Development and Structure of the Body Image - Vol. 1

By Seymour Fisher | Go to book overview

2
Developmental Aspects of Body Perception

INTRODUCTION

This chapter is devoted to exploring what is known about how growing children organize and make sense of their body experiences. There is every reason to believe that children differ radically from adults in their body perceptions. As Piaget ( 1960) observed: "During this stage children believe that thinking is 'with the mouth.' Thought is identified with the voice. Nothing takes place either in the head or in the body" (p. 38). If this statement is true, it would follow that many children assign to the mouth a function and significance that normal adults do not. For such children, the mouth would be represented in the body scheme rather differently than it would for adults.

In the same vein, Gellert ( 1960), in the course of questioning young children about their knowledge of the body interior, encountered imagery of the following character about the heart (p. 4):

"The heart is where God lives."
"The heart makes you dream."
"The heart makes you do all the things you're supposed to do."

She found a variety of other inaccurate body ideas. Fifty percent of children below the age of 11 thought their lungs were located in their heads. Many children assumed they had two hearts, two bladders, but only two ribs. Gellert noted too that "estimates of the number of lungs ranged from 1 to 100" (p. 8). Similarly, Williams ( 1979) reported in a survey of Phillipine children that some referred to the lungs as being "for the storage of waste" or "to strengthen the bones"; and others conceived of the bones as places "where food passes." In addition to such anecdotal material, there is a pool of research findings that highlight differences between the body perceptions of children and adults. These differences are not always in the direction of the adult's being more realistic and accurate. For example, Wapner ( 1968a) has observed that in a context where the body is tilted, children make fewer errors than adults do when judging the position of the longitudinal axis of the body. Numerous approaches have been taken to tracing body image development. They have diversely involved drawings of the human figure, identifying body parts, making judgments of the body's position in space, estimating

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