Developmental Roots: How Developmental Psychology Can Inform Psychology: Discussion

Article excerpt

The preceding papers serve as a testimony to the strength of developmental psychology in providing insight into the workings of human psychology. We have seen a range of influences, from methodological to theoretical, all having an important impact on general psychological understanding and debate. In this discussion I will attempt to review the influences that each of the researchers has illuminated, and to raise questions that emerge from consideration of their papers.


A strong message that comes from Jim's work is that the developmental perspective is a very efficient way to pin down an elusive phenomenon, without having to resort to massive build - up of experiments in the literature. This we saw in his studies of pattern goodness, covert/overt orienting, and visual filtering. Another principle in Jim's work is the understanding that any study of mind must be informed by an understanding of the attentional processes and their development. This is true for any process that uses as its first input sensory information. Finally, Jim argues that convergence of operations is necessary in the validation of theories and suggests that perhaps the most powerful method of converging on a phenomenon is through a developmental perspective. Some questions that are raised by this research include asking what is the importance, if any, of introducing a more natural stimulus environment into our experiments of attention? Will this increased complexity buy us increased insight, or merely increased chaos? Will the developmental perspective continue to be a potent strategy for clearing up the fog in this more natural experiment? DAVID OLSON

An important issue raised by David's research is the acknowledgement of the problem that exists when a theorist has dismissed factors by stating that they are given, and one is trying to validate this theory. Take Fodor's (1987) stand on beliefs for example. Beliefs are said to exist because the brain is built that way, thus they are innate and uninteresting. What David's research has shown us is that developmental work offers a way out of theoretical dead ends. The developing theory - of - mind is a view of the germination of the seeds of belief. Though the seeds may be present at birth, they have surely not sprouted. In showing the emergence of a concept, the experiments on the development of mind challenge the view that beliefs are uninteresting because they were always there, hidden in the innate structure of the mind. Rather, the work shows that there is a process to be studied. What is most exciting for me about the theory of mind research is that it is offering empirical insight into what is a very ancient philosophical question, that is, how do we describe or explain the interdependence between the mind and the world out there? Insights from philosophy are coupled with those from neuroscience, with those from empirical studies of the child's knowledge of mind, with those from genetic epistemology, and with much more beyond. What has emerged from David's integration is a model of the development of representational thought that accounts for the emergence of beliefs and the understanding of the concept of truth. In this model, he has gone where few psychologists have dared to tread - wrestling with the emergence of mind, with beliefs, truths, and other conceptual demons. Now that we are grappling with these tough questions in psychology, my question for David is: How likely is it that we can complete our study of the whole being by beginning to examine human spirituality and its development? …