Foreword

Law Of Attraction For Kids

Smart Parenting Guide

Get Instant Access

Longevity within a discipline carries with it certain advantages. Not the least of these is the luxury of a historical perspective. I was increasingly drawn to this perspective as I read over the topics of this sixth volume of the Handbook of Psychology: Developmental Psychology. What impressed me, from a perspective of 40 years, was both how much had changed and how much had remained the same. Accordingly, in this foreword I want to take the opportunity to reflect briefly, for each of the major domains covered by the text, both on the progress that has been made and on what remains to be accomplished.

If I were to use one concept to describe the difference between the developmental psychology of today and that of 40 years ago, it would be the movement from simplicity to complexity. When I was going to school, positivism was in vogue. One facet was the belief in Occam's razor: "Simplify, simplify" was the dictum—that is, reduce everything to the simplest, most basic formulation. Today, in our postmodern world, we recognize that the goal of simplicity was misguided. In all domains of psychological investigation the further we progress, the more we discover the multiplicity, and intricacy, of variables and factors that must be taken into account in the understanding and prediction of human behavior. Complexity, moreover, also entails the breakdown of disciplinary boundaries and the rapid rise of interdisciplinary research and theory.

In their introductory chapter Lerner, Easterbrooks, and Mistry give a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted nature of human development. Development has to be historically situated and connected to the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that are in play at that time in history. Complexity is at play in the psychological processes themselves. Learning, perception, and cognition, as well as other psychological dispositions, are all much more involved than we once supposed them to be. Indeed, each of the chapters in this book is a testament to this new respect for complexity.

Our discipline is also much broader than it was in the past. A case in point is the relatively new interest in human development across the life span. Today, we take this extension of our area of research and theory across the whole life cycle as a given. However, it was not always so. As late as 1954 David Wechsler could still write that intelligence peaked at the age of 18 years and declined thereafter. This psychometric view contributed to a neglect of the psychology of adulthood. Likewise, the prevalence of Freudian psychology contributed to the view that adult personality could be understood completely in terms of childhood experience. Human development after adolescence, in and of itself, was generally regarded as uninteresting if not boring. Erikson's work on the human life cycle was one of the major impetuses to studying adulthood in all of its psychological vicissitudes. In addition, the fact that people live longer and healthier lives has contributed to the concern with development across the whole life cycle.

Today, as Overton describes it, the field is rich in both research and theory. The life-span approach to development has raised a whole new set of questions and theoretical issues that will act back on what we know and think about development from infancy to adolescence. Although developmental psychology has always had an applied dimension, given its close association with both pediatrics and education, that dimension was always subordinate to purely disciplinary concerns. In his chapter, Donald Wertlieb makes clear that that situation has changed and that applied concerns now dictate a great deal of developmental research. This applied emphasis is illustrated not only by Wertlieb's examples but also by a great many chapters in the book wherein the authors draw implication for policy and practice.

Infancy has been one of the most intensely studied and conceptualized fields of developmental psychology. Again, our knowledge in this domain, as in so many others, continues to grow and to demonstrate the complexity of behavior at the infancy level. The chapter titled "Infant Perception and Cognition," by Cohen and Cashon, describes the many contemporary research technologies and theoretical models employed in the study of infants' progress in cognitive ability and conceptual understanding. In the next chapter, titled "Social and Emotional Development in Infancy," Thompson, Easterbrooks, and Padilla-Walker emphasize the contextual variables that have to be considered in understanding attachment and the evolution of self-other understanding.

The interdisciplinary nature of much of today's developmental psychology is nicely evidenced by the Gunnar and Davis chapter titled "Stress and Emotion in Early

Childhood." Workers in this area are bringing together psychological, biological, and neurological concepts to provide a deeper understanding of the dynamics of stress. The next chapter in this section, "Diversity in Caregiving Contexts," by Fitzgerald, Mann, Cabrera, and Wong, is yet another example of the emergence of applied studies. With more than 85% of young children in one or another form of child care, the need to assess the effects of amount and quality of early child care is imperative. This chapter not only reviews the few longitudinal studies in this field but also suggests important caveats in the interpretation of data from such investigations.

In the third part of the book, which deals with childhood proper (ages 6-12), we again see how the study of this stage of development has grown in both breadth and complexity. The first chapter in this section, by Hoff, summarizes contemporary research and theory on language development in childhood. In so doing, Hoff highlights the biological, linguistic, social, and cognitive approaches to this topic as well as the many questions that still remain in the attempts to discover how children learn to talk. In his chapter titled "Cognitive Development in Childhood," Feldman summarizes the many changes undergone in a field that was once dominated by Piagetian research and theory. Neo-Piagetian approaches, information theory models, the individualization of normative development, and the use of brain imaging to study the development of mental processes are but some of the innovations that have transformed this area of investigation over the last few decades.

Likewise, the chapter "Emotion and Personality Development in Childhood," by Cummings, Braungart-Rieker, and Du Rocher-Schudlich, goes well beyond the identification of the primary emotions and their differentiation with age, which once characterized this field. Now researchers look at emotion in connection with many other facets of development from psychobiology to personality. Social-cultural variables are taken into account as well. What is striking with respect to emotions, as with so many other topics covered in this book, is how contextualized the treatment of this topic now is in contrast to the isolated way in which it was once approached.

The following chapter, "Social Development and Social Relationships in Middle Childhood," by McHale, Dariotis, and Kauh, is quite striking in its break with the past. For many decades childhood was a relatively neglected stage except perhaps for cognitive and moral development. But these authors make a strong case for the crucial importance of this period for the development of independence, work habits, self-regulation, and social skills. In their chapter titled

"The Cultural Context of Child Development," Mistry and Saraswathi give evidence that the road to cross-disciplinary research is not always smooth. They illustrate how the fields of cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology, and developmental psychology do not always map easily on to one another. They give challenging examples of the kinds of research paradigms that might ease the integration of culture and development.

Part IV of the text deals with adolescence. The first chapter, "Puberty, Sexuality, and Health," by Susman, Dorn, and Schiefelbein, is a testament to the complexity with which we now view development. In addition to biopsychosocial models, the paper also includes the perspectives of developmental contextualism and holistic interactionism. It also reflects the new applied emphasis by suggesting some of the policy, and educational implications, of current research on pubertal timing. In their chapter titled "Cognitive Development in Adolescence," Eccles, Wigfield, and Byrnes focus upon the relation of cognitive growth and achievement as this relationship is mediated by gender and ethnic group differences. Again we see that cognitive development, once considered pretty much in isolation, is now placed in a much broader personal-social context.

Galambos and Costigan also demonstrate the new multi-variate approach to developmental issues in their chapter titled "Emotion and Personality Development in Adolescence." Among the new themes emerging from this contextual approach are a focus on optimal development, cultural variations, the relation of emotion to temperament, and the person approach. The applied dimension is reflected in the author's suggestions for intervention and prevention programs. In their chapter titled "Positive Behaviors, Problem Behaviors, and Resiliency in Adolescence," Perkins and Borden give the lie to the naive notion that educational curricula are the panacea for all of adolescent problem behaviors. On the contrary, this chapter reflects our current understanding that the real issue is why young people take risks. Perkins and Borden detail the risk factors revealed by contemporary research. They also provide a brief history of the development of resiliency research. In this review they highlight the many forms of social capital that support invulnerability. Authors Kerr, Stattin, Biesecker, and Ferrer-Wreder provide a groundbreaking integration of the parenting and the peer interaction literature in their chapter titled "Relationships with Parents and Peers in Adolescence." Up until very recently these two topics were dealt with as independent issues. This chapter provides a fine example of the integrative work going on both within and between disciplines.

Part V of the text looks at research and theory on adulthood and aging. In their chapter titled "Disease, Health, and Aging," Siegler, Bosworth, and Poon look at the variables coming into play in the study of aging during this new century. These variables include the input from multiple disciplines, a focus on Alzheimer's, the social context of aging, and the impact of new discoveries in medicine and genetics. Dixon and Cohen, in their chapter titled "Cognitive Development in Adulthood," summarize findings from a very active field of research. Both studies dealing with classical and emerging issues are reviewed. One of the classical issues is the study of patterns of intellectual aging. Among the emerging issues are the study of metamemory and social interactive memory.

A major issue of personality research in adulthood is the stability and change of attitudes and traits over time. In their chapter titled "Personality Development in Adulthood and Old Age," Bertrand and Lachman review several approaches, theories, and models that have been put forward to address this issue. They also review findings regarding the relation of identity, self-efficacy, and other variables on the development of adult personality. A novel approach to the study of aging is introduced by Pruchno and Rosenbaum in their chapter titled "Social Relationships in Adulthood and Old Age." These authors focus on research on adult social relations in which at least one of the participants is elderly. They look at relations among spouses, parents and children, siblings, and friends. Their aim is not only to discern patterns but also to identify key research questions that have yet to be addressed.

Part VI of the book is devoted to applied issues. Hauser-Cram and Howell, in their chapter titled "Disabilities and Development," review the history and current state or research on children with disabilities. Although the authors welcome the research relating disabilities to family influences and family health, they cite the lack of research relating disabilities to cultural conceptions of challenged children. The next chapter, "Applied Developmental Science of Positive Human Development," by Lerner, Anderson, Balsano, Dowling, and Bobek, is conceptual and theoretical rather than empirical. A number of different person-context models are reviewed, and the authors use the youth charter model as an example of how the person-context approach can be employed to promote adolescent health. In his chapter titled "Child Development and the Law," Lamb illustrates how developmental research and theory can be invaluable in making legal decisions affecting the family. As cases in point he reviews the research regarding child witness testimony and divorce and custody. This review makes his case that the legal system might well look to developmental science for important information and guidance.

A very interesting approach to life-span development is offered by Connell and Janevic in their chapter titled "Health and Human Development." These authors look at the important issue of how health habits, social involvement, and attitudes at one age period affect health at later periods. A telling example is the relation between a relative lack of physical activity in the early adult years and the contraction of diabetes at middle age. The authors suggest important contextual issues such as socioeconomic status, race, culture, and gender as other variables that enter into the health-aging connection. The final chapter, "Successful Aging," ends on a positive note. In this chapter Freund and Riediger deal with models that have been suggested for successful aging. These models emphasize the importance of actively taking charge of one's life and of continued engagement with the world. In so doing, older people can maintain high-level functioning and well-being. Further research in this area will be especially important as the proportion of our aging population increases with the entrance of the baby boomers into the senior citizen category.

The review of these chapters thus gives evidence of the vigorous growth of child development as a discipline. Complexity of conceptualization and research design, interdisciplinary research, and an applied emphasis all characterize the field today. Although there is so much to admire in the progress we have made, it is perhaps a bit unappreciative to remark on an area that I feel continues to be neglected. This neglected area is education. Child development has so much to contribute to education, yet we continue to remain on the sidelines and limit our involvement to such issues as disabilities or reading problems. The reason may be that there is a whole field of educational research that purportedly is the science of education. But much of educational research is uninformed by developmental psychology. This is particularly true in the domain of content, where educational psychology is particularly remiss. Developmental psychology has a tremendous role to play. We need to explore how children learn different subject matters and look at this learning in the contextual framework that has become so prominent in so many other areas. It is sad to see so much fine developmental research with such clear implications for education, to never be employed in this way. I believe it is time to make education an important field for applied developmental science.

The foregoing remarks are in no way a criticism of this remarkable volume. Rather, they are addressed to the field as a whole. What is so satisfying about this Handbook is how so much of what is new and invigorating in the field is now a part of our conventional wisdom. We are no longer bound by the early constraints of psychology that identified science with experimentation and quantification and operationally defined variables. Observation, ethnographic studies and narrative, and other qualitative methodologies are now part of the developmentalist's tool kit. And we no longer have only the grand theories of Freud, Piaget, and Erikson;

we also appreciate the domain specificity of so much of human thought and behavior. This book is not only a solid summary of where we stand with regard to our knowledge of human development today, but also a powerful witness for the readiness of the field itself to grow and to mature.

David Elkind

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Better Mind Better Life

Better Mind Better Life

Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At A Better Life. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Better Living with Enhanced Mental Health.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment