Science: Conceptualizing Development
Reading and Discussion Questions
As you read, think about the practical implications of these different
perspectives on development. What do they mean for parents, for schools,
for policymakers, etc.?
Charles Darwin, “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant”
1. Darwin reached conclusions about development on the basis of observations
of his own child. What do you think of this method? Does it have advantages?
2. It was in the area of learning (“associated ideas”) that
Darwin saw the greatest difference between “the mind of an infant
and that of the cleverest full-grown dog”? What do you think of
this comparison? How many of your ideas about development are based on
contrasts between humans and non-human animals?
Sigmund Freud, “The Sexual Life of Human Beings”
1. Why do you think Freud begins this essay with a comment about the
difficulty of knowing what exactly the term “sexual” covers?
2. What differentiates sexual “objects” from sexual “aims”?
3. What do you think is the point of the attention Freud gives to the
horror his audience (and readers) must feel in encountering descriptions
of human sexuality and sexual deviation?
4. “Unless we can understand these pathological forms of sexuality
and can co-ordinate them with normal sexual life, we cannot understand
normal sexuality either.” (307) Explain.
5. What role does the child play in Freud’s analysis of human sexuality?
What kind of sexual life does Freud think children have? What does he
mean when he writes, “perverse sexuality is nothing else than a
magnified infantile sexuality split up in to its separate impulses”
6. Why does Freud suggest that it is “improbable, and indeed senseless”
to consider puberty as the dawn of human sexual life?
7. On what basis does Freud make claims about children’s sexual
experience and development? Compare the foundation of his views to Darwin’s.
8. What are “erotogenic zones”? What role do they play in
children’s sexuality? What do they suggest about the difference
between the bodily pleasures experienced by children and adults?
9. Does Freud think that girls and boys have different kinds of sexual
curiosity? Why or why not?
10. Freud concludes that childhood sexuality is “perverse”?
What does he mean by this? Do you agree?
John B. Watson, “How the Behaviorist Studies Infants and
1. What is a “behaviorist”?
2. Watson rues the fact that parents do not recognize their job as a
“profession.” What does he mean by that? Do you agree?
3. What approach does Watson take to studying infants and children? Why
does he note that there has been enormous resistance to laboratory studies
of infants and children? What methods does he use? What is he looking
at and for?
4. What is “conditioning”?
5. Where does Watson stand on the nature/nurture question?
6. “There are no instincts.” (38) What does Watson mean by
this? Contrast this to Freud’s view.
7. Why does Watson think a behaviorist approach to development is compatible
with controlling the environment instead of being controlled by it? Why,
in contrast, has the “doctrine of mystery” about childhood
Arnold Gesell, “Growth Potency and Infant Personality”
1. Where does Gesell stand on the nature/nurture question? Compare to
Watson and Freud.
2. Why does he prefer the terms “growth” or “maturation”
to “development”? How does he characterize and describe it?
3. “Growth is constantly creating its own conditions.” (357)
What does this mean? How would you describe a developmental process characterized
in this way?
4. What does Gesell mean by “original growth potency”? What
does he mean by “personality”? How are they different?
5. What is the relationship between individual growth and evolution?
6. Gesell describes the parent-child relationship as “a kind of
psychobiological partnership.” (376) What does he mean?
7. Why does he conclude that a certain type of determinism in development
is a good thing?
Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, “Emotional Factors
in Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children”
1. What is the point of this study? What sort of experiment did the Clarks
design and administer? What was the “coloring test”?
2. What is the significance of the distinction between racial identity
and racial preference?
3. At what ages do the Carks conclude that children develop racial identities
4. The Clarks were social psychologists. Based on what you have
learned about their study, what do you think social psychology’s
unique contribution to developmental theory might be? How does a “social”
orientation differ from other perspectives on children and development?
Erik Erikson, “Eight Ages of Man”
1. How does Erikson’s developmental chronology differ from the
others you have read?
2. What does it have in common with the other perspectives?
3. What are the eight stages? Why does each one feature a binary opposition,
such as trust and mistrust?
Jerome Kagan, The Nature of the Child, chap. 7
1. What basic point does Kagan make about development in historical and
2. What factors make recent American views of children, development,
and family life distinctive?
3. Kagan points out a number of variations in contemporary child-rearing
philosophy, styles, and goals. Give an example.
4. How does Kagan think that class influences parents’ childbearing
goals as well as their interpretation of how children turn out?
5. What role does Kagan give to children in the process of development?
Why does it matter? Do you think his call for more attention to how children
themselves interpret development changes our understanding a lot, or just