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The Scientific Study Of Human Development

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The scientific study of human development is the science that seeks to understand how & why people change, and how & why they stay the same, as they grow older.

The life-span perspective

The life-span perspective is a view of human development that takes into account all phases of life, not just childhood or adulthood.

Development is

* Multidirectional - change is not always linear
* Multicontextual - embedded in many contexts
* Multicultural
* Multidisciplinary - Studied by everyone

     Three Domains

        1. Biosocial - The part of human development that includes physical growth and development as well as the family, community, & cultural factors that affect that growth & development.

        2. Cognitive - The part of human development that includes all the mental processes through which an individual thinks, learns, & communicates, plus the institutions involved in learning & communicating.

        3. Psychosocial - The part of human development that includes emotions, personality, & relationships with other people. This domain also includes the larger community and the culture.

* Plastic - Human traits can be changed (molded as plastic can be), yet people maintain a certain durability of identity (also like plastic, which takes a long time to disintegrate).

The Ecological Model

The influences within and between the systems or contexts in the model are multidirectional & interactive.

Ecological Perspective (Bronfenbenner)

• Focus is on an individual’s relationship within his/her social contexts

• Human development occurs in a set of overlapping ecological systems

• The ecological systems operate together to influence what a person becomes as they develop.

Microsystems Defined

• Immediate social settings which an individual is involved in.

• Focus is on an individuals face-to-face interaction (Family, school, work, church, peer group)

• Activities & interaction patterns in child's immediate surroundings. (e.g., parent/family in the home; teachers, peers in school or day care)

Mesosystem Defined

• Links 2 Microsystems together, directly or indirectly.

• e.g when parents and teachers coordinate their efforts to educate a child.

• Connections among children's immediate settings. (e.g., Relationship between parent & teacher in settings such as day care, schools, neighborhoods)

Exosystem Defined

• Settings in which the person does not actively participate but in which significant decisions are made affecting the individuals who do interact directly with the person.

• e.g. – neighborhood/community structures that affect the functioning of smaller systems: newspapers, TV, & radio.

• Child not directly involved in social setting; Involves connection to broader community (e.g., Parents' social networks; effect of workplace policies on day care arrangements)

Marcosystem Defined

• Plans for defining and organizing the institutional life of the society, including overarching patterns of culture, politics, economy, etc.

• Values, laws, customs, resources of culture, society; Influences experience & interaction at inner layers

Chronosystem Defined

• Environment is an ever-changing system
• Temporal (Time-related) experiences
• History influences Microsystems & all subsequent layers

Ψ Urie Bronfenbrenner's (1917- 2005) ideas & his ability to translate them into operational research models & effective social policies spurred the creation in 1965 of Head Start, the federal child development program for low-income children & their families. In 1979 Bronfenbrenner further developed his thinking into the groundbreaking theory on the ecology of human development. That theoretical model transformed the way many social & behavioral scientists approached the study of human beings & their environments. It led to new directions in basic research & to applications in the design of programs & policies affecting the well-being of children and families both in the United States & abroad.

The Butterfly Effect

Ψ An Aspect of the multidirectional characteristics of Development

Ψ The butterfly effect is a phrase that encapsulates the more technical notion of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory. Small variations of the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system.

Ψ If a tiny change can have a profound effect, how can major outcomes ever be predicted given the sheer volume of minor events that occur in our world? Its a good thing that small changes rarely produce profound change or we would be unable to predict anything. In fact the opposite also happens wherein large changes don't produce long term consequences.

Multicontextual Characteristics of Development

Three broad contexts within the social context - history, socioeconomic status, & culture - affect development. Because these contexts overlap, it is often impossible to determine whether a particular effect comes from; cohort, social class or ethnic heritage.

The Historical Context

• All persons born within a few years of each other are said to be a cohort, a group of people that travel through life together and are affected by the same events.

• Cohort size can be significant. e.g. the baby-boom.

• Our assumptions about how things "should be" are social constructions. A social construction is an idea built more on shared perceptions of social order than on objective reality.

The Socioeconomic Context

Ψ  The three major factors comprising SES are
           •  income,
            •  education,
             •  & occupation.
Ψ  SES ( Socio-economic status) entails all the advantages & disadvantages & all the opportunities & limitations, that may be associated with status.

The Cultural Context

• A social group's "design for living".

• Culture is the set of shared values, assumptions, customs, and physical objects that are maintained by a group of people in a specific setting ( a society ) as a design for living.

The Scientific Method - The principles & procedures used in the systematic pursuit of knowledge, designed to reduce guessing.

Steps in the Scientific Method

1. Formulate a research question
 2. Develop a hypothesis ( a specific prediction )
  3. Test the hypothesis
   4. Draw conclusions
    5. Make the findings available

Research Methods

Regardless of the research method used the "Worth of the Solution" is affected by the research design's:

* Validity - measures what it purports to measure
* Accuracy - measurements are correct
* Generalizability - application to other populations & situations
* Usefulness - can solve real-life problems


Scientific observation is a method of testing hypotheses by unobtrusively watching & recording behavior either in a laboratory or in a naturalistic setting.

Scientific observation can expose correlations ( a relationship between two things such that one is likely or unlikely to occur when the other occurs ). Correlations are not cause & effect relationships; but, can be used to predict behavior.

Ψ  With correlations there is always the possibility that the correlation's direction is just the opposite of that proposed, or that a 3rd variable may be the cause of the changes.

The Experiment

Ψ  The experimental method involves the deliberate change in one variable (the independent variable) to monitor the resulting change in some other (the dependent variable). This is done using an experimental group. At the same time a fake (placebo) change is made to a control (comparison) group to insure that results are not due to the participants expectations.

Ψ  Experiments are designed to expose cause & effect relationships.

Other Research Methods

* The Survey - vulnerable to bias
* The Case Study - intensive study of one individual

Studying Changes Over Time

Cross-Sectional - A research method in which groups of people who differ in a specific characteristic (e.g. age) but share other important characteristics are compared.

Longitudinal - A research method in which individuals are studied over a long period of time.

Cross-Sequential - A hybrid research method combining cross-sectional & longitudinal. The "best way!".

Quantitative versus Qualitative Research

Ψ  The purpose of a quantitative approach is to describe the current environment, investigate relationships, & to study cause & effect. Quantitative research involves analysis of numerical data.

Ψ  The purpose of a qualitative approach is to provide a focused, interpreted, & detailed study of the participants & their environment. Qualitative research involves analysis of data such as words (from interviews), pictures (video), or objects (artifacts).

Ψ  It is important to focus on how these techniques can be integrated, such as in mixed methods of research. More good can come of researchers developing skills in both areas than debating which method is superior.

Ethics & Science

General Ethical Precautions

* Do no harm
* Secure informed consent
* Explain the procedures
* Keep confidential all personal information

Precautions about Findings

* Report Honestly
* Limit Misinterpretation

Ψ The preeminent ethical question is whether research that is critically needed is being done!

Improve your study habits!

A common complaint from students is that their study is ineffective; because, students are often poor judges of what they know, the use of self tests such as those in most texts & most textbook support web sites can fix this.

A plan for time management using the right sort of goals is effective in improving study results.

Types of study goals:

1. Time
 2. General
  3. Specific performance goals

Reward yourself when goals are reached (self-reinforcement).

Take notes!

- Use your own words.
 - Use an outline format.
  - Associate new material with old.
   - Ask yourself questions as you study, then look for the answers.

Stop procrastinating:

1. Stop thinking or worrying about the final goal, conquer today's work.
 2. Break the overall task down into smaller more reachable goals.
  3. Write down a realistic schedule that you know you can follow.

Read the textbook!

Ψ Many students don't bother to read the textbook before going to the lecture that will cover the material. Trying to get anything out of a lecture without reading the material first is like trying to find a new, unfamiliar place without using a map or a GPS device. You can get lost real quick. This is especially true because most instructors in the traditional college setting make the assumption that the student has in fact prepared for the class by reading the assignment to be covered by the lecture. The instructors then use the lecture to expound on the information the student has supposedly got from the reading. If the student's have failed to do the reading, the lecture may not make a lot of sense.

Think Critically!

Ψ Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments. It is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief & action.

Ψ A Critical thinker

• raises vital questions & problems, formulating them clearly & precisely.

• gathers & assesses relevant information. Uses abstract ideas to interpret that information effectively.

• comes to well-reasoned conclusions & solutions by testing them against relevant criteria & standards.

• thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing & assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, & practical consequences.

• communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Key Questions

1. What are the 3 main elements of the scientific study of development?
2. What are the 5 characteristics of the life-span perspective?
3. How might the historical context differ for someone born in 1907 as compared to 2007?
4. What are 3 socioeconomic factors that constitute SES, & how might each affect development?
5. What are the differences among culture, ethnicity, & race?
6. What are the steps in the scientific method?
7. What are the advantages & disadvantages of observational research?
8. What are the advantages & disadvantages of experimental research?
9. Compare the uses of longitudinal & cross-sectional research. How are the advantages of each method combined in cross-sequential research?
10. What is the advantage of the ecological systems approach?
11. What is the main focus of the study of human development?

Sample answer: The main focus of the study of human development is to explore how & why people change, and how & why they remain the same.

12. How does the life-span perspective apply to the study of childhood or adolescence?

Sample answer: It views human development at any age as an ongoing process.

13. What are the pros & cons of qualitative research? Quantitative research?
14. Name & describe three domains into which the study of human development is often divided.

Sample answer:

Biosocial domain: The part of human development that include physical growth & development as well as the family, community, & cultural factors that affect growth & development.

Cognitive domain: The part of human development that includes all the mental processes, through which the individual thinks, learns, & communicates, plus the institutions involved in learning & communicating.

Psychosocial domain: The part of human development that includes emotions, personality characteristics, & relationships with other people - family, friends, lovers, and strangers. This domain also includes the larger community and the culture.

Robert C. Gates