A Behavioral Systems Approach
Florida Int'l University
Univ of Nevada, Reno
626 pages / paperback / $99.95
2022 / ISBN 978-1-59738-096-6
Table of Contents
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Child Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach, Third Edition
is available as an e-book and as a hard-copy paperback.
Presenting a new (2022) edition of a classic behavioral approach to child development, completely updated with new research and findings yet remaining true to the core characteristics of past editions.
Research findings have continued to support the value of having a behavioral systems approach to development. Here is what continues to make this approach distinctive:
A Coherent Behavioral Approach
All three authors have been college professors for some time, and their experiences inform them that many students come away from a course in developmental psychology with their heads filled with the facts of development but without an overall picture of the behavior environment interactions involved in development. Armed with a comprehensible approach, students can more easily grasp new discoveries.
Likewise, students may have studied the latest research findings in these areas (many of which appear to contradict each other) but are left without a consistent overview of how the theories and data fit together. This book provides a framework, in the form of a coherent approach to development, on which students can hang the facts of development.
In the field of assessment of student learning, the problem would be characterized as the students receiving a lot of surface learning that they will quickly forget once a test is over because the information is so unconnected. The authors avoid that by encouraging students to develop deep learning. They do this by taking a perspective on developmental psychology called Behavioral Systems Theory (BST).
Behavior Analysis and Dynamic Systems
The approach in this textbook combines the views of dynamical systems concepts with a behavioral analysis of development. A systems view reflects an emerging consensus in modern developmental theory. It is an account that incorporates both person and environment influences. It views developmental outcome as a constant process of reciprocal interactions (or transactions) between nature and nurture. The result of these ever-changing transactions is the continual reorganization of the person-environment systems.
The behavior-analytic approach has long been underrepresented in developmental psychology. Its emphasis on process, interaction, environmental influences, and the individual makes it an especially good fit with one of the developmental systems approaches call dynamic systems theory. The synthesis of these views into Behavioral Systems Theory provides a powerful and coherent view of the process of human development.
Emphasis on Process
The two fundamental questions in developmental psychology are these: (a) What develops? and (b) How does it develop? The what? is largely a question of developmental structures and describes development. The how? is primarily a question of function or process. It attempts to explain development. This textbook takes the latter approach. Developmental psychology has become increasingly concerned with questions of process, but most texts do not give a clear view of how development actually occurs. This one does.
Developmental Psychology as a Natural Science
Our approach views child development as a natural process, one that can be understood from a scientific perspective. Having lived through the Covid pandemic has reaffirmed our view that science is an important tool in human inquiry. Early on, our attempt has been to place developmental psychology in its relationship to other sciences. We try to analyze the process of development in a way that is consistent with analysis in other sciences. In doing so, we hope to reach our goal of providing a coherent approach to the field.
Development as a Parallel Process to Evolution
One way in which we provide a natural science approach is to present the process of child development as paralleling the process of evolution. Developmental psychology focuses on changes in individuals, whereas evolution focuses on changes in species. The authors show how both the persons evolutionary and learning histories interact, but the focus is on natural selection of individual behavior as the process of individual development. This selectionist approach carries into the next point.
Emphasis on Learning as a Key Process
Many developmental texts continue to ignore or de-emphasize the role of learning in human development. It has often been relegated to the status of a special process reserved for use by parents and teachers to deal with behavior problems. This book emphasizes the role of learning as the key process that, in interaction with genes and other person variables, determines developmental outcome. Learning is a key thread that unifies this approach to understanding child development. Moreover, because many of students are interested in the teaching profession, therapy, and other behavior change professions, it is important to know how learning principles work.
A Nonlinear Approach
Human development as an open system simultaneously involving many influences. Furthermore, the product of the interaction of these influences changes the process in complex ways. Development must be viewed as involving ever-changing dynamic systems whose effects result in a reorganization of the systems involved.
A Contextual Approach
In a behavioral systems approach, when systems are reorganized, the context of development is constantly changing. Development is affected by the current context as well as by the past.
Development Should Be Analyzed at Different Levels of Systems
Students often have difficulty grasping how the different content areas covered in developmental textbooks relate to each other. For example, how does learning relate to cognition? How do both relate to schools? How are early attachments and fears acquired? The key to understanding these relationships is understanding that we are analyzing interlocking systems at different levels. Thus, the organization of this book is based on four system levels, from basic processes to society and culture.
Systematic, Not Encyclopedic
If you look at most other developmental textbooks, you are impressed by their sheer size. Each appears to try to outdo the other in the number and currency of the studies they cite. Even in their enormous girth, they cannot contain all the possible studies relevant to development. The authors have more modest goals, and made decisions on what research or theories to include. Their goal is to provide a framework for understanding the process of developmentwhich they believe will be more useful to students in the long term. As research discovers new facts and revises others, this approach will continue to provide a structure for understanding the process of human development.
Finally, this revised edition offers professors as well as students an alternative approach to the study of child development. By focusing on issues rather than on details, flexibility is provided in how child development is taught. These more limited goals unlock exciting (and more flexible) possibilities for the study of child development at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
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