Application Letters

-I spent time observing children in a New York kindergarden for a course focusing on child development
-I spent every 6 hours a week at the “Early Childhood Center” and enjoyed it very much
-I learned alot about child development, being I could observe things i learned about in my course directly
-I am doing it this coming semester again as well
-I wrote one of my research papers on a girl in this institution who is bilingual, and also focused on the development of languages in children in this research paper (since I am bilingual I found it very intriguing)

Stephanie Dori Harvel

Psych: 3rd Class Paper



The Influence of the Different Psychological Perspectives

 on Observation


     I remember very clearly the first day I set foot in the Early Childhood Center.  I was anxious, excited and motivated to face new challenges and learn about the different aspects of child psychology.  I saw this as an opportunity to “get my  foot in the door” to learn the basics of child-mind knowledge.  However, in hindsight, I now realize how elementary I assumed the intricacy of a child’s capabilities to be.  I soon learned that a child is everything but simple minded.  So, I was able to replace my naiveté and dearth of knowledge of child-mind theories with a rudimentary and practical understanding of basic theories of child psychology promulgated by Bowlby, Skinner and others. In fact, every time I believed to have seen and read it all, another psychologist surprised me with a new and enlightening perspective.  Although none of the child behavior theories we studied were  as  Freud’s, I found myself continuously astounded by the ever new and different theories which attempted to explain the roots of the same behavioral patterns in children. Even more astounding was the affect my knowledge of these theories had on my own thinking and how I began to process my observations of the children at the ECC..  I caught myself returning to the ECC in a behaviorist mindset after reading Ainsworth and Lewis.  On another day I would find myself trying to pair each child with one of the nine different temperaments I had learned from reading Chess, Thomas and Birch.  As these different theories and perspectives sunk in to my mind, I reflexively compared similarities and differences between the various theories and began to observe which theories, or parts of theories, were supported by my observations and interactions at the ECC.

One of the most interesting and obvious similarities was the child’s reaction during Ainsworth’s Strange Situation compared to the monkey’s responses during Harlow’s Attachment Theory experiment. Aside from the fact that Harlow’s experiment was completely unethical and left the monkeys to develop affectionless personalities, which pretty much achieved the worst-case scenario for that particular experiment, he introduced the importance of attachment and its influences. The lives of the caged monkeys, in which they were deprived of many conditions of attachment and experienced massive separation anxiety, immediately reminded me of Bowlby’s interest in institutionalized children.  Like the traumatized infant monkeys, the institutionalized children and even children who had formed normal emotional bonds with other human beings, but were then later separated from their caregivers, suffered from the inability to form deep emotional attachments later in life.  During their childhood, transitional objects, such as “security blankets” or stuffed animals, became especially important and served as substitutes for the lost care-givers.  During Harlow’s experiment, the monkeys showed a deep attachment to a soft diaper cloth given to them.

After covering this topic in class, I noticed a boy being extremely attached to his hat at the ECC.  He wore the hat every day and became visibly distressed whenever someone tried to touch it or take it away.  He told me it was a gift from his father. Connecting this with the fact that he would cry every morning after his father dropped him off at the ECC, instantly reminded me of the monkey’s response in Bowlby’s experiment.  Although the boy shows a much less extreme lack of attachment, his behavior implies an obvious need for emotional proximity to his father.

Another boy, who exemplifies a quite different emotional response, always rushes to the toys in the classroom as soon as his mother leaves.  He feels no distress with his mother’s absence and seems completely self-confident.  Ainsworth might suggest that the boy’s detachment was a result of possible prior separation experiences.  Both Bowlby and Ainsworth would suspect that such detached behavior is used as a defense mechanism to avoid any further disappointments from the mother.  Bowlby would conclude that this could lead to a detached and self-reliant personality later in life.

Separation anxiety does not always result in such visible measures.  You could say there are different levels of intensity of attachment.

For example, one girl at the ECC manifests a certain level of separation distress by showing a very low-key and introverted disposition.  I assume this behavior is triggered when her friend in class is absent..

Like the examples listed, there are many other signs of attachment you can observe through  a child’s behavior.  Examples such as the way a child greets someone, who the child turns to as a “secure haven,” or even who they draw pictures for, clearly represent forms of attachment.

However, not every observation can be explained by behavioral theories. Depending on the child, the parents, his/her nature and nurture, every action can be interpreted in a different way and can have different consequences.  That always depends on what psychological lense you happen to be looking through as you observe the behavior.  I can still recall raising the question of nature vs. nurture during my seminar.  Since High School I have found this question to be one of the most interesting and intriguing. Do we blame, or give credit to, our parents and the way they brought us up,, or do we blame or give credit to ourselves and the actions and experiences we have undertaken independent of our parents and life at home?  After reading Kagan’s article I realized I’ve been thinking in circles all this time. We keep bouncing between nature and nurture, one biological explanation and one emotional one. But isn’t the very basis or human emotion a biological one?  Everything that consists of “nurture” are experiences and experiences are biological inputs and configurations. The explanation for your sister, or even twin sister, being completely different from you although you both had the same upbringing is her temperament. A child’s environment will not have the same influence and meaning for each individual child, because these experiences are processed differently, and have varying significance, due to the differing temperament or disposition of the recipient of these experiences. Successful parents recognize this fact and adapt to each of their children differently to take into account their different dispositions to to foster a healthy development of each child.

A group of children were playing grocery store on the playground.  I noticed that they would line up and order imaginary food.  Although the imaginary game did not last very long (three year-olds), the children manifested  “intersubjectivity.”   All the children all had the same intentions and adapted to moment-to-moment changing situations as they played., it was as if they had made a tacit agreement to all go along in the pretend play.  It was then clear to me that what I had called silent agreement, was actually Dunn’s Theory of Mind and right then and there I fully understood the link between Intersubjectivity and Theory of Mind.

I believe so many factors influence a person’s thinking and emotions that one will never be able to generalize or pigeonhole behaviors as falling exclusively under one theory or another.  A changing temperaments or different attachment behaviors will always come along because of the person’s individual life experiences.  But I suppose psychology as a science would lose its interest if one simple theory could explain all behaviors.  And if not psychology, then at least life would lose its interest, since everybody would be the exact same.








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