Two and a half year old Alex learns to brush his teeth by imitation. How can the grand theories of developmental psychology, discussed in Book 1, Chapter 2 help to explain the behavior of the child..

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Louise Callaghan                                                TMA 01.  ED209                               PI NUMBER: C1322713

A mother is trying to teach her two-and-a-half-year-old son Alex how to brush his teeth by giving him a toothbrush to hold, and then brushing her own teeth when they are together in the bathroom. After a while, Alex correctly copies the action, and the mother says, “well done!” The next time they are in the bathroom, Alex reaches up for the toothbrush himself and also grabs the toothpaste and tries to unscrew the top of the tube. How can the ‘grand theories’ of developmental psychology, discussed in Book 1, Chapter 2 help to explain the behavior of the child in this simple scenario and in other similar areas of everyday behavior?

Research  psychology, a scientific study of behavior, has been greatly influenced by a number of theories , a set of ideas proposed to explain child development,  included in these are  behaviorism, the  social learning theory, constructivism and social constructivism, offering explanations of child development as a whole rather than focusing on one particular area of development.  Child Development refers to the process by which an individual child grows and changes through its life span. Theorists differ in opinion and deal with different psychological functions needed for development, however the broad theories aim to show what is important in the process, each theory facing the challenge of being applicable to a diverse range of people and situations. In order to understand the psychological processes needed by a child such as Alex to carry out the behavior in question, it is necessary to understand the viewpoint of each theorist in order to apply the theory to the scenario, examine the evidence and analyze each approach critically.


To be able to understand a child’s behaviour and the psychological processes behind it, it is important to consider the co ordination of many variables involved in learning something new. Children are not passive recipients in the process of learning; they are active agents in their own development and learn through behavior modification and cognitive change in a social context. The stages Alex goes through while demonstrating and adapting to this new behavior in this simple scenario are made up of smaller stages marked by characteristics of physical, cognitive and behavioral concepts resulting in a coherent whole process.  Alex is two and a half, an age where infants are capable of combining different schemas in order to achieve operations he has observed, in this instance teeth brushing.  Alex is also at the age where thought and language emerge, making it possible for Alex to listen to and understand the language Alex’s mum is using to instruct him and use positive reinforcement.  Observation and cognitive ability, to retain the information and generate a new behavior, enable Alex to repeat the action of tooth brushing, the relationship between Alex who is the observer and his mum the model also bears relevance in the scenario. The individual development of complex mental representations based on the interaction with the environment, consequently motivates repeated behavior through positive reinforcement, while contact with more able others promotes learning, which is  evident from the evidence of the progression of Alex’s behavior .

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Behaviorism, an approach to treat psychology as an objective science founded by psychologist John B.Watson (1878), focuses on the child as a passive recipient of environmental influence.  Behavioral psychology is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behavior is acquired through principles of conditioning, association and reinforcement. Classical and operant conditioning, important concepts of behaviorism, differ in notion; classical conditioning involves learning new associations between an involuntary response and a previously unrelated stimulus, while operant conditioning refers to the method of association between a voluntary behavior and a consequence. Reinforcement and reward of desired ...

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