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Developmental Psychology


    Why were our perceptions of children so different in the past?

    What role might economics play in this change?

    Might we find the view of children as "little adults" still prevalent in other cultures?


    From your own memories of childhood or your observations of other children, which of these perspectives makes the most sense to you? Do children develop in "leaps and bounds" or more gradually?

    If there are critical periods for the acquisition of language, what does this imply about the way we teach foreign languages in our schools?

    Are children who grow up in bilingual homes likely to be confused and at a disadvantage in language development, or do they benefit from the exposure?

    If children really are limited in terms of the things they are capable of at any stage, what does this suggest about programs that attempt to accelerate development (for example, the Suzuki school of musical training)?


    Some psychologists believe that experiences in infancy or early childhood provide basic sensory and motor "programs" that serve the individual well into adulthood. To achieve the athletic prowess and skill demonstrated by Tiger Woods, is it necessary that an individual begin preparation in early childhood? Would it have been possible for Tiger Woods to excel to this degree if he had begun playing golf in his teens? As a young adult?

    Can you think of examples of individuals who have achieved great athletic, intellectual, or artistic success late in life, without any relevant experiences or obvious preparation in childhood? To what extent is the development of such abilities possible after childhood?


    As we've seen in this section, teratogens can have profound effects on the developing fetus. Do you think that it's possible that more subtle experiences, such as the sound of the mother's voice, or being surrounded by classical music, can influence the fetus?

    If you were going to advise a friend who was pregnant about potential risks to her unborn baby, what would you tell her?

Motor Development

    What functions might reflexes serve? Can you think of possible adaptive/evolutionary explanations for the various reflexes that are present at birth? Do all reflexes have to convey some adaptive advantage?

The Growing Brain

    If the brain achieves 90% of its adult size by age 5, why do children and adults reason and behave differently?


    How could you find out what the limits of a newborn's vision might be? How could you "test" a baby's vision?


    Compared to adults, adolescents are risk takers. In automobiles and bedrooms, adolescents engage in a variety of risky behaviors. It is frequently speculated that at least part of the explanation for adolescent risk taking is due to differences in brain development in adults and adolescents. Similarly, the dramatic increase in sexual hormones that occurs during adolescence is often given as an explanation for adolescent behavior. Can you think of other explanations?


    Do you think men go through the equivalent of menopause? Why or why not?


    Why do we get old?

The Aging Brain

    What are your stereotypes of the elderly? What traits or characteristics come to mind? Do you think your stereotypes are accurate?


    Is senility inevitable?

Taste and odor

    As we age, hearing, vision, and olfactory sensitivity decline. What effects do you think these changes have on social interaction?


    Mozart was obviously a musically precocious child, but why?

    Can we argue that Mozart's musical abilities were the product of a unique physiological gift (perhaps his "musical" genes)? After all, his abilities did appear at a very early age, and he came from a family of talented musicians. However, we might also argue that his family provided a powerfully nurturing environment for the young Mozart's talent; he was exposed to music and musical training at a tender age, and was systematically encouraged in his musical development by all of the important figures in his life.

    Is musical ability simply another manifestation or outlet of intelligence, or is it a more specific ability? Would any extremely intelligent child, raised in such a family of musicians, become musically "gifted"? Would Mozart have been as accomplished if he had been encouraged from an early age to be a mathematician? A sculptor? An author?


    How can we evaluate the cognitive abilities of infants?

Assimilation and Accommodation

    Can you think of other examples of assimilation and accommodation?

    What does it mean to say that there is a "fundamental tension" between assimilation and accommodation?

Sensorimotor stage

    If a very young child lacks object permanence, does that mean that her parents only exist in her mind when they are physically present? Do you think very young children carry images of important people around with them in their heads?

Formal operations

    Piaget argued that children and adults think in fundamentally different ways. What implications might that have for the treatment of children in our legal system? Should children be tried in the same manner as adult defendants? Can they be held to the same standards of competence and criminal responsibility for their actions? Can a preoperational child, for example, understand the permanence of death?

Was Piaget Wrong?

    If someone asked you to tell them about Piaget and whether he was correct in his assessment of children, what would you say?

Adolescent Egocentrism

    Can you think of any examples of adolescent egocentrism?

    Have you created any personal fables?

    Do you think adolescent egocentrism and personal fables are limited to adolescence?

Kohlberg's model

    Do you think morality is dependent on a person's ability to reason?

    Do you think moral reasoning predicts moral behavior?

    In Kohlberg's model, the highest form of morality depends on developing the ability to reason abstractly. Can you think of other qualities that might be related to moral development?

    Suppose you wanted to raise a "moral" child. What would you do?


    Besides the amount of formal education, what are some other important differences between younger and older cohorts that might contribute to our impression that there are significant differences in the intelligence of these groups?

    Imagine that a researcher using a cross-sectional research design finds that older people are more prejudiced than younger people. He concludes that we become more prejudiced as we age. What criticisms might you make of such a claim?


    If you were a researcher in this area, how would you define or measure "wisdom"?

    Who would you nominate as the wisest individual that you know?


    Is "adulthood" a matter of chronological age, or is it a set of behaviors (acting as an adult would, taking on adult responsibilities)? How old must an individual be to be regarded by society as an adult?

    These twins were forced into adult social roles (soldiers, leaders, religious figures) at an unusually early age. They behaved in what many outside observers deemed an "adult" manner, despite their incongruously youthful appearance. When captured, however, they seemingly expressed a desire to return to "normal" (more age-appropriate) roles, such as going back to school.

    As a result of their behaving as adults for an extended period, during which they committed what many regard as criminal acts, numerous individuals argued that the twins should be regarded and treated as adults. To what extent are such experiences capable of accelerating the social development of a child, the transformation into an adult?

    Are these two children unusual, or are they simply responding as many would in similar situations?

    What will be the long-term impact of their experiences functioning in adult roles? Will they be able to "go back"?


    Based on Piaget's description of the mental abilities of young children, what cognitive skills might be necessary for an infant to form an enduring attachment to an adult caregiver? To put it another way, if an infant does form an emotional attachment to an adult, what important cognitive abilities is she demonstrating?

Implications for Later Development

    Given the importance of early attachment, should we be concerned about the approximately 10 million children under the age of five who are cared for by someone other than their parents on a daily basis? Are children who spend a substantial amount of time in daycare at risk for developing lower-quality attachments to adults?

Developing Attachment

    One conclusion that you might draw from the attachment literature is that many things contribute to attachment. Which do you think are the most important?


    Dolphins, orangutans, and chimpanzees also have been observed to recognize their own images in a mirror. Does this mean that they have a human-like self-concept?

Describing the Self

    McGuire's work suggests that at least among Western cultures, we describe ourselves in terms of the characteristics that make us unique. If you think about the things that are important to your self-concept, are you drawn to the features that make you unique from others, the features that make you similar to others, or some other factor?

Erikson's Theory in Review

    Erikson, like Piaget and Kohlberg, proposed that people must solve a series of crises or develop new abilities in a fixed sequence in order to progress. Do you think everyone passes through the same sequence of development? Can you think of an older person who is involved in an identity crisis, or a younger person who is grappling with issues of generativity?