The consolidation of developmental psychology (1913-1950)

The consolidation of developmental psychology (1913-1950)

The consolidation of developmental psychology It occurs between the years of establishment of behaviorism and those of the decline of psychoanalysis (1913-1950). The evolution of the discipline is no stranger to the very evolution of science in psychology. The development approaches of the 50s would already be done under a notable influence of Cognitive Psychology.

The consolidation of developmental psychology (1913-1950)

At this stage, denominations such as "developmental psychology" and "evolutionary psychology" begin to be used. Basically, they referred to the child and the adolescent, but they revealed a new way of understanding the discipline in which the important thing happened to be the study of evolutionary change. That is, the study of the development process.

Childhood and adolescence are considered as necessary stages in the development of the human being, with value in themselves., and whose knowledge is necessary to understand the adult's way of acting.

The consolidation of Developmental Psychology brought several important consequences.

  • First, they are formulated theories aimed at explaining the changes that occur in the development of the human being. That is, the changes able to explain why the individual shows a form of behavior and acts in a certain way at a time in his life
  • Second, the study of the different periods of development begins; that is, the study of childhood, childhood, adolescence, etc.
  • Third, the different development processes are studied; that is, the study of physical, psychomotor, cognitive, social, moral, etc.

From that moment on, the courses followed by developmental psychology in Europe and in the USA. They are noticeably different. While American psychologists look for evolutionary norms that describe the average development of children, without interest in interpretation.

By cons, in Europe, there is a boom in discipline, not only of empirical research, but also of interpretation and theoretical elaboration.

The most relevant theories and authors that contributed to the consolidation of Developmental Psychology

The following describes the contributions of some important authors along with their theories, both in Europe and in the US.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory

One of the authors of the twentieth century who have most influenced psychology and other areas of Western culture is Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

His approach starts from that human beings constantly seek the gratification of various aggressive and sexual innate instincts. Freud believed that the purpose of socialization was to redirect the socially undesirable impulses of children towards acceptable patterns of behavior.

He understood that children were "shaped" by the most powerful elements of society, and considered that the young child was a relatively passive entity in this process of "socialization."

On the other hand, the psychoanalytic perspective assumes that children go through a series of stages in which they must face conflicts between biological impulses and social expectations. The way in which these conflicts are resolved determines their future psychological adjustment.

Another idea of ​​psychoanalysis that influenced developmental psychology has to do with the great importance attached to early childhood experiences, which according to Freud are fundamental in the subsequent development of the person.

Behaviorism and its indirect role in the consolidation of developmental psychology

The period beginning in 1913 coincides with a great interest in learning theories based on the work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov's studies on learning in dogs established that some types of learning take place through the association of stimuli and responses.

For example, dogs learn to salivate at a signal that anticipates food (eg, the caregiver's vision or a bell that rings). This interest in the laws of learning led to the emergence of the psychological school known as "behaviorism," whose main figure was John Watson (1878-1957).

Although this theory cannot be properly described as evolutionary, it has had a great influence on general psychology and the appearance of numerous currents that do participate directly in developmental psychology.

Regarding development, Watson conceived it simply as the mere accumulation of learning. Therefore, according to him, it would be reduced to a quantitative process without universal stages or evolutionary stages. In this process therefore, The important thing is the experiences to which a person is exposed.

The Gestalt

At the same time that behaviorism was imposed in the US, an opposite perspective appeared in Germany on many points called the Gestalt, with authors such as Wertheimer (1880-1943), Köhler (1887-1967) and Koffka (1886-1941).

A Gestalt It is a configuration that is not reduced to the superposition of the elements that form it, but has qualities as a whole, and the modification of a single element can change the Gestalt as a whole.

Although this theory is also essentially organhetic (not evolutionary), it has some influence on some development theorists (mainly in Vygotsky and Piaget). In addition, Lewin, a disciple of Wertheimer and Köhler, showed great interest in developmental psychology and his contributions are considered the background of Bronfrenbrenner's ecological theory.

Piaget's psychogenetic theory: definitive consolidation of developmental psychology

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) has been the theorist who has had the greatest influence on the current understanding of development. This author lived a long and productive life that was parallel to a good part of the modern history of developmental psychology.

If one takes into account that a measure of the impact that ideas have on science is given by the amount of new research they generate, there is no doubt that Piaget has left a great mark. His theoretical approaches have been the subject of many empirical studies and theoretical controversies.

The main contribution of this author is his theory of cognitive development that he called genetic epistemology. According to this author, the child's cognitive development goes through different stages or stages characterized by the use of increasingly complex cognitive structures that integrate the previous ones.

These cognitive structures are precisely those that help the person in the task of adapting to their environments. Regarding the methodology, Piaget developed its own way of investigating child cognition called clinical method.

Vygotsky's sociocultural theory

Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a great Soviet psychologist. He raised very interesting ideas about psychological functioning, although he could not fully develop them due to his premature death.

Vygotsky's sociocultural or historical-cultural theory argues that the development of a person occurs inextricably linked to the society in which he lives. Thus, children mature intellectually through the social interactions they share with other more mature members of society.

So, society transmits the behavior and knowledge organization forms to the individual, and the person must internalize them and make them his own. In the methodological aspect Vygotsky proposes to study the processes of change in the subjects, instead of the results, by means of their microgenetic method.

Heinz Werner

One of the first European psychologists who contributed to the introduction in the US Heinz Werner (1890-1964) was a different development model from the one advocated by behaviorism.

For Werner, human cognitive development is directed ontogenetically from relatively simple structures, at the beginning of life, to increasingly complex levels of differentiation and integration.

These biological formulations of development resemble those that can be found in Piaget's work. He also defended a current idea, consisting in affirming that the different areas of apparently separate development (language, cognition, emotion, social behavior, etc.) are interconnected.

As for the methodology, this author, like Vygotsky, He used the microgenetic method. In its time, Werner's theory was difficult to assimilate into existing theoretical schemes and, therefore, was largely ignored.

Arnold Gessell

Arnold Gessell (1880-1961) focused on the study of motor and physical development of both humans and primates in childhood.

Gessell has gone down in history as a maturation author, defender of the idea of ​​a biological destiny. An outstanding feature of the maturationist conceptions is that they defend that development always occurs in fixed sequences.

This is evident in physical development, but Gessell also extended this idea to the psychological ground. Thus, children learn to sit, stand, walk and run always in this order.

His empirical works record his own theoretical approaches. This author, along with McGraw, provided a wealth of descriptive data on development and developed suggestive theories to explain how children learn to crawl and walk.

Also, he recognized and defended the value of normative studies in helping to diagnose abnormalities. In the methodological field, his interests led him to the construction of several scales to measure development.

One of these scales to evaluate babies is still in use. He was also one of the pioneers in using filming techniques to study children and was the first to use the unidirectional mirror (or Gessell's camera) that is used to observe the subject without his noticing it.

Henri Wallon

Another author who, together with Werner, Freud, Piaget and Vygotsky, understand that the genetic method is the main means of studying psychism is Henri Wallon (1879-1962).

He also shares with those authors a position contrary to the mechanism implicit in behaviorism. Wallon considers development as a series of qualitative changes that occur throughout a series of different stages: motor, emotional, sensorimotor impulsiveness, personalism, categorical thinking, puberty and adolescence.

Its influence in the discipline is mainly confined to the field of French evolutionary psychology, being practically unknown in the USA.


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