Child Psychology

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Child Psychology


the branch of psychology that studies the facts and lawlike regularities of the psychological development of children and shares a number of problems with educational psychology.

Child psychology is closely connected with pedagogy, as well as with age morphology and physiology—in particular, the physiology of the higher nervous activity of children. The study of the origin and development of psychological processes in ontogenesis casts light on the nature of these processes, facilitating the solution of problems in general psychology, as well as certain philosophical problems. According to V. I. Lenin, the history of the mental development of children was one of the areas of knowledge on whose basis the materialist dialectic and the theory of cognition should be built. Research in child psychology is important to pedagogical work, because knowledge of the conditions and lawlike regularities of the psychological development of children is necessary for the conscious direction of the educational process. Studies of the various forms of irregular development of the psyche are very important for defectology as well as for child psychiatry.

The object of child psychology is the study of the conditions and moving causes behind the ontogenesis of the human psyche, the development of the various psychological processes (cognitive, volitional, and emotional) and different types of activity (play, work, and study), the formation of personality traits, and the age and individual psychological characteristics of children.

The cognitive, volitional, and emotional processes develop not independently but as features of the integral personality of the child, who has certain natural inclinations and who lives, acts, and is raised under specific social conditions. During the transformation of the helpless infant into an independent adult who is a full member of society, the child’s psyche develops, and the reflection in him of objective reality becomes more complex and more accurate. In accordance with this dialectical materialist understanding of child psychology, its study is directed not only toward ascertaining the age-related changes that occur in the psyche but also toward explaining the mechanisms on which these changes are based and establishing their lawlike dependence on the conditions of the child’s life and activity and on his interaction with the people around him.

The methods used in child psychology include systematic observation, interviews, and the collection and analysis of the products of the child’s activity (drawings, models, designs, and written works), as well as different types of experiments. The psychological study of the experience of those who raise and teach children is also important.

The problems of child psychology may be studied through extended research, which involves study of the general psychological development or the development of the separate psychological processes of the same children over the more or less lengthy period of their lives. Another method of study is the cross section, in which the same psychological process is studied by using relatively short-term experiments for different groups of children at different age levels.

Child psychology, which for a long time was developed within general psychology, became an independent branch of knowledge in the mid-19th century. Its classification as a separate field was due to the growing demands of pedagogical work and was connected with the appearance of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the development of objective experimental methods of psychophysiological research. In the early period of the development of child psychology, empirical information was gathered in diaries of observations on the development of individual children. Later, experimental studies were undertaken in child psychology, and the collected material began to be systematized and interpreted. General works on child psychology were published by W. Stern, K. Bühler, K. Koffka, and A. Gesell.

Child psychology developed during the period of crisis in the methodological foundations of bourgeois science in general and psychology in particular. In connection with this crisis period, various types of idealistic, crudely mechanistic concepts became widespread in West European and American child psychology. These concepts treated factual data in the spirit of objective empirical psychology, the Würzburg school, personalism, Freudianism, Gestalt psychology, and behaviorism. At the same time, progressive, materialist tendencies appeared in West European and American child psychology and were clearly exemplified in the works of the outstanding communist psychologist H. Wallon. Factual material continued to be gathered. In recent decades specific advances have been made in experimental research on problems of child psychology, particularly in the study of the development of cognitive processes in children (J. Piaget, B. Inhelder, and J. Bruner).

In child psychology in prerevolutionary Russia the various reactionary idealistic concepts that enjoyed the support of the tsarist government and the bourgeois landowning class were opposed by the progressive materialist school, which was formed under the influence of scientific achievements and the progressive ideas of revolutionary democrats. In the 1860’s I. M. Sechenov proposed the reflex origin of psychological processes and their formation in children under the influence of the conditions of living and upbringing. Of great significance for child psychology were the works of K. D. Ushinskii and his followers (for example, P. F. Kapterev), which connected the study of child psychology with the solution of pedagogical problems. P. F. Lesgaft, A. F. Lazurskii, A. P. Nechaev, N. N. Rybnikov, and N. A. Sikorskii were among those who played an important role in devising specific studies on child psychology and working out objective methods for studying the development of the child’s personality.

After the Great October Socialist Revolution child psychology developed on the theoretical basis of dialectical materialism. An important role in solving the problem of the physiological foundations of psychological development was played by the work of the students of I. P. Pavlov and V. M. Bekhterev, who had studied higher nervous activity in children. In the 1920’s K. N. Kornilov and P. P. Blonskii made the first attempts to approach the problems of child psychology from the Marxist-Leninist point of view. Later, L. S. Vygotskii, A. R. Luriia, and A. N. Leont’ev began the theoretical and experimental treatment of problems of the social and historical conditioning of the child’s psychological development, as well as the study of the role of the assimilation of social experience in the ontogenetic formation of higher, specifically human psychological processes. On the basis of this research a very important theoretical and practical proposition was advanced concerning the leading role of teaching in the psychological development of the child and the “immediate zone of development.”

Despite the achievements of Soviet scientists and psychologists, in this period child psychology also suffered from a number of important deficiencies connected with uncritical use of foreign idealistic and mechanistic concepts. This was reflected primarily in the great influence of pedology. The treatment of the problem of the role of activity in psychological development by A. N. Leont’ev and S. L. Rubinshtein was very important in overcoming these deficiencies—a process that began in the 1930’s. Intensive studies were done on the content and structure of different types of child activity (play, work, and study) and their influence on the development of perception (B. G. Anan’ev, A. N. Leont’ev, B. M. Teplov, and D. G. El’kin), memory (P. I. Zinchenko and A. A. Smirnov), and thought (P. la. Gal’perin, G. S. Kostiuk, A. A. Liublinskaia, N. A. Menchinskaia, and D. B. El’konin). Studies were also done on the development of the speech system and of its regulatory role in behavior (A. R. Luriia, D. B. El’konin, and A. V. Zaporozhets), as well as on the formation of self-consciousness (B. G. Anan’ev) and the qualities of the child’s personality (L. I. Bozhovich and V. N. Miasishchev).

The conditions for the emergence of the determinants of personality and their influence on the course of the psychological processes in the child have been studied by the Georgian school of psychology, including D. N. Uznadze, R. G. Natadze, and B. I. Khachapuridze.

In the 1930’sand 1940’s attention was focused primarily on establishing the dependence of the course and development of psychological processes in a child on the nature and structure of his activity. In a number of research projects done in the 1950’s (B. G. Anan’ev, P. la. Gal’perin, G. S. Kostiuk, A. N. Leont’ev, A. R. Luriia, A. A. Smirnov, and B. M. Teplov) the internal nature of these dependencies and mechanisms of the formation of psychological reflection in human ontogenesis began to be studied. In dealing with these problems, Soviet psychologists relied on I. P. Pavlov’s proposition on the reflex nature of the psyche and the role of orientational reflexes in the formation of temporary connections. The psychological studies that were performed revealed, in particular, the special importance of the orientational basis of actions in the ontogenesis of psychological processes (A. V. Zaporozhets and D. B. El’konin). Studies also showed the lawlike, stage-by-stage formation of psychological processes in the child, with consecutive shifts from external, material actions to ideational actions that are completed in the mind on the level of notions and concepts (A. N. Leont’ev and P. la. Gal’perin). Recent studies of the formation of psychological processes and the personality traits of children by L. I. Bozhovich, L. V. Zankov, G. S. Kostiuk, A. N. Leont’ev and A. R. Luriia, as well as the above-mentioned works, have created the necessary psychological foundations for developing new and more effective methods of instruction, which enable children to obtain knowledge and master ways of acting that were previously considered beyond their reach.

In addition, these studies made it possible to show the psychophysiological age potentials of preschoolers and young schoolchildren, which are significantly greater than was previously supposed. This, in turn, made it possible to determine the psychological criteria for enriching the cognitive content of preschool training programs and initial schooling and to suggest higher requirements for upbringing and educational work in kindergartens and in the early grades (V. V. Davydov, L. V. Zankov, A. V. Zaporozhets, and D. B. El’konin).

The recognition of the fact that psychological development is determined by the objective conditions of existence and the emphasis on the leading role of teaching in the psychological development of children do not mean the negation of the internal logic of this development, known as its spontaneity. At different age levels, children are particularly susceptible or “sensitive” to assimilating particular subjects, while they assimilate others poorly or not at all (L. S. Vygotskii). Contradictions appear in the process of development (for example, contradictions between new, mature psychophysiological potentials in the child and old, previously formed types of activity and forms of interaction with the people around him). Such contradictions can appear very clearly during “age crises” (for example, during the adolescent crisis). The complex and insufficiently treated problem of the internal contradictions in the child’s development—a problem that has the utmost importance for the dialectical materialist understanding of the ontogenesis of the human psyche—is taken up in the works of G. S. Kostiuk, A. N. Leont’ev, and D. B. El’konin.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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