In order to answer this question, I will have to look at the process of maturation. The course of development in man is shaped by maturation and learning. The issue between inherent growth aspects Maturation, and the influence of experience, as in learning is one that has to be faced in many areas of psychology. Maturation assumes that timing and patterns of change beyond birth are relatively independent of experience and go on beyond despite wide variations in the environment. There are two main theories of child development, no psychologist would argue that anyone’s argument in isolation could contribute wholly to the development process. What is clear is that the interactions between these two main arguments contribute to who we are.
The first main argument that I will look at is the empiricists, who believe that the environment that we are brought up in is the main reason that we develop the way that we do, the main arguments are put forward by J.B. Watson who considered “that the child was born as a Tabula Rasa (a blank slate)” (N.Hayes, 1987 Psychology an Introduction pg2). Watson was a total empiricist who believed that we are a blank slate that experience would write on. The other main viewpoint put forward was the nativists who believed that we are pre-programmed and develop according to our genetic make-up through our genes and chromosomes. This viewpoint was put forward by Gesell who believed “children developed almost entirely as a result of genetic influence with their environment having a little effect” (N.Hayes, 1987 Psychology an Introduction pg2).
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Most of the studies that have been carried out about learning have been tested on animals rather than humans and there are many different theories of learning. Learning can be described as “ a change in behavior brought about as a result of experience” (N. Hayes, 2000, Foundations of Psychology, pg577) .. The first form of learning that is going to be looked at is classical conditioning. Two different investigations were done on this associative learning. American J.B. Watson in 1903 developed a theory called the law of exercise, which stated that “a learned link-an association-between a stimulus and a response could be forged simply by repeating the two together often enough” (N. Hayes, 2000, Foundations of Psychology, pg577).
Then around the same time, the Russian psychologist by the name of Ivan Pavlov found that by ringing a bell at mealtime he could program the dogs to believe that when the bell would sound that it was mealtime. So then when the dogs heard the bell ringing they started to salivate believing that they were going to get fed even when there was no food present. This is known as classical conditioning “In classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus begins to elicit a response after being repeatedly paired with another stimulus that already elicits that response. We learn behaviors and emotions as a result of classical conditioning”(Bukatko, 2001, Child Development A Thematic Approach, pg 10).
Operant Conditioning is the second approach to the study of habit formation. B. F Skinner introduced this approach. Skinner proposed a distinction between two kinds of behavior, which he called operant and respondent behavior. Respondent behavior is directly under the control of the stimulus. The relation of operant behavior to stimulation is different, the behavior seems to be spontaneous rather than a response to a certain stimulus as cited in E. Hilgard et al (1967), Introduction to Psychology. By using a Skinner Box, a device that contained simple elements needed for a learning response – Skinner would place a hungry animal into the Skinner box. The box would only contain three things a lever, a food delivery chute, and a light. The animal would eventually press the lever and a pellet of food would be delivered this meant that the behavior was being rewarded and would have the effect of reinforcing that behavior and it was more likely to happen again.
By using some kind of signal such as light showed that animals could be trained to press a lever when a signal was on not when it was off. This signal formed a discriminatory stimulus as cited in N.Hayes, 1987 Psychology an Introduction pg19. Therefore there are two main types of reinforcement positive and negative. Positive reinforcement is allowing the animal to get something it wants and negative allows the animal to avoid something unpleasant. Behavior that is negative is extremely resistant to extinction, it does not die out quickly. How quickly it dies out will depend on the reinforcement schedule. These types of behavior have been positively applied to humans, Skinner believed that operant conditioning could explain everything that human beings did including language and thinking.
Therefore there are a number of ways that a child learns these vary in their complexity from simple forms of association which involve the linking of a particular stimulus with a particular response to the building of new information into knowledge that we have been using for some time. The traditional theories of classical and operant conditioning explain child development and how we learn but there are many other approaches such as the social learning approach to child development this theory explains that everything cannot be explained by conditioning processes. There three main ways that socialization is encouraged in children through the process of imitation for example Bandura et al and punishment and rewards, B.F. Skinner argues strongly that punishment is not effective and there needs to be positive and negative reinforcement and the third one is social expectations.
The social learning approach believes that children learn through social perception and role models. Imitation is considered one of the most important of these processes, imitation is described as one shortcut to learning, it involves the copying of a certain act or set of actions and allows the child to learn a range of psychical skills very quickly. One of the main theorists on imitation was Bandura et al. Bandura stated that there was a big difference between what children learned and what shows in their behavior. Patterson et al also investigated learning through imitation and he said that it wasn’t learning just through imitation but also learning through consequences so therefore in conclusion a child learns a great deal through imitation but direct reaction through adults and consequences may play a more important role.
- Psychology, An Introduction, N.Hayes, 1987, Longman
- Introduction to Psychology, E.R.Hilgard et al, 1971,
- Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
- Introducing Social Psychology, H Tajfel et al, 1978,
- Penguin Books. Essential Social Psychology, D.C. Pennington, 1986, Edward Arnold
- Social Psychology, A.R. Lindesmith et al, 1968, Holt
- Website www.psych.co.uk