What relation exists between heredity and environment when discussing human development

What relation exists between heredity and environment when discussing human development

Human Development is the process by which inherited traits are expressed as physical and behavioral characteristics. Developmental Psychology has been an important area of interest to psychologists over the years. It tries to develop general principles that can be applied to everyday situations.

One of the first areas of concern is the roll of heredity versus the role of environment. For many years, debates swirled as to which factor influenced development more. Today, most psychologists argue that heredity and environment both play a part in one’s development. Maturation is the process by which abilities unfold over the years.

A second area of concern is whether development is a continual smooth process or whether it is a series of critical periods followed by less critical periods, sort of like “peaks and valleys.” A third concern is whether earlier development is more important than later development. Historically, psychology has emphasized early development, but in recent years there has been an increased emphasis on later development.

We will look at human development in a number of different ways, stressing both theories and specific types of development. It is important to remember that we approach this topic as an “overview” and that detailed research into each of these areas would produce many volumes of work and individuals who spend their entire career studying a specific area.

One of the first individuals to critically analyze human development was the Austrian Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Freud is one of the most influential theorists in psychology and theorized about child development to form the basis for his overall theory of Psychoanalysis (which will be studied later on in the course).

Sigmund FredFreud theorized that human personality, especially that part that showed itself in behavioral disturbances, was the product of unconscious forces within the individual. These unconscious forces have their beginnings in early childhood. Freud saw childhood as a turbulent time with many pitfalls that could later surface in one’s personality. There were critical events or periods in one’s early childhood that would mold later personality traits. Freud saw development as a series of stages, the first of which was the oral stage. at about one year of age, the infant Satisfies its impulses by oral gratification: eating, sucking, and biting. The second stage, the anal stage, occurs during the second and third years when the child faces the trauma of toilet training. The third stage is called the phallic stage and occurs around 4 years of age. In this stage, the child becomes aware of his or her genitals.One of Freud’s more controversial theories centers around the phallic stage during which he felt that the child develops an unconscious attraction toward the parent of the opposite sex. In boys it is called the Oedipus Complex and in girls its called the Electra Complex. Freud chose the name Oedipus Complex since this conflict reminded Freud of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex in which the hero, Oedipus, kills his father and marries his mother. The Electra Complex also has its roots in Greek mythology in which Electra loves her father and induces her brother to kill her mother.

After these three turbulent periods, the child enters the latency period from six years of age until puberty. This is a relatively quiet period until the genital stage begins and a new type of tension erupts.

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson, like Freud, saw human development as a series of stages, but for Erikson,these stages continued through one’s lifetime. While Freud stressed sexual conflicts on an unconscious level, Erikson stressed social conflicts. For Erikson, the resolution of each crisis shapes one’s personality. Erikson listed eight stages of life, the first four stages occurring before puberty, the final four after. Each stage has a crisis that is either resolved in a positive or negative way. The chart on the next page explains the crisis and how one’s personality is affected if it is resolved in a positive or negative way. So unlike Freud, who saw the personality as the product of early forces, Erikson saw personality as constantly changing. Erikson’s theory of personality development stressed resolution of crises throughout life.


Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz, an Ethologist conducting animal research and linking it to human behavior, studied the attachment process in goslings (baby geese) and showed that goslings become attached to any moving object during the first 24 hours of life. This process is called “imprinting.” In humans, this process is called “attachment,” or the need to seek closeness to certain people.

Harry Harlow

Harry Harlow conducted experiments for many years using rhesus monkeys. Early theories stated that infants become attached to their mother because they are a source for food. Harlow, using two surrogate mothers (substitute mothers) made of chicken wire and of chicken wire wrapped with cloth, showed that physical contact with the cloth was just as important to the infant as milk for food. Harlow also showed that infant monkeys preferred rocking mothers to stationary mothers.

Note: Harlow’s experiments were considered controversial and contributed to the rise in the animal rights movement. Visit this link to learn more.


“Identification” is the process of acquiring behaviors that are characteristic of others. While Freud felt that this process was exclusive in that the child wants to be their parents, other psychologists tend to use the term “imitation” to signify the process by which behavior is observed and copied by others. As the child grows and imitates those behaviors that parents feel are appropriate, they provide praise such as “That’s my boy,” which acts as a reinforcer for the behavior (see unit on conditioning). So reinforcement is another important factor in shaping personality.

Parents play a key role in all aspects of a child’s personality and social development. Children tend to copy their parents’ values and try to be just like them. One area that parents play a key role is in “sex role development,” or the acquisition of appropriate male and female behaviors. Traditionally, American men are expected to be self-sufficient, tough, and tender. Today, these expectations are changing as men and women share responsibilities and societal tasks. But parents still treat boys and girls differently and tend to label their child’s behaviors in traditionally male and female ways.

Jean PiagetCognitive development concerns how children understand their world. Like other areas of development, cognitive development occurs in stages. Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, has had a great influence on theory in this area of development. According to Piaget, a child has a “schema” for understanding the world. In infants, this schema is purely reflexive and later involves the mouth. What Freud would call the oral stage with all of its implications is seen by Piaget as a mechanism used to understand the world. That is, the child puts things into his or her mouth because that’s their schema or way of understanding the world. By putting things into the mouth, the child is “assimilating” the world or taking it in. When a schema does not work anymore, then the child must change their scheme. This is called “accommodation.” So, cognitive development occurs in stages as the child changes his schemata to meet new situations.
Piaget formally classified’ these changes into formal stages. The first is the sensorimotor stage 1 (birth-2 years) during which the infant is responding to sensations and motor (movement) skills. The second stage is the preoperational stage (2-7 years) during which the child discovers “operations” or plans and strategies for solving problems. The third stage is the concrete preoperational stage (ages 7-11 years) during which thinking moves into more symbolic terms; but the child still has difficulty dealing with abstract thought. The final stage is the formal operational stage during which the adolescent can think abstractly, look at various solutions to solve a problem, and can test his or her solutions.

Lawrence Kohlberg

Lawrence Kohlberg has theorized about how morality develops in children. His work parallels Piaget’s but sorely examines the mental reasoning in making a moral decision. Kohlberg asked children of various ages to solve a moral dilemma: a situation whose solution places the person in what appears to be a “no win” situation. For children, the situation might involve the saving of a kitten in a tree when your father or mother have told you not to climb trees. For adults, the situation might involve a man who was forced to steal drugs to save his dying wife. Kohlberg was not concerned with what answer was given, but what reasoning went into the decision. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development showed a progression from basic ideas of reward and punishment to more abstract ideas of internal ethics (see chart). One key development which Kohlberg found to signal the beginning of true ethical (internal) moral reasoning is when the child begins to see things through “someone else’s eyes.”

Stages 1 through 5 are adapted from Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning as described in Kohlberg (1975, 1978, 1981); Stage 0 is adapted from William Damon (1977) and Robert Selman (1980).



(preschool years – around age 4)

What’s Right: I should get my own way.
Reason to be good: To get rewards and avoid punishments.


(around kindergarten age)

What’s Right: I should do what I’m told.
Reason to be good: To stay out of trouble.


(early elementary grades)

What’s Right: I should look out for myself but be fair to those who are fair to me.
Reason to be good: Self-interest: What’s in it for me?


(middle-to-upper elementary grades and early-to-mid teens)

What’s Right I should be a nice person and live up to the expectations of people I know and care about.
Reason to be good: So others will think well of me (social approval) and I can think well of myself (self-esteem)


(high-school years or late teens)

What’s Right I should fulfill my responsibilities to the social or value system I feel part of.
Reason to be good: To keep the system from falling apart and to maintain self-respect as somebody who meets my obligations.


(young adulthood)

What’s Right I should show the greatest possible respect for the rights and dignity of every individual person and should support a system that protects human rights.
Reason to be good: The obligation of conscience to act in accordance with the principle of respect for all human beings.

Lesson 6 Review

Anwser the questions below

1. What relation exists between heredity and environment when discussing human development?

2. What are the five stages of development according to Freud? Describe each.

3. How does Erik Erikson view personality development?

4. What conclusions were reached by Harry Harlow in his research with Rhesus monkeys?

For #5-20, identify the scientist(s) most closely associated with the following idea
5. Inherited traits are expressed as physical and behavioral characteristics.

6. The unfolding of abilities over the years.

7. Unconscious attraction of male child for his mother.

8. Saw human development as a lifelong process of resolving social conflicts.

9. Conducted experiments studying attachment in Rhesus monkeys.

10. The process of acquiring behaviors of others.

11. Appropriate male-female behavior.

12. Studied cognitive development in children.

13. A child’s way or plan for understanding the world.

14. Taking in the world into one’s schema in order to understand it.

15. Changing one’s schema to fit new situations.

16. The first stage of cognitive development; basically reflex.

17. Studied moral reasoning in children.

18. A girl’s unconscious attraction for her father.

19. Studies animal behavior and links it to human behavior.

20. Studied imprinting.

Answer preview to what relation exists between heredity and environment when discussing human development

What relation exists between heredity and environment when discussing human development


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