6 minute read

Environmental Effects On The Developing
Inner Life

and Response Sets of the Growing Child The transition from infancy to early childhood is associated with two new behavioral repertoires: 1. The child becomes mobile and self-propelled and thus comes to encounter an ever expanding and potentially rewarding or punishing environment not entirely limited by the nurturant climate itself, that is, the mother. 2. He also begins to develop more selective technics for communicating (language skills), thus widely expanding his behavior for manipulating the environment and attracting attention and also for coding experience and communicating inner states. The methods by which the infant communicates with the maternal nurturant environment were summarized in Chapter 6. At approximately 18 months of age, the child begins to use words successfully, his verbal behavior already having been subjected to extensive environmental influences (see Chapter 18). The rate of increase in command of language behavior bears some relationship to social class. More rapid increments occur earlier in the upper than in the lower social classes. There is, however, no convincing correlation between the age of initial verbalization and the ultimate intellectual level achieved. During the developmental epoch, one to four years, the female child shows somewhat higher levels of verbal facility than the male. The emergence of language skills follows a spiral pattern of advance-regression reminiscent of the spiral maturation of motor patterns strongly emphasized by Gesell and his associates. At four or four and one-half years, most children display free use of language not only for communication of certain inner states but also for social manipulative and other self-expressive purposes. The customary vocabulary of such children may reach several thousand words. It is unnecessary really to emphasize that the available, useful vocabulary is very strongly determined by environmental influences, more specifically, by the nature of environmental reinforcement or extinction of verbal behavioral patterns.

Various response sets referred to in some quarters as childhood attitudes reflect emotional responsivity and are manifest during this particular developmental period. Among these, negativism and obstinacy, fears, jealousy, and hyperirritability are of special interest. These sets are not psychopathologic in their usual manifestations, but they can become so in terms of the responses of the immediate familial, social environment as this affects the life of the child.

Negativism is frequently revealed by behavior suggesting predominant resistance to suggestions, feeding difficulty, malicious mischief, consistently negative verbal responses, and, on the somatic side, may be correlated with constipation, vomiting, disturbance of speech and sleep patterns, breath-holding, restless finger habits, enuresis, and encopresis. Negativistic behavior ordinarily reaches a peak at about two and one-half years. It has been suggested that such a response set is preponderant among members of one or two child families, but the evidence for this is questionable. The developmental history of negativistic sets, the maintenance of behaviors revealing them, and their general resistance to extinction, all appear to be intimately related to the practices of both parents and to the technics by which they deal with the physiologic functions of their children, more specifically with eating, excretory activities, and exploration. It would be a dangerous oversimplification to imply that all negativistic behavior is within normal limits. It is, of course, true that certain neurologic and medical illnesses in childhood and one major category of psychiatric illness are associated also with negativistic sets. In the latter instances, the defects in performance of the developing child contribute the primary shaping behavior which enriches and maintains the disturbed responses of the parent which, in turn, complete the vicious circle of pathology.

Childhood fears follow an interesting developmental course. During the first year of life, responses denoting fear are made in relation to such stimuli as loud noise, or events previously associated with noise; falling or sudden and unexpected movements; bright flashes of light; persons or objects associated with prior painful experience, as, for example, the immunizing pediatrician or probing dentist; animals; and, in general, strange objects, situations, or persons. This catalogue suggests that stimuli capable of eliciting the so called startle response stand out. During the first year, also, the behaviors denoting fear generally involve total body responses. The role of classical conditioning in the formation of irrational or "secondary" fears in children of this age is very likely a major one. In the context of classical conditioning, if an otherwise neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditional fearful stimulus, as, for example, a loud noise or a pain inducing event, the otherwise neutral stimulus acquires fearful properties as a result of the appropriate temporal contingencies alone. Under certain circumstances, one pairing of an independently stressing event with an otherwise neutral stimulus may be sufficient for the establishment of an enduring and long sustained "conditioned" fear. Quite convincing demonstrations of such conditioning are well represented in the classical psychologic literature, but the most vivid examples can undoubtedly be derived from careful scrutiny of such circumstances in one's own observations of developing children. After the age of two, most children show decreasing fear of falling, loud noises, and strange persons, although specific fears toward such objects as animals will even at this age be strongly determined by individual experiences. There is generally a sexual difference in the incidence and intensity of such fear reactions. Girls of two to four years generally show more intense and wider ranging responses than do boys. Whether this is correlated with a richer fantasy life in female children at this particular developmental period has not been demonstrated, but it has been proposed as an explanation.

The developmental history of curiosity behaviors has been catalogued during the first several years of life, notably by Menaker. From the sixth to twelfth month, curiosity is mainly exploratory, involving manual and oral manipulation of objects within the immediate environment and focusing on the always available parts of the body. During the twelfth to fifteenth months, fear responses in the context of unfamiliar or strange environmental objects appear, with the resulting reduction in spontaneous exploration of the external environment. Such constrictions of curious behavior are directly determined by the verbalized aversive accompaniments of such behavior in certain restrictive parents or the too frequent experience of painful results of curious exploration in infants who are left too completely to their own devices and, otherwise, unsupervised. In favorable environments, approach and curiosity behaviors again reach ascendancy between the fifteenth and eighteenth months. During the eighteenth to twenty-fourth months, most children vastly expand their contacts with the external world with something new - vocalization and verbalization accompanying exploration.

Barham and Sargent, Barker and Goodenough, among others, have emphasized the rapid development of socializing behaviors during the first four years of life. As an individuating characteristic, sociability acquires major significance between the ages of one and three years. The association of verbal behavior with activity in groups is of considerable interest. At two years, for example, verbal behavior generally occurs, and this refers specifically to vocal activity, with approximately equal frequencies in all of the child's physical activities; that is, in physical manipulations, in cruising, in imaginative play, and in solitary as well as group activities. Some time between the third and fourth year, however, vocal behavior is more and more utilized in group play for the control, manipulation, and domination of the immediate social environment, as well as for the manipulation of the parents. Ascendant and dominating sets also have fairly characteristic patterns of development. At two years, there are usually no clear-cut rivalry reactions; in fact, there is little social interaction of any sort in most children. During the third and fourth years, a variety of impulsive and unpredictable rivalries, as well as cooperative activities, emerge, but these have in common only an uneconomic slowing down of general performances. By the fifth year, clear-cut rivalries develop, with an increase in play-group output, usually under the controlling influence of the dominating child personality. The term "rivalry" is not restricted to competitive activities between brothers and sisters (siblings) but also includes competitive behaviors in social situations with all peers.

Additional topics

Human Behavior