158: Deconstructing Developmental Psychology with Dr. Erica Burman

I read a lot of textbooks on parenting for my Master’s in Psychology (Child Development), I’ve read tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers on the topic, and part of the reason it’s hard work is that you can’t ever take things at face value.


In her now classic book Deconstructing Developmental Psychology, Dr. Erica Burman explodes a number of our ideas about child development by calling our attention to what’s really going on in an interaction, rather than what we think is going on.


For example, there’s a classic study where researchers put a baby on a solid surface which changed to glass, which had a design underneath implying that there was a ‘cliff edge’ that the baby would fall off if it went onto the glass. Researchers designed the experiment to find out what babies could understand about depth perception, but perhaps what they were actually testing was the extent to which the mother’s encouragement or lack of encouragement (and it was always the mother) could entice the baby across the ‘gap.’


These kinds of confounds exist throughout the research base, and because we’re not taught to look below the surface it can be easy to accept the results at face value. Dr. Burman specializes in looking below the surface so we can examine: what are we really trying to understand here? And in doing this, are we reinforcing the same old ideas about ‘success’ that aren’t really serving us now, never mind our children in the future?


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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