Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Developmental Roots: How Developmental Psychology Can Inform Psychology

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Developmental Roots: How Developmental Psychology Can Inform Psychology

Article excerpt


All of the papers in this series were originally presented as part of a symposium entitled, "Developmental Roots: How Developmental Psychology Can Inform Psychology", which was sponsored by the Developmental Section of the Canadian Psychological Association at their annual meeting (1991). In this symposium, researchers from a variety of traditions provided evidence that the developmental perspective offers unique insights into the full understanding of psychological processing. In the paper that follows I offer a brief introduction to the general theme. This will be followed by papers that examine the roots theme from the perspectives of Attention, Cognition, Communication and Attachment. A discussion of the papers that summarizes the general points made by each of the researchers, and poses questions that emerge from a consideration of these points, offers a conclusion to the series of papers.

In preparation for the symposium that led up to these papers, I decided that a good introduction to the topic would be an historical tracing of the beginnings -- the roots -- of developmental psychology. Insofar as a study of human development recounts the history of the individual, I soon noticed that my inquiry was somewhat like viewing one's image in a room of mirrors -- looking at a history of the history of the individual. Since I have never looked back since I began graduate study, this sudden shift to an historical perspective was not embarked upon without trepidation. Nevertheless, I traced along through a number of historical sources and was pleasantly surprised to find that as long as there has been a study of psychology, there has been a study of psychological development. Many of our early founders were convinced that true illumination of human psychology could not be obtained without a thorough understanding of how the human got to be that way. In what follows, I will focus on the earliest period of developmental psychology -- what Robert Cairns (1983) calls the Formative Period -- and attempt to summarise some of the forces that I believe led to the study of human development. I will leave it to Cairns' excellent chapter in Volume 1 of Mussen's Handbook to provide a more in depth look at the historical beginnings of developmental psychology, and to bring you up to date on the happenings since 1912.

A Brief History of Our Roots

Tap Root in Biology. Perhaps the most pervasive influences on developmental psychology have arisen through links to the study of biology. Many of our forbearers had a thorough immersion in the important biological development theories of their time, including evolutionary development and embryology. Wilhelm Preyer (1841 - 1897), who is often credited with publishing the first treatise of modern child psychology (Cairns, 1983), was trained in behavioural embryology. In his classic volume, The Mind of the Child (1882), Preyer set high standards for the scientific observation of behavioural development and showed a strong appreciation for the significance of developmental psychology to general biological study. It is no wonder that this scientist clearly saw the importance of development, having been trained in embryology, as pure a science of development as one can find. In Preyer's words, "I proposed to myself a number of years ago, the task of studying the child, both before birth and in the period immediately following, from the physiological point of view, with the object of arriving at an explanation of the origin of separate vital processes." (1882, p. ix). His was clearly a search for how the human adult got there.

James Mark Baldwin (1861 -- 1934) was no less impressed by the biological currents of his time. In his early work, Baldwin (e.g., Mental Development in the Child and the Race, 1895) employed the rigour of the new experimental psychology in his quest to understand the links between the processes of adaptation governing the species and the individual. …

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