Lecture Topics

  1. The Concept of Stage in Child Psychology

    The concept of stage has long been useful in life-span developmental psychology. It appears in the earliest developmental theories and continues to be used in modern theories. However, the concept is often misunderstood and misused, and also is often the subject of controversy and debate. For example, Piagetís theory has been criticized on the grounds that cognitive development at all levels proceeds more continuously than his theory suggests.

    Give a lecture that begins with an overview of the historical uses of the concept of stage. A starting point might be Hallís idea that the stages of development represent various stages of evolution, followed by a brief description of the stages identified by Gesell. These treatments will establish clearly the strongest meanings of the concept and probably also provide clear generic criticisms of the concept.

    Next, distinguish various uses of the concept. These might include (a) description, or a handy way to summarize developmental events typical of given points in the life span; (b) metaphor, which chiefly involves applying analogies (which may be misleading) to periods of life ("adolescence is the spring of life"); (c) genuine theoretical statements, which indicate that there are definite periods of development characterized by the emergence of qualitatively different types of thinking or behaving (developmentally ordered periods that are distinct from others in terms of the underlying organization or principles of personality, thought, or behavior.

    Finally, give examples of contemporary uses of the stage concept. You may want to draw on various theories of social cognition that extensively use the concept. Other possibilities include stages of motor development, emotional development, or newer theories of cognitive development. If time permits, you may wish to examine the extent to which the particular application you identify exemplifies one of the other of the three ways in which the stage concept is used.

  2. Learning Concepts Applied

    Although classical learning theories have not figured large in developmental accounts of age-related behavioral change, they have contributed greatly to techniques for managing and teaching children and to the scientific study of childrenís behavior. The concepts of classical and operant conditioning continue to be valuable to teachers and parents, and are enjoying a renaissance in educational practice throughout the country. A lecture/demonstration of these would therefore be highly valuable, especially because many of your students may either not know them or may misunderstand them.

    Do a basic lecture (or pair of lectures) in which you define the fundamental concepts of classical and operant conditioning. Spice your treatment liberally with sample applications of the concepts to child management or teaching, and invite the class to generate its own examples. Point out how various features of behavioral control that are operating even as you speak (the students are sitting in chairs, oriented to the front of the room, writing down what you have presented on overheads ( all examples of stimulus control).

    Although the treatment of these concepts seems straightforward, remember that some of the concepts are usually misunderstood. In particular, students usually want to define negative reinforcement as punishment. Take care to differentiate these terms.

  3. Observation in the Work of Ethologists and Behaviorists

    Compare and contrast the use of observation in the work of ethologists and behaviorists. This is a valuable exercise for further defining the nature of observational research, as well as defining these approaches to studying children. For example, ethologists are famous for observing behavior in natural settings, whereas behaviorists are often depicted as confining their observations to laboratory settings. This is a good contrast to draw out the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy; it is also a good point to indicate that the distinction is too simple and not an accurate representation of either approach. For example, consult an educational psychology textbook for examples of natural setting observations carried out by behaviorally oriented researchers/practitioners. Another productive comparison involves the kind of structure each perspective applies to carrying out observations. For example, both approaches are famous for insisting on concrete, replicable observational techniques that feature operational definitions of to-be-observed behavior. However, they diverge widely in how they structure the sequence of observations. For example, the prototypical ethologist attempts to approach an observation without preconceptions about the meaning or sequence of events, whereas the behaviorist explicitly examines events for antecedent stimuli, target behavior, and consequences. Drawing this comparison out shows how observations are influenced by oneís theoretical stance and other observer characteristics, as well as the formal organization of techniques for carrying out observations. Another useful comparison is the extent to which ethologically motivated observers are willing to draw conclusions about the meaning of behavior in contrast with behaviorally oriented observers. An excellent example here is the study of attachment, which has been a focus of controversy between these points of view.

  4. Early Criticism of Animal Research

    The current debate between animal psychologists were often criticized during the Victorian antivivisectionist movement. Always the debate has centered on issues of justifying animal research for its implications in application and accumulation of new knowledge vs. views that the research is both trivial and inhumane.

    The humane and antivivisection movements originated in nineteenth-century England. In 1822, Parliament approved a bill providing penalties for cruelty to animals, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in London on June 16, 1824. The first state to pass a bill forbidding cruelty to animals was New York, in 1828. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded on April 21, 1866 by Henry Bergh. Meanwhile, the middle of the nineteenth century marked the development of experimental physiology, which relied heavily on animal subjects.

    William James, the founder of American psychology, wrote on several occasions about the need for animal experimentation, and also the need to have some regulation and avoid excesses. James wrote, "Vivisection, in other words is a painful duty,'' and "Man lives for sciences as well as bread . . . . To taboo vivisection is then the same thing as to give up seeking after a knowledge of physiology; in other words, it is sacrificing a human intellectual good, and all that flows from it, to a brute and corporeal good.''

    John Dewey viewed animal experimentation as a duty, both to avoid experimentation upon human beings and for acquiring useful information. Dewey wrote in 1926, "Scientific men are under definite obligation to experiment upon animals so far as that is the alternative to random and possible harmful experimentation upon human beings, and so far as such experimentation is a means of saving human life and of increasing human vigor and efficiency.'' John Bascom, who authored the earliest North American comparative psychology text, favored restricting vivisection so that pain was reduced to the lowest possible, experiments did not get repeatedly done, and experiments that were done were on important issues. Both John B. Watson and Ivan P. Pavlov were heavily attacked in the media for animal research. Watson did some important studies with white rats to determine the sensory bases used in negotiating mazes. In his research, Watson did surgical operations (always under anesthesia) that included removal of eyes, destruction of the eardrum, removal of olfactory bulbs, and anesthetization of the rats' soles. Media comments included "killer of baby rats''; "I do not see that Prof. Watson has proved anything new by torturing the rat''; and "Now, if the same experiments were tried on the inspired Watson himself the results would be better, as he could tell us all about it. But he prefers to keep his eyes in his own head. So would the rats.'' Pavlov justified his work with animals by saying "the human mind has no other means of becoming acquainted with the laws of the organic world except by experiments and observations on living animals.'' He also said, "When I dissect and destroy a living animal, I hear within myself a bitter reproach that with rough and blundering hand I am crushing an incomparable artistic mechanism. But I endure in the interest of truth, for the benefit of humanity.'' Yet critics wrote comments about Pavlov such as "The physical researchers probably enjoyed it, so it was not a useless experiment,'' and "The professor seems to be a humane man. Otherwise he would most likely have tied a tin can to the dog's tail, also.'' One of the outcomes of the earlier animal rights and antivivisection movement was that in 1925 the American Psychological Association appointed a committee on animal experimentation to establish research guidelines for animal studies. Today the APA Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) serves the dual purpose of setting standards for animal use in research, and working to ensure the continuance of humane animal research. (Source: Dewsbury, D. A. 1990 (March). Early interactions between animal psychologists and animal activists and the founding of the APA committee on precautions in animal experimentation. American Psychologist,45, 315-327.)

  5. Subjects' Biases

    [Note: To have a demonstration of the biasing effect of a seemingly random number, give half of the class one set of these two problems and the other half the remaining set. Set A: 1. Without figuring the answer out (answering within five seconds), how much is 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1? 2. Given that there are 1,000 annual cases of electrocution, how many people do you think die from fireworks each year? Set B: 1. Without figuring the answer out (answering within five seconds), how much is 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8? 2. Given that there are 50,000 annual deaths from car accidents, how many people do you think die from fireworks each year?]

    Research subjects have biases that affect their responses to surveys and other psychological research. The "better-than-average'' is the tendency of people to believe that they are better than average. For example, in a study of 829,000 high school seniors asked to rate their ability to get along with others, not one person gave a self-rating of below average. In fact, 60 percent ranked their abilities in the top 10 percent and 25 percent ranked themselves in the top 1 percent (Myers, 1980).

    The "self-serving'' bias is the tendency to take credit for one's successes and to explain one's failures as externally caused. Of course, to complicate matters, some people do not take credit for their successes and may overblame failures on lack of effort or ability.

    The "false consensus effect'' is the tendency to use an egocentric bias in perception and to overbelieve that one's own view is held by the majority. For example, subjects were asked if they would give a dollar to someone who had not eaten in two days, and they were also asked to estimate the percentage of other people who would give a dollar. Subjects who indicated that they would give a dollar thought that a majority of people would also give a dollar; similarly, subjects who said they would not give a dollar believed that most people would not give a dollar (Ross et al, 1977).

    Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s spun a wheel of numbers and then asked subjects to estimate the percentage of African countries that were in the United Nations. When the wheel was on 10, the average estimate was 25 percent, but when the wheel was on 65, the average estimate was 45 percent. What this research study demonstrated was the blasting effect of a seemingly random number (Rubin, 1990). This can be a very strong effect. For example, people were asked how many persons die from fireworks each year. If they were told that 50,000 people died in car accidents, the average guess was 331; but, if they were told that there were 1,000 cases of electrocution annually, the average guess was 77 (the actual answer was 6). Persons asked to multiply 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 gave bigger answers than those asked to multiply 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 (the right answer is 40,320).

    In a study by Daniel Cervone, students were asked how many of 20 puzzles they could solve. They estimated better performance if they were first asked whether the number was above or below 18 than if they were first asked whether the number was above or below 4. Not only that, those who gave higher estimates tried to solve the puzzles longer and did get higher numbers correct. (Sources: Myers, D. G. 1980. The inflated self. NY: Seabury Press; Ross, L., Greene, D., & House, P. 1977. The `false consensus effect': An egocentric bias in social perception and attributional processes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 279-301; Wood, G. 1984. Research methodology: A decision-making perspective. Humans as biased information processors. In A. M. Rogers & C. J. Scheirer, Eds. The G. Stanley Hall Lecture Series, Vol. 4, Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association; Rubin, J. 1990 (June). Weighing anchors, Omni, 20, 95.)

  6. The Ecological Approach and the Hutterites

    Share information about the Hutterites, a group of 24,000 people living in 230 colonies in Canada and the northern United States. Have students organize this material in terms of the ecological approach.

    The Hutterites live communally. Thus, they share farms, buildings, equipment, and dining halls. Their religious beliefs include adult baptism and total pacifism. Clothing is austere (e.g., women's heads, arms, and legs are always covered). Rules are strictly enforced.

    A baby born into the commune is viewed as a gift from God. The mother is totally involved in the baby's first 3 months of care. After that, the mother resumes regular duties and the baby is put on a regular schedule of feeding, playing, and time alone. All members of the colony care for the baby, for children belong to the community rather than the parents.

    By 3, children are taught strict obedience, and their natural "stubborn wills'' are broken by threats and physical punishment. The child could be whipped for refusing to go to any adult and wanting only his biological parents, for quarreling with peers, or for not sharing. Some misbehavior is expected because of the children's nature, but conformity is insisted upon. After any punishment, a child is immediately comforted.

    Between 3 and 6 years, the children attend a kindergarten in which they memorize prayers and learn obedience. Quiet cooperative behavior is praised. At 6, the children attend the community school and learn reading, writing, both English and German, religion, and community history. Praise is given for working hard, but not for being a quick learner.

    At 15, Hutterites join the adult work force. There is no longer any physical punishment. Young adults must do their work and speak respectfully, yet they are allowed to quietly break minor rules (such as listening to rock music on a transistor radio with headphones). Within a few years, most of these youth decide to become full-fledged members of the colony. (Source: Harris, J. & Liebert, R. 1990. The Child. Prentice-Hall.)

  7. Crowding Research

    Crowding is defined in terms of a high density of people, and can be either detrimental or pleasant. A classic crowding study was done by Calhoun (1962), who put rats into a physical environment designed to accommodate 50 rats and provided enough food, water, and nesting materials for the number of rats in the environment. The rat population peaked at 80, providing a look at cramped living conditions. Although the rats experienced no resource limitations other than space restriction, a number of negative conditions developed:

    (a) The two most dominant males took harems of several female rats and occupied more than their share of space, leaving other rats even more crowded.

    (b) Many females stopped building nests and abandoned their infant rats.

    (c) The pregnancy rate declined.

    (d) Infant and adult mortality rates increased.

    (e) More aggressive and physical attacks occurred.

    (f) Sexual variation increased, including hypersexuality, inhibited sexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.

    Calhoun's results have led to other research on crowding's effects on human beings, and these research findings have suggested that high density is not the single cause of negative effects on humans. When crowding is defined only in terms of spatial density (the amount of space per person), the effects of crowding are variable. However, if crowding is defined in terms of social density, or the number of people who must interact, then crowding better predicts negative psychological and physical effects.

    Field studies done in a variety of settings such as college dormitories, offshore oil rigs, navy ships, prisons, homes for the aged, and junior high schools, illustrate that social density is associated with negative effects such as social withdrawal and increased psychosomatic complaints. In prison studies, crowded conditions have been associated with increases in health concerns, blood pressure, discipline problems, psychiatric commitments, suicides, violent deaths, and deaths by natural causes.

    Crowded individuals adjust their incoming sensations, their attitudes, and their behaviors to reduce the negative aspects of crowding. Women are more likely than men to find high density situations friendly, while men are more likely to experience aggression. This sex difference might be explained by men's greater need for personal space.

    Do you believe that Calhoun's studies of crowded rats are applicable to human beings? Create some experiments that involve crowding people. Design a lab experiment or a field experiment. Design a dormitory that minimizes the negative aspects of crowding. (Sources: Calhoun, J. B. 1962. A behavioral sink. In E. L. Bliss (Ed.). Roots of behavior. New York: Harper & Row; Freedman, J. L. 1975. Crowding and behavior. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman; Mueller, C. W. 1984. The environment and social behavior. In A. S. Kahn (Ed.). Social Psychology. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown; Paulus, P. B. & McCain, G. 1983. Crowding in jails. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 4, 89-107.)

  8. An Early Experiment

    British adventurer James Lancaster on a return voyage from the East Indies in 1594 noticed that his crew was cured of scurvy, and Lancaster hypothesized that it was lemons that had treated scurvy, a disease of bleeding, pain, and anemia.

    In 1601, he gave his flagship crew citrus juice each day, while sailors in the other ships did not get the citrus juice. Otherwise the diets were similar from ship to ship. Only the sailors who received citrus juice returned home without scurvy. Lancaster ran a "modern-type'' experiment: randomly assigned experimental and control groups, single-blinded experiment, and all other variables held constant. (Source: Dobkin, B. 1990 (May). A testing time. Discover, 86-90.)


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