Advances in Developmental Psychology - Vol. 2

By Michael E. Lamb; Ann L. Brown | Go to book overview

4
Integrating Context and Cognitive Development

Barbara Rogoff
University of Utah


INTRODUCTION

Psychology has been conceived as the science of the behavior and mental life of the individual. Although most approaches to cognitive development have considered aspects of context to be relevant to the study of the person (e.g. in the need to specify the stimulus or describe the task), understanding the role of context has generally been considered secondary to the examination of characteristics of the person. The focus has been on the individual as the basic unit of analysis, with human activity explained in terms of motives, personality, cognitive traits and capabilities, etc. Characteristics of the person have been assumed to be relatively stable across situations, with the assumption of generality across laboratory and nonlaboratory settings and across experimental tasks.

Recently, however, developmentalists have become more concerned with the role of context. This interest was sparked by observations that children's characteristics appear to vary widely as a function of the task and setting in which performance is observed. Contextual variation is discussed in the literatures concerned with ecological validity and with the limited generality of performance across logically equivalent tasks. In the first part of this chapter I examine the problems of ecological validity and limited generality of cognitive skills as they underline the importance of the role of context in development.

Following discussion of the importance of context, I examine ways in which context's relation to the person has been conceived. Two basic perspectives emphasizing the importance of context are discussed: the interactional approach and the contextual event approach. The theoretical underpinnings of these approaches are contrasted in order to consider what is required for the integration of

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