Tag Archives: development

New Article: “Hall’s developmental theory and Haeckel’s recapitulationism”

Forthcoming in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology is an article by AHP’s Christopher Green exploring the relationship between American psychologist G. Stanley Hall’s developmental theory and the work of Ernst Haeckel (right) on recapitualtionism. Full details follow below.

“Hall’s developmental theory and Haeckel’s recapitulationism,” by Christopher D. Green. The abstract reads,

G. Stanley Hall was one of the leading American psychologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He is best known today for his administrative accomplishments—founding the first psychology research laboratory in the US, launching the American Journal of Psychology and other journals, presiding over Clark University, and assembling the American Psychological Association, among other things. In his time, though, he was also well known for his pioneering work in what came to be called developmental psychology. The theoretical foundation of this research was the recapitulationist evolutionary theory of his contemporary, Ernst Haeckel. Whereas Haeckel proposed that the embryonic development of each organism follows the evolutionary history of its species, Hall argued that the postnatal developmental path of the child’s mind and behaviour follows the evolutionary path of the human species as a whole. Thus, according to Hall, children are psychologically similar to “primitive” humans, and “primitive” humans are psychologically akin to our children of today. This article explores the relationship between Hall’s work and Haeckel’s.

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APA Monitor: A (Nearly) Centenarian Jerome Bruner


The May issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology features an interview with psychologist Jerome Bruner in advance of his 100th birthday this fall. As the introduction to the interview describes,

Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.

Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.

Continue reading APA Monitor: A (Nearly) Centenarian Jerome Bruner

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Summer Reading: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

If you are a follower the Facebook page of the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) you will have seen their recent post of video from the Kellogg experiment (above). Luella and Winthrop Kellogg reared a female chimpanzee named Gua, alongside their infant son Donald for a period in the 1930s, comparing their respective development across species lines.

For anyone looking for some end of summer reading, Karen Joy Fowler‘s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves provides an interesting fictionalized account of the Kellogg’s experiment and its aftermath. Fowler, herself the daughter of an Indiana University professor of animal behaviour, discusses the influence of the Kellogg’s work on the book in an interview available on her website here. Although inspired by the Kellogg experiments, the novel alters several fundamental elements of the study. Fowler’s story is told from the perspective of a daughter raised with an ape sister, rather than a son. The story is described as follows:

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.

A detailed review of the book by Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times can be found here.

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Egocentrism in Piaget’s theory

New Ideas in Psychology

A valuable new article will appear in the December issue of New Ideas in Psychology: “The concept of egocentrism in the context of Piaget’s theory,” by Thomas Kesselring and Ulrich Müller.  As a hybrid serving both historical and contemporary interests, it is very nearly perfect.  And it makes some incredibly valuable contributions.

The gist: the term “egocentrism” is a hold-over from Jean Piaget’s postdoc in psychoanalysis.  But what he meant by its use has been badly misunderstood.  Really, it ought to be conceptualized in terms of a process of “decentering.”  This claim is supported by appealing to an apology by Piaget—he explained that his choice of terms was “unfortunate”—and by a deep and thorough reading of the relevant primary sources (in both English and French).

We don’t know much, in English, about Piaget’s postdoctoral training (but in French see Ducret, 1984).  The article lays out some of that background: “The roots of the concept of egocentrism can be traced back to Freud’s influence” (p. 328).  This then situates what follows: the article’s focus is on how Piaget’s empirical work led him away from psychoanalysis toward something new.  It also engages the subsequent misunderstandings that emerged as a result of the uneven translation of Piaget’s writings into English.

In this connection, I would like to draw particular attention to the article’s new translation of a short passage from a lecture delivered in 1920.  This has never before been available in English:

Autistic thinking that forms personal symbols remains with us throughout our lives. However, its role changes with age. In the child, autism is everything. Later, reason develops at the expense of autism but can reason ever completely shed itself of autistic thinking? It does not appear this way. The task is therefore to create… a psychology in order to determine in each individual the exact relations between the level of intelligence and the level of autistic or unconscious life (Piaget, 1920, p. 57; trans by Kesselring & Müller, 2011, p. 328).

This paragraph provides the basis for everything that follows: egocentrism, as a concept, sits midway between self-focussed thought (autism) and self-transcendent thought (logical, scientific thinking).  It is important to note, however, that this use of “autism” is different from what we mean today by applying that label.  And the authors, quite helpfully, note this.

This leads Kesselring and Müller to reference some of Piaget’s early comments on the importance of social interaction in decentering the child from overly-narrow thinking: “Social interaction and the becoming aware of the self lead to a mediation of the child’s own point of view by other perspectives and, as a consequence, a universe of relations gradually replaces the universe of absolute substances” (p. 329; citing Piaget, 1927/1930, p. 250).  These claims are critically important for a proper understanding of Piaget’s theory, but so often missed.  Related ideas can also be found in Sociological Studies, which includes reprints of two articles from that period (1928 [pp. 184-214] & 1933 [pp. 215-247]).

There are lots of other wonderful insights (e.g., regarding the replacement of “imitation” with “accommodation” and his replies to Vygotsky), but my purpose here is not to provide highlights.  The article is too valuable to allow it to be glossed over.  It is, simply, an excellent example of a project that uses history to serve science.

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Baby Einstein Founder Sues University

A founder of the Baby Einstein series of videos, has taken the University of Washington to court to force the release of raw data from a study that found that small children who watch television are more likely to develop cognitive deficits.

According to an article in the New York Times,

A co-founder of the company that created the “Baby Einstein” videos has asked a judge to order the University of Washington to release records relating to two studies that linked television viewing by young children to attention problems and delayed language development. Continue reading Baby Einstein Founder Sues University

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Update: Baby Einstein DVDs to be refunded

Baby EinsteinBreaking News: Two years ago, in August 2007, AHP reported the finding that “infants don’t learn language well from instructional videos.”  This has since led to legal claims against Walt Disney Corporation and its Baby Einstein DVD product.

Now Disney is offering to refund all purchases made in US, going back five years.  This provides an opportunity to look back at our original coverage, which examined the issue from the perspective of parents’ hopes to help their children become as gifted as possible.  This also included a detailed bibliography of histories of giftedness.  What has happened since?

Most notably, in terms of linking this story to the typical interests of AHP readers, Kathleen Ann Scott (2007) completed a dissertation comparing print and video as educational media for teaching the development of historical thinking.  Although her efforts were not directed at infants, the resulting study can be conceived as setting some limits on how much the scepticism regarding the value of instructional videos can be generalized.  She concludes: “readers manifested more and deeper historical understandings in their responses than did their counterparts in the movie group.”  And she suggests this is as a result of the greater investment of attentional effort in reading as compared to watching television, which seems consistent with the criticisms of the instructional DVDs.

Several other studies have also been published in the past two years, Continue reading Update: Baby Einstein DVDs to be refunded

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Interviewing Men for 70 Years

George VaillantAn article in the latest issue of Atlantic magazine by Joshua Wolf Shenk has been attracting a lot of attention (e.g., NYT, Mind Hacks) lately. It describes a lo-o-o-ongitudinal study of the lives of 268 men who entered Harvard in the 1930s. From the time of their childhoods, through their college years, into their maturity and finally old age, these men have been repeatedly interviewed about the twists and turns of their lives. The founder of the study, Harvard physician Arlie Bock, had “assembled a team that spanned medicine, physiology, anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, and social work, and was advised by such luminaries as the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer and the psychologist Henry Murray.” Continue reading Interviewing Men for 70 Years

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