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Themes in Biological Development

Themes in Biological Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize components involved in the biological predisposition of personality and behavior.

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Hello, class. So today we're going to be talking about some important themes and some key terms in biological development when we're talking about developmental psychology. So the first one we're going to talk about is a biological predisposition. What this means is, it's a presumed hereditary readiness, or preparedness, for humans to learn certain skills, or to behave in a certain kind of way.

Let me give you an example. Babies, when they're born, have certain behaviors that are almost programmed into them that they do innately, without any kind of learning. For example, if you brush their lips then they'll start to suck. And when you touch their hands or their feet, they actually start to grasp, or they move their fingers.

These are certain behaviors that are sort of pre-programmed into people that help them to survive in certain ways. So the sucking obviously helps them together to get food if they want milk, and the grasping is supposedly a sort of leftover behavior from when we were primates and we had to grasp the trees, or things like that. That's sort of the idea.

But there are other sorts of mental or cognitive abilities that are also pre-programmed, or we're predisposed towards. For example, in language. And again, this is something we'll cover when we talk about linguistic development.

But language, according to Noam Chomsky, is a pre-organized, or predisposed, ability of people. He says that each person has a language acquisition device built into their brains, OK? And this allows people to learn language more easily or more efficiently. We're essentially beings that must use language. So we must have something in our brain that allows us to do that.

There are a lot of developmental theories that are also built on this idea of predisposition. Any kind of theory that has a sort of step that goes along with it, like Erikson or Piaget's theories, essentially is saying that we have some kind of biological basis which says that each person goes along with these steps. Again, biological predisposition towards these things.

The next two terms that we're going to talk about complement each other. You see, they go along with the previous one. The first one is maturation or maturity, which is the developmental process of growth, both mentally as well as physical. So this is a sort of sequence that we go through throughout life.

So we start at a certain stage where we're able to do certain sorts of things as a child, or as a baby, and then we slowly get to develop. We go from crawling up to walking and finally running and being able to do more complex physical abilities. So this physical growth. And this sort of goes along with a lot of psychological development. Again, those theories that we talked about, like Piaget and Erikson, right?

So along with this physical development, we have a corresponding mental or psychological development. And in fact, they influence each other in certain ways. So for example, when we're developing those motor skills-- the ability to hold things and to manipulate them with our hands-- there's also a similar cognitive development that's going along with that.

So along with the ability to move those things, we're growing and becoming more complex cognitively to understand that. So they influence each other in different ways. The way they were able to think influences the way that we manipulate things, because we can think about new and different ways to use those objects. And in turn, the ability to manipulate those things allows for more complex ideas and thought, OK? So they feed back on each other.

Going along with that idea of maturation, we've got the idea of readiness as well, which is a condition when we're maturing that we reach an advanced enough or sufficient enough level to allow for the acquisition of a certain skill. So once we get to a certain maturation, then we're able to acquire a certain ability, mental or physical.

An example of this might be with toilet training. As you know, when a child's born, or even when they reach one, one and a half years of age, they're not sufficiently ready to be able to toilet train. It takes some time and some development of their cognitive and physical abilities to get to that point.

The important thing with readiness to remember is that if you try to learn something too early-- in other words, if you don't have the sufficient abilities or skills to acquire that certain thing-- then you're likely to fail. So this is really helpful in a lot of learning theories as well, because we need to know when a child is prepared enough to understand or to be able to learn something, especially with abstract concepts, things that they might not be able to understand at a younger age. So we like to know at what developmental level can they acquire certain knowledge, abilities, or skills.

Terms to Know
Biological Predisposition

Readiness to learn new skills can be influenced by heredity.


Unfolding of skills and growth in a predictable way, allows for the condition of readiness.


Internal timing mechanism; as children mature, they can learn new skills more rapidly. A child may be prepared to reach new milestones more quickly because of previous development. As we acquire mental abilities in steps according to age and readiness.