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Developmental psychology is the study of the changes that occur in a human being over his/her course of life. These changes can include perception changes, psychological changes and emotional changes that a human goes through his entire life span. Developmental psychology has always had issues that have been forever debated with several theorists taking different stances in the key issues. The key debatable issues include: heredity versus environment, active versus passive learning, critical versus sensitive periods, and continuous versus discontinuous change.
- Hereditary versus environment
This debate issue is also known as the nature-nurture debate. Those who support the nurture theory believe that the environment plays a very big role in the development of a person. Those who support the nature theory believe that genetics, and hereditary factors play an important role in a person’s development. Most of the modern psychologists support the fact that the interaction of the environmental forces and the hereditary contribute highly to the development of a person, this interaction is known as epigenesis. The hereditary factors play a role in the physical development while the environmental factors play a role in the moral development.
Piaget concluded that both the environment and the hereditary factors played a big role in shaping someone’s development, and that neither of the two can be singled out as the final conclusion to development. He pointed out that a child’s ideas about the world were mainly due to their experiences and their mental structures. Erikson also held the opinion that both nature and nurture played roles in a child’s developmental psychology though he laid a lot of emphasize in nurture where he believed that the environment that the child is exposed to plays a bigger role in the development than the biological factors.
- Discontinuous versus continuous change
When it comes to change various theorists argue whether the changes that people experience in their life occur in predetermined stages or whether these changes occur naturally, and smoothly over one’s course of life. Those who support the continuous change believe that change occurs in an orderly and smooth manner and that it is a continuous process characterized by accumulation of behavior. Theorists who support discontinuity hold the opinion that behavior changes over time in a qualitative manner and that the stages are very primal when it comes to the discontinuity change. The discontinuous theorists believe that change is qualitative in nature while continuous theorists believe that change is quantitative with it accumulating through the various stages in life.
Erik Erikson’s theory explains that the changes that shape someone’s personality occur in certain predetermined series of stages in a smooth and continuous manner. During these stages of change a person is bound to experience some form of conflict within himself and during these conflict periods, the person either develops a certain psychological quality or fails to develop it as a whole. He also believed that failure to develop a certain personality may be cumulative since a person may be unable to recover a certain lost stage. These stages run from psychosocial stage 1 to psychosocial stage 8 with each stage having its own set of conflict.
According to McLeod, Piaget held the opinion that development was purely based on biological basis and that the development changes as the child matures into adulthood. He believed that a child passes through four universal stages and that no stage whatsoever could be skipped though he believed that some people ended up not developing certain later stages. These stages did not have specific age groups since Piaget reasoned that the individual differences that arise in people cause every child to develop on his/ her own rate. Moving up to another stage is a clear indication that the person has gathered adequate information of the previous stage.
- Active versus passive learning
When it comes to the learning part in developmental psychology, theoristsseek to find out if a child is an active agent or a passive agent. A child who is an active agent will end to determine or define his/her own course of development in the developmental progression. On the other hand, a child who is a passive agent will not set his own course of development but will rather respond to the forces that are surrounding him in the environment.Piaget held the opinion that children determined their own course to follow through during their cognitive development. They did this by developing their own personal understanding of the world whereby this understanding of the world was observed to be changing qualitatively over time. He explained that a child does not just receive information but rather, the child processes the information received and integrates it with previous information received. Erikson believed that children are passive agents who respond to the outside surrounding forces and more specifically to the culture that surrounds them. The culture helps the child to develop both in language and in social interactions (Swim, 2008).
- Critical versus sensitive periods
Critical periods can be defined as the certain instances when a person is more sensitive to the surrounding environment influences than all the other times during his/her lifetime. These environmental influences are very important in the later development of the child. Critical periods are normally known to start and end abruptly and they are also periods beyond which a certain phenomenon will not occur again. The sensitive period is known to begin and end gradually and it is also a period where there is maximal sensitivity to the environment. Both the sensitive and the critical periods are characterized by certain heightened responsivity to certain experiences. Development is believed to continue peacefully if the experiences occur during these sensitive and critical periods. The development is seen to be disrupted if there is lack of exposure to the specific environment.
Theorists who support critical periods believe that if a child does not develop the required abilities during their window of opportunity, they may never learn how to develop those abilities once the period is over and that they will forever be inadequate. Erikson supported the critical periods in a child’s life explaining that early socio-emotional development was very critical in producing later outcomes. This was supported by the fact that change is quantitative and so if one does not develop certain skills during the critical periods, he/she will not have anything to carry forward to the next stage since it is cumulative.When it comes to the sensitive period theorists, they believe that the sensitive periods during one’s development are nothing more than sensitive periods. They believe that even though there are some children who do not get sufficient nurturing to initiate the right development, it does not mean that these children will never develop the certain abilities that they had not developed and so the inadequacy is not of a permanent nature. Sensitive periods highly account for language acquisition in children.
Piaget emphasized on sensitive periods since in his theory of development, change occurred in step-like processes and so if one does not develop a certain skill during one stage, it does not necessarily mean that the person will not develop other skills related to the other stages in life. This implies that lack of developing a certain skill during the sensitive periods does not mean that the person will experience permanent inadequacy since the expected skill was for the specific stage at the time.
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