiences might include:

    Extracurricular activities: You were in football, volleyball, band, or some other activity which drew special attention to you from adults, where you met a lot of friends, or, for other reasons, which made you decide to stay in school when your friend did not.

    School success: Okay, let's drop the false modesty, as much as you love your brother, he isn't much smarter than your average Labrador Retriever. You might not go so far as to say he is dumber than a rock, but you would have a hard time proving he was smarter, right? So, you made pretty much A's and B's in school and he was lucky to get D's. When the decision to go to college came up, you decided to give it a try, while he said he'd rather eat raw worms on toast. It didn't hurt in making your decision that all of those good grades meant scholarship offers to help you pay for college.

     First grade teachers: You had a wonderful first-grade teacher who seemed to have unending patience with you when you were first learning to read. She understood that you didn't have a lot of books in your home and hadn't been taught the alphabet at home, and spent extra time during class to teach you. Your sister's teacher just assumed she wasn't very bright and gave her worksheets to color to keep her quiet. So, when you entered second grade, you could read already and kind of liked school. Your sister barely knew her ABC's and had begun to hate school.

Welcome to the biopsychosocial model of development! Although not everyone calls it by that name (for example, some textbook authors don't) it is the most common model of human development. According to this model. there are three general dimensions along which humn development occurs and which affect development. These are:

Physical (biological) - examples of physical development are growth in height and weight, puberty, and increases in strength. These biological factors can affect your success in other areas. Those students who excelled in football and basketball, and hence decided to stay in school, would not have been involved in those sports if they had been 90-pound weaklings. Other characteristics have a biological basis which is not so obvious. Differences in temperament, such as how easily irritated or distracted a person is, are present at birth. Physical attractiveness can shape a person's experiences. People who are more attractive tend to be more popular as children, even with teachers, have an easier time in relationships with the opposite sex as adolescents and adults. etc.

Cognitive (intellectual) - as your textbook states, are "those changes that occur in mental activity, including sensation, perception, memory, thought, reasoning, etc." As you will learn, children not only know less than adults, they actually THINK DIFFERENTLY. For example, older children are more able retain more items in memory than young children can. That is one reason that you do NOT give very young children directions such as "Go in your room, pick up the stuffed animals and put them away, then wipe up the juice you spilled on the floor." In that case, you may end up with a child who goes to her room, picks up the animals, sits down in the juice and starts playing with them, having completely forgotten what she was supposed to do next. The same child may honestly believe that her stuffed animals will be sad if they are put away, and argue with you in favor of leaving them on her bed. This behavior is not meant deliberately to annoy you, and that is a very important point to keep in mind when dealing with young children.

Psychosocial (personality, social) - concerns personality, emotions, relationships with other people, roles within society (including gender roles). Perhaps the reason your sister's first-grade teacher assumed that she wasn't very bright is that she was a shy, quiet child, while you were very outspoken. Certainly, social interactions affect your cognition (the way you think about things). When I was in college, people were much less aware of making race- and gender-based comments than they are now. I often heard comments such as "You're Hispanic? But you're so intelligent!" or "You're taking a spot away from some young man who could have really used this degree to help support his family."
Some of my friends concluded that they were not welcome or didn't belong in college and left. I, personally, decided that I would show the #$&*^ who thought people like me didn't belong there and stayed. (I have a lot of sympathy for my friends, I wanted to go home a lot, too. Social interactions do affect you emotionally, too.)

    One thing you should have noted from the above examples is that all of these different factors are related to each other. We don't grow up in a vaccuum. All of these are both dimensions of development and factors which affect your development in other areas. For example, your weight increases as you develop physically. Your social environment, including how much money your family has to buy food, how valued thinness is in your society, etc. will have an effect on how much weight you gain. Your weight will also have an effect on your perception of yourself and other people's reactions to you.

A common issue in developmental psychology is the  "nature-nurture controversy", the question of whether development is due to genetic or environmental factors. The answer is "That is not an OR question." Your physical characteristics will have some impact on your social interactions (other things being equal, ugly people have fewer dates). Also, many (if not all) human characteristics have both a genetic and environmental basis.


For example, as you will learn in the section on Prenatal and Neonatal Development, (Neonatal = newborn, the first few weeks after birth.) there are differences in temperament (that is, a consistent tendency to respond in certain ways) present very, very early in life. Some  babies just seem to be born more active, less irritable, and more cheerful than others.

Almost any parent who has had more than one child will confirm this from personal experience, telling you something along the lines of,

    "Yes, I could see big differences between Imogene and her brother from when they were born. She was a quiet, easy baby, took a nap every day. He was waking up in the middle of the night, screaming when he didn't get his bottle on time and wouldn't let up until he got whatever it is he wanted."
Environment certainly affects a person's personality as well. From infancy, girls are treated differently than boys. As you will learn in the web pages ahead, we play rougher with boy babies, more severely punish girls in elementary school for talking out loud, and comment more on girls' appearance during adolescence, and more on boys' achievements.

I don't believe  all of these facts. I think you are just making them up. If that describes you, read the next section. Lesson 2, RESEARCH METHODS IN DEVELOPMENTAL  PSYCHOLOGY

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