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.
Back to the model. If we allow biological development to stand as the foundation or launching point for our psychological development model, then our next step is to try and break a complicated psyche, or humanness, into more manageable parts, or the aspects I alluded to earlier, which for this model will be built on the theories described above. Psychology has been identifying the different forces at work within and among and upon individuals for over a century, and we have the benefit of standing on the collective shoulders of those giants. The first aspect I want to identify is the first one I became aware of, my favorite, and what I think makes us the most incredible things in the known universe: the cognitive self. Of course, being the most complicated beings in the universe, we should not expect even our more manageable parts to be uncomplicated, and our cognitive self is no different. There are lots of facets of cognitive development that are unclear and some very exciting things that are just now being discovered and have not yet been applied to the field at large.
At this point I would like to remind everyone what we are trying to get to today. I am not suggesting that the entire picture of development can be painted in a single afternoon, but rather that the framework of that picture can be described. To that end I am not concerned so much at this point with the broad range of diversity in the development process, and will rely on the First Law of Human Dynamics. The work of Jean Piaget in cognitive development was initially interesting. It was nice to look at how some kids went through this process in stages, and that they seemed to be the same stages. Fortunately, a bunch of good scientists knew that all that really demonstrates is that some French kids in that particular time period went through that process, and they set out trying to prove that such was not necessarily the case in other cultures, or at other times. This is where developmental psychology really got her legs, if you will. These scientists did not disprove Piaget's findings, they replicated them. In third world countries, aboriginal tribes, western cultures, eastern cultures, in healthy kids, sick kids, rich kids, poor kids... It was a watershed moment and set the table for everything that happened afterward. This is why we talk about the process in stages. While there are lots of variations in how or even which order children move through these stages, there do appear to be significant distinctions between one 'stage' and the next, and those are common across demographics. While also establishing that the Cognitive self seems to be a specific aspect that everyone has, Piaget also established the framework by which we understand the developmental process.
In fact, it was largely by trying to identify what parts of the developmental process were not explained by Piaget that psychologists identified the other fields of developmental psychology. It seemed like the way we feel emotionally was not strictly the same as what we think about a set of facts. Emotional development appeared to be a distinct thing, so some psychologists began looking at how people develop emotionally. Bowlby studied the development of attachment. A little later Hoffman considered the development of empathy, which we are not going into too much detail on here, but will be significant in a more up to date model. Both seemed to be related to but not covered by Piaget's (and subsequent psychologist's) Cognitive developmental process. Let us call this the Emotional self.
Having two fairly distinct aspects in the bag, we can move on to the next of our giants, Eric Erikson. Erikson identified a psychosocial development that, while again, closely related to both emotion and cognition, did not seem to quite fit either camp. The way that people interact with each other is a unique process that Erikson postulated goes through it's own particular developmental process, which seemed to reflect the same stage based development the Piaget observed. This would be the third of what I will now start calling the primary selves. I like the phrase primary selves, because it allows for other things to be added to our consideration, and gives us a large, if somewhat indistinct, picture of what is happening that we can slowly add more detail to in the pursuit of further clarity. Let's call this one our Social self.
A branch of Piaget's work ended up being the foundation for what will become the final of our primary self aspects. Piaget noted that how we make decisions about what to do did not seem directly related to our cognitive development. This lead to Kohlberg's, and then Gilligan's, work on moral development, among other things. This development goes through a similar stage related process of development, but also became a notable area of gender distinction. Social, emotional, and cognitive development seemed to go through the same process regardless of gender, though skewed by cultural influences on gender identity. Moral development, as pointed out by Gilligan, took a different path based on which gender was walking the path. The agreement on the developmental nature of the process is all that kept the entire field of moral development from falling apart. As morality is a bit of a hot topic and closely related to metaphysical questions I don't want to pretend to have the answers for, I want to call this the development of how we decide how to behave, or our Behavioral self. Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a balancing force in our behavioral aspect, that we will delve more into when we explore these theories in more detail.
I think that further theories are either specifications on the details of these developmental processes, or expansions of their scope, so let's consider what we are looking at so far. We have a biological self, which serves as the basis for the rest of our development, and our Sexual self, which serves as a kind of translation from the biological to the psychological frame. On top of that we have four selves who describe the development of how we think, how we feel, how we act, and how we interact. This seems like a decent enough framework to start with, and we can look a little more closely at the process itself.
We have a basic framework of one biological self and four primary selves who go through a gradual process of increasing in complexity and capability, simultaneously and interactively. We want to consider the different theorists understanding of these stages. The attached chart is a side by side comparison of some of these more broadly accepted developmental theories, that we want to consider what they advise to successfully navigate the challenges of their particular developmental process, in light of each of the others to see if there are overlaps or contradictions. It would hardly be useful if our developmental model declared that one should simultaneously isolate and socialize their child.
I want to briefly discuss what each of these historical theories are, so we can try to understand how they could be represented in relationship to each other. I want to deal with them roughly in the order that we do while experiencing the process. Chart 1 presents the different theories, and their rough relation to each other in the chronological development of an individual. These are general age ranges, so I don't want to try and read too much into the order. It does make a nice little chart, though. One of the promising avenues for future research on this model will be looking at the more detailed version of these aspects, informed by the current research in the fields and considering the progress in terms of behavioral economics, but for now we will just talk about what the historical foundation for the current research claims, and what we can understand from the historical theories alone.