“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
As a collective society, we are all fairly familiar with the ideology/term, racism. Although this term is frequently used, especially when talking about our nation’s history, it is unfair to make the claim that everyone knows exactly what racism is and how racist and anti-racist beliefs are instilled in individuals. To start off, it is best to define the terms racist and anti-racist. Through the coursework and discussions that have taken place in the class PSY-353, Cognitive Development, we know that a racist is one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. The dictionary defines anti-racism as a policy or practice that opposes racism and promotes racial tolerance while non-racist is defined as not being influenced by a person’s race (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020. Cambridge University Press). Through the work of many scientists and psychologists, we are able to make a valid argument as to how normal process development can pave the way for later social injustices, such as racism. If we understand how racism develops, we can then take the necessary steps to prevent it from occurring. The cause of psychological growth and change is influenced by the narrative they begin to learn as an infant. Babies are always listening and watching the adults around them and mimic the things they see because they perceive it as normal. A child is not born racist, they simply follow in the footsteps of their caregivers since it is the narrative that is being given to them.
The ancient old question has often asked, what makes a human? Are humans defined by their genetic dispositions, or by how they are raised? Nature or nurture? Cognitive development psychologists have concluded that nurture paves the pathway for nature. From the moment of conception, external factors influence developmental ability within the fetus. As a baby can be born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) due to a mother consuming too much alcohol, keeping a healthy balance for one’s baby is critical in determining how healthy a baby will be until the end of the third trimester. Nurture in turn has large effects especially on human development when it reinforces behaviors and attitudes that reflect a larger belief. For example, in the 1966 doll experiment (Clark & Clark), where they asked multiple black schoolchildren to pick either white or black dolls to play with, in which the majority of these children would prefer white dolls to black. When further asked about why they made these choices, answers negating perceptions of “colored” dolls were seen as “ugly” and “dirty”. This study later became vital within the US Supreme Court case of Brown vs Board of Education. The study has shown the ramifications of a nurturing environment that is still present today. Perhaps training in antiracist tactics for caregivers (e.g., teachers) in teaching how to spot potential behaviors that exhibit prejudice in young children would allow stopping and having a conversation about why, and how to fix their behavior.
The environment that an individual is raised in influences the stories that are told based on the culture and demographics associated with that environment. Caregivers, whether that be a mother, father, teacher, etc., who tell these narratives all have an enormous role in creating a young individual’s system of beliefs. Knowledge about one’s origins and backgrounds offers clues into that person’s thoughts and behavior in the present (Keil, 4). From a young age, we all observe our caregivers constantly and we tend to mimic and carry on similar tendencies throughout our lives. The “nature (nativism) via nurture (empiricism)” dynamic causes and shapes developmental growth. These two perspectives are based on the idea that organisms must be born with initial capacities that help them perceive and understand their physical and social environment (Keil, 16). Nurture is an exogenous force, or an external force, impacting the social-emotional-cultural ecology. On the other hand, nature is an endogenous force, internal force, which is the biological foundation of a human being. Nature and nurture are constantly working together during developmental growth. When something occurs externally either directly to an infant or near it they take that information and internalize it to make sense of the event that just occurred. In many instances, a parent or caregiver is the exogenous force and the natural tendency is to take that information and apply it to what we already know or we store it way and learn to apply it down the line. Our temperaments, dispositions, and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call ‘culture’ (Ridley, 2). Our genetic makeup does not make us, we use our complex genetic makeup to use the knowledge we gain from exogenous influences (nurture) to create who we are or choose to be.
The understanding of nurture being a dominant force, lets us understand the complications that issues such as racism can affect a developing baby. Take, for example, the article titled “Narrative Reverberations” written by Miller et al., (2007). The article focuses on the power of narrative, and how the ability to narrate stories can improve socialization techniques, enhancing cognitive development. She later states, “Small events such as these have emotional or moral significance to the child and her family and are thus “reportable” (Miller et al., 599). These small opportunities for storytelling will give insight into how a child will share information. If a child doesn’t feel heard or listened to when sharing stories, then they will become less likely to share in the future. This then can turn to quietness and an impact on self-evaluation. If a child doesn’t feel safe within their environment, and peers/caregivers seemingly accept that narrative, then the child is the one who will ultimately suffer. This may cause anxiety, depression, and feelings of worthlessness. If properly addressed and taken care of, this can open communication between a child and other parties, in which this child will feel secure in their ability to advocate for themselves, due to feeling supported by their systems.
In addition to this in early childhood, Ngozie Adichie describes the power of narrative within her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”. Adichie describes the harmful effects of reducing cultures and groups to one narrative. She mentions that these practices can breed stereotypes as well as set examples of negative behaviors for younger children. These behaviors then could be learned and practiced among children, and if they fit the narrative of their parents, no adjustments will be made, making it difficult to change later on in life. Adichie suggests that the importance of giving children access to all perspectives within a story will give them the opportunity to choose their own pathways in handling these differences. Narratives reverberate through the lives of individuals, connecting them to other people, other stories, and other activities, and teaching them who they are or might become (Miller & Fung & Koven, 595). Everyone, particularly children, is heavily influenced by the environment in which they are brought up in. Reflecting upon our own experiences and beliefs reveals how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children (Adichie, 2009). Having a single narrative only allows an individual to think in a very narrow way and it leaves no room for exploration, the idea of having multiple narratives connected to a single object or idea would sound absolutely bizarre to that individual. After watching these TED Talks it is easy to see how the formation of racist or anti-racist beliefs occurs and later leading to the way for social injustice. Those who hold single narratives for racial groups, political stances, genders, etc., all believe that their perspective is correct. In a sense, everyone’s reality is their own truth and it is hard to argue that one reality is more valid than the other, except in the case where one reality is harmful to another. Single-story narratives produce preconceptions that lead to strong feelings, both positive and negative, toward a collective group or ideology. These single stories are more likely than not to have been created with the knowledge that is centuries of years old and the stories continue to be told time after time. As one can tell, eventually this could become a problem. How does this apply to racism? An individual who has a single story of a racial group, like African Americans, and that single story entails that all African Americans are gang members, the individual will adjust their behavior and stature when coming in contact with someone who is black. They already have a preconceived judgment of that one black man or woman before speaking one word to them. This ever-growing tension between racial groups will not stop until we change our mindset and accept the idea that multiple narratives make up an individual, not just one.
Cognitive development psychologists are responsible for understanding how children grow, develop, and change. Whilst differences in perspectives of how development begins and grows are vast, and many ancient debates have taken place in attempts of gaining a common answer. Early empiricists such as John Locke and George Berkley believed all knowledge was and is based on learned associations (Keil, 15). The chapter named “Ancient questions and a young science” taken from the book titled “The Scientist in the Crib” describes the history of how development was perceived from ancient times with philosophers till the emergence of well recognized developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget & Lev Vygotsky. Gopnik et al. (1999) state that early ideas of development such as the Socratic method were taken over once Piaget and Vygotsky began introducing their research (Keil, 14-15). Piaget conducted research on how children learn and think about the world around them. He was the first psychologist to identify that children think and learn in largely different ways than adults do. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory includes social interaction as a fundamental role in development. He believed that the community around children will greatly shape how they develop and learn. Other perspectives mentioned include cross-cultural, behaviorist, and neuroscience perspectives. The cross-cultural perspective focuses on how cultural variations influence development, as well as consistency between different cultures (Keil, 18). The difference in values and customs such as religion and moral reasoning shows the impact of culture on development. As we have discussed previously, the importance of cultural values vastly influences development within a child, and can either support or hinder possible stereotypes regarding race or gender. For example, the differences within a culture geographically separated (e.g., American culture vs. Nigerian culture) may be differences in perceptions of one another. Adiche particularly points this out as assumptions about her upbringing were stereotyped when she arrived in America for schooling (Adichie, 2009).
A neonate’s development begins as a fetus. Starting at three weeks in the womb the central nervous system (CNS) begins to form. Between three weeks and when they are born the development that takes place are neurogenesis (i.e., growth of nervous tissue), cell proliferation, cell migration (i.e., development and maintenance of multicellular organisms), “growth cone” as axons extend synaptogenesis, and myelination. As these things are beginning to progress the neonate starts with the basic functions needed to further develop, all that is left to grow the brain is the experience they receive in the real world. From birth to about two years old the brain is rapidly growing and as they learn/experience more the density of the brain tissue also increases. This further demonstrates that a neonatal brain learns from experiences and that if we were to correct behaviors of social injustices that it starts from installing these beliefs from a young age. Within three weeks after conception, the female body is already starting to form bundles of cells that make up the neural tube. The neural tube continues multiplying until it develops into the brain. While it is the first step towards development, it is considered the most critical, as the formation of the neural tube can determine the survival of the fetus. As development within the fetus impacts its ability to survive inside the womb, parenting structures and the environment in which the fetus grows up also will impact its ability to survive outside the womb. Throughout this essay, with specific emphasis on the issue of racism, we will discuss the process of development on specific concepts such as equity, equality, and fairness.
The documentary titled “The Secret Life of Babies” takes viewers on a journey regarding the thoughts and rapid growth of babies shortly before birth, and hence after. Perceptual development within the first few days of birth is rapidly changing and adapting. An infant at first is only able to make out blobs and shapes, however is able to mimic facial expressions within 20 minutes of birth. In a curious case of a set of twins mentioned in the documentary, the parents being deaf, the babies were able to learn sign language as the main source of communication. Once they hit preschool, they were then able to communicate with their peers verbally. They were both able to communicate with both their parents and teachers at school with limited difficulties (The Secret Life of Babies, 2014). Without the circumstances regarding their parents, they most likely wouldn’t have picked up the ability to use sign language and use both pathways of communication. This socio-cultural event has shown the adaptability that young minds have in regards to the processing and making sense of the world around them. Infants learn to communicate because of the things they learn from social speech (i.e., conversations with parents and others) with those around them, and every new experience can change and shape their brains and minds (Revill, B. 2014). At six months they begin to babble and attempt to imitate the noises they hear back to themselves (i.e., private speech) or back to their parents and learn best through shapes. It may not seem like it however, babies can understand three times more than they are able to verbally say (Revill, B. 2014). Since babies can actually understand more than we realize and during this age, they are mainly surrounded by their parents or in the bio-ecological systems theory they are mainly in the micro-system. Meaning that a parent’s words can have more of an impact on their children than they realize.
Overall, racism is a learned behavior, and the power of narratives, the assumptions and practices of developmental science, and human universals and cultural perspectives, all play a role in the development and the prevention of this behavior. We must use our knowledge about the impact of psychology and biology on cognitive development to solve the problem of social injustices. Stakeholders, such as parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists are all key roles in helping to raise children to be mindfully anti-racist. As parents there is so much you can do to help raise your children to be mindfully anti-racist. Although a parent may have strong beliefs about a certain topic, you owe it to your child to provide them with bias-free information so they are able to create their own belief system on their own time. Children are a mirror image of their parents, classmates, and teachers, however you act or whatever you say has a direct effect on that child whether it was intentional or not. Not only do actions have an impact on babies/children but also the narrative reverberations they are told as they are growing up. In Narrative Reverberations, the authors state that a story that is told time and time again can influence a child’s way of thinking or beliefs (Miller, P.J., Fung, H., & Koven, M. (2007). If a child grows up hearing racial terms that are directed either towards them or towards others can greatly influence the way a child reacts to those situations. The term reciprocal determinism states when a child acts the environment responds and therefore will determine how that child will react to that situation next time. In order to prevent social injustices and spread more positivity children should be taught at a young age, terms like anti-racism and should be educated about these things instead of hiding from them since it is a controversial thing to teach young children. If we are able to change the narrative of racism it may change the movement of social injustices around the world. Be conscious.
To understand the process in which babies and toddlers perceive the world, and to get a sense of how their tiny minds work; one must investigate the research done by developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget, Patricia Khul, & Noam Chomsky. We will discuss the differing viewpoints created by theorists about how babies view the world, process their perceptions, and how the environment around them will shape their perceptions, cognitions, and eventually actions. In today’s climate, more insight is given pertaining to the treatment of black and brown communities within our society; and our job is to educate and teach the future to be anti racist in all forms of its meaning. The importance of teaching children to be anti racist offers a plethora of benefits; including an increased sense of self-awareness, empathy, and willingness to interject in the face of racist conditions. This paper will give advice protruding from knowledge learned so far about how babies understand the world around them, and how their environments can acclimate their own preferences, biases, and behaviors.
Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive development is described through several processes of cognitive development. Piaget characterized those processes by perceiving the child’s knowledge and behavior in terms of schemes. A scheme describes a child’s pattern of interacting with their environment. This includes the child’s internal knowledge and interpretations and also the behaviors that arise from them (Keil, 2014). Babies add to or refine their schemes with new experiences in their environment, and due to this, they are constantly engaging in a process of adaptiveness. There are two basic forms of adaptation— assimilation and accommodation— through which the child tries to achieve a better fit between their schemes and the world. Assimilation is the process in which a child uses pre existing schemes, which include behaviors and concepts, to make sense of something new and unfamiliar. As a result of this process, babies tend to develop narrow views of the world, this may include racist beliefs. For example, if a child is brought up in a home with guardians that have very strong racist beliefs, such as all African American’s are criminals, those beliefs will later become schemes for all African Americans in that child. With this fixed mindset, it would be very difficult for someone to convince that child/individual to believe otherwise. In contrast, accommodation is the process in which a child alters their schemes to understand something new they have encountered. Through the process of accommodation, individuals are able to gain more knowledge and understanding of their environment that surrounds them (Keil, 2014). Piaget suggests that we will rarely see pure cases of accommodation or assimilation, rather, the two always work together to achieve the best fit between the child and their environment. With the use of both accommodation and assimilation, we will be able to reverse the effects of racism in our society one mindset at a time.
There always must be a balance in all things that we do, as Piaget suggests, there must be a dynamic balance between one’s schemes and their environment. This process in which both accommodation and assimilation work together to cultivate a better cognitive fit with the environment is known as equilibration. Equilibration describes the process of achieving a closer correspondence between the environment and the child’s thoughts and behaviors. Although, this correspondence is never perfect, improving it is the motive force behind cognitive development (Keil, 2014).
Piaget’s emphasis on discrete periods and stages of development, and his belief that assimilation and accommodation of many schemes lead to changes in cognition, is what differentiates his theory from many other developmental theories. He divided cognitive development into four periods: the sensorimotor period, the preoperational period, the concrete operational period, and the formal operational period. The child acquires new schemes until they accumulate enough new understandings/knowledge to trigger a transformation in their thought processes that lead them to the next period. In the first period, the sensorimotor period (birth-2 years old), infants learn to distinguish their own bodies and actions from the external world around them. The second, the preoperational period (2-7 years old), consisted of children using symbols to mentally represent objects, but they fail to use mental operations that enable them to see the quasi-logical relations governing phenomena. In the third period, the concrete operational period (7-12 years old), children can apply quasi-logical operations to concrete information, but they fail to think abstractly or in hypothetical terms. Lastly, during the formal operational period (12 years old), children are now able to think logically about things that are not immediately present and about abstract and hypothetical ideas (Keil, 2014).
Piaget’s belief that infants and children are striving to understand the world better through assimilation and accommodation stresses an active, exploratory developmental process. All knowledge is built up through experience. Piaget believed that innate schemes work in ways that go beyond mere associations. Through discussion in the course PSY-353, cognitive development, we understand that Chomsky believes that infants are born with innate domain-specific constraints for understanding various areas of knowledge. Based on the nativist theory all human abilities and developmental processes are innate and hard-wired at birth.
Vision which is considered the most complex in which techniques used to track and observe infants’ visual perception occurs while investigating preferences such as habituation and dishabituation. The process of studying infants’ habituation/dishabituation infers how long a baby is attentive to a stimulus. If an infant is not interested, they will not attend to the stimulus for long amounts of time (Keil, p. 80). Dishabituation however occurs when a new or slightly changed stimulus (from the first) is presented and observed. Longer attentive gazes at the new stimulus indicate a renewed interest response (Keil, p. 80). As a baby is born and cared for by it’s primary caregivers, access to diverse backgrounds and experiences may be limited. If a caregiver is tending to it’s first child; increased anxiety may be apparent within the caregiver. This heightened anxiety may turn to increased constraint in child-rearing practices. If a child has never seen a person of color before; they may stare, or even ask why that person looks differently than themselves. This shows a questioning and inquisitive attitude; which may be met either one of two ways. The parent may choose to educate their child about the topic, or choose to avoid the topic. Based on the parents’ decision to educate their child on other communities or difficult topics such as racism; it can greatly affect how a child then starts behaving when they do interact with other people. Whilst surprise and longer eye gazes may come from a child perceiving and cognitively processing what they are experiencing, it is critical to understand that teaching our children that it is okay to ask questions is essential in understanding and acts as a gateway to healthy discussions about difficult topics in the future between a parent and child. Infants have shown preference in skin tones, however this does not inherently mean a baby will become racist. It is important to note that a caregivers access to the information they give to their children plays a huge role within how stereotypes and biases can develop.
In Laura Shultz’s TED talk, titled “The Surprisingly Logical Minds of Babies”, her research explains how babies precisely make decisions based on little evidence around them. Based on both generalizations and causal reasoning, she displays two experiments which test the abilities intended for how babies can make these decisions. In the first experiment, she tests how babies generalize stimuli around them. With two trials, she tests colored balls related to squeakiness, in which babies were found more likely to generalize the squeakiness of a ball with less information given (e.g., 1 ball squeaking rather than 3 balls squeaking). In her second experiment Shutlz questions how causal reasoning appears in babies. She introduces a toy that makes sounds; in which she then has two investigators try to induce this sound from the toy. Within the first trial, only one investigator is able to make a sound occur, whilst the other fails. After viewing this, the baby is given the opportunity to either try and induce a sound, or has the option to give it to another person. Within this trial, the baby gives the toy to its mother. Within the second trial, both investigators fail and succeed once; and the baby then, instead of giving the toy up, goes for a different one instead. This research in generalizations and causal reasoning gives inferences in just how precise babies can be when making decisions. This is important because it shows how fluid the information given in a situation can affect a decision made by a child. This can be guided positively or negatively depending on the environment.
Language is a primary skill that neonates begin to develop as soon as they are born. These malleable creatures are able to begin to pick up language as soon as they are able to hear those around them speak, which is why it is easier for babies and children to become bilingual compared to young adults and those who are older (Kuhl, 2011). As babies begin to develop they use perception to start organizing the things they are learning from their environment. Infants use a mechanism called feed-back loops which means an experience occurs between the baby and the environment causing the infant to change (e.g., parent uses language and gestures to signify feeding time) (Keil, 2014). They change based on their perception of that experience (e.g., they know that gesture and sound last time meant food so now they attempt to mirror those actions for food) and this will alter how they react to the environment when faced with a similar situation (Keil, 2014). Connecting this to how infants develop language, infants hear the sounds and begin to create categories in their minds (Rhodes et al., 2018). They try to make connections between words and meaning to understand how things work even before they are able to verbally communicate with others (Keil, 2014). Which shows why it is important for caregivers to be mindful of what they say and how they phrase things in front of children. It could lead to the children saying racist things to others without even knowing it, because in their minds they learned that these words were used by their caregivers to describe someone else so they believe it is okay.
Babies are blank slates with powerful processing abilities that are extremely impressionable to the things they experience. As they are growing up their parents’ words have a greater impact on them then we realize. When infants begin to learn languages their minds begin to make social categorizations in order to simplify complex social interactions (Rhodes et al., 2018). As social categorization develops, cultural differences bring about meaning within a child, therefore gives opportunity for social categories to become important to a child. This can influence categorization and encourage it, based on one’s culture (Rhodes et al., 2018). Categorization can leave young children with ideas of stereotypes towards other ethnicities and fuel racism if not educated properly. Children are constantly meeting new people so when others are talking to them they are not able to control what they say (i.e., impulsively speak) or understand the meaning completely behind the words they use. As they are processing their speech in their heads the neurons are firing to make connections to the meanings or a thousand meanings for a word are being processed in order to find the correct meaning, however for a child just learning to speak they only have a limited amount of knowledge of meanings for a word (Gareth, G., 2020). This is why it is important to teach children the different meanings these words can have in social situations; to avoid encounters that may cause a misunderstanding for other people or hurt others (Rhodes et al., 2018).
As we have learned, children are vast learners and can decipher through multiple strategies when learning. We have discussed the importance of both empiricist and nativist theories regarding child development pertaining to how children perceive the world around them and use this information to make generalizations about the world. Analysis of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has shown to be groundbreaking in cognitive development psychology, however newer research has also impounded previous ideas that Piaget held. As we have discussed in class, Piaget was a foundation that allows current research to expand today in the world of cognitive development science. Perceptions integrating into cognitions within children have been found to appear early childhood, as we have seen with both Patricia Khuls’ & Laura Shultzs’ TED Talks that analyze choice making and language acquisition. Language development plays an important role in how children communicate with their parents and peers. We suggest open lines of communication, in which questions and comments are encouraged between a child and their caregiver. This establishes a concrete relationship that is based off of communication, and gives a child an outlet for questions or comments they may have. This in turn may motivate a child to speak up when they see or hear rash movements occurring. In addition to this communication, it is essential for a caregiver to monitor their own language and conversation; as a child can pick up phrases and words that can guide the connotation within the child themselves. It is critical that a caregiver is able to reflect and recognize their own biases and opinions in which they could pass onto their child. Whilst these elements opt for introductory lessons in teaching a child how to be anti racist, explicit education should be done as well, to further guide a child to understand the history and importance of knowledge when it comes to racism itself. Introducing educational podcasts (which we have included below) regarding a variety of topics (not just racism) perpetuates further acknowledgment of practices to start in actively fighting against racist behaviors our children may face in life. In terms of approaching situations with an antiracist approach, it is also crucial to teach our kids how to spot and point out racism within the media and the content they engage in. As we have discussed comprehensively, an environment is crucial to one’s development. Stereotypes can easily be influenced and encouraged within one’s environment without knowledge or intention, therefore careful consideration to a child’s access to the media and the internet can greatly influence their biases and In addition, educational books such as Antiracist Baby written by Ibram X. Kendo.
Some advice that was mentioned involves careful consideration of language used around a toddler, opening lines and opportunities for communication between a child and their caregiver, and involvement of active engagement within education. A critical review of how all of these topics interact with each other and can help or hinder one’s cognitive development based on their environments (e.g., mesosystems, exosystems) can guide how a child grows to be in adulthood and how they choose to confront issues such as racism and sexism.
“The true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the social, but from the social to the individual.”
-Lev S. Vygotsky
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (1934) states that people learn from culture and social interactions, that growth and development comes from external factors (e.g., religion, culture, economy, social interactions, etc.) that we internalize and expand on. This shows that the environment that children grow in can heavily influence whether they develop non-racist or anti-racist beliefs. Although, humans are forever changing creatures that always have room for growth that does not mean we should not educate children on racism even if they are young. When we say “educate” however, we do not mean to scare them with gruesome facts about racism but rather help them to understand how things such prejudice, stereotyping, and interpersonal interactions can hurt others. In order to make a difference first you need to change the narrative of the culture that is continuing the non-racist beliefs and spread a more open/ positive narrative and understanding on anti-racism beliefs.
At infancy children are exposed to new experiences and their memory begins to develop. Scientists believe that semantic memory (i.e., language, facts, concepts, etc.) begins to develop first, starting from birth to around 2 years old. Then episodic memory (i.e., expanding on language, simple narratives, understanding emotions, etc.) follows at around the age of 2 years old to age 5. These long-term memories begin the basics for autobiographical memory which is the combination of semantic and episodic memory. When autobiographical memory is used the child is able to communicate their experiences to make connections and elaborate what they know about the environment they are growing up in (Fivush & Nelson, 2004). Memory will continue to develop for the rest of their life and they will also grow and change as a person the more they experience (Fivush & Nelson, 2004). As we grow older and learn more about the environment people will recall the things they’ve learned from their past experiences in order to interact with their environment and peers. Vygotsky believed that the nurture portion of development is what writes the script for the future which is why it is important that caregivers are able to nurture their children’s development from a young age (Fivush & Nelson, 2004).
As we live life memory-making moves forward in time, but as we recall life, we remember it backwards(Tessler & Nelson, 1994). This shows that when children are given a narrative from an adult in the present they internalize those teachings (Tessler & Nelson, 1994). Which is why language is so important when communicating with children because language is used as a connection for life events to make a cohesive story in their memories and better understanding of self-concept (Tessler & Nelson, 1994). Although not all memories are remembered, there are specific ones that children remember to have an effect on them (Tessler & Nelson, 1994).
The executive function of a child is still developing where their memories will predict how they will take action and learn from the actions they have taken. Those actions will then activate things like attention and what to focus on. In OnBeing podcast The Science of Attention (2009) Adele Diamond speaks about learning curriculums and how they can affect children in the future. In modern education she speaks about how brain activation in different activities (e.g., sports, memorization, play, music, etc.) play a role in the development of children (Diamond, 2009). These are the key factors that will enhance a growing mind and make it easier to recall information in the future.
For years cognitive theorists legends, such as Jean Piaget, have been the forerunners in cognitive development theories. Piaget believed that cognition starts with action and it progressively will become abstract. In his work, the development of knowledge was mostly described in terms of the child’s discoveries about the world through direct experience (Keil, 2014). Cognition is embodied and impacted by endogenous forces, forces that are found within us. Based on this theory we could make the assumption that humans are born ready to make sense of the world, and that cognition is “inside” our heads. Over time, reflection reveals that this view could not possibly tell the whole story of the growth of knowledge.
Entering the twentieth century, Lev Vygotsky developed a theory of how social and cultural factors influence cognition. As Vygotsky would define it, cognition is a process of communication and transformation that results in the internalization of the external world. He argued that a child’s cultural context and social interactions often mediate their interactions with the world. The child is part of a community, which plays a crucial role in storing and retrieving information (Keil, 2014). During infancy, cultural factors affect the ways that infants and caregivers communicate through social referencing, joint attention, imitation, and emotional contagion. After infancy, more sophisticated cultural influences become evident, those being the zone of proximal development and scaffolding. According to Vygotsky, caregivers, or an individual that is more matured from the community, provide guidance that can make it easier for the child to transition into the zone of proximal development, which is the next level of skill or understanding that a child can achieve in cognitive development (Keil, 2014). In the process of supporting and guiding the child’s learning, adults and older children are often described as “scaffolding” the child’s cognitive development. Through the use of scaffolding, we are able to help focus children’s attention and organize their thoughts in a way that will increase their performance and feelings of mastery without making them aware of all the supportive scaffolding. Through the use of scaffolding, caregivers are able to reflect on their own beliefs without directly forcing it upon them.
Sociocultural views of development can also be helpful in understanding how the cross-cultural psychological differences we see in adults emerge and take shape over the course of childhood and beyond. Over time Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory has paved the path for theorists to follow. His educational legacy has allowed us to study and argue Piaget’s Constructivism view vs. Vygotsky’s sociocultural view. On the other hand, the scientific legacy has helped develop Nelson and Fivush’s Sociocultural theory of cognitive development, as well as the work of some essentialists. For example, in the literature review done by Marjorie Rhodes and Tara M. Mandalaywala, they examine the development of essentialist intuitive theories of how the social world is structured, along with the developmental consequences of these beliefs. Based on this essentialist perspective, children develop intuitive theories to make sense of the world around them, they rely on caregivers to understand why things are labeled the way they are, why individuals tend to have particular properties, and why some individuals are grouped together and separately from others in their environment (Rhodes & Mandalaywala, 2017).
Overall, when educating children it is important to make connections at a young age through things that will leave an impact on them in the future. Those memories that were originally external need to be internalized to make a lasting impression. Which is why it is important for parent-child interactions to have significant meaning, or those teaching will be lost, due to the forgetting associated with childhood amnesia. It is impossible to avoid things like prejudice and stereotyping because children will eventually come across things like that in their younger years however as caregivers it is important to explain and expose new experiences to their children. When they learn what those negative things are sooner than in the future they will be able to interact or express themselves socially in a more inclusive way which will hopefully lead to a more anti-racist ideals and a more positive environment to live in.
A child’s sense of self is critical to understanding others. The development of self regulation and worth can have either positive or negative affects later on in life depending on one’s sociocultural experiences. In order to fully understand the processes in which these processes occur, analysis will be conducted to make a recommendation in guiding children onto the path of antiracist behavior, rather than simple “non racist” behavior. Keil (2013) explains in chapter 13 how children decide and make their own judgements about others. As mentioned earlier, essentialist beliefs can make cause for increased bias and prejudice, yet can be common based on one’s nurtured environment. Evaluative reasoning for example, is found more commonly within younger children. This reasoning gives means to base an individual or group as entirely good or bad. Predicting a person’s actions for the future is also evaluated through this reasoning. The issue with evaluative reasoning is a tendency to assume an overall pre assessed bias for or against a person based on an action. However, how does this play when a child with this reasoning is brought up with essentialist beliefs? Support from a caregiver within these beliefs may seem difficult throughout a child’s progression to assess whether a person or group will further be identified as “good” or “bad”. In addition to these practices, the fundamental attribution error refers to the bias within observing others.
Interestingly enough, this bias varies across cultures, and is more apparent within individual cultures rather than collectivist ones. Members of individualistic cultures tend to attribute behaviors based on dispositional factors (e.g., personality traits). This often is an argument that is used politically, in which a general opposition to increased welfare services within the US is opposed because of a stigma which creates bias towards those who can’t seemingly “pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ ‘. This attribution of laziness ignores other factors that may be blocking a person’s chances at success (e.g., mental illness). A child who grows up within an environment in which both attribution and evaluative reasoning are used by caregivers, this can affect a child’s viewpoints about specific groups and can enhance racist behavior.
A child’s sense of theory of mind is crucial to understanding themselves, and benefits others as well. Developed within the first five years of life, the development of the theory of mind comes to an idea of false beliefs. False belief reasoning can be evaluated with “the Smarties task, where children were given a box with smarties on the outside. They were asked what was inside, in which they responded, smarties. However, inside the box contained pencils instead, and researchers showed the children what was truly within the box. Three year olds tested believed that another person who would view the box would believe that pencils would be within it, however four year olds were able to determine another person’s point of view (e.g., box containing smarties). This marks the beginning development of children understanding how others view the world around them despite it being different from how they view it (Keil, 2013).Children with a developed theory of mind are considered to be better at communicating, rated more socially competent by their teachers, and their pretend play is more complex (Astington et al., 2019). Delays in theory of mind can cause lack of understanding for others’ perspectives or viewpoints. Caregivers can enhance the development of the theory of mind through engaging in pretend play, tell stories whilst also giving opportunity for their children to participate, as well as discussing feelings of all participants within engagements.
As we have discussed throughout this paper, the inner workings of Vytgosky and his theory of sociocultural development have given essential insights to how children develop, and how their environments (e.g., caregivers) can impact their views, and often more or not how they decide to approach race within their own lives (e.g., antiracist practices). Teaching to children the issues people of color face today whilst also providing ways in which a child can help and stand up to racist behaviors they witness gives light to the importance of education, and conflict resolution skills. In addition, particular attention to social essentialism and the issues with this development have shown to increase bias and prejudice towards out-groups. Caregivers are advised to speak with their children in regards to social normative yet exclusive stigmas regarding gender or race (e.g., only boys can be ninjas). Encouragement within letting a child decide their own options for choices regarding gender bias gives opportunity for a child to express themselves while also gaining support from a caregiver. Social essentialism then is decreased, as a child’s thoughts and feelings regarding social essentialism are diminished with the help of both caregiver and child. Finally, a child’s perceptions of both themselves and others can critically influence their own development of the theory of mind. Advanced opportunities for children to develop their theory of mind enhances their abilities to communicate within conflicts and better understand other perspectives within group dynamics.
Raising a child as the future generation can seem terrifying however, caregivers should not be discouraged by this. Children are like sponges that absorb everything they are taught so of course it is important to be mindful of what you are teaching them. For example, if a child notices that those conversations are uncomfortable for you they will also feel uncomfortable about talking about these things.When difficult discussions (e.g., topics of race) arise caregivers should ask themselves if they should use a Piagetian method or Vygotskian method. Both theorists make strong points of how children develop but ultimately combining these theories would be useful when raising children. Once those anti-racist beliefs are implemented into the child’s mind these difficult conversations will get easier and easier.
Project Take-Aways, in the Authors’ Own Words
- Vangie’s biggest takeaway: I think my biggest takeaway from this project was how important it is to educate children when they are younger about racism (instead of shielding them from the world). Also, how much we change from the environment we are in (e.g., I’m not the same person as I was when I lived in Hawaii and I’ve changed a lot from the exposure I’ve had from school).
- Hannah’s biggest takeaway: The biggest takeaway from this project includes the importance of educating young about topics such as racism & sexism. I was brought up to always kind of ignore issues that are crucial to understand in order combat, and so I think these tips for caregivers will be extremely beneficial to take with me within my career and within my own home life (e.g., family).
- Emma’s biggest takeaway: This project helped me realize how important stakeholders (parents, teachers, etc.) have on a child’s cognitive development. Being a future educator it is helpful to know the significant impact you have on your students’ lives and on their belief systems (depending on what age you teach).
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