Social development is the sub area of developmental psychology that concerns the description of children’s development of relationships with others, their understanding of the meaning of their relationships with others, and their understanding of others’ behaviors, attitudes, and intentions. The examination of the social, emotional, biological, and cognitive processes that account for these developmental changes in social development are of interest as well. The historical shifts in the understanding of social development from Darwin to the present can be traced by an examination of the major theoretical and methodological advances that have characterized this area of inquiry. The history of social development is divided into five time periods—the beginning years (1880–1915), a period of conceptual clashes (1915–1940), a period of expansion (1940–1960), an era that saw the rise of contemporary themes (1960–1985), and the current period (from 1985 to 2019). Finally, future directions and unresolved issues are noted.
Ross D. Parke
Vivan Zayas and Ezgi Sakman
One of the defining features of human experience is the formation and maintenance of affiliative and attachment ties. As these ties offer numerous adaptive advantages, human beings have evolved behavioral and neurobiological systems to ensure their formation and maintenance. The need to affiliate is pervasive and powerful. Consequently, the affiliative system is hypersensitive to social cues signaling any possibility that the ties could be under threat. This alarm system motivates restorative behavior, ensuring valued social ties are protected. Whereas affiliative ties can develop between any two individuals, attachment bonds are typically formed with a few significant others, and in many cases only one person serves as the main attachment figure. The attachment system functions in a similar way in both infancy and adulthood, ensuring proximity to attachment figures in the face of physical and psychological threats. Even though the need to form affiliative ties and attachment bonds has been shown to be universal, significant cross-cultural variations in how they unfold are also reported. Both the affiliative and the attachment systems protect the individual against various risks and aid in maintaining a physically and psychologically healthy existence via regulating the stress reactivity system.
Kendall Cotton Bronk, Elyse Postlewaite, Betsy Blackard, Jordan Boeder, and Hannah Lucas
Social development refers to the process through which individuals learn to get along with others. It encompasses the formation of friendships and romantic relationships as well as experiences of bullying and loneliness. Across the life span, cognitive development enables increasingly complex social interactions, and the most important contexts for social development expand. Early in life, family is the primary context for social development, but in adulthood the social world grows to include peers, colleagues, and others. Social development is critical for well-being. Research finds that the lasting social bonds that individuals form are perhaps the most important ingredient in a life well lived.
Imprinting is a form of rapid, supposedly irreversible learning that results from exposure to an object during a specific period (a critical or sensitive period) during early life and produces a preference for the imprinted object. The word “imprinting” is an English translation of the German Prägung (“stamping in”), coined by Konrad Lorenz in 1935 to refer to the process that he studied in geese. Two types of imprinting have traditionally been distinguished: filial imprinting, involving the formation of an immediate social attachment to the mother or a mother-substitute, and sexual imprinting, involving the formation of a sexual preference that is manifested later in life. Both types of imprinting were subject to extensive experimental study beginning around 1950. Originally described in precocial birds (ducks, geese, and domestic chickens), imprinting has also been used to explain the formation of early social attachments in other species, including human infants. Imprinting has served as a useful model for studying the neural processes involved in learning and behavioral development and has provided a framework for thinking about other developmental processes.
In psychology, the term “attachment” has been made popular by British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory about the adaptive value of the mother–infant bond. Bowlby was not the first to use the term “attachment” or to study the significance of close emotional relationships for infants and young children. Anna Freud and other psychoanalysts had used the term to refer to the mother–child relationship. Bowlby’s views, however, departed from psychoanalysis because he appealed to the science of ethology, the biological study of behavior, for support. According to Bowlby, the mother–infant attachment has a biological basis. The operationalization of the ethological theory of attachment through the work of American- Canadian child psychologist Mary Ainsworth played a key role in the rise of the ethological theory of attachment to paradigmatic status toward the end of the 20th century. Ainsworth carried out observational studies of the attachment between mothers and infants. She also designed an experiment, the strange situation procedure (SSP), to measure and categorize attachment relationships between infants and mothers. Ainsworth and her students argued that their experimental work in the SSP supported Bowlby’s views about the instinctual nature of the child’s attachment to the mother and the importance of a secure attachment in infancy for a person’s adequate emotional development. Attachment theory has become one of psychology’s most influential theories about early child development and its impact on an individual’s subsequent emotional life and adult relationships. Supporters claim its universal validity and its prescriptive character. For them, attachment theory establishes the norm of what is considered healthy emotional and psychological childhood development, and it sets the standards for good parenting. In the Western world, attachment theory has an impact in various realms, including childcare, adoption policies, education, and therapy. Many schools of early childhood education identify children at risk for poor learning in the classroom as a result of attachment problems at home. Pediatricians often rely on attachment theory to encourage specific practices in parent–child interactions. Therapeutic approaches for children, families, and couples are sometimes based on attachment theory, as are decisions about adoption, parental rights, and child custody. Furthermore, some intervention programs in family and educational practices implemented by international NGOs rely on attachment theory. The ethological theory of attachment, however, has also been contested since its inception. Several psychologists critiqued the empirical studies about maternal deprivation on which it was erected. Other scholars challenged the notion that biological science supports its claims. Finally, numerous cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists challenged the universality of several of its central tenets. They call for recognizing the cultural assumptions embedded in attachment theory, in the instruments and constructs used to measure it, and in the expectations it promotes about good parenting.