2) Instructions for the second part:  Below you will find a link to a true story about a young woman named Jennifer Johnson.  http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/24/news/mother-cleared-of-passing-drug-to-babies.html

Below you will find a link to another story where the National Institutes of Health released a study that showed that maternal cocaine use was not as bad for babies.  In the second link, the New York Times provided additional support to the study.

1)  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11489591

2)  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27coca.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

This week discussion forum requires you to answer the following questions:

1.  Should mothers receive prosecution for prenatal damage to the fetus?

2.  Should mothers that use drugs during pregnancy face criminal prosecution?

3.  Would the chances of prosecution keep pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and/or delivering the baby in a hospital setting?

4.  Research suggests that mothers who smoke tobacco during pregnancy and/or in the presence of their children up to the age of 5 years old increases the risk of their children experiencing asthma.  Should smoking mothers also be prosecuted?

5.  How did your feelings about this topic change as you read the later “chapters” in Jennifer Johnson’s story?



Introduction to Theories

Topics to be covered include:

·         Development theories

·         Research methods

·         Heredity and the environment

·         Prenatal development and birth


In the first lesson of childhood and adolescent development, we will look at theories that relate to the nature versus nurture debate. This lesson will focus on how nature and nurture interact to influence children’s development. We will discuss five development theories and research methodology in child research. We will then look at heredity and the environment, where we will delve into genetics and the ways in which genes and the environment interact, so that we can better understand why development differs from individual to individual. Thereafter, we will explore the stages of prenatal development and birth, as well as common risks to mothers and their infants. To end the lesson, we will discuss the biological and environmental vulnerabilities that infants face, and how caring, constructive relationships enable them to make sense of life so that they can build resilience.


Child development falls under developmental psychology, and studies the physical (motor), cognitive, emotional and social processes that occur from the beginning of life through adolescence. Child psychology views childhood as a unique stage that society should protect from developmental problems, and enhance through schooling, healthcare and nutrition (Parke & Gauvain, 2009).

According to Parke and Gauvain (2009), the following three major themes contextualize child development studies.




We will now explore five theories of child development, each of which focuses on a specific area of development.

Structural Organismic Perspectives

Jean Piaget


· Structural Organismic Theories

Structural Organismic theories view the human organism as progressing through universal, structured stages of development (Parke & Gauvain, 2009). Sigmund Freud focused on how personality and emotions are formed in early childhood. In psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory, the id, ego andsuperego  are interrelated facets of the personality that play different roles throughout the child’s development.

Infants are controlled by the instinctual drives of the id. As the infant develops, the ego takes greater control, whereby the child becomes rational, understands reality and uses socially acceptable behaviors to satisfy their needs. Finally, when the child develops a conscience by internalizing social or parental values, the superego takes control.

Early experiences, specifically in the first six years, impact the way in which the id, ego and superego develop and interact. This forms the child’s personality. For example, early unsatisfied needs and the nature of attachment to caregivers will impact later behaviors.

In contrast to Freud, Jean Piaget focused on the biological process of intellectual development. Piaget’s theory is based on two biological principles: organization, which describes cognitive development as a biologically organized process, and adaptation, which describes the process of development as the child adapts to their environment.

In Piaget’s theory, the intellectual process of understanding the world comprises four stages in which cognition progresses from immediate, sensory experiences to abstract, complex problem solving and understanding of the world. More specifically, infants use motor and sensory facilities, preschoolers use mental structures and symbols such as language and pictures, school-goers increasingly use logic, and adolescents can engage in abstract thinking.

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the correct statement about development theories.


Ethological   theory and psychoanalytic theory have nothing in common.


In   operant conditioning, desirable behavior is reinforced by a positive   response to the behavior.


Dynamic   systems and contextual approaches only look at the environment but not the   individual.


Structural   Organismic perspectives focus on the biological aspects of development.

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Research Methodology



Research in psychology is scientific, and is thus based on theories from which hypotheses are formulated. Hypotheses are tested by collecting and analyzing data using measurable and replicable techniques. We will now discuss five important issues in child development research: sampling, data collection, research design, studying change over time, and ethics.

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the correct statement about the following research. A researcher wants to find understand how junk food affects behavior in two-year olds.


The   researcher should use the correlational method.


The   researcher must obtain informed consent from parents and guardians of the   sample, as well as ethics approval from the review board.


A   representative sample would be found at the local play group.


The   researcher should USE a case study approach.

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Heredity and the Environment

Heredity explores the biological origins of development, or the ‘nature’ in the nature versus nurture debate.






Genetic Influences in Development

Possible Alleles from an Aa Mother and aa Father


From Mother





From Father








Gene-environment interaction is a critical process in understanding development. Genes cannot work alone, as they are programmed to respond to signals in the environment. Two basic concepts allow us to understand how genetics influence development.

Firstly, a gene usually has two alleles or alternate forms that carry a trait such as eye color – one from the mother and one from the father. Secondly, the alleles can be the same from both parents or different. For example, blue eye alleles may be inherited from mother and father, or blue eye alleles can be inherited from the mother while brown eye alleles are inherited from the father. If the alleles from both parents are the same, the person is homozygous for that trait. If the alleles are different, the person is heterozygous.

Let’s say the mother is Aa and the father isAa . As you can see in the table, the three possible combinations of alleles received by the child are:

1.    AA

2.    aa

3.    Aa (which is the same as aA)

The first two combinations are homozygous. A person with two alleles for blue eyes will have blue eyes. The third combination is heterozygous. If a trait is heterozygous, the traits may:








Genetic Engineering

Advances in genetics have pros and cons. Genetic counseling enables couples to be tested for defective genes, and to undergo assisted reproductive techniques in which defective eggs or sperm are substituted for healthy donor ones. It is also possible to detect abnormalities by sampling cells from a fetus. This testing gives the parents the option to abort abnormal fetuses.

This raises ethical issues around determining when defects are serious enough to warrant abortions. What will the child’s quality of life be? Will they be able to lead relatively pain-free, productive lives? Is a painful death expected in a few years or months?

Gene therapy may allow us to cure and ameliorate defective genes in the future. So far, scientists have had limited success in treating deadly disorders. One treatment uses viruses that have had their harmful properties removed to carry healthy genes into patients’ cells. Few treatments have been successful, and it will still take time to perfect gene therapy.

This blind girl benefited from a supportive environment

Heredity-Environment Interactions




Contemporary psychologists argue less about the nature versus nurture debate than their predecessors did, and instead concentrate on how people develop based on heredity-environment interaction. While genes are influenced by the environment, genes also contribute to shaping the environment. Our genetic endowment both limits and capacitates us, while environmental and social contexts exert a powerful influence over us.

Range of reaction is a concept that explains that our ranges of possible developmental outcomes are established by our genetic makeup. Enriched environments enable us to achieve higher outcomes within the range, while unsupportive or unstimulating environments generally result in lower outcomes within the range.

Individual Differences, Heredity and Environment

The central question that developmental psychologists ask is why people develop so differently. Behavior geneticists use statistics to calculate heritability factors to estimate what percentage heredity contributes to a certain developmental outcome. Remember however, that exposure to environmental influences and development stages must be considered.

Family Studies

For this reason, many studies involve family members because of their biological relatedness and shared environments. Adopted children may be compared with their adoptive and biological parents, and siblings and identical and fraternal twins may be compared. For example, studies have found that intelligence and spatial and verbal abilities have a positive correlation with genetic relatedness, while memory and creativity have no correlation with genetic relatedness (McCartney, Harris, & Bernieri, 1990; Plomin, 1990).


Studies have also found that children from the same families have widely varying temperaments, while children from the same cultures have similar tendencies (Kagan, 1994; Thomas & Chess,1986). Furthermore, difficult babies who have stressed mothers have been found to experience more developmental problems, whereas difficult babies with calm, supportive parents do not usually experience these problems (Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Goodness of fit between the child’s temperament and environment refers to how parents and socializing agents accept and adapt to each child, and is thus critical in child development.

How much of temperament is genetic versus environment?

Prenatal Development

There are three stages of prenatal development that occur in the 38 weeks of pregnancy: the zygote, the embryo and the fetus.


When the sperm fertilizes the ovum, the fertilized egg or zygote implants in the uterine wall. The zygote stage is about two weeks.


Week 1

Week 2



Once the zygote is implanted, the embryo stage begins. The physiological structures and systems begin to develop, the embryo begins to look like a human, and in the eight weeks since fertilization its size increases by around two million percent. Development occurs from the head down (cephalocaudal), and from the center out (proximal-distal). By the end of the embryonic stage, the fingers and toes are visible. Most miscarriages occur in this period because the embryo detaches from uterine wall.


Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8



The final stage, the fetus, begins in the third month of pregnancy. Muscles and the central nervous system cause movement and reflexes like swallowing. If babies are born prematurely, between 22 and 26 weeks, their systems may be developed enough to survive. This is called the period of viability. If they are too premature they may not survive because their respiratory systems are not sufficiently developed.


Week 9

Week 16

Week 20

Week 38



Teratogens are external agents that cause fetal development problems by disturbing the motor, neural, emotional, cognitive and physical systems. Teratogens include:

· Illegal, prescription and nonprescription drugs, alcohol and nicotine.

· Environmental toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, household cleaners, radiation, lead, cosmetics and food additives.

· Medical interventions in pregnancy and childbirth.

· Maternal diseases and disorders such as mumps, rubella and Rh factor incompatibility where the mother’s and infant’s blood are incompatible.

· Bacterial, viral and parasitic infections such as toxoplasmosis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.

· Maternal age. Women under the age of 15 and over the age of 35 have more complications.

· Poor diet.

· Stress and negative emotions.



· Birth

Parents experience many emotions around the time of birth such as anticipation, anxiety, excitement, fear, joy and awe. Birth is also an intense and complex experience for the infant as it leaves its familiar warm, dark and wet environment in the uterus, and faces the next stage of its life in a dry, bright environment.

Birth involves three stages. In the first stage, the mother goes into labor and experiences contractions. In the second stage, the infant is born by passing through the birth canal and vaginal opening. In the last stage, the uterus expels the placenta.

Natural childbirth has become more popular since the 1970s (Parke & Gauvain, 2009). More mothers are sharing the experience with their families at home or birthing centers, using midwives and preparing for birth with their partners. Lamaze is a popular method that involves the mother-to-be and her partner. The method teaches the couple how the mother-to-be should breath and relax her muscles to make childbirth easier. Water births, birthing stools and giving birth in the kneeling position are also becoming more popular.

If there are birthing complications, women may need to be hospitalized. Cesarean sections surgically remove the infant through an incision in the mother’s abdomen. Cesarean sections assist mothers and infants who are having difficulty in the birth process, and are convenient for physicians and families who wish to plan their schedules.

There are disadvantages associated with Cesarean sections, including longer recovery times and increased risk of infection for mothers, lower birthweights in subsequent births, increased infant exposure to maternal medications and more trouble breathing and breastfeeding (Emory, Schlackman & Fiano, 1996; Kennare, 2007; Liu, 2007).

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the two correct statements.


Biological   and environmental adversities may be overcome if the child has access to a   caring relationship.


Most   miscarriages occur in the final stage of pregnancy.


Low   birthweight babies face biological and environmental risks.


Pregnancy   is a natural process and there is not much the mother can do to influence it.

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In this lesson, we have looked at nature versus nurture theories, and focused on how nature and nurture interact to influence child development. We first discussed the major themes in child development theory, and then we explored five development theories that focus on different aspects of development. Thereafter, we looked at research methodology in child research, and then we moved onto heredity and the environment, where we investigated genetics and heredity-environment interactions. In the final section of the lesson, we explored prenatal development and birth and the associated risks. The lesson ended with a discussion on vulnerability and resilience in children who have been exposed to biological and environmental adversities.



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