Summary: Childhood

Mary Ainsworth is famous for studies of attachment in very young children. Children who are securely attached are capable of independent exploration and play. Attachment styles appear to originate in the first years and persist throughout early childhood and possibly far longer. Shyness, which also involves a problem coping with novel situations, is now thought to be a biologically based trait.

A study of "winner" 6 year olds found that they were already acting like "winners" as 3 years olds. Something important must be happening in the first three years of life. Burton White wrote a book about this, suggesting that intensive love and care (and the freedom to roam in a child-proofed environment) would produce a happy, healthy 3-year-old with a bright future.

Parental styles were studied in classic research by Diana Baumrind. She found that children of authoritarian parents were often fearful and avoidant. Children of permissive parents were undisciplined and not very happy. Children of authoritative parents, who were firm but loving, seemed to turn out best. However, lots of love shown to a child may be sufficient to counteract bad effects of authoritarian parenting style.

Piaget is the most famous researcher who studied cognitive development in children. His "conservation" experiments are well known, although they are more like simple demonstrations than true experiments in the modern sense (because they lacked control groups and statistical analysis of data). Piaget described a succession of stages in cognitive development. In the first stage, the sensory-motor period, a child lacks even the simple awareness that hidden objects continue to exist (object constancy).

In the next, pre-operational period, a child thinks egocentrically and lacks the ability to solve conservation problems. Around the age of 5 to 7, a child suddenly becomes aware of such things as mass, liquid quantity, and number. This marks the child's advance into the concrete operational stage, in Piaget's theory.

Flavell, an American researcher, studied the child's development of the appearance/reality distinction. This distinction seems to lie at the core of Piaget's conservation experiments as well. Another line of research involves metacognition, the ability to think about thinking. Children can be taught to control their mental processes in ways that improve their performance. However, children often fail to use these techniques on their own, without prompting from an adult.

DeLoache studied children's ability to use symbols. She found that 36-month-olds could use a small model of a room as if it was a map, to locate a toy in the larger room, or vice versa. But 30-month-olds could not do this. When she convinced the 30-month-olds that the model was the same room, shrunken by a fancy machine, they were able to find the toy. This pinpointed what they were lacking: the ability to relate two different spaces in an abstract way.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey