Unit 11: Introduction
Culture and Human Development: Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence
for Cross-Cultural Research
If a culture expects most young children to assume responsibilities like tending flocks of animals while their parents of 13 or 14 years cultivate and harvest crops, would those parents be considered awkward or abusive teenagers? Can eight year old children teach themselves math as they set up displays, take payments, and make change for customers in an open bazaar? Long before the articulation of Piaget's stage theory (which is the leading theoretical perspective in the cross-cultural realm) children in most cultures were given direct or hands-on training to perform physical tasks adults thought were relatively appropriate based on observations of other children's levels of mastery.
Points to consider in this chapter are how mental functions are related to or impacted by the physical development of the brain. In turn, psychologists have to question how neurological and chemical changes in the brain trigger growth and maturity of bodily functions. For example, could Mozart compose beautiful music as a child because of unique aspects of his brain functions or was he imitating behaviors he saw in adults around him? Or was he a most unusual child whose behavioral abilities cannot be generalized to any age or stage of development? These are samples of the endless questions that are asked by psychologists who study the development of infants and children in various parts of the world. When one considers that children are probably the most important resource that any country in the world possesses and that the future literally belongs to them, it becomes immediately apparent how important it is to try and understand the relationships between culture and human development.
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