Infants Are Blank Slates Who Passively Learn by Copying Adults

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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 naïve 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...
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