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..
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 behaviors causes the behavior to be repeated, as demonstrated by a contemporary manifestation of behaviorism called Applied Behavioral Analysis used to help children with learning difficulties. Behavior that is not reinforced will be extinguished, although, suppressing a behavior through punishment, is only successful if it immediate severe and consistently applied. Strengths of behaviorism include the observational method used meaning it can be used if a child cannot communicate. Limitations of the behavioral theory are that human nature is too complex for cognition language and social context to be overlooked.
Reflecting on the example of Alex learning to brush his teeth from a behaviorist’s perspective operant conditioning has relevancy, positive reinforcement is used when Alex’s mum says well-done, providing motivation for the behavior to be repeated and for learning to occur. Classical conditioning is only relevant to retain already learned reflex behaviors; therefore, as this is a new behavior classical conditioning is not relevant.
The social learning theory proposed by Albert Bandura (1924) is based on the idea that children learn through observation and imitation. Observational learning occurs through a process of attention, retention and reproduction, although not all observed behaviors lead to a permanent change in behavior, factors such as influence of the model, intrinsic reinforcement, punishment and motivation are all factors that influence whether the behavior is imitated. Evidence provided by Banduras BoBo doll experiment (1965) demonstrated children could learn and imitate behaviors they chose to from observation, thus showing that children are active learners who can work out the meaning through observation combining behavioral and cognitive concept. However, although the social learning theory shares a similarity with behaviorism considering the effects of reinforcement, it does not see it as a necessary force. The social learning theory does not explain all behavior, or consider other factors that may be influential to the child. Although cognitive function is evident in this theory, the internal nature of a child’s cognitive functions are not explained, value is placed on factors external to the child.
Alex’s actions supports the social learning theory, Alex’s mum is providing a strong and desirable model of behavior , consequently Alex is observing and attending to the behavior of his mum and retaining the knowledge for future use, later he chooses to imitate it.
Constructivism focuses on the natural stages of cognitive development in children, and sees learning as an individual constructive process, with the child continually building and modifying internal representations of the world. According to Jean Piaget (1896), children are born with reflex action patterns, which become modified, and built upon, through environmental interaction. Piaget (1896) held the view that the process of assimilation and accommodation represents cognitive development, meaning incorporating external reality into existing mental structures and modifying the knowledge, which takes place in three stages going from equilibration to disequilibration finally reaching a more stable equilibrium. Constructivism recognizes that children think differently from adults and peers, although it seems to ignore social and cultural context.
Constructivism would be relevant in the scenario of Alex learning to brush his teeth; he is learning, adapting and expanding the actions of brushing his teeth when he is ready to, he adapts the act of holding the toothbrush to copying the actions his mother is using, eventually expanding to reaching for the toothbrush and attempting to unscrew the lid. Alex is therefore restructuring the schema of holding his toothbrush through motivation of curiosity creating accommodation, seeking equilibrium.
Social constructivism, as researched by cognitive psychologist Vygotsky (1896) shared Piagets (1896) assumptions about the constructive nature of development however, Piagets (1896) view was on a child in isolation, Vygotskys (1896) view placed more emphasis on the social and cultural influences surrounding the child. Vygotskys (1896) conception saw learning as a cultural tool, he believed that through interaction with more able and knowledgeable people such as adults and peers children could achieve beyond their ability. He believed language to be an important cultural tool, proposing that language has two functions, inner speech used for reasoning and external speech used to communicate; Vygotsky (1896) proposed internalized language emerges becoming thought, an essential social and cognitive ability. Within social constructivism, the contribution of a more knowledgeable person is the key to cognitive development, children are seen as actively striving to make sense of the world within their own zone of proximal development. A disadvantage being the focus is on the teacher/ peer, learning is not explained from the child’s perspective. In addition, an advantage being it is applicable to education.
Alex’s mum represents the more knowledgeable other Vygotsky ( 1896) theorized about, Alex was able to advance because of his mum teaching him, giving him the cultural tools to be able to advance his thoughts and actions, she is also giving Alex simple verbal cues from which Alex is benefiting .
In relation to everyday behaviors of a child, the four grand theories of development all have influential impact and attempt to provide holistic explanations of development. The similarity between the four theories’ of development being the importance they all place on the environment surrounding the child, and although they differ in concept, they do interact with each other to provide a complete picture.
The behaviorist view sees development as a discipline, reinforcement is used in everyday situations for the universal child. Applied behavioral analysis being an example deemed useful while working with children with developmental and learning difficulties, as supported by the evidence provided in the discussion in video band 1 (Media kit 1,p1 v1) Joe earns tokens for doing things appropriately, and this is a situation where positive reinforcement has made a big impact on Joe’s everyday behavior.
The social learning theory influences a child’s everyday behavior either deliberately or inadvertently, for example, linguistic skills are a learned behavior, without a model to observe and imitate it would be impossible to learn language. Media is also an example of how the social learning theory applies to everyday behavior, Bandura’s (1924) work proved through observation, watching violent media influenced children into imitating behavior. Attitudes emotional responses and patterns of behavior are also a result of observation. This theory is influential in all aspects of everyday life whether it is copying televised behavior, or imitating models that appeal to a child, bringing in the importance of the social context.
Constructivism is applicable to everyday behavior as it focuses on building up mental representations of the world, enabling the child to become increasingly competent. Piaget (1896) theorized that schema; a simple sequence of behavior creates a motivation to further explore its relevance, modifying the schema to suit the environment. Natural Stages throughout development that have influence on everyday behavior start from reflexes, to symbolic actions to concrete operations to eventually having the ability to tackle problems in a systematic way. The pedagogical approach known as discovery learning influences every day behavior, as it is applicable to education, presenting the teacher as the provider of appropriate learning.
Social constructivism, sees development as interaction, we interact everyday with a wide variety of people influencing our everyday behavior. Education is an area where social constructivism is applicable; Vygotsky (1896) inspired approaches within education, and saw importance in egocentric speech, an instrument of thought cognitively influencing behavior, and the directing of purposeful behavior.
In conclusion, the four grand theories proved applicable in influencing a child’s everyday behavior, each valuing the environment in the process of development, and together building a picture of a stage process. The relevancy and limitations of each theory to everyday behavior although important to consider, proved that even though each theory provided a limitation, interactions between a child and their environment is emphasized in different ways by every one of the theories and are intertwined and built on the understanding that either environmental or innate abilities drive the development of children. The four grand theories see development as a journey of social process, communication teaching and learning. Each individual child uses the crucial role of experience, interaction, control and discipline, as building blocks to be active in their own development. The coordination of the four grand theories provides an explanation of the behavior and cognitive function Alex needed for learning to brush his teeth. Proving that Alex’s actions of thinking, imitating and experiencing control through positive reinforcement, results in his social environment providing the context for cognitive adaptability to develop and progress the new behavior of brushing his teeth, with his mum providing the model for behavior and linguistic enhancement. Therefore, this behaviour is evident as showing how the grand theories of developmental psychology can help in explaining the behaviour of a child.
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The Open University (2006) ‘Child development media kit part 1, video band 1’ (DVD), ED209, Children learning, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
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