Developmental Psychology is an area of psychology that studies the changes that happen in life from a cognitive, biological, emotional and social stand point (Gross, R, 2010). It looks at how our thought processes and behaviour develop and these can be influenced by social, biological and cultural factors. Developmental Psychology can be explained by a number of approaches: Psychodynamic, which believes human development is based upon the inner self and was formed around the ideas of Sigmund Freud and expanded upon by the likes of John Bowlby, Cognitive, which focuses on the internal processes of our mind in terms of how we process information as developed by theorists like Jean Piaget and later Schaffer, Psycho-social theory, as devised by Erikson, states that development is affected by eight stages which are genetically determined and Learning theory which shows how development is effected by a person’s environment, and was started by John Watson, who took the work of Ivan Pavlov, and expanded it to develop learning theories. These approaches will either take on a view that behaviours and learning are inbuilt from birth i.e. nature or are built upon via experiences throughout a person’s life i.e. nurture.
Learning theory has taken on a nurture view point, in that it shows that development and behaviour emerges and adapts through learning from the external environment. However, learning theory is a broad subject and is viewed from different perspectives within psychology. This theory was started within the behaviourist movement of Psychology who believed learning can only be measured by those behaviours / skills that can be actually observed, and that learning can only be undertaken from stimulus within the person’s environment (McLeod, S. A, 2007).
This approach was started by John Watson, having taken ideas from Ivan Pavlov and his work on classical conditioning, he wanted to “develop techniques to allow him to condition and control the emotions of human subjects” (Seal, Norbert M, 2012). As part of this thinking, he undertook an experiment, now known as ‘Little Albert’, whereby he conditioned an 11 month old baby to associate a loud noise with a rat by scaring the child in its presence. This was done several times, until the loud noise was removed and only the rat was introduced. The child, on introduction of only the rat became scared and cried; Watson believed that learning had taken place. This was backed up by behaviourists Dollard and Millar, (1950), who believed that attachments are formed from learnt behaviour. In the case of children, this is from association of the care and feeding and thus finding comfort in the carer.
Conversely, Harry Harlow, (1959), in his experiment, took a group of rhesus monkeys, and separated them from their mother at birth. He devised wire Monkeys, of which half were covered in cloth and half were not; the animals were allowed to get close to both types of monkey. In his study, he found that although the monkeys all fed, they all spent more time with the cloth monkey, showing the need for comfort. However, Harlow also introduced an item to frighten the monkeys. At this time they would return to the cloth monkey for refuge, again showing that the learning was not from the feeding but from the contact comfort.
Little Albert had proven Watson correct, and led to further studies and advancement of the learning theory. However, experiments of this type have been considered as unethical, also non-behaviourists do not agree with the comparisons of animals and humans, and therefore argue that the learning cannot be natural (Glassman, William E, 2004). It can be said that the behaviourist approach however doesn’t take into account cognitive and emotional development but sees all social relationships as a result of environmental conditioning.
Where Behaviourism looks at the environmental impact, Psychodynamic theory, originating