The behavioral development gets a bit tricky, at least from a historical point of view. I think I should describe my understanding of behavioral development. Behavior is, in large part, a function of the background paradigms from which the individual acts. A paradigm is a network of assumptions we all carry about how the world works and our role in it, the things we take for granted when taking action. When you jump down the stairs, you don't think about gravity, but you certainly take it into account. Moral paradigms and needs paradigms are two such that exists in the background of how we take action. Self-regulation is the ability to assert increased in-the-moment volitional control on the process. So in our discussion of behavioral development, today, we are going to stick to the development of those two paradigms which we know have tremendous influence on the behavioral decision process. Self regulation can be understood as the ability to assert more control over our cognitive responses to behavioral influences, much as emotional regulation involves the ability to control our emotional responses to social influences.
Between the two paradigms that we are considering, we can call on the source of all my favorite illustrative metaphors: quantum physics. In the study of the forces at work on the movement of particles, some of those forces are categorized as either repellers or attractors. I like this as an illustration of how these two paradigms influence behavioral development, with 'needs' functioning as an attractor a la "I must do/get x", and morals asa repeller, "I must not do/get y". Self-regulation develops the ability to be more volitional in regards to these two forces.
At this point I think that we have enough on the table to begin talking about the developmental process. We have mentioned stages and aspects and phases, and maybe it still feels like we haven't described anything, yet. We know that people are complicated, so it stands to reason that the developmental process, if it is to be in any way accurate, will be at least similarly complex. Generally, the way that complex problems are broken down is by isolating different aspects and dealing with them in isolation before then considering them in collaboration. Which is actually exactly what psychology has been doing for the last couple of decades! Great news. So, applying our First Law of Human Dynamics, we want to identify different parts of people that we think every person has.
First we can identify the body. We all have one. At least, as far as I am aware. When I run into a disembodied human I will update my perspectives. So we have a body, and that body goes through a series of changes that compound in a gradual process leading to a greater complexity, and an accompanying greater range of functionality. This is the foundation for a lot of the changes that happen in the other areas of development. To be clear, I am not suggesting that every psychological change is entirely determined by biological changes. There are definitely social, cultural, geographic, and general environmental factors that come into play. What I am saying is that some of these developmental changes are made possible by biological changes. The ability to walk depends on the post-natal growth of the inner ear allowing for balance. Puberty follows the advent of hormones and a bump in brain space. There are things that we can do that hasten or inhibit those biological changes, but those biological changes create new capabilities and functionalities. If I want to understand the process, I start with the biological, and then I understand different aspects in light of those biological parameters.
This is a good point to address what has been a frequent misunderstanding in the many conversations that lead to this project. DNA is awesome. We understand a lot about the mechanics of how we work in light of the recent work in genetics. I just submitted my 23andMe sample a few weeks ago. I'm excited to know about my genetic marker and predispositions, because I know exactly what they are: markers and predispositions. Here is the critical distinction: genes are not fate. A high-risk allele just indicates that your risk is higher. You then have a choice as to whether or not to modify your behavior to adjust for your higher risk. What appears to be the difference between genes and fate is human volition. We have a lot of influence acting upon us at all times, and usually by being aware of them we can more appropriately decide how to respond to them.