61 minute read



COGNITIVE Usha Goswami

EMOTIONAL Susanne A. Denham, Anita Kochanoff, Karen Neal, Teresa Mason, Hideko Hamada

MORAL Silvia Koller, Angela M.B. Biaggio

SELF Susan Harter, Lisa Kiang

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Cognitive-developmental psychology traditionally coped with cross-cultural similarity by positing culture-general theories of knowledge development. The most famous of these theories was that proposed by Jean Piaget. Piaget suggested that reasoning in all kinds of cognitive domains (e.g., moral reasoning, physical reasoning, and logical reasoning) progressed through a series of universal stages that transcended culture and context. For Piaget, children progressed through three levels of knowing or of mental organization (Smith 2002). These were infancy (during which knowledge was based on action—the sensorimotor period), childhood (based on representational thought—the attainment of concrete operations), and adolescence (based on formal understanding—the attainment of formal operations). Piaget stressed that the levels in his theory were levels of knowledge, not levels of the child. He also suggested that the stages were not age-related, although he did provide indicative ages at which they occurred (sensorimotor, birth to two years; preoperational, two to seven years; concrete operations, seven to eleven years; formal operations, adolescence onwards). Nevertheless, he is usually characterized as a stage theoretician, and has been much criticized accordingly. Even quite young children can be shown to possess cognitive abilities that, according to Piaget's stage theory, they should not have at a given stage. For example, three-year-old children can reason by analogy, characterized by Piaget as a formal operation (see Goswami 1998). Other criticisms concern Piaget's assumptions that early thought is not representational, and that language plays a peripheral role in cognitive development.

Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Development

Lev Vygotsky differed from Piaget in that the role of social context and culture in children's cognition was a central part of his theory (Rowe and Wertsch 2002). Rather than seeing the development of knowledge as transcending culture and context, Vygotsky argued that an understanding of how knowledge develops requires an understanding of the social and historical origins of knowledge and of changes in that knowledge. He also proposed a central role for language in cognitive development. Vygotsky argued that human knowledge originates in socially meaningful activity and is shaped by language. Processes that originate in the social world are transferred to the inner mental world (inner speech), and shape the development of Through play, children develop cognitive understanding of the minds of others. ROBERT J. HUFFMAN/FIELD MARK PUBLICATIONS higher cognitive processes such as problem-solving. A key part of this transfer lies in the child's mastery of the symbolic or artificial stimuli (signs) characteristic of the child's culture, such as language. Part of the development of children's thinking therefore requires apprenticeship into culturally specific cognitive and social practices. According to Vygotsky, cognitive development does not happen just in the head of the child. Rather, it is a process of learning to operate with physical, symbolic, and cognitive tools in ways that in themselves change cognitive processes. The difference between a child's individual performance and that child's performance when guided by experts is metaphorically described by Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD). The ZPD was described by Vygotsky (1978) as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p. 86). This notion of an enhanced level of mental functioning when an expert guides an apprentice has been influential in education and in the study of learning disability.

Information Processing Theories of Cognitive Development

Later theories of cognitive development have been based on a computer metaphor. The idea that the brain is like a computer, able to take certain inputs, convert them into representations, and use these representations to compute certain outputs, led to new theoretical models for cognitive development called information-processing and connectionist models. Neo-Piagetian information processing theories explained cognitive development in terms of two fundamental components: the child's assumed available memory storage and the level of complexity at which the child was assumed to be capable of processing information (e.g., Case 1992; Halford 1993). Connectionist models are learning systems, and are loosely based on principles of neural information processing. They are intended to employ the same style of computation as the brain (they do not model exactly what is understood about neural circuits and the computational primitives/representations in the cortex and elsewhere in the brain that are extracted from environmental input). Connectionist models have proved particularly useful for their insights into possible causes of atypical development. For example, small changes in learning algorithms (routines) can model either reading development or dyslexia. This suggests that very small differences in a basic aspect of cognitive processing can lead eventually to quite noticeable differences in developmental outcome. Connectionist models also force the theorist to be more aware of the effects of incremental and context-dependent piecemeal learning for the child's development: every input to a connectionist system makes a difference to final learning, and theorists must be aware that every aspect of a child's environment will contribute to cognitive development.

Latest Perspectives on Cognitive Development

According to the latest conceptualizations of cognitive development, the infant begins the process of knowledge acquisition with a set of core principles that guide and constrain future cognitive development (e.g., Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl 1999; Goswami 2002). These core principles are either innate, or are given by simple perceptual information such as a sensitivity to contingency (events that appear contingent on one another). Experience of the physical and social worlds allows infants to enrich and revise these initial expectations, and even to replace them with new understandings. Knowledge acquisition is guided by the core constraints, and also by the ways in which surrounding adults behave—the social, emotional, and cultural contexts within which learning takes place. The kinds of innate or early-developing core principles postulated include physical principles like solidity and continuity of objects (e.g., that one object can only be in one place at a time) (Spelke et al. 1992), expecting words to refer to commonalities among objects (e.g., words label shared categories, functions, or perceptual aspects of objects) (Waxman 2002), and a basic animate/inanimate distinction (e.g., living versus nonliving (Gelman 1990). In contrast to traditional theories, therefore, current cognitive developmental psychology does not characterize the newborn as incapable of distinguishing self from other, incapable of forming representations, or incapable of retaining memories. Rather, newborns are characterized as active learners, equipped with certain innate expectations that, although quite primitive, enable them to benefit hugely from experience. The extent of this benefit depends on powerful learning mechanisms, such as the absorption of statistical regularities in the environment (e.g., in early perceptual tuning to the sounds of one's native language); making relational mappings, as in mapping the actions of other people onto the actions of one's own body (infant imitation); mapping the responses of another person to one's own emotional states; and explanation-based learning: noticing causal regularities in environmental information and seeking explanations for them, as in noticing that objects sometimes fall unexpectedly, and that this tends to occur when they are insufficiently supported (see Goswami 2002). Following are two examples of how the social, emotional and cultural contexts within which learning takes place affects cognitive development within this newer theoretical framework.

Social Cognition

Infants are innately interested in, and attentive to, people. Even newborn babies can imitate facial expressions, and older infants prefer to imitate people rather than machines (Meltzoff 1995). Joint attention skills develop by about nine months, and infants probably have a basic notion of agency by the end of the first year. Infants' conscious awareness of their own emotional states and of how they are related to the actions of their caregivers also develops during the first year of life. Although an understanding of representational mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, knowledge, ideas, or false beliefs) develops more slowly, a basic understanding of desires and emotions is present relatively early (by around two years). This early focus on other people means that parents and caretakers have an enormously important role to play in cognitive development.

As an illustration, take pretending, an early example of the child's symbolic capacity. Children across the world play pretend games, and pretending is important both for the development of the cognitive understanding of the minds of others (Lillard 2002) and for the development of social cognition more generally. Pretence activities focused on objects and props typically begin during the second year of life, and sociodramatic pretending with caretakers and peers typically emerges at around three to four years. Cultural contexts affect children's choice of pretend play topics. For example, the pretend play of U.S. preschoolers shows greater enactment of fantasy themes than the pretend play of Taiwanese children, whereas Taiwanese children spend a lot more time playing games about social routines and "proper" conduct (Haight et al. 1999). Parental attitudes and parental engagement also affect the frequency of pretend play, with more pretend play found in cultures where it is actively encouraged. Thus parents and caretakers act, usually quite unconsciously, in ways that promote and influence cognitive change.

A second illustration comes from research into children's understanding of mental states (theory of mind). A basic division between the mental (thoughts, ideas, beliefs) and the physical (substantive, objective objects) is present from early in childhood (Wellman 2002). As they seek causes and explanations for the actions of others, children gradually develop an understanding of mental states such as beliefs, knowledge, and false beliefs. For example, an understanding of false belief, with a consequent understanding of deception and intentional lying, develops at around four years. One important source of individual differences in the development of theory of mind is parent-child and family relationships. Children with brothers and sisters, particularly those with older siblings, typically show earlier psychological understanding, for example passing false belief tasks at earlier ages than children without siblings (e.g., Youngblade and Dunn 1995). Children whose families openly discuss emotions and feelings also show earlier developments in psychological understanding, particularly if the family discussions analyze the causes of emotions. The ways in which we talk to our children and the things that we talk to them about both play key roles in cognitive development.

The Development of Logical Reasoning

Research into the development of logical reasoning was for a long time dominated by Piaget's idea that development consisted of the child's gradual discovery of formal rules and principles such as transitivity and deductive logic. These formal principles were thought to be domain-general (applying across all fields of learning) and content-independent (applying irrespective of the material concerned), and were assumed to operate in their purest form in totally unfamiliar domains. The existing state of the child's conceptual system was therefore ignored. Late twentieth-century research has demonstrated that difficulties in logical reasoning are not usually determined by the intrinsic logical structure of the task. Rather, they are determined by the content or mode of presentation of the problem itself. This can be shown both across cultures and within different social contexts.

For example, it was believed that young children and adults from less Westernized cultures suffered from an empirical bias in logical (syllogistic) reasoning. If given a classical logical deduction such as "All Kpelle men are rice farmers. Mr. Smith is not a rice farmer. Is he a Kpelle man?", West African Kpelle tribespeople seemed unable to answer correctly (Scribner 1977). They said that they did not know the man in question and thus could not verify whether he was a Kpelle man or not. Young children given similar logical problems showed a similar "empirical bias." They seemed unable to reason about unfamiliar or incongruent information simply by applying deductive logic. However, Maria Dias and Paul Harris (1988; 1990) showed that even preschoolers could reason about incongruent premises if the reasoning task was presented in a "fantasy" mode. When the experimenter pretended that she was on another planet and used a "make-believe" intonation, even four-year-olds could solve syllogisms such as "All cats bark. Rex is a cat. Does Rex bark?" Dias and Harris concluded that young children were capable of deductive reasoning, as long as logical problems were presented in a context that clearly marked for the child that the situation was make-believe.

As another example, take performance on a classic Piagetian task, conservation. The conservation task is a measure of children's understanding of the principle of invariance: quantities do not alter unless something is added or taken away. In the conservation task, a child is shown two identical quantities, such as two rows of five beads arranged in 1:1 correspondence, or two glasses of liquid filled to exactly the same level. An adult experimenter then alters the appearance of one of these quantities while the child is watching. For example, the adult could pour the liquid in one of the glasses into a shorter, wider beaker, or could spread out the beads in one of the rows so that the row looked longer. Piaget showed that in these circumstances, children younger than around seven years told the experimenter that there was now less water in the wider beaker, or that there were more beads in the spread-out row. Again, however, social context plays a role in determining children's performance in this task. For example, when a "naughty teddy" alters the beads in one of the rows instead of an important adult, children as young as four and five years show conservation (McGarrigle and Donaldson 1975). Also, children who grow up in cultures that provide extensive experience with changes in appearance that do not alter quantity show earlier conservation. For example, the children of potters in certain rural societies show very early conservation of mass (Price-Williams, Gordon, and Ramirez 1969). Again, rather than being independent of culture and context, children's logical abilities are to some extent determined by both.


Late twentieth-century theoretical frameworks in cognitive developmental psychology have emphasized the importance of explanation-based learning models of cognitive development. Children are conceptualized as seeking to explain the world around them in terms of the collateral and background information that is available to them. The child's access to such information will vary with individual experience, parental and family practices, educational and cultural practices, and with sociohistorical context. Knowledge acquisition is thought guided by certain core constraints, and also by the ways in which surrounding adults behave—unconsciously transmitting social, emotional, and cultural norms within which learning takes place. The fact that children across the world seem to develop remarkably similar cognitive frameworks suggests that the learning mechanisms in the brain are actually fairly heavily constrained, and that environmental inputs across different cultures and social contexts share considerably more similarities than differences.


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Broadly stated, aspects of lifespan emotional development include emotional expression and experience, understanding emotions of self and others, and emotion regulation. As such, emotional development is central to children's ability to interact and form relationships with others. Much of the variation in children's emotional development derives from experiences within the family.

Theories of Emotion

Several perspectives help explain the role of emotion in development. Some theorists emphasize that emotions occur during events involving self and environment, but that events must be cognitively appraised before an emotion is experienced; this appraisal occurs with reference to one's goals (Frijda, Kuipers, and ter Schure 1989; Lazarus 1991). The social constructivist approach (e.g., Saarni 1999) also highlights appraisal, but focuses on emotions as social products based on cultural beliefs. In contrast, Differential Emotions Theory asserts that different emotions are already present at birth (Izard 1991). Keith Oatley and Jennifer Jenkins (1996) assimilate these divergent views, holding that emotions derive from a universal biological core, but also contain an appraisal/semantic component that is largely a product of social construction.

Emotional Competence

Both Susanne Denham (1998) and Carolyn Saarni (1990, 1999) have written about children's emotional competence; they agree that, although there are no overarching stages for emotional development, children become increasingly sophisticated in their expression and experience, understanding, and regulation of emotions. These early foundations of emotional competence contribute to mental health throughout the lifespan.

Socialization of emotional competence. Because emotions are inherently social, skills of emotional competence are vividly played out during interaction and within relationships with others. As noted by Joseph Campos and Karen Barrett (1984), emotions provide useful information for self and others. This entry focuses on the emotional transactions between parent and child and on parents' contributions to emotional competence.

Amy Halberstadt (1991) has highlighted three possible mechanisms of parents' socialization of emotional competence: modeling, reactions to children's emotions, and teaching about emotions. The theories of psychologists like Sylvan Tomkins (1963, 1991), as well as empirical findings from late twentieth-century research (e.g., Denham, Cook and Zoller 1992; Denham and Kochanoff, in press; Denham et al. 1997; Denham, Zoller, and Couchoud 1994; Dunn, Brown, and Beardsall 1991; Eisenberg, Cumberland, and Spinrad 1998; Eisenberg and Fabes 1994; Eisenberg, Fabes, and Murphy 1996; Eisenberg et al. 1999), predict that parents' positive emotional expression and experience, accepting and helpful reactions to children's emotions, and emphasis on teaching about emotions in the family, contribute to young children's more sophisticated emotional competence.

Over and above these mechanisms for the socialization of emotion, cultural issues are paramount (e.g., Kitayama and Markus 1994; Lutz 1994; Markus and Kitayama 1994; Matsumoto 1994; Matsumoto et al. 1988; Saarni 1998; Shiraev and Levy 2001). Parents socialize their children based on specific cultural values and norms, but cross-cultural similarities and differences remain to be delineated. In both Japan and the United States, people often agree on the antecedents and evaluative components of emotional experience, and even on some primitive aspects of appraisal (e.g., "I was scared of the loud noise; that didn't feel good; it seemed certain that something bad was about to happen; I had to decide how to cope"). Nevertheless, they differ markedly on some of the more advanced aspects of appraisal, including control of and responsibility for emotion. In the United States, people might state, "I have to show this emotion," or even "I am not responsible for this emotion," whereas the Japanese might say "I should not show this emotion" and "I am responsible for this emotion" (Mauro, Sato, and Tucker 1992; Nakamura, Buck, and Kenny 1990). Given these differences, the goals of emotion socialization surely differ across the two cultures.

Regarding modeling, children observe parents' ever-present emotions, and incorporate this learning into their expressive behavior. Parents' expressiveness also teaches children which emotions are acceptable in which contexts. Their emotional displays tell children about the emotional significance of differing events, behaviors that may accompany differing emotions, and others' likely reactions. A mostly positive emotional family climate makes learning about emotions accessible to children (e.g., Garner, Jones, and Miner 1994). Thus, parents' expressiveness is associated with children's understanding of emotions as well as their expressiveness (Denham and Grout 1992, 1993; Denham, Zoller, and Couchoud 1994).

However, several factors suggest possible negative contributions of parents' expressiveness to children's emotional competence. Parents' frequent and intense negative emotions may disturb children, making emotional learning more difficult. Further, parents whose expressiveness is generally limited impart little information about emotions to their children (Denham, Zoller, and Couchoud 1994).

Parents may cultivate some emotional expressions, but not others. Western cultures urge children to separate self from others and express themselves, but many non-Western cultures view people as fundamentally connected, with the goal of socialization attunement or alignment of one's actions and reactions with that of others'. Thus, in Japan, the public display of emotions is mostly discouraged because it is seen as disruptive, leading us to expect Japanese parents to model mostly low intensity emotions (Ujiie 1997).

Moreover, there is a qualitative difference in the emotions modeled. Valued emotions accompanying interdependence—friendliness, affiliation, calmness, smoothness, and connectedness—would be most available for observation by Japanese children. In contrast, anger, regarded as extremely negative in Japan because it disturbs interdependence, would be modeled less (Ujiie 1997). Research on these culturally unique aspects of socialization of emotions, however, is still largely lacking.

Parents' contingent reactions to children's emotional displays are also linked to children's emotionally competent expression, experience, understanding, and regulation of emotions (Denham, Zoller, Couchoud 1994; Denham et al. 1997; Eisenberg and Fabes 1994; Eisenberg, Fabes, and Murphy 1996; Eisenberg et al. 1999). Contingent reactions include behavioral and emotional encouragement or discouragement of specific emotions. Parents who dismiss emotions may actively punish children for showing emotions, or they may want to be helpful, but ignore their child's emotions in an effort to "make it better." Children who experience negative reactions are distressed by their parents' reactions as well as the events that originally elicited emotion.

Positive reactions, such as tolerance or comforting, convey a very different message—that emotions are manageable, even useful. Good emotion coaches, at least in the United States, accept children's experiences of emotion and their expression of emotions that do not harm others; they empathize with and validate emotions. In fact, emotional moments may be opportunities for parent-child intimacy (Gottman, Katz, and Hooven 1997).

Japanese parents' reactions to children's emotions differ from U.S. parents', although not at every age or in every situation. In general, U.S. parents Children observe parents' emotions and incorporate this learning into their expressive behavior. Parents' emotional displays tell children about the significance of events, behaviors that may accompany emotions, and others' likely reactions. OWEN FRANKEN/CORBIS see expression of emotions as legitimate and part of healthy self-assertion. Japanese mothers also respond positively to their infants and young children's emotions (Kanaya, Nakamura, and Miyake 1989), but gradually emphasize, more than U.S. parents, parenting goals of inhibitory self-regulation and acquisition of good manners. Thus, for children older than about three years, Japanese mothers react most positively to children's suppression of emotion and demonstration of empathy. Compared to U.S. parents, they especially discourage negative emotional expression (Kojima 2000).

Socializers' tendencies to discuss emotions, if nested within a warm parent-child relationship, assist the child acquiring emotional competence (Kochanoff 2001). Parents directly teach their children about emotions, explaining its relation to an observed event or expression, directing attention to salient emotional cues, and helping children understand and manage their own responses.

Parents who are aware of emotions and talk about them in a differentiated manner (e.g., clarifying and explaining, rather than "preaching") assist their children in experiencing and regulating their own emotions. Children of such parents gradually formulate a coherent body of knowledge about emotional expressions, situations, and causes (Denham, Cook, and Zoller 1992; Denham, Zoller, and Couchoud 1994).

Late twentieth-century research suggests that Japanese mothers also talk to their preschoolers about emotions (e.g., Clancy, 1999; Sonoda and Muto 1996). They use emotion language for similar reasons as U.S. mothers; what differs is the content of their conversations, which focus on aspects of emotion relevant for Japanese culture.

Thus, positive elements of emotion socialization seem clear. Moreover, there is some evidence that parents' support of one another also helps to ensure such positive elements (Denham and Kochanoff, in press). However, do beneficial aspects of parents' socialization of emotion differ across children's ages, or across parents? Although more research is needed in this area, it is predicted that these socializing techniques would occur across development and parents, albeit with different emphasized emotions, and different aspects yielding positive child outcomes. In part, however, these questions require an elucidation of children's changing skills of emotional competence.

Expression and experience of emotions. An important element of emotional competence is emotional expressiveness, the sending of affective messages. Emotions must be expressed in keeping with the child's goals, and in accordance with the social context; goals of self and others must be coordinated. Thus, emotional competence includes expressing emotions in a way that is advantageous to moment-to-moment interaction and relationships over time (Halberstadt, Denham, and Dunsmore 2001).

First, emotionally competent individuals are aware that an affective message needs to be sent in a given context. But what affective message should be sent, for interaction to proceed smoothly? Children slowly learn which expressions of emotion facilitate specific goals. Second, children also come to determine the appropriate affective message, one that works in the setting or with a specific playmate. Third, children must also learn how to send the affective message convincingly. Method, intensity, and timing of an affective message are crucial to its meaning, and eventual success or failure.

After preschool, children learn that their goals are not always met by freely showing their most intense feelings. For example, grade-schoolers regulate anger in anticipation of the negative consequences they expect in specific situations or from specific persons (e.g., Zeman and Shipman 1996). Along with the cool rule mandating more muted emotions within most social settings, older children's emotional messages become more complex, with the use of more blended signals, and betterdifferentiated expressions of social emotions.

These general tenets of competent experience and expression of emotion may be universal, but children from different cultures differ in the emotions they express. For example, Japanese preschoolers show less anger and distress in conflict situations than U.S. children, even though the two groups' prosocial and conflict behaviors do not differ (Zahn-Waxler et al. 1996). These differences fit the Japanese taboo on publicly displayed negative emotions.

Japanese toddlers and preschoolers' expressiveness is not always different from that of their U.S. peers'. For example, they express empathy in response to others' distress. Even this similarity, however, may arise from differing cultural imperatives. Japanese youngsters are encouraged to feel as one with their group, whereas Western children are encouraged to feel the state of another as part of their increasingly autonomous regulation of emotional states. The import of these subtle differences needs further exploration.

Understanding emotions. Emotion knowledge predicts later social functioning, such as social acceptance by peers. By preschool, most children can infer basic emotions from expressions or situations, and understand their consequences. Preschoolers gradually come to differentiate among the negative emotions, and become increasingly capable of using emotional language. Furthermore, young children begin to identify other peoples' emotions, even when they may differ from their own (Denham, 1986; Fabes et al. 1988; Fabes et al. 1991).

Grade-schoolers become more aware of emotional experience, including multiple emotions, and realize that inner and outer emotional states may differ. By middle school, children comprehend the time course of emotions, display rules associated with emotional situations, and moral emotions. They now have an adult-like sense of how different events elicit different emotions in different people, and that enduring personality traits may impact individualized emotional reactions (Gnepp 1989; Olthof, Ferguson, and Luiten 1989).

These general tenets of competent emotion knowledge seem similar for Japanese children. For example, even two-year-olds use some emotion language; by the end of preschool, their understanding of culturally appropriate emotion language is acute (Clancy 1999; Matsuo 1997). They begin to understand dissemblance of emotion (Sawada 1997). As in U.S. research, however, there is a relative dearth of research on older children.

Emotion regulation. Emotion regulation is necessary when the presence or absence of emotional expression and experience interferes with a person's goals. Negative or positive emotions can need regulating, when they threaten to overwhelm or need to be amplified. Children learn to retain or enhance those emotions that are relevant and helpful, to attenuate those that are relevant but not helpful, and to dampen those that are irrelevant. These skills help them to experience a greater sense of well-being and maintain satisfying relationships with others (Thompson 1994).

Early in preschool, much of this emotion regulation is biobehavioral (e.g., thumb sucking), and much is supported by adults. Important cognitive foundations of emotion regulation contribute to the developmental changes observed in emotional competence from preschool to adolescence. Preschoolers gradually begin to use independent coping strategies for emotion regulation, and grade-schoolers refine these strategies—problemsolving, support-seeking, distancing, internalizing, externalizing, distraction, reframing/redefining, cognitive "blunting" (i.e., convincing oneself that one's distress is minimal), and denial.

Older children are uniquely aware of the multiple strategies at their command, and know which are adaptive in specific situations. They also use more cognitive and problem-solving, and fewer support-seeking, strategies. Adolescents appraise the controllability of emotional experiences, shift thoughts intentionally, and reframe situations to reach new solutions (Saarni 1997).

Japanese children, as noted above, are initially very close to their mothers, who assist them in emotion regulation even more than Western mothers. Some researchers have noted, however, that once emotionally distressed, Japanese children find it harder to regain their equilibrium (Kojima 2000). It could be that extended maternal coregulation, coupled with stricter cultural display rules, make it more difficult for these children to self-regulate once distressed. More research is needed to follow up on these findings.


How can parents become skilled at the emotion socialization techniques appropriate to their culture? In the United States, many intervention programs exist to show parents how to foster children's social-emotional outcomes (Cowan and Cowan 1998). Most focus on parents helping children already showing difficult behavior, delineating remedial steps toward children's self-control and social skills (e.g., Webster-Stratton 1994). Other programs focus on more proactive parenting techniques (e.g., Shure 1993). In none of these programs, however, are emotion socialization techniques central (Greenberg, Kusche, and Mihalic 1998; Olds et al. 1998). Thus, even the best parenting programs generally fail to address emotion socialization directly.

However, parental instruction on emotional competence could be especially promising as a preventive approach. A few programs highlight such techniques—including those of Maurice Elias, Steven Tobias, and Brian Friedlander (1999), John Gottman (1997), and Lawrence Shapiro (1997)— emphasizing the importance of emotion-friendly family climate and parents' specific roles as emotion socializers for young children. Specific attention to the necessity of emotional competence and to the emotion socialization techniques most likely to contribute to it, in families and daycare and schools, is recommended (e.g., Denham and Burton 1996).


Research has delineated considerable information about children's emotional competence and how it is fostered. Nevertheless, much remains to be learned. More detail is necessary about emotional competence, its socialization, and its contribution to social success and well-being, after preschool (O'Neil and Parke 2000). Finally, the field needs to be broadened to include emotional competence and its socialization in non-Western cultures.


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Moral development is a topic of great interest to psychology, philosophy, sociology, and education. How does an infant—born without moral principles—gradually become a person who respects others and can live in society? This question is studied in the context of socialization.

Earlier Theoretical Models: Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism

Theories have approached morality differently. Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) described Oedipus complex to explain the origins of moral conscience, called the superego. The Oedipus complex occurs when a child loves the opposite sex parent and, in order to avoid the anxiety and fear of punishment that this causes, the child identifies with the same sex parent. The child incorporates the same sex parent's prohibitions, starting with "Do not love (sexually) your parent."

For behaviorist theorists, such as Robert R. Sears, Robert Grinder, and Albert Bandura (1982), conscience or morality was considered analogous to the phenomenon of resistance to extinction. H. Hartshorne and M. A. May, at the end of the 1920s, were pioneers in this line of research. Later, Robert Sears, Eleanor Maccoby, and Harry Levin (1957) and other researchers studied the influence of maternal and paternal disciplines upon development of the conscience. These studies found that warm and affectionate parents, who reason with their children rather than punish them physically, are more successful in having their children assimilate the moral values of the culture. Cognitive behaviorists have added other dimensions to this process, such as expectancies (what the child expects is going to happen), incentive value (how much the child wants something), hypothesis testing ("If I do this, then that will happen"), and self-efficacy (one's capacity and confidence on doing something) (Bandura 1977, 1978). In the psychoanalytic and behaviorist models, morality seems to be something that comes from outside, from society, which is internalized.

Cognitive Models

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) and Lawrence Kohlberg's (1928–1987) theories considered the role of the human being as agent in the moral process. These scholars focused on moral judgment: on the knowledge of right and wrong. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, the cognitive approach took over the study of morality, with few studies conducted on moral behavior or feelings. Both Piaget and Kohlberg were influenced by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and by sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917). From Kant, with the notion of categorical imperative came the idea of universal moral principles, and from Durkheim came the importance of social and collective factors.

Piaget's model. In Piaget's constructivist perspective, he speaks of the interaction between cognitive structures, or stages of development, which are biologically determined, and environmental stimulation. He is most famous for his work on with the identification of universal stages through which thinking evolves in an invariant sequence (i.e., in the same order for all persons of all cultures) (Piaget and Inhelder, 1967).

In The Moral Judgment of the Child (1932),Piaget argues that moral judgment evolves through stages that are roughly parallel to the stages of cognitive development. He observed children behavior and attitudes in games of marbles. He identified stages in the development of rules, and the children's attitudes regarding rules. The first stage consists of sensorimotor (sense organs and motor development) exercises: the child plays with the marbles, for example, with no notion of rules. In this stage, vision and touch are practiced. In the second stage, called egocentric: the child follows his/her own rules, while trying to imitate others' rules. Paradoxically, the child has great respect for the rules, says they cannot be changed, but does not follow them. If one asks four- or five-year-olds, for example, who created the rules of the game of marbles, they might say God, Santa Claus, or "my father," all other authority figures. During this stage the child considers material losses as more serious than intentions. Piaget used pairs of short stories to test this, for example: Peter rushed into the kitchen and accidentally broke twelve glasses that were on a tray behind the door. Johnny got mad because his mother did not let him play outside, picked up a glass on a tray, and threw it on the floor in order to break it. Which of the two boys deserve more punishment, Peter or Johnny? The younger child says it is worse for a child to break a dozen glasses accidentally than one glass on purpose, because twelve glasses will cost more to replace than one glass. In the third stage, beginning cooperation, the child begins to cooperate, follow rules, and understand the importance of intentionality. It is only in the fourth stage, however, that the child is able to codify rules and understand that game rules are arbitrary and can be changed if all players agree beforehand. Conceptions about justice also evolve from retribution and vengeance (in the young Games such as hopscotch may challenge children in developing and shaping morals. These children may consider the fairness of the rules, who made them up, and whether or not to follow them. JENNIE WOODCOCK; REFLECTIONS PHOTOLIBRARY/CORBIS child) to the notion of reform of the culprit and reparation, or making up for wrong doing (in the older child). Immanent justice (punishment by nature) also diminishes. Heteronomy (norms imposed by external forces) is substituted by autonomy (making decisions depending on one's own conscience).

Kohlberg's cognitive model. Lawrence Kohlberg (1958) based his theories on Piaget's ideas. Unlike Piaget, however, Kohlberg presents a more precise conceptualization and discrimination of the stages, and the dimension of heteronomy-autonomy that underlie the stages. His method allows for quantified scores of maturity of moral judgment. The six stages proposed by Kohlberg are subsumed in three levels: preconventional (stages one and two), conventional (stages three and four), and postconventional (stages five and six). In order to understand the meaning of the stages, it is important first to understand the meaning of levels.

The preconventional level is characteristic of younger children, some adolescents, and many criminals. There is not yet any sense of real morality, or any internalization of values. The conventional level is typical of the majority of adolescents and adults in U.S. society (Colby and Kohlberg 1984), and probably all Western societies and even non-Western societies as well (Snarey 1985). At the postconventional level individuals have come to question the morality of the status quo and are able to change laws and cultural rules. Approximately 5 percent of adults reach the postconventional level, usually after age twenty or twenty-five. At stage one, the orientation is toward punishment and obedience; at stage two, morality is geared toward pleasure and satisfaction of one's own needs; at stage three, morality centers on pleasing others and fulfilling conventional roles; at stage four, the emphasis is on law and order; at stage five, the person tries to change unfair laws through democratic channels; and at stage six individual conscience prevails.

Kohlberg interviewed children and adolescents of ages ten, thirteen, and sixteen years, and identified levels and stages of moral development, proposing moral dilemmas such as one about a husband who steals medicine to save his dying wife when all efforts to get money to pay for the expensive drug failed. Another dilemma has to do with a boy who wanted to go camping, and his father promises he may go if he saves money from his newspaper delivery job. Then the father requests the money for himself, in order to go on a fishing trip. Answers to dilemmas are analyzed and the researcher classifies a person's response into one of the six stages. It is not the content (to steal or not to steal, or to give the money to the father or not to give it) that determines a person's stage of moral judgment, but the reasoning behind it. If a person says the husband should not steal it because he could be caught and go to jail, this person is responding at stage one. If one says he should steal the money to look good before his friends, or only if he loves his wife, this person would be responding at stage three. If, in response to the first dilemma, one says stealing is against the law, so the husband should not steal the money, this person is responding at stage four. Valuing human life over the pharmacist's profit situates the respondent at stage five or six. In the second dilemma, appeals to the father's authority and the duty of a son to obey him places a response at stage one, whereas speaking of the importance of fulfilling a promise places a person at a higher stage. Details about the scoring procedure appear in the Manual for scoring the Kohlberg Moral Judgment Interview, which is a guide to evaluating at which stage of moral development a person's responses are at (Colby and Kohlberg 1984).

Many moral education programs in schools are based on Kohlberg's theory, consisting of group discussion of moral dilemmas, as initially proposed by Moshe Blatt and Kohlberg (1975). These debates or discussions create cognitive conflict when a participant is faced with someone's responses, which may be in a higher stage than his/her own. This usually increases level of moral maturity. Kohlberg started involving whole schools, including any teachers, students, or faculty that wanted to participate, in discussing real-life moral dilemmas of the participants' school situation, a technique referred to as just community, which has been proven very valuable (Power, Higgins, and Kohlberg 1989).

Kohlberg claims that there is a core of moral values that are universal, in other words, the sequence of stages is invariant, and the same for every person of each culture. As a result, certain moral values, such as the respect for human life, and not causing harm to others, are upheld in all cultures. John Snarey's (1985) review of the literature supports this notion. He analyzed more that forty studies conducted in twenty-seven different cultures, which support Kohlberg's claim for universality, although the higher stages (five and six) did not appear in all cultures. However, Richard Shweder and his colleagues (1991) argue for the role of culture, based on their research in India (Shweder, Mahapatra, and Miller 1987): they did not find distinctions between conventional and moral transgressions. Jonathan Haidt, Silvia Koller, and Maria da Graça Dias (1993) corroborated those findings in their research with Brazilian children. Contrary to this relativistic view of morality, some neo-Kohlbergians, such as Elliot Turiel (1983) and Larry Nucci (1981), distinguish between moral and conventional domains, and present evidence that even preschool children distinguish between the severity of transgressions of each domain. Carol Gilligan (1982) argues that women's morality is different from, but not inferior to, male morality. Women emphasize the justice of care, whereas males stress justice, which is the central concept in Kohlberg's theory.

Prosocial Behavior

Comparatively few researchers have examined similarities and differences in the positive sides of morality. There have been few examinations of the dilemmas in which one person's needs or desires conflict with those others in need in a context in which the role of prohibitions (e.g., formal laws or rules), authorities' dictates, and formal obligations. However, children and adolescents often are faced with the decision to help others at cost to themselves. Those decisions have been the focus of prosocial moral reasoning research that emphasizes reasoning about moral dilemmas in which one's needs or desires conflict with those of others in need (Eisenberg 1986).

The development of prosocial moral reasoning is consistent with Kohlbergian justice-oriented developmental stages. The similarity is due to the role of cognition as a necessary, but not sufficient factor, for reasoning about moral dilemmas. Nancy Eisenberg and her colleagues (Eisenberg et al. 1995; Eisenberg et al. 1991) have found a developmental progression from hedonistic and needsoriented, to approval-oriented and stereotypic (norm-related), to, finally, empathic and internalized, modes of prosocial moral reasoning during childhood and adolescence. However, in contrast to prohibition-oriented moral reasoning, older children and adolescents express both cognitively sophisticated types of prosocial moral reasoning as well as the less sophisticated types (Eisenberg et al. 1995). Based on socialization theory (Gilligan 1982; Maccoby and Jacklin 1974), individual and group (e.g., cultural, national, and gender) differences in prosocial moral reasoning may be most evident in late adolescence when differences in moral reasoning due to cognitive development are reduced, and socialization processes are consolidated. Thus, by late adolescence (e.g., for college students), prior and current educational experiences, and cultural socialization processes are expected to become increasingly important to individuals' reasoning in moral situations. Consistent with cognitive developmental theory, researchers frequently have found that the sophistication of moral judgment increases during adolescence, presumably due in part to an increase in perspective taking and reflective abstraction skills (Colby et al. 1983; Eisenberg 1986; Rest 1983; Selman 1980).

The processes involved in prosocial moral reasoning and in prosocial behavior (as reported by Carlo et al. 1996; and Eisenberg, Zhou, and Koller 2001) appear to be similar for children and adolescents of different cultures (North American middle-class adolescents compared to low and high socioeconomic status Brazilian adolescents).

For most people, life is continual change: moral character changes as cognitive and emotional developmental processes (from hedonistic or egocentric behaviors to self-reflexive perspective taking and internalized norm-related or other-related judgments and behaviors) combine and as individuals face new social and familial roles and contexts (Mason and Gibbs 1993; Rest and Narvaez 1991). There are increases in personal and social responsibilities that parallel the developmental changes that occur during the life cycle. Each change provides new opportunities for having a greater impact on personal development, society, and others. Although the aforementioned changes are common to many people during the life cycle, ecological theorists (e.g., Bronfenbrenner 1979) suggest that different culture-specific socialization experiences lead to specific developmental outcomes. Socialization experiences, including social norms, expectations, and educational experiences, may indeed be different for individuals from different cultures depending on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors deemed desirable for success in that society. These culture-specific experiences may lead to different patterns of thinking about moral and prosocial issues.


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James' Theory of the Determinants of Self-Esteem

For James (1890), self-esteem results not from a summary evaluation of one's successes or failures, but rather from an assessment of one's sense of adequacy or competence in areas one deems important. For children, such domains include scholastic competence, athletic competence, peer likability, physical appearance, and behavioral conduct. Thus, if children feel adequate in those domains judged important and are able to discount the importance of domains in which they feel that they have limitations, then they will have high global self-esteem. Those who continue to assign importance to areas in which they perceive weaknesses will report low self-esteem.

The primary contribution of parents to this process lies in the origins of children's judgments of importance. Children naturally come to accept their parents' definition of the importance of success in given domains, particularly in early childhood where parental values and authority are highly respected. Parents who give high importance to academic success, for example, will convey this attitude, directly or indirectly, and their children will come to view the academic arena as extremely important. However, if a particular child has a palpable weakness (for example, a learning disability, a low IQ, or temperamental traits that interfere with the ability to attend to and concentrate on schoolwork), then this child will not be successful. This, in turn creates a discrepancy between high importance and low success, the very formula that leads to low self-esteem from a Jamesian perspective. Conversely, if the child's abilities and talents are convergent with parental values, then there will not be a discrepancy between importance values and the child's success in various domains, and the child will have high self-esteem. Thus, parents' values can directly affect the self-esteem of their children.

Cooley's Theory of the Looking-Glass Self

For Cooley (1902), significant others, notably parents in childhood, constitute social mirrors into which a child gazes to detect parental opinions of the self. These opinions of others are then, in turn, incorporated into a child's sense of self, namely an evaluation of his or her worth as a person. Thus, if parents approve of the self, these positive attitudes are adopted in the form of high self-esteem as well as a sense of adequacy in the specific areas where there is parental feedback (e.g., scholastic competence, athletic competence, behavioral conduct, appearance). Conversely, if parents manifest their disapproval of child's worth or capabilities, the child will devalue the self and experience low self-esteem. Thus, for Cooley, the self is very much a social construction. Numerous studies have documented the fact that approval from significant others is a powerful contributor to a child's sense of self (Harter 1999a).

The manner in which approval from parents is communicated to children is more complex than mere direct verbal feedback (see Harter 1999a). Negative parental opinions can be communicated through a lack of positive feedback. Another family member may also serve as a source of information about parental appraisals. In addition, through observing how parents evaluate others (e.g., siblings), children can gain indirect information about how parents evaluate the self. Thus, if a sibling receives praise but the target child does not, negative self-evaluations can result.

The looking-glass self represents a dynamic process that occurs over the formative years of development. Ideally, children will come to internalize positive approval such that ultimately they are no longer totally dependent upon the opinions of others. That is, they become able to evaluate their own worth, successes, and failures in the absence of either direct feedback or indirect communication. However, there are potential liabilities when the self is developed in the crucible of family interactions (see Harter 1999b). The first and most obvious are liabilities associated with the internalization of unfavorable evaluations of the self by others. The incorporation of disapproving opinions of parents will lead, in turn, to perceptions of personal inadequacy and low self-esteem.

There are liabilities associated with the failure to internalize standards and evaluative judgments of parents, standards and judgments that one should come to own and that can serve as the basis for one's sense of self-worth and as guides in regulating one's behavior. If one is constantly drawn to the social looking glass, if one persists in primarily basing one's sense of self-worth on the appraisals of others, a constellation of negative correlates will arise. Research by Susan Harter, Clare Stocker, and Nancy Robinson (1996) revealed several related liabilities among young adolescents who, rather than internalizing parental opinions of the self, continued to base their self-esteem on the external views of others. First, these adolescents reported significantly greater preoccupation with approval of peers than did those who had internalized the opinions of others. Second, teachers' ratings confirmed the researchers' expectations that those still gazing into the social mirror were more socially distracted in the classroom, devoting less energy to their scholastic activities, given their greater preoccupation with peer approval. Third, the adolescents in the study reported more perceived fluctuations in peer approval. Fourth, they reported greater fluctuations in self-esteem, which is understandable since by definition they were basing their self-esteem on the perceived approval of others. Fifth, they reported lower levels of peer approval, perhaps because in their preoccupation with approval, they engaged in behaviors that did not garner this type of peer support. They may have tried too hard to obtain peer approval or may have employed inappropriate strategies, and in so doing may have annoyed or alienated their classmates. Finally, given that these adolescents, who by definition based their self-esteem on approval, reported lower peer approval, they reported lower self-esteem.

Aspects of early parent-child interactions may prevent the internalization process from developing. If children receive inconsistent feedback—for example, fluctuations between approval and disapproval from parents—it may be difficult for them to internalize a coherent evaluation of the self. Alternatively, receiving support that is conditional upon meeting unrealistic demands of parents may also prevent the internalization of feelings of self-approval. Conditionality can be contrasted to unconditional positive regard (Rogers 1951) in which parents provide general approval for their child. Adolescents do not find conditional support to be personally supportive (Harter 1999a). Rather, it identifies contingencies (e.g., "If you are successful, I will approve of you," "If you do exactly as I say, I will love you"). Thus, an early history of such conditional approval, as well as fluctuating feedback, does not provide the kind of validating support that can be internalized as approval of the self, nor does it provide a consistent pattern of disapproval that can be internalized as lack of acceptance of the self.

An Attachment Theory Perspective on the Self

From an attachment theory perspective, representations and evaluations of oneself can only be considered with the context of the caregiver-child relationship. Thus, as John Bowlby (1969) contended, children who experiences parents as emotionally available, loving, and supportive of their mastery efforts will construct a working model of the self as lovable and competent. In contrast, children who experience attachment figures as rejecting, emotionally unavailable, insensitive and nonsupportive, or inconsistent will construct a working model of the self that is unlovable, incompetent, and generally unworthy (see Bretherton 1991; Sroufe 1990; Verschureren, Buyck, and Marcoen 2001). In addition, those who are securely attached will report more realistic or balanced self-concepts, reporting on both positive and negative characteristics, although typically more positive attributes are cited (see Cassidy 1990; Easterbrooks & Abeles, 2000). That is, securely attached children have more access to both positive and negative self-attributes than do insecurely attached children, who often present an unrealistically positive account of their strengths in an attempt to mask underlying feelings of unworthiness.

Moreover, Lisa Kiang (2001) found that childhood attachment has a long-term effect on self-esteem in the college years. Kiang found that one type of insecure attachment (avoidance) led to the psychological correlates of eating disordered behavior (feelings of ineffectiveness, perfectionism, interpersonal distrust, maturity fears). These psychological symptoms, in turn, took their toll on self-esteem. Thus, patterns of early parent-child interactions can have far-reaching implications for later development, including maladaptive eating practices and low self-esteem.

Cross-Cultural Issues

Attention has shifted to whether attachment dynamics are universal across cultures or are more culture-specific (see Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake, and Morelli 2000; Van Ijzendoorn and Sagi 1999). The most thoughtful conclusion is that for evolutionary reasons, the attachment system does have universal characteristics that are designed for infants' survival during a period when they are vulnerable and therefore highly dependent upon parents. That said, how parental sensitivity is specifically defined should also logically vary from culture to culture, depending upon societal values. Whatever these variations, sensitive parenting should lead to securely-attached behavior that, in turn, should lead to positive self-evaluations in culturally-relevant domains as well as to positive self-esteem. However, cultural variations dictate that one develop different instruments to assess self-evaluations in different cultures.

For example, it is noteworthy that those who have taken Western self-perception measures to various Asian cultures (Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan) have found that the item content may not be relevant and that the question format, which pulls for social comparison, is not appropriate given that social comparison is frowned upon (see Harter 1999a). Thus, researchers need to take a more culture-specific look at what the self means in different cultures, how salient or important it is in different cultures, and with what outcomes it may be associated.


Parent-child behavior within the context of the family has a profound effect on numerous aspects of self-development. Various parental behaviors influence the level of a child's self esteem, domain-specific self-concepts, accuracy of self-evaluations, and preoccupation with approval which can have debilitating effects on the self. Each of these, in turn, has mental health implications since children's self-perceptions are highly related to their mood, namely the extent to which they are cheerful or depressed (see Harter 1999a). Any thoughtful approach to issues involving the self will require a sensitive inquiry into cross-cultural issues. As the world becomes more interconnected and more global, sensitivity to cultural differences and similarities is integral to the understanding of self-development.


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