Development on the whole is a complex teleological concept; it constitutes a direction and an end it involves various stages and is certainly not as simple as it seems. The view of development is used to provide meaning and order to changes that occur over time in children’s development. Development involves biological, emotional and psychological changes that take place in humans between the period of birth and towards the end of adolescence, as they progress from dependency to autonomy. During prenatal stage, developmental changes are strongly influenced by genetic factors and other events. There are various different concepts embedded in the view of development that, upon watching it closely does not seem so obvious. The idea of development is clear but the directions, mechanisms and ends of development are not so obvious. The aim of this essay is to discuss a controversial issue in developmental science enflamed by nativists, that is whether it is qualitative or quantitative processes that assist us in different developmental aspects. With the perspective of dynamical systems theory this essay defends qualitative change by briefly discussing dynamical systems theory briefly due to word count limit provided for this essay. This essay also shows that qualitative and quantitative changes should not be considered in opposition as they are aligned phenomenon’s that they very much work hand in hand across different time scales and play a fundamental role in developmental processes.
Qualitative change refers to when individuals progress in developmental stages results in them becoming different than how they were earlier or “continuous gradual accumulation of small changes” e.g. the way children behave, think and perceive the world in a different manner as they mature or after acquiring language children look at the world in a completely different manner, as now he/she is able to give names and now have the ability to think about abstract objects that do not have concrete reality. Whereas quantitative change occurs as a result of continuous acquisition of novel information and experiences. Children grow physically stronger and bigger and acquire sophisticated knowledge for instance a child who after being two years old has grown few inches and has gained 12 pounds, so growth in weight and height indicates quantative differences. Essentially big sudden changes in development, as simple as they seem are actually result of a accumulation of gradual various miniature changes, that are even hard to notice sometimes for instance it might seem that children start walking suddenly, but is a result of rather series of small changes in development which involves steady growth and strengthening of muscles that can assist the child to lift the body weight.
Child development shows a mixture of both types of qualitative and quantitative changes in processes and they are equally important. Children advances in cognitive abilities in terms of processing of information, younger children are unable to hold a number of objects in their memory in compare to older children (quantitative change). The memory of older children is qualitatively different as they are capable of using various strategies e.g. organization of information and practice to improve the number of information they can hold in their memory but younger children do not use these strategies (quantitative change) as they are not aware of them. Between 4 and 10 months in children, qualitative change shows how categories are learned and represented possibly because of the onset of language emergence in children.
The idea of transformational change and continuity in development has been popular points of controversy in the history of science. In the past two decades growing number of theories claimed of continuity amongst infants’ and older children abilities. Most of these theories come from nativist tradition, by showing infants amazing abilities and their seeming association to forms of cognition (e.g. Meltzoff & Moore, 1977; Wynn 1992). Kagan (2008) claims that theories of continuity are exaggerated e.g children’s capability to use “complex semantic networks” are qualitatively different from infant’s ability to form perceptual schemata in looking tasks. The empirical evidence of children’s competence is on insignificant grounds as empirical record is based on single measure of infant’s performance which was the final looking time and is influenced by a lot of factors and has been overlooked in the past by psychologists and researchers interested in revealing early competence in children.
This essay uses an example of development of dynamical systems view, theoretical framework in order to understand the two important issues of whether development occurs through qualitative or quantitative processes. The aim is to define qualitative development from a dynamical systems view. I argue that qualitative changes in structural organization of behaviour happens at the time scale of behaviour ” the second to second time scale of thoughts, actions, emotions”. This idea states that the changes that occur over development and learning is due to qualitatively different behavioural states and depends upon the stability and infant’s or child’s flexible shifting from one state to the other state.
Dynamical systems theory was introduced to developmental science by Thelen and Smith (1994) with the publication of (A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action). During the past two decades concepts of Dynamical systems theory has been applied to various phenomena’s for example motor development (Corbetta & Thelen, 1996), socio emotional development (Lewis Lamey & Douglas, 1999), cognitive development (Spencer et al; 2007). DST determines that development is a non linear process (Thelen 1989), which states that movement in children is not developed in a continuous steady rate and in a continuous manner, but it goes through lots of changes in a sub system which eventually results in the whole system to be able to shift and consequently results in a novel motor behaviour (Smith & Thelen 1993).
What does qualitative mean? For various developmental researchers the term “qualitative” refers to transformational change which is creating something novel that is not associated to something old for instance caterpillar’s transforms in to a butterfly from a cocoon, what goes in to the cocoon does not really similar to what comes out. Is that a qualitative change? Is it not obvious that there has to be some biological connection between the caterpillar and the butterfly? Is it the transformation or continuity as well as discontinuity or could it be that perceptual schemata might be connected to the appearance of the initial semantic network? In the past abrupt and transformational changes were thought to show qualitative rearrangements in development but when examined at finer levels of detail they tend to be more continuous. (Adolph, Robinson, Young, & Gill- Alvarez, in press; Siegler, 1994; Siegler, 1996).
DST defines qualitative frame work in a precise manner showing evidence of identification of qualitative change process, and the connection between qualitative and continuous changes. The qualitative transformation with regards to DST takes place when a system shifts from one attractor condition via stability to another attractor condition. Dynamical systems are defined as mathematically modelled systems that use equations which show the rate of change of one system of variable at each moment in time. If the current state of the system and its direction of change which is how fast the system is moving along in a line assists us to use the current state, add the amount of change and then it is possible to predict where the system will be at the next point over time.
Successful completion of this process can lead to the possibility of us to learn in detail the development of a child and to predict each step along the way. The issue is that dynamical developmental systems are really complex. We are unable to understand all the details of a complex system, so we have to go for something simple. We have to learn how the system acts around certain specific points known as attractors, which enable the system to gravitate over time. The complication is that these attractors have the capability to change themselves. When a qualitative transition takes place in a dynamical system it shifts from “being in the local territory of one attractor to losing that attractor and gravitating toward a new one”. The question stands is that how do we learn when one attractor becomes unstable and other one appears this process is known as bifurcation review Braun, (1994).
There are three important critical points to be considered. First one is that qualitative change in DST is dependent on the change in the attractor states of the system which is a shift from state of stability through instability in to a different attractor state. Second one is that just by observing the system behave in time cannot explain the processes involved in the system, thirdly there is an important association between continuity and qualitative change within DST. Qualitative changes arise from continuous changes in various aspects of the system e.g. when a neural system is moved through a small change in self excitation from a perceptual state to working memory state.
Changes in the dynamics of system are often seen as shifting of attractor wells. Various categories of action appear as infants shift from reaching to crawling to walking and so forth. At specific time in development the collection of wells grasps potential actions. And the depth of different wells grasps the stability of the specific action type. Table no 1 shows various developmental theories and their position with regards to qualitative vs. quantitative changes controversies, (Berk, 2003; McDevitt & Ormrod, 2004).
DST states that infants can “self assemble”, novel motor attributes in new situations. It also states that development occurs in individual children solving unique issues in their own ways. Thelen suggests that every child is different with regards to their body, their experiences and nervous system. It is impossible to predict the course of development. The research carries on.
Conclusion: This essay discussed whether it is qualitative or quantitative changes that assist developmental processes in human beings. Child development involves both qualitative and quantitative growth processes and the emergence of differentiation capabilities over time. The challenge of dynamical systems is to learn and understand development, how qualitatively novel attractors appear in real time and how they become stable and accessible to promote development. This essay defends qualitative shifts as they play such a vital role as to what emerges over development is all about. The important thing is that qualitative and quantitave (continuous, gradual) shifts or changes should not be held in opposition. The view of qualitative and quantitative changes should go hand in hand. DST provides defence of qualitative development, a frame work to understand the connection amongst qualitative and quantitative development and pushes our learning and understanding of development towards local time scale where continuity and appearance go hand in hand in order to produce novel things from something that is old.
Seven developmental theories and their position with regards to qualitative vs. quantitative changes controversies, (Berk, 2003; McDevitt & Ormrod, 2004)
Nature vs. Nurture
Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Interaction of nature and nurture
Biological – Maturational
Quantitative and qualitative
Interaction of nature and nurture
Interaction of nature and nurture
Cognitive – Developmental
Interaction of nature and nurture
Interaction of nature and nurture, with more emphasis on nurture