for the psych folks

yhlee got me thinking about this one by linking to Harry Harlow — if I needed to read up on the social and emotional development of children, what names should I be looking for?

Specifically, the story situation I’m working with involves children raised from birth in what amounts to an orphanage: professional caretakers (well-meaning ones, not Dickensian sadists), but no parents as such, and the children have to depend on each other for affection. I’d like to know what effects that would generally have on their behavior, and also what kinds of practices the Powers That Be might institute to keep the kids from growing up too warped. (Would it help if they slept in dormitory arrangements, at least until a certain age? Etc.)

I’ll be asking my psych-major husband, too, but until he gets home from work, you guys are it. 🙂

Edited to add: I’ve read enough to come across Bowlby and Ainsworth, but I’m a) looking for more recent models and b) trying to work out the behavior of an adult character raised in such a situation; the specific behavior of toddlers is of less interest to me.

0 Responses to “for the psych folks”

  1. concernedlily

    My dim recollection of Psychology A-level suggests attachment theory, with John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth as the classic names, although I’m not sure how accurate and/or useful the theory is taken to be now.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m wondering. I mean, I’m having fun in the wilds of Wikipedia, reading up on that stuff, but I’m always mildly suspicious when the first names I find are decades old.

      I can find info; I just don’t know if it’s good info.

  2. kleenestar

    Wrightsman’s _Adult Personality Development_ has a good overview of relatively more recent theories (though he only gets up to 1990 or so). Although the book is about adults, the first 3/4 is about child development and its impact on adult personality.

    I’d also suggest the classics, Vygotsky and Piaget, plus the literature on kibbutz kids – Google will get you a ton of info on that, though some of it has to be read with a grain of salt (both pro and con).

    Honestly, I think you need to come up with a philosophical approach for TPOB and then I can help you a lot more. No one really agrees entirely on what the effects of good but non-parental care on children is, and I also think it’s more narratively interesting if TPOB get to take sides too.

    • Marie Brennan

      Wrightsman sounds ideal.

      The philosophical approach is “we have a bunch of highly dangerous children and we need to teach them CONTROL.” Which is, for various practical reasons within the setting, more easily accomplished by corralling them all together under a set of disciplinary mechanisms — or, more to the point, a set of mechanisms designed to teach them self-discipline at the earliest possible age.

      • kleenestar

        Well, there are three major schools of thought you could draw on here.

        1. Mischel’s research seems to indicate that kids as young as 4 have a self-discipline “temperament” that predicts their ability to control themselves throughout their lives.

        2. Piaget and other developmental researchers would argue that most kids are simply not capable of making certain kinds of decisions until they have reached a certain developmental stage.

        3. The Montessori approach believes that kids can be self-regulating if you work with their natural instincts and rhythms. (Keirsey has some work on this too, around the notion that praise and punishment are BOTH bad for a kid unless they are deployed very intelligently.)

        You could end up with a school that is highly behaviorist, focused on a system of rewards and punishments that control behavior. You could end up with a relatively permissive school that tries to use psychological methods and self-governance to control the kids. Or you could end up with a school that relies heavily on neurological methods – for example there’s research that shows that helping kids reflect on their decision-making ability based on the stage they are at actually helps them make better decisions. Which of these sounds most appealing to you? I can point you at more names/references, or you can take it from here. 🙂

        • Marie Brennan

          Well, if Mischel’s right, the people trying to train these kids are screwed. Or maybe the kids with the wrong temperament just blow themselves up and solve the problem that way. 🙂

          I lean toward the self-governance idea primarily because the schools are ultimately trying to produce adults who can be trusted off the reservation, so to speak. There won’t always be someone standing there with rewards and punishments, so while I do know the system has at least one rather severe punishment they deploy often enough for the kids to be scared of it, what they really need is for the kids to internalize and become responsible for their own control. The neurological example you describe sounds useful for that.

          • kleenestar

            Take a look through Wrightsman, then, and drop me a line when you’re done; I can email you some work on the development of self-regulation (though in terms of what works, the research is VERY mixed).

  3. Anonymous

    But on the principle that Lego is some sort of analogue of bricks (or stones), surely the Eiffel Tower model should be built in Meccano – assuming that still exists…

    (A quick Google later: yes it does, but not as I knew it.)

    Rather splendid model, and I’m surprised it only took 5 days.

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