20 Fascinating Phenomena in Child Development Research

by Editor on Mar 13, 2012

Child development is a fascinating field, as researchers can examine biological, psychological, and emotional changes that occur in children from birth to adolescence. While various factors can lead to poor child development, the examination of both healthy and disabled children allow researchers to learn more about how children learn to talk, play, whether they can develop genius and why, or why disability occurs and how it manifests. This article covers 20 phenomena in child development research, with links to material that expands on the arguments on all the topics mentioned above.


    Noam Chomsky

  1. In the 1950s, linguists, such as the American Noam Chomsky, started to explore and analyze the foundations of the faculty of language. Although the results were revealing, linguistics has not yet answered the question as to what is inherent to humankind in particular that permits the progressive acquisition of this syntaxic complexity by a very young child.
  2. Influenced by Chomsky’s ideas, first language acquisition researchers in the 1960s began to recognize the child as a speaker of a language of his or her own rather than as a defective speaker of adult language. The language systems of children were seen as systems in their own right, not as deficient versions of adult language.
  3. The fis phenomenon demonstrates that perception of phonemes occurs earlier than the ability of the child to produce those phonemes. If you ask a child if a fish is a fis, he may deny it. If you ask a child if a fish is a fish, he may affirm — even if he calls the fish a “fis.”
  4. Some children who are ELLs (English Language Learners) undergo the phenomenon of language loss. As they learn English, they lose skills and fluency in their native tongue if that first language is not reinforced and maintained. This is called subtractive bilingualism, and it can be cognitively and linguistically very detrimental to children’s learning and to their family lives, especially if the parents don’t speak English.
  5. The Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology have learned that children will start to identify the separate parts of what they are hearing and assign meaning to them. Thus children can be highly productive with language from very early on.


    Jacques Lacan

  1. By the early 1950s, Jacques Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage had evolved: he no longer considered the mirror stage as a moment in the life of the infant, but as representing a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order.”
  2. Despite the limited and narrowed focus of the literature on children’s play, several researchers and educators have recently proposed that children’s play differs across cultures and socioeconomic status.
  3. Lev Vygotsky wrote about development of social rules that develop when children play house and adopt the roles of different family members. Vygotsky cites an example of two sisters playing at being sisters. The rules of behavior between them that go unnoticed in daily life are consciously acquired through play. As well as social rules, the child acquires what we now refer to as self-regulation.
  4. Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, recently published a history of child’s play that argues that for most of human history until the mid-twentieth century, what children did when they played was roam in packs large or small, more or less unsupervised, and engage in freewheeling imaginative play.
  5. Over the past few decades, many children are spending substantial time in peer-group settings from a very young age. Many of these settings focus on structured educational and recreational activities, leaving little time [PDF] for participation in open-ended, self-initiated free play.

Child Prodigies


  1. The psychological nature of the prodigy phenomenon is formed by the sensitive periods [PDF] ā€“ which explain prodigious development and talent development ā€“ and by cognitive experience, which explains prodigiesā€™ exceptional performance and achievements. Age sensitivity is defined as a specific, heightened, and very selective responsiveness of an individual to everything what is going on around him or her.
  2. Of the handful of works which have sought some psychological understanding of prodigies and their extraordinary abilities (Baumgarten, 1925; Feldman with Goldsmith, 1986: Revesz, 1970), only four of the 16 children studied were girls, and all of these were the subjects of a single researcher (Baumgarten, 1925). Franziska Baumgarten [PDF] is to be applauded for having uncovered an equal number of girls and boys to examine.
  3. Joseph Renzulli claims that three separate facts allows for dealing with talent genius, developing expertise over an extended period, and developing creative potential. These models — Contextual, Emergent, and Dynamic — provide an alternative to traditional static, reductionistic, trait-based conceptions of giftedness.
  4. One way to look at gifted adults is to look back to see what they were like as kids. A study of 200 highly accomplished adults found that just 34 percent had been considered in any way precocious as children. Malcolm Gladwell stated, “The ‘prodigy midlife crisis,’ as it has been called, proves fatal to all but a handful would-be Mozarts. ‘Precociousness, in other words, is not necessarily or always a prelude to adult achievement. Sometimes it’s just its own little discrete state.'”
  5. Although the Wechsler tests have a ceiling of about 160, their creator has admitted that they are intended to be used within the average range (between 70 and 130), and are not intended for use at the extreme ends of the population to test giftedness.

Disabilities and Disorders

    Bullying or peer rejection

  1. Some studies have estimated that as many as 40 to 50 percent of children born prematurely will have some sort of learning disability. A study was conducted in which none of the premature children suffered from major “preemie” related health problems such as cerebral palsy, chromosonal abnormalities, hearing loss or mental retardation.
  2. One study in 1993 [PDF] suggests that when sociologists do not focus on the development of the international disabled people’s movement and the work of disabled writers it is suggested that disability is not an issue as central to mainstream sociological discourse and analysis as class, gender. race and sexuality.
  3. On Saturday, April 6, 1963, Samuel Kirk, then a professor of special education at the University of Illinois, told a group of concerned parents about learning disabilities (LD). He suggested that they use the term to describe “children who have disorders in development of language, speech, reading, and associated communication skills.” They enthusiastically agreed and shortly thereafter established the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities.
  4. The term “indigo children” originated with parapsychologist and self-described synesthete and psychic Nancy Ann Tappe, who developed the concept in the 1970s. It is a label given to children who are claimed to possess special, unusual and/or supernatural traits or abilities. Nick Colangelo, a University of Iowa professor specializing in the education of gifted children, stated that the first indigo book should not have been published, and that “…[t]he Indigo Children movement is not about children, and it is not about the color indigo. It is about adults who style themselves as experts and who are making money on books, presentations and videos.”
  5. An analysis of 15 school shootings between 1995 and 2001 found that peer rejection was present in all but two of the cases (87 percent).