Unit 1: Growth and Development

1.1               Definition and meaning of growth and development

1.2               Principles and factors affecting development

1.3               Nature vs. Nurture

1.4               Domains of development; Physical, social, emotional, cognitive, moral and language

1.5               Developmental milestones and identifying deviations and giftedness












1.1         Definition and meaning of growth and development


Human development is a lifelong process of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional growth and change. These two terms, growth and development are used interchangeably. Both relate to the measurement of changes occurred in an individual after conception in the womb of the mother. However, in the strict sense of terminology, these two terms have different meanings:

Growth: can be defined as an increase in size, length, height and weight or changes in quantitative aspect of an organism/individual.

Development: is a series of orderly progress towards maturity. It implies overall qualitative changes resulting in the improved functioning of an individual.

According to Crow and Crow (1965) development is concerned with growth as well as those changes in behavior which results from environmental situation.”

Growth is one of the parts of developmental process.

Development is a wider term and growth is one of its parts.

Changes take place in particular aspect of the body and behavior.

Changes in the organism as a whole.

Growth stops once maturity is attained.

Development is a continue process: from womb to tomb.

Changes may be measured. As in case of height or weight.

Can’t be always measured.

Quantitative and observable.

They are assessed through sharp observation in behavioral situations.

May or may not bring development. A child may grow in terms of height and weight but this growth may not bring any functional improvement/development.

Development is also possible without growth.




1.2         Principles and factors affecting development



From the scientific knowledge gathered through observation of children, some principles have emerged. These principles enable the parents and the teachers to understand how children develop. What is expected of them? How to guide them and provide proper environment for their optimum development?  It seems that the process of development is operated by some general principles. These rules or principles may be named as the principles of development. Some of these principles are briefly explained below:

1.     Principle of Continuity:  Development is a process which begins from the moment of conception in the womb of the mother and goes on continuing till the time of death.   It is a never ending process. The changes however small and gradual continue to take place in all dimensions of one’s personality throughout one’s life.

2.     Principle of Individual differences:  Every organism is a distinct creation in itself. Therefore, the development which undergoes in terms of the rate and outcome in various dimensions is quite unique and specific. For example, all children will first sit up, crawl and stand before they walk. But individual children will vary in regard to timing or age at which they can perform these activities.

3.     Principle of lack of uniformity in the developmental rate:  Though development is a continuous process it does not exhibit steadiness and uniformity in terms of the rate of development in various dimensions of personality or in the developmental periods and stages of life.   Instead of steadiness, development usually takes place in fits and starts showing almost no change at one time and a sudden spurt at another. For example, shooting up in height and sudden change in social interest, intellectual curiosity and emotional make-up.

4.     Principle of uniformity of pattern: Although there seems to be a clear lack of uniformity and distinct individual differences with regard to the process and outcome of the various stages of development, yet it follows a definite pattern in one or the other dimension which is uniform and universal with respect to individuals of a species. For instance, the development of language follows a somewhat definite sequence quite common to all human beings.

5.     Principle of proceeding from general to specific:  While developing in relation to any aspect of personality, the child first picks up or exhibits general responses and learns to show specific and goal-directed responses afterwards. For example, a baby starts by waving his arms in general random movement and afterwards these general motor responses are converted into specific responses like grasping or reaching out. Similarly when a new born baby cries, his whole body is involved in doing so but as he develops, it is limited to the vocal cords, facial expression and eyes etc. In development of language, a baby calls all men daddy and all women mummy but as he grows and develops, he begins to use these names only for his own father and mother.

6.     Principle of integration:   By observing the principle of proceeding from general to specific or from the whole to the parts, it does not mean that only the specific responses are aimed for the ultimate consequences of one’s development. Rather, it is a sort of integration that is ultimately desired. It is the integration of the whole and its parts as well as the specific and general responses that enables a child to develop satisfactorily in relation to various aspects or dimensions of his personality.

7.     Principle of interrelation: The various aspects of one’s growth and development are interrelated.  What is achieved or not achieved in one or the other dimension in the course of the gradual and continuous process of development surely affects the development in other dimensions.  All healthy body tends to develop a healthy mind and an emotionally stable and socially conscious personality.  On the other hand, inadequate physical or mental development may results in a socially or emotionally maladjusted personality. That is why all efforts in education are always directed towards achieving harmonious growth and development in all aspects of one’s personality.

8.     Principle of interaction: The process of development involves active interaction between the forces within the individual and the forces belonging to the individual. What is inherited by the organism at the time of conception is first influenced by the stimulations received in the womb of the mother and after birth, by the forces of physical and socio-psychological environment for its development. Therefore, at any stage of growth and development, the individual’s behaviour or personality make-up is nothing but the end-product of the constant interaction between his heredity endowment and environmental set-up.

9.     Principle of interaction of maturation and learning: Development occurs as a result of both maturation and learning. Maturation refers to changes in an organism due to unfolding and ripening of abilities, characteristics, traits and potentialities present at birth. Learning denotes changes the changes in behaviour due to training and experience.

10.Principle of predictability: Development is predictable, which means that, to a great extent, we can forecast the general nature and behaviour of a child in one or more aspects or dimensions at any particular stage of its growth and development. Not only such prediction is possible along general lines but it is also possible to predict the range within which the future development of an individual child is going to fall. For example, with the knowledge of the development of the bones of a child it is possible to predict his adult structure and size.

11.Principle of cephalocaudal and proximodistal tendencies: Cephalocaudal and proximodistal tendencies are found to be followed in maintaining the orderly sequence and direction of developments.

According to cephalocaudal tendency, development proceeds in the direction of the longitudinal axis, ie. head to foot. For example, before it becomes able to stand, the child first gains control over his head and arms and then on his legs.  In terms of proximodistal tendency, development proceeds from the near to the distant and the parts of the body near the centre develops before the extremities. For example, in the beginning the child is seen to exercise control over the large fundamental muscles of the arm and the hand and only afterwards the smaller muscles of the fingers.

12.Principle of spiral versus linear advancement.  The path followed in development by the child is not straight and linear and development at any stage never takes place with a constant or steady pace.  At a particular stage of his development, after the child had developed to a certain level, there is likely to be a period of rest for consolidation of the developmental progress achieved till then. In advancing further, development turns back and then moves forward again in a spiral pattern.



1.3         Nature vs. Nurture



The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest philosophical issues within psychology.

The nature-nurture debate is concerned with the relative contribution that both influences make to human behavior.

Image result for nature and nurture debate

It has long been known that certain physical characteristics are biologically determined by genetic inheritance.  Color of eyes, straight or curly hair, pigmentation of the skin and certain diseases (such as Huntingdon’s chorea) are all a function of the genes we inherit.  Other physical characteristics, if not determined, appear to be at least strongly influenced by the genetic make-up of our biological parents.

Height, weight, hair loss (in men), life expectancy and vulnerability to specific illnesses (e.g. breast cancer in women) are positively correlated between genetically related individuals.  These facts have led many to speculate as to whether psychological characteristics such as behavioral tendencies, personality attributes and mental abilities are also “wired in” before we are even born.

Those who adopt an extreme hereditary position are known as nativists.  Their basic assumption is that the characteristics of the human species as a whole are a product of evolution and that individual differences are due to each person’s unique genetic code. In general, the earlier a particular ability appears, the more likely it is to be under the influence of genetic factors.

Characteristics and differences that are not observable at birth, but which emerge later in life, are regarded as the product of maturation. That is to say we all have an inner “biological clock” which switches on (or off) types of behavior in a pre programmed way.

The classic example of the way this affects our physical development are the bodily changes that occur in early adolescence at puberty.  However nativists also argue that maturation governs the emergence of attachment in infancy, language acquisition and even cognitive development as a whole.

At the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists – also known as empiricists.  Their basic assumption is that at birth the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience (e.g. behaviorism).

From this point of view psychological characteristics and behavioral differences that emerge through infancy and childhood are the result of learning.  It is how you are brought up (nurture) that governs the psychologically significant aspects of child development and the concept of maturation applies only to the biological. 

For example, when an infant forms an attachment it is responding to the love and attention it has received, language comes from imitating the speech of others and cognitive development depends on the degree of stimulation in the environment and, more broadly, on the civilization within which the child is reared.

Examples of an extreme nature positions in psychology include Bowlby's (1969) theory of attachment, which views the bond between mother and child as being an innate process that ensures survival. Likewise, Chomsky (1965) proposed language is gained through the use of an innate language acquisition device. Another example of nature is Freud's theory of aggression as being an innate drive (called thanatos).

In contrast Bandura's (1977) social learning theory states that aggression is a learnt from the environment through observation and imitation. This is seen in his famous Bobo doll experiment (Bandura, 1961). Also, Skinner (1957) believed that language is learnt from other people via behavior shaping techniques.

The Nature And Nurture Theories Of Aggression

To what extent is human aggression a factor of the Nature or Nurture theories of behaviour? Human behaviour is continuously debated between scientists assessing the factors that greatly influence and shape human behaviour. This essay will focus on the biological and behavioural approaches that explain the aggressive behaviour. The two theories in this debate are the Nativist (Nature/Innate) and the Empiricist (Nurture/Learned) theories. While nativists (Nature Theory) believe that our behaviour and interactions depend upon inner established mechanisms, empiricists (Nurture Theory) link our behaviour to our experiences.

Aggression: Definition and Types

We need first to define aggression. Bushman and Anderson defined aggression in the Annual Review of Psychology 2002 as "any behaviour directed towards another individual that is carried out with the proximate intent to cause harm." Anderson et al argue that people are more likely to react aggressively to aggressively stimulating situations. The level, severity and intensity of the aggressive response vary with his personal factors that determine the individual's readiness to aggress. "Person factors include all the characteristics a person brings to the situation, such as personality traits, attitudes, and genetic predispositions.' (Anderson et al, 2010).

There are two forms of aggression, hostile and instrumental. Hostile is where the aggressive behaviour is driven by anger and is a thoughtless and unplanned action and is as an end in itself, whilst instrumental is a premeditated and proactive action, resulting in a desired goal.

Biological Approach of the Nature Theory


The Nature theory states that behaviours, such as aggression, are due to innate dispositions such as physiological, hormonal, neurochemicals and genetic make-up. The people who support this argument are known as nativists. The nativists accept that all characteristics of the human species as a whole are products of evolution, and that individual differences are due to a person's genetic code. Nativist theorists such as, Bowlby (1958) and Dollard et al (1939) have conducted studies that provided evidence that human behaviour is innate.

Genetic basis of Aggression

Clearly, much behaviour is innate, such as a mother's attachment to her children, the bond of partnership and love. John Bowlby (1958), a psychoanalyst, developed the evolutionary theory of attachment which suggests that children from birth are "biologically pre-programmed to form attachment with others as it is a basic survival instinct" (Saul McLeod, 2007). Bowlby believed that attachment behaviours will be automatically activated by any conditions that seem a threat, such as fear, anxiety and separation. According to this theory, babies who stay close to their mothers are more likely to survive to adulthood and have children. We can presume that both attachment and aggression are inherited.

Dollard (1939) assumed that behaviour is created by an innate human need. He was an American Psychologist and social scientist, who formulated the frustration-aggression hypothesis. The hypothesis assumes that whenever a person is inhibited from reaching their goal, an aggressive drive is provoked which motivates behaviour that causes the individual to injure another or the object that is causing the frustration. This basic drive is like behavioural units of ability that are switched on or off as an appropriate challenge or task presents itself. In other words, we act on instinct. The "Fight or Flight" mechanism is an example of a behaviour that can be switched on or off as a self-defence mechanism. These responses are hormone-mediated, and are therefore controlled by specific genetic expressions.

In further support that aggressive behaviour is inherited (Nature theory) there have been several animal experiments have been conducted by scientists that provide evidence that aggression is innate. In 1995, researchers at Hopkins University discovered a gene that was responsible for excessively violent and overly aggressive sexual behaviour in male mice. The researchers observed that once they removed a gene, the mice became more aggressive (Nelson, 1995). Nelson and his team believed that the removed gene helped the mice moderate their levels of aggression and once it was removed the behaviour was difficult to control. This indicates that genes have a significant role to play in the level of aggression. Numerous other experiments have been carried out on animals and especially mice to prove this trait. They all show a direct correlation between testosterone and aggression. (Svare 1983; Monaghan and Glickman 1992). However, it is important to note that whilst research carried out on animals clearly provides a better understanding of the effect of genes in aggression, caution must obviously be taken in extrapolating the results when trying to relate it to human behaviour. After all, human and animal brains are different, and human behaviour is far too complex for one gene to fully explain all aggressive behaviour.

However, genes need the right environment to express their phenotype characteristics. For example, an individual will grow to the height that is coded in the genes, given that the individual is well nourished and healthy. Malnourishment causes stunt growth and will stop the individual reaching the 'coded' height. The children of Guatemala have the highest rate of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere. Their diet lacks of vital nutrients during the critical period of development from two years old, and as a result, all the children are at least six or eight inches shorter that they should be. (Gowen et al, 2010)

Behavioural Approach of the Nurture Theory


The theory of nurture suggests that human behaviour is not innate but is learned. It involves aspects of human life that surround societal reasons for why aggression is demonstrated. The National Centre of Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) estimated that approximately 23 per 1,000 children are victims of maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect (Sedlack &Broadhurst, 1996), as described by Margolin and Gordis (2004). Margolin and Gordis studied the psychological development of children exposed to violence in the family and community. They concluded that children who are in a damaged and abusive environment are more likely to become aggressive and become low achievers in their schools and communities. Therefore, family factors, peer influences and cognitive factors seem to contribute to the control and development of aggression (Sarah McCawley 2001). Bandura (1961), Rayner et al and Heusmann et al (1986) are theorists that have gathered supporting evidence to suggest aggressive behaviour is learned by observing others.

The following sections will describe the behavioural approach of the Nurture theory, by looking at the Social Learning Theory and The Script Theory.

Social Learning Theory (SLT)

Albert Bandura was a psychologist who developed the Social Learning Theory (SLT). He believed that "most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action (1977)." (Law et al, Psychology, IB Diploma)

The theory assumes that individuals do not inherit behavioural tendencies, but learn by observing models, such as their peers and parents, and imitating their behaviour. In other words, individuals learn behaviour vicariously. In order to verify his Social Learning Theory, Bandura et al (1961) conducted a laboratory experiment to investigate if social behaviours, for example, aggression, can be acquired by imitation.

To support his theory, Bandura and his team showed young children, aged 3 to 6 years, a video of an adult model behaving aggressively towards an inflatable Bobo doll. He wanted to see if the children would imitate this behaviour. The children showed directly imitative behaviour, especially when the adult was rewarded (Law et al, Psychology, IB Diploma). This empirical study supported Bandura's theory as it showed that behaviour is the result of learning. However, it is difficult to conclude whether the child has learned the behaviour because of demand characteristics, as the child may have only imitated the behaviour in order to be acknowledged as they were being observed. However, it can be argued by those supporters of the nature theory, nativists, that without inherited characteristics, the act of learning would not be possible.

Nevertheless, Bandura's study has intrigued and inspired much research, such as Heusmann et al (1986) and Anderson et al (2001). These researchers investigated if exposure to media violence caused long-term effects and a longitudinal Meta analysis of the exposure to media violence respectively.

·      Even though studies have shown that genetics can influence aggression, there are limiting factors. Aggression is more second nature to people than an uncontrollable outburst and is likely to be used as a self-defence mechanism. Situational factors are also significant, in attempting to explain how much discomfort was caused that resulted in the aggressive behaviour.

·      At the other end of the spectrum is Nurture. Those who adopt nurture as an idea, empiricists or environmentalists, presume that at birth, the human mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa), and this is constantly filled as a result of experience (i.e. behaviourism). In other words, the behaviour is learned and not innate.



When someone achieves greatness thanks to an innovation or other breakthrough, it is usually agreed that the individual has a high level of intelligence. Often, when exploring the background of the individual, the influences of nature versus nurture are questioned. 

·       Nature - Those who would argue that nature is largely to thank for the individual’s ability to achieve greatness might point to his or her parents and use their level of intelligence as a reason for why he or she is so successful. Perhaps the child developed early skills quickly and this would be used to show that the child was clearly, “born smart.”

·       Nurture - Those who would argue that a child's intelligence was affected by nurture would look at the child's educational background as well as how his or her parents raised her. These individuals would state that the intelligence level which permitted the child to be so successful, is largely the result of the child's upbringing and the school system.


The development of personality traits is often part of the nature versus nurture debate. People want to know how children develop their personalities. 

·       Influence of the parents - Often it is easy to see similarities between a child’s personality and one or both of her parents’ personalities. In this situation, it would seem that the child's personality has developed largely from the influence of the parents. 

·       Effects of nature - In some situations, children develop personalities, or tendencies toward certain behaviors, such as shyness or aggression, that can’t seem to be explained because neither parent demonstrates the same trait. In this situation, it can be argued that nature is at play in the development of the child's personality. 


The debate about homosexuality and whether the genesis of which is the result of nature or nurture has spanned throughout history, but has taken on even greater importance in more recent years as the rights of these individuals are being hotly debated throughout the world. 

·       Effects of environment - Some individuals believe that homosexuality is a choice. Others believe that it is the result of something having negatively affected an individual, such as sexual assault, causing the individual to become homosexual. These debates focus on the influence of nurture and the individuals feel that environmental factors are the cause of one’s homosexuality. 

·       Biological factor - Other individuals believe that homosexuality is a biological factor, no more a choice than eye color or foot size. These individuals are debating from the perspective of nature being responsible for the development of the individual. 

These examples show several ways that the nature vs. nurture debate plays out in real life. 

It is widely accepted now that heredity and the environment do not act independently. Both nature and nurture are essential for any behaviour, and it cannot be said that a particular behaviour is genetic and another is environmental. It is impossible to separate the two influences as well as illogical as nature and nurture do not operate in a separate way but interact in a complex manner.



1.4         Domains of development; Physical, social, emotional, cognitive, moral and language


Physical development

It is important to know how children develop physically because physical development influences children’s behaviour directly by determining what they can do and indirectly their attitudes towards self and others. Physical development involves changes in body size and body proportions which is measured in terms of height and weight.  The physical development involves growth of bones, fat muscle, teeth, puberty changes of primary and secondary characteristics and neurological development.

Cognitive development

Cognition refers to the mental activities involved in acquisition, processing, organization, storage and use of information. These activities include perceiving, imagining, reasoning and judging. A single and global measure of an individual’s general level of cognitive development is called intelligence.  The neuron patterns in the brain are the determining factors of intellectual development.  Mental growth is the process of organization of behaviour patterning which brings the individual to a stage of psychological maturity.

The observational studies on children’s intellectual development by Jean Piaget, (1896-1980) a Swiss psychologist, is considered as an important landmark in this area.  Piaget’s theory covers the entire range of ages from infancy through adolescence. 

Socio-emotional development

Social and Emotional refers to your child's ability to make and maintain relationships.

Every child is born with potentialities for both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Even infants have the ability to respond emotionally. The first sign of emotional behaviour in the new born infant's  'general excitement' due to intense stimulation. However, the emotional status of the infant in the next few months is not very clear-cut and appears to be diffused. With age, emotional responses become less diffused and random. For example, at first, the child expresses displeasure by screaming/crying but later his reactions include resisting, throwing objects, stiffening of the body etc. As the child becomes older linguistic responses increase and child's motor responses decrease especially in fear and anger.

Social development refers to development of the ability to behave in accordance with social expectations, which involve social perception, thinking and reasoning about people, one self and social relationship. These are called "Social Cognition'. The process of learning the standards of behaviors, roles and values in a given culture is called 'Socialization'. Socialization is largely determined by child's cognitive development as well as social stimulation available to the child.

Moral development

The independence that comes with adolescence requires independent thinking as well as the development of morality  standards of behavior that are generally agreed on within a culture to be right or proper. Just as Piaget believed that children’s cognitive development follows specific patterns, Lawrence Kohlberg (1984) argued that children learn their moral values through active thinking and reasoning, and that moral development follows a series of stages.

It involves an individual’s growing ability to distinguish right from wrong and to act in accordance with those distinctions.

Language development

Language involves receptive and expressive forms when receptive language ability is limited expressive language development is affected. Speech is only one form of expressive language. It is the most useful and most widely used form in expressing our thoughts and feelings.  If speech is to be an useful form of communication, the speaker must use words used by others. 



1.5         Developmental milestones and identifying deviations and giftedness


Developmental milestones are behaviors or physical skills seen in infants and children as they grow and develop. Rolling over, crawling, walking, and talking are all considered milestones. The milestones are different for each age range.

There is a normal range in which a child may reach each milestone. For example, walking may begin as early as 8 months in some children. Others walk as late as 18 months and it is still considered normal.

One of the reasons for well-child visits to the health care provider in the early years is to follow your child's development. Most parents also watch for different milestones. Talk to your child's provider if you have concerns about your child's development.

Closely watching a "checklist" or calendar of developmental milestones may trouble parents if their child is not developing normally. At the same time, milestones can help to identify a child who needs a more detailed check-up. Research has shown that the sooner the developmental services are started, the better the outcome. Examples of developmental services include: speech therapy, physical therapy, and developmental preschool.

Below is a general list of some of the things you might see children doing at different ages. These are NOT precise guidelines. There are many different normal paces and patterns of development.

Infant -- birth to 1 year

Toddler -- 1 to 3 years

Preschooler -- 3 to 6 years

School-age child -- 6 to 12 years

Adolescent -- 12 to 18 years

Milestones at 6 Months

Milestones at 9 Months

Milestones at 12 Months

Milestones at 18 Months

Milestones at 2 Years

Milestones at 3 Years

Developmental deviation occurs when a child acquires developmental milestones in a nonsequential fashion; children with developmental deviation acquire higher-level developmental milestones within a developmental stream before acquiring lower-level developmental milestones within that stream. Thus, developmental deviation is defined by development or behavior that is atypical at any age. Once the developmental history has been completed, a neurodevelopmental examination, which includes a traditional neurologic examination and an extended developmental evaluation, is performed. In most cases, the neurodevelopmental examination should confirm findings from the developmental history, increasing the validity of the developmental conclusions drawn from this pediatric neurodevelopmental assessment process. Once the pediatric neurodevelopmental assessment has been completed, specific developmental-behavioral diagnoses can be made.

A common misconception about gifted children is that their giftedness does not become apparent until after they start school. Gifted traits can, potentially be recognized in toddlers and even babies if you know the signs.

They may include exaggerated characteristics like:

While a baby does not need to have all of these traits, most gifted children will display more than one.

It's important to note that research on gifted infants is quite limited. While these signs may suggest giftedness in childhood, they are not definitive indicators that your child will be gifted if they display these traits. If you seem to have a precious baby, encourage their brain development and watch for signs of giftedness as they continue to grow.

Assessing atypical behavior

Recognizing atypical behavior includes the following steps:

·       Identify skill levels that indicate that a child’s development is atypical – either advanced or delayed – in comparison to the average child of the same age.

·       Assess whether patterns of behavior are reflections of a child’s personality, are culturally influenced, or if they indicate an area of concern.

·       Record the age at which skills emerge, sequence of skills, and quality of skill level as well as how they contribute to a child’s ability to function. Make a note of dates and times of occurrences to identify patterns, duration and frequency of behavior, types of activities, setting, interactions with peers, or other influences.

·       Share collected information and concerns with parents and ask them to contribute any observations or insights they may have about the behavior.

·       Adapt the learning program or environment to support the child’s strengths and weaknesses while providing external resources or ideas that may help parents.

Early child care providers essentially act as the parents’ partners in facilitating the developmental growth and future success of each child in their care. Due to the number of time providers spend with each child and their specialized knowledge relating to appropriate milestones, child care providers are valuable resources in recognizing and identifying potential areas that may require additional support. Early intervention can make a monumental difference in a child’s developmental progress; the involvement and concern of a skilled caregiver can have a positive impact that will last a lifetime.