Lecture 1

1. Miller’s Law & Critical Thinking

Miller’s Law


Critical thinking questions:

  1. What am I being asked to believe or accept?
  2. Is there any evidence to support the claim?
  3. Can the evidence be interpreted differently?
  4. Is there evidence that contradicts the claim, and can this evidence be interpreted differently?
  5. What evidence would help evaluate alternative claims?
  6. What conclusions are most reasonable?


Do you see a relationship between Critical thinking and Miller's Law? No? Does this picture help?


The relationship between these two represents a feedback loop, which will be a fundamental component to understand Piaget. We will begin discussing him soon enough.


2. Science and Psychology

Science is a tool used to understand the world. There are other tools, such as religion, intuition, and logic. But science is a particular type of tool that is largely determined by method. Sadly, there is a split between descriptive and experimental methods, and that comes in the form of methods to describe and explain data phenomena. For purposes of learning, understanding the distinction is helpful.


Types of science (Intro to methods)


1.      Naturalistic observation, Case Studies, Surveys, and Correlations

·      Each has pro’s and con’s, but can be helpful in the beginning of the study of a phenomena


Important Terms: Variable, Independent Variable (IV), Dependent Variable (DV), Confound Variables, Operational Definition.


A variable is a thing that varies, and may have an effect on some other variable.


An IV is a variable whose value is determined/chosen by the researcher for an experiment


The DV is a variable whose value is dependent on the IV.


A confound variable is a variable that has an effect on the DV, but it was not controlled for.


An Operational definition is a specific definition of a term or method so that others can know exactly what is meant. E.g., road rage. Road rage can be many things, so unless you specifically define what you are talking about, understanding can't happen.

·        For a True Experiment to work, all variables must have the same value, except the IV, which is determined by the experimenter. That way, if there are any differences in the DV between groups, then you can conclude that the IV must be the Cause those differences. If a confound variable is discovered after the fact, however, then you now how competing variables that could cause differences in the DV, and thus, you are unable to make any conclusions.


·    In a Naturalistic Experiment, the value of the IV is determined by nature. For example, if you wanted to study the effect of cigarettes on lungs, you wouldn’t ethically consider forcing some people smoke while letting other people not smoke. So, you let them choose for themselves; doing so let’s the participants select the value of the IV.



So, in brief, these are tools that scientists use to understand the world. But it’s important, in the context of developmental psychology, to understand a bit about the origins of these tools.



3. Philosophy of science


(Please note that Willis Overton, Ph.D., at Temple University deserves the lion share of credit in explicating these ideas. He has been instrumental in helping me in my continuing endeavor to understand these concepts as well. Any inaccuracies in presenting these ideas are attributable to myself only.)

Terms: Epistemology, Ontology, hypothetical construct, reification, Theory, hypothesis.


Theory: A theory is a model or framework for understanding. It can represent the best explanation of a phenomenon. There may be competing theories, but this doesn’t mean that a theory should be treated as mere conjecture. Evolution is a theory, but it is not just a theory; evolution as a theory is considered the best explanation for animal diversity because it is best at explaining the most observations related to the development of species—barring none.


Hypothesis: A hypothesis, on the other hand, is a statement of relations based on observations but may be discovered incorrect. Hypotheses can never been proven true, but they can be proven false. By discovering where hypotheses are false, we can begin to make claims about our universe.


Hypothetical construct: A label created to temporarily connect two phenomena. A great example is Gravity. It's a made up word to describe how one object magically moves towards another. Now that we have named it, we can test to see how well our definition works. An interesting article in the NY Times might be interestingly related to this (if you have the time).


Reification: Treating a hypothetical construct as absolutely real or true.


Epistemology is the study of “how do we know what we know?” It is AKA the study of the relationship between the knower and the known.


Ontology is the study of the “the nature of the ‘Real’.” In other words, what is fundamental about the Real? From what do all things come from? Yes, this is an abstract question, but its answer fundamentally shapes how people think and ask questions of their world. Ontology is essentially a metaphor that people use to understand what is Real and what is merely Appearance.


4. Metaphors, or worldviews, of Ontology


There are arguably 6-8 forms of ontology, or worldviews, that have been described: Animism & Mysticism, for example, are two that have been shown to be internally inconsistent and therefore cognitively poor metaphors for understanding the world. There are arguably four worldviews that are considered adequate; in other words, they are internally consistent. Another way to say this is that when judged by their own criteria, they do quite well:


Formism: metaphor of similarity, very powerful in classification

Contextualism: Metaphor of Tapestry, or the historical event (often used in family systems/therapy)


The previous two metaphors are not as central to the field of Developmental Psychology, but may show up later in the quarter. The following two, however, are often used in Developmental psychology.


Mechanism: Metaphor of the simple machine

Organicism: Metaphor of the organism.


All of these metaphors are said to be Incommensurable, that is, the assumptions governing these worldviews are only applicable within the worldview itself. A similar concept is ethnocentrism, namely, that by evaluating another culture in terms of your own culture is inappropriate, because the values governing your culture are probably at odds with the values of the comparison culture. Who is to say that your cultural values are better than another culture’s values? The same holds true for worldviews.


Those who are interested in these root metaphors should read this book: World Hypotheses a Study in Evidence, by Stephen Pepper.


Some fundamental assumptions of the Mechanism and Organicism worldviews, which are predominant worldviews held by scientists, especially psychologists: (For example, the first item on the list could be read: The Mechanistic metaphor believes that stability is basic, change must be explained, whereas the Organicist will say that change is basic and stability must be explained.)










Materialism or matter

Form or structure








Are infants inherently stable and inactive?


A quote by von Bertalanffy, 1968, might be helpful as an introduction to these worldviews:

In the world view called mechanistic, which was born of classical physics of the nineteenth century, the aimless play of atoms, governed by the inexorable laws of causality, produced all phenomena…. No room was left for any directiveness, order or telos…the only goal of science appeared to be analytical, i.e., the splitting up of reality into even smaller units and the isolation of causal trains. Organization…was alien to the mechanistic world…. In biology, organisms are, by definition, organized things…. Characteristic of organization, whether of a living organism or a society, are notions like those of wholeness, growth, differentiation, hierarchical order…etc.

A word on epistemology and splitting:

Rene Descartes split a couple of things, and can be referred to as the “big splitter.” (We will learn why splitting is a bad thing eventually.) He wasn’t the first to really talk about these distinctions, but he is the most famous.

First, he split subject from object. Most people are very comfortable with this split. Fundamentally, it’s an erroneous split, but that hasn’t stopped it from pervading our day-to-day lives. For example, the mind-body distinction found in western medicine celebrates this same split. Telling someone to stop being emotional is another split, based on the assumption that emotions are merely subjective and not valuable in discourse; instead “objectivity” is celebrated as the only way to solve problems. What we know now, however, is that all action is both emotional and cognitive. Another split that stems from Descartes’ splitting subject from object is the Nature-Nurture controversy. We’ll cover this shortly.


The second split Descartes created is essentially one between Idealism and Empiricism. Remember that Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum,” roughly translated to “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, his epistemology (how he claims knowledge is known) is through thinking or reason—idealism. Eventually, this created a reaction, a backlash against “mere subjectivity” where The British Empiricists such as Newton, Locke, Hume, Berkeley (pronounced Barkley) endeavored to find those “inexorable laws of causality.” So, their epistemology embraced the subject-object split, but rejected that knowledge would be gained through idealism—at all. Instead they embraced a realist form of empiricism.


To this day, a majority of scientists accept this subject-object split while embracing empiricism as the only way to understand the world.


The problem with splits is that you end up having to explain how to heal the split. It’s what I call the Humpty-Dumpty problem, no matter how hard you try you can’t put him (the splits) back together again. In fact, it is precisely this split that leads to research searching to find what percentage of variation is attributable to nature or nurture. For example, researchers using twin studies conclude that genes are responsible for roughly 43-49% of the incidence of schizophrenia. And that is as far as the split theories can get in mending the split between nature & nurture. This is very unsatisfactory when you think about it. If 49% of the variation in schizophrenia is attributable to heredity, how does that translate into understanding the cause, for example, of delusions?


Examples of ontologies embraced by Grand Theories and theorists:




Object-relations therapy


Piaget’s cognitive development


Erikson’s identity development

Behavior Genetics

Harry Stack Sullivan

Artificial intelligence

5. Change vs. Development

Most textbooks suggest that the definition of Development is changing behavior across age. Although pragmatic, this definition leads to serious problems.

So, how should we think about development?

First, consider our focus: Development of what?

Practically speaking, we are studying observable behavior.

·        Infant-caregiver attachment relationship measures the proximity-seeking action of the child. When considered as proximity seeking, the action has an means-to-end character. Bowlby, as an example of the Expressive pole, was primarily interested in this action as an expression of an underlying attachment organization. And this attachment isn't something you can directly point to. The action expresses that fundamentally, humans are creatures of relationships with others.

·     Piagetian tasks such as the object permanence or the conservation task, from an instrumental perspective, are essentially successful or unsuccessful problem-solving activities. Piaget, however, focused on these tasks as expressions of particular types of cognitive organization. In other words, the reason there are differences between children is that they have different cognitive organizations--this is an expressive explanation for difference.


Neither the expressive-constitutive nor the instrumental-communicative function are given to direct observation.  Both are reflective thinking that originates in common sense yet guided by our assumptions for the how the world works. In other words, you can't see these things. They are explanatory vehicles that we use to explain behavior. If our explanations are useful, then we would say that the explanation is better than explanations that are not useful. Piaget's theory of development is useful because it explains many of the differences we see in children behavior.

During the age of Enlightenment (Newton, for example), it was desirable to explain away the expressive-constitutive functions as mere appearance and ultimately explainable by the instrumental-communicative functions. (Aristotle’s 4 causes may be helpful here. Aristotle believed that 4 ‘causes’ were all that was necessary to explain a phenomenon: Material cause (what something is made of, a typically reductionistic endeavor), Efficient cause (as in ‘cause and effect’), Formal cause (the form or pattern of a thing), and the Final cause, (the purpose or ultimate goal of becoming). The first 2 causes are embraced and are frequently claimed by others that they can explain the second 2 causes. But to be complete in our understanding of something, we should understand all of these causes. Unfortunately, many psychologists believe that only material and efficient causes are necessary.


By having a distinction between the expressive-constitutive and the instrumental-communicative states there is value to considering "change" from a relational context in which features that would be held to be dichotomous and separate in an otherwise split context are represented as alternative lines of sight on the same object of inquiry. (Wha? Basically, this means that both points of view are helpful and necessary to understand something. By seeing how they are different, you can see how they work together, while avoiding confusing one with the other. It's kinda like Yin-Yang.)


A perceptual example may help illuminate this relational view of inquiry. Consider the Vase-Face illusion. Which is more basic, the faces or the vase? What is merely appearance? Which is the true nature of the picture? How much of the face is created by the face, and vice-versa? (Here is another good example of this illusion.) In this context, these questions are silly, but these are exactly the questions asked from theorists embracing the split between expressive-constitutive and instrumental-communicative view of behavior/action. It's the same question that is posed when you ask the question "is it nature or nurture?" The answers to these questions? 100% of the face is created by the vase, and 100% of the vase is created by the faces.  Another way to think about these distinctions (nature vs. nurture, expressive vs. instrumental) is to think of the answer to the question: Which is more important to the area of a rectangle, the length or the width?


By embracing both points of view, two types of change appear that both can be described as developmental:


  1. Transformational Change


  1. Variational Change
  • Morphological change. As forms change, novel forms result; consequently, transformational change involves the emergence of novelty.
  • This increased complexity is an increase in complexity of pattern rather than a linear additive complexity of elements

·        This is the degree or extent that a change varies from an assumed standard. Quantitative in nature, it represents an increase or decrease from the standard.

·        It represents additive change




Embryological change from single cell zygote to highly organized fetus

The average time for the zygote’s development is 9 months. But is it exactly 9 months for every child? No, but it varies around this standard

Sensory-motor action changes into symbolic thought

The average time for this change occurs somewhere between 1.5-2 years of age. And within a developmental stage, cognition can vary from analytical thought to synthetic thought.

Recognition memory turns into Recall memory

Recall memory doesn’t have to be verbatim, and each time a person tells a story, there will be some variation in the presentation.

The sense of self goes through such changes, perhaps from a person believing the world ‘happens’ to him/herself into a self that recognizes his/her influence on his/her world.

Variations in self-esteem might lead a person to show confidence one day, while lacking it the next.

Emotional distinctions, from a global emotional matrix from happy/fear into highly organized system capable of recognizing subtle distinctions of emotion in self and others.

One could be more or less anxious, empathetic, altruistic, etc.


Both types of change, transformational and variational, represent legitimate objects of inquiry, but only from a relational perspective—one that recognizes that focusing on one simply moves it to the foreground of study while moving the other to the background and not out of awareness altogether. Much like the vase-face illusion, we can shift from one perspective to the other and in fact must make this shift in order to accurately understand the object of inquiry.


Unfortunately, many researchers and theorists reject the relational perspective and instead embrace split-metatheory. They claim that transformational change is reducible and ultimately explainable by variational change, or that the expressive-constitutive function can be reduced to the instrumental-communicative. It’s from this perspective that we get the problem of dualism, otherwise known as the “mind-body” problem, which creeps up in other debates such as Nature vs. Nurture.