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Introduction to child psychology
Introduction to child psychology

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2 Using theories to understand development

Like all fields of scientific research, child psychology is characterised by different perspectives and theories, which have shaped how our understanding of development has changed over time. There are many different theories to describe children’s development, but here we focus on just two. Some theories argue that development occurs primarily through factors internal to the child that are biologically generated. In contrast, other theories consider environmental factors, such as the child’s social environment, to be more important in stimulating and supporting development.

We will look at the theories of two influential child psychologists who sought to understand how children learn, and who represent these different perspectives :

  • development is primarily internal: Jean Piaget
  • development is determined by environmental factors: Lev Vygotsky.
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Figure 2 The nature–nurture debate focuses on whether differences between individuals and groups are better explained by genetic or environmental factors