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AS and A Level: Developmental Psychology

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Five key cognitive development theorists

  1. 1 Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who developed a maturational four stage theory of cognitive development: he said that all children go through the same sequence of sensori-motor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational thought. Learning occurs through assimilation of ideas and accommodation of schemas. His ideas have been hugely influential in education, particularly mathematics.
  2. 2 Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist. He proposed the influential zone of proximal development (ZPD) concept in learning and stressed the importance of cultural mediation – the internalisation of knowledge through the social interaction between adult and child. Unlike Piaget, he argued that language was crucial for cognitive development.
  3. 3 Jerome Bruner is an American psychologist proposed three ‘modes’ of learning as opposed to a strict sequence of stages: enactive, iconic and symbolic. He proposed the ‘spiral curriculum’ and coined the term ‘scaffolding’ -two very influential ideas in education.
  4. 4 Robbie Case is one of a group of neo-Piagetian theorists who have developed Piaget's theory by incorporating ideas and methods from Vygotsky's social-constructivist theory, information-processing, linguistics and developmental neuroscience.
  5. 5 Simon Baron Cohen is a prominent autism researcher. He has contributed much to our understanding of the development of Theory of Mind. This concept is crucial to the development of social cognition and empathy through the ability to take another person’s perspective.

Key attachment theorists

  1. 1 Melanie Klein’s Id-based object relations theory was a key influence on John Bowlby. Psychoanalytic ideas by Klein, Donald Winnicott and other British psychoanalysts were significant in the later development of attachment theory.
  2. 2 John Bowlby was an important attachment theorist. He was director of the psychoanalytic Tavistock Institute in London, where he ran a child guidance clinic. His Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis, proposing the link between attachment and mental health was published in an influential report for the World Health Organisation in 1951. He developed his attachment theory over decades, publishing a three volume series ‘Attachment and Loss’ between 1969 and 1980. His ideas stimulated a significant body of research into attachment and his work paved the way for a revolution in childcare in the 20th century.
  3. 3 James and Joyce Robertson worked with Bowlby and were also very influential. James Robertson developed the Protest- Despair–Detachment model of bond disruption (1953a). The Robertsons also concluded that consistent substitute ‘mothering’ was vital for the maintenance of attachment bonds and the emotional wellbeing of the child.
  4. 4 Mary Ainsworth – was a Canadian researcher who worked with John Bowlby at the Tavistock in the 1950s, and later carried out important research in Africa and the US. She is best known for identifying attachment types and her Caregiver Sensitivity Hypothesis, which has been disputed by Jerome Kagan – who proposed the temperament hypothesis in direct contradiction.
  5. 5 Michael Rutter is Bowlby’s main critic. His book ‘Maternal Deprivation Reassessed’ (1972) was an influential critique of Bowlby’s research. Rutter made the distinction between deprivation and privation and argued that privation, poor parenting and family conflict were more significant in attachment disorders than deprivation.

Five classic studies of attachment

  1. 1 Bowlby’s ‘44 Juvenile Thieves’ (1944) were the inspiration for his Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis. They were children who he saw in his child guidance clinic and examined for signs of ‘affectionless psychopathy’ – a condition that he argued would result from separation during the critical period for attachment.
  2. 2 Harlow’s monkeys (1959): Harlow’s experiments on rhesus monkeys provided an unintentional insight into the importance of responsive care in infancy for good emotional development and subsequent parenting skills in adulthood.. His work had a huge influence on John Bowlby.
  3. 3 Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’ (1970): Ainsworth found ways to test Bowlby’s ideas in controlled procedures. She designed the 'strange situation', a tool which has been used across the world to study the attachment types that underlie parent and child interactions.
  4. 4 Robertson & Robertson’s ‘Young Children in Early Separations’ (1971): A series of highly influential films following on from Robertson and Bowlby’s seminal ‘A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital’; these case studies revolutionised the care of children in hospital and fostering.
  5. 5 Hodges & Tizard’s 'Social and family relationships of ex-institutional adolescents' (1989): An influential longitudinal study of children who had experienced early privation resulting from institutional care. The study showed that children could form good bonds with adoptive or biological parents beyond the so called ‘critical period’. They were likely to have difficult or disinhibited peer relationships, but not the affectionless psychopathy predicted by Bowlby.

  1. Outline and Evaluate the Gender Schema Theory

    The gender schema theory of gender development states that children form in-group and out-group schemas. In-group schemas are fixed beliefs, behaviours and expectations of the child?s own gender and according to this theory children favour their in group schemas and are lead to seek, carry out and follow this schema. An out-group schema is similar to an in-group schema in such a way that it consists of beliefs, behaviours and expectations however these concepts are of the opposite sex and due to this according to the theory children view their out-group schema as negative.

    • Word count: 836
  2. Discuss Kohlbergs theory of Gender Development

    For example children understand that boys grow up to be men and girls grow up to be woman. The final stage known as Gender Consistency is acquired between the ages of 6 and 7. At this final stage children come to the realisation that gender is permanent despite external changes. For example children can identify a male wearing a pink dress as still male. Once Gender Consistency has been acquired, children begin to understand and practise beliefs and values of both their sex and the opposite sex. Kohlberg believed that children who have acquired gender consistency begin the process known as self-socialisation.

    • Word count: 919
  3. Discuss the biosocial approach to gender development

    Money further believed that if a new baby was born and was mislabelled as the opposite gender, they could be successfully brought up as that gender. He stated that this label must be given before the age of 2 and firmly believed that environmental and social factors are able to override the biological sex of a baby. Support for Money?s biosocial theory comes from research carried out by Money who looked at 250 reported cases of people who Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD)

    • Word count: 749
  4. Describe and Evaluate the Learning Explanation for Gender Development

    An example of this can be seen through a young child that is dressing up. A young girl who dresses up as a fairy will be praised and told that she looks pretty, whereas if a boy was who was dressed up as a fairy he would be laughed at (punishment). Over time consistent reinforcement and punishment shapes the behaviour of the child so that the girl continues to dress up as a fairy, but the boy does not. Another way we learn behaviour is social learning. This involves observing a role model, remembering what you observe and imitating it in a similar situation.

    • Word count: 618
  5. Describe and evaluate an application of Ainsworth's strange situation in child attachment.

    When the stranger enters the room whilst Rebecca is present, the child would behave indifferently and ignore the presence of the stranger. However when Rebecca leaves the room and the child is left alone with the stranger, the child will become distressed and upset.

    • Word count: 410

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