Affective Development

Affect, as a feature or type of behavior, and hence a focus of psychology, is one of the least understood and most difficult problems in the field. Affect relates to or encompasses a wide range of concepts and phenomena, including feelings, emotions, moods, motivation, and certain drives and instincts. Anger, joy, fear, laughter, sadness, anxiety, pride, love, hate, and so on—all are so central to human experience, yet so little understood by psychology. Theorists and researchers have approached affect in numerous ways, often using idiosyncratic, contradictory, or mutually exclusive conceptualizations and operational definitions that have resulted in confusion and limited progress in our understanding of affect or any of these other related or synonymous constructs.

The psychology of affective development seeks to describe, map out, and explain the processes, continuities, and changes in the experience, differentiation, and expression of affect. Most often, affective development is placed in dichotomy, or even counterpoint, with cognitive development, reflecting an age-old concern with mind-body dualism (thinking vs. feeling). Much of the discussion centers around the primacy of one over the other or the nature of their interaction or mutual influence. Referents and resolutions are often sought in the social domain, whether in terms of social cognition or object relations, because of the complexity and salience of interpersonal and intrapersonal relations for ideas, attitudes, feelings, and behavior. Whatever categorizations may be hypothesized for the sake of theory building or empirical inquiry, it is important to bear in mind the complexity of affective development and the limited state of our current knowledge.

From its early days, psychoanalysis, as a clinical and developmental psychology, has centered on affective development. Psychologists influenced by the organismic developmental psychology proposed by Heinz Werner in 1940 have also had a long-standing interest in affective development. In the 1970s and 1980s a number of conceptual and methodological advances converged, bringing about a resurgence of interest, priority, and legitimacy for the study of affective development, and it remains a productive domain of inquiry as the twenty-first century unfolds.

Models of affective development vary in the degree to which they emphasize biological elements or socialization elements. Darwinian and ethological models are especially interested in unlearned complex behavior and often posit central nervous system specificity and correspondence between stimulus or elicitors and an individual's affective response. Socialization models emphasize learning processes, especially in the infant-caregiver interaction, and situa-tional or environmental influences on affective experience or expression. Reliance on one or the other model type, of course, influences the manner in which affective development is understood or studied. For instance, biological re searchers might be more likely to measure electrophysio-logical responsiveness or neurophysiological correlates of specific emotions, whereas socialization researchers might be more interested in observing the quality of parent-child attachment and separation reactions over time. It is likely that multiple models and perspectives will be essential to furthering our understanding of affective development, and indeed such comprehensive and integrative approaches are evident in current theories of affective development such as Sroufe's organizational perspective and Tomkins's and Izard's differential emotions theory.

In his review of current knowledge on affective development, Yarrow states:

Emotional expression can best be understood in a developmental context, in the framework of psychological changes accompanying the infant's increased autonomy, increasing awareness of a capacity to control people, objects, and self, and in the context of cognitive changes associated with a developing memory and the acquisition of object permanence. Similarly motor expression of emotion and the ability to inhibit and modulate responses to emotional stimuli are dependent on the maturation of the central nervous system. In examining the developmental course of emotional expression, it becomes evident that some aspects of emotional and cognitive development are on parallel lines; in other instances the cognitive skill is a prerequisite for emotional expression. Chronological age is not a simple variable; it is only a rough index of the psychological changes associated with the changing capacities of the child.

Donald L. Wertlieb Tufts University

See also: Cognitive Theories of Emotions

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