A debate has existed for almost as long as developmental-social psychology has been around. In early developmental-social psychology, two views were proposed, both different approaches and both with their own supporters.On one side, there was the uni-directional model, with Watson’s “blank-slate” theory being well summed up in his book Behaviorism “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select … regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, vocations, and race of his ancestors” (Watson, 1924, page 104) This shows the child as a passive learner in the adults’ world.

Freud’s theories on the other hand show the child as being born with an inherent progression of desires and a conflict with the parent to enjoy these desires (Freud, 1905, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. SE 7, 125-245). It is my plan to briefly go over the most influential work on how infants develop, in a chronological order. This seems useful as not only has scientific research stood on the shoulders of its predecessors, but despite much continued debate, a greater sense of synthesis between the two views has been created over time, as the arguments have been improved and refined.It seems apparent that infants learn from adults, copying their actions, but to completely ignore their own desires and interests in interacting with the world flies in the face of a lot of persuasive research. Therefore I intend to show that the “blank slate” model goes too far in underestimating the ability of the child to learn things for itself.

Cognitive Development Piaget is one of the most famous figures in developmental psychology and he describes the child as a naive scientist, working things out for themselves.He tested children’s abilities to understand ideas such as the constancy of fluid volumes (a child’s ability to understand the constancy of one volume of water in two different sized containers), and his research showed that most children were unable to learn things before a certain age, despite having the concept demonstrated to them by adults. This came soon after Watson’s blank slate model and it was perceived by much of the scientific community as radical. Most of Piaget’s work deals with the child as an ndividual, learning to understand the world around him through experimentation, and doesn’t give the idea of a child learning through interaction the credit it obviously deserves. In one of his works however, he did look into the importance of peer interaction in the reasoning on social topics (Piaget, 1932a).

The importance of research into this element of social-development was picked up on by a group known as the “new Genevians” who continued Piaget’s work with the developmental stages children go through, but also showed that children could learn from their peers.The findings bring ideas from the blank-slate model into Pigetian thinking, showing that children can learn from mimicking (Doise, Mugny and Perret-Clermont, 1975), however they produced evidence that clearly goes against a strict adherence to blank-slate model. They showed that children who fail to grasp the constancy of fluid volumes learn more from being paired with a peer with a different but also wrong understanding that having the answer demonstrated to them by an adult (Mugny, Levy and Doise, 1978) The phenomena of learning from others by being confronted with one’s mistake in understanding is known as socio-cognitive conflict.Vygotsky placed more emphasis on learning through co-operation in social situation, where a child learns from a role-model, but also refuted the blank-state model, discussing how the child uses those around them to achieve more (Vygotsky, 1978). In this model, the child uses their “Zone of Proximal Development” being aware of what they can achieve alone, and what they can achieve through co-operation. Language Development One aspect of developmental psychology that intuitively seems to support the blank-slate model is language development.

After all, a child learns the language of the parents that raise it, and learns a lot of this through mimicry. There is however research that suggests that children are born with a genetic predisposition to learn the rules of language (Chomsky, 1965). Studies that lend to this show that children don’t mimic adults completely when speaking, but learn the rules of a language, and at certain ages may insist on using them despite being told by adults that these are wrong (McNeil, 1970). McNeil studied the tendency of children to make mistakes hen using the plurals of learned words (eg. mouses, mans).

Other research that shows an in-built knowledge of language was shown when American children, reportedly for the first time inherently understood the correct usage of compound plurals (Gordon, 1985). In the study, Gordon explained to 3-5 year old children that a monster (represented by a puppet) ate mud, and was thus a mud-eater when asked to repeat the process, all the children formed compounds such as mice-eater but wouldn’t form the incorrect rats-eater.Although there is no doubt children learn language from adults and peers, it has also been shown that children find patterns in language, not taught to them through parents, and thus the blank-slate model is further thrown into doubt. The Child as an Active Member of His Education Another major problem with the view of a child as a blank-slate is that a lot of research shows the child as an active participant in it’s own education.

Studies involving infants with mothers have shown that a baby can control its interactions with its mother by averting its gaze (Stern, 1985). This shows that an infant isn’t merely a blank-slate, absorbing and mimicking all stimuli from its parents, but actively manipulates them to get the stimuli it wants. Babies show preference to certain stimuli from a very young age (Fernald, 89; Masataka, 92) they tend to prefer high-pitched voices with a varied intonation.This doesn’t necessarily negate the Behaviourist argument though, adults do tend to talk in a high-pitched tone and use varied intonation when talking to babies. It could be argued that babies prefer this, because when they hear a voice using this manner of speaking, they can tell an adult is talking to them through their experience, and thus anticipate a reward.

It seems apparent that infants learn from adults, copying their actions, but to completely ignore their own desires and interests in interacting with the world flies in the face of a lot of persuasive research.