Child Development Research Module: further info

This module aims to give students an introduction to research in early child development, investigating the picture of early development coming out of the research findings from a variety of theoretical perspectives and research traditions. The seminars take the form of group discussions in which students are invited to think about the meaning of what they have read with regard to its context, theoretical assumptions and clinical implications. 

In the last 20-30 years there has been and explosion of innovative research that has expanded our understanding of early development. We can look at the different data coming from the research and compare the emerging picture from different perspectives that include; developmental psychology (empirical research), behavioural genetics, cognitive neuroscience, and sociological and anthropological studies. We also consider the links between child development research and psychoanalysis. The differences and similarities between the methods and data of these two disciplines are considered and thought is given to how each discipline may enrich the other. The module is thus intended to link with other parts of the course. i.e. psychoanalytic theory, infant observation, and work discussion (ultimately the aim of this and other modules in the course is to inform our work with children and families).

Each seminar focuses on a particular topic for study and usually focuses on two papers as required reading, with additional papers available for optional extended reading. Everyone is expected to have read the required reading in advance of each seminar. There are 15 seminar topics in all. Most take a particular substantive topic – usually either a phase of development (e.g. foetal development, birth and bonding) or an aspect of development (e.g. play, the role of the father). A few of the seminars focus on a particular perspective on development (e.g. attachment theory, psychoanalysis, neuroscience). So in this course we will learn about different areas of development, different theories of development, and by implication different methodologies of research. Some themes, such as for example the complex inter-relationship between “nature” and “nurture”, thread their way through most of the course, cropping up in different aspects in relation to the different seminar titles.

Although emphasis in discussion always remains focused on the contribution of research, students are also encouraged to make use of their own experience and observations and to consider their relevance to the findings of research. Personal observations and individual case studies are found to be a valuable source of hypotheses, and students are helped to think how such hypotheses might be formulated in ways in which they could potentially be explored by systematic research.

Inevitably, the brevity of the course constricts its range. The aim is therefore not to be comprehensive but primarily to enable students to discover that child development research is a subject of central relevance to professional and clinical work with children, as well as a valuable (and continually developing) source of ideas and information to which they can return.