Arnold Gesell’s Theory Of Maturation: What It Is And What It Proposes

Arnold Gesell's theory of maturation

At the beginning of the last century, the American psychologist and pediatrician Arnold Gesell proposed a theory about how boys and girls developed behaviorally, which has been of great importance in the field of educational psychology and pediatrics.

Arnold Gesell’s theory of maturation It tries to explain the order in which the main learning and development of skills occur during childhood, in addition to giving an explanation, from a physiological point of view, why this specific order occurs.

This theory, like many others in developmental psychology, has not been exempt from criticism, although it must be said that almost a hundred years after it was formulated it still has a lot of weight in this field. Let’s see in greater detail what it is about.

Arnold Gesell’s theory of maturation

The theory of maturation was introduced in 1925 by the American psychologist Arnold Lucius Gesell, who was also a pediatrician and educator. The studies carried out by Gesell focused on find out how development occurred during childhood and adolescence both in children without any psychopathology and those who showed a pattern of learning and development different from that expected.

During the more than fifty years in which Gesell carried out his observational research, carried out mostly at the Yale Clinic of Child Development, this American psychologist and his collaborators described a series of more or less predictable behaviors in childhood.

According to his theory of maturation, All boys and girls go through the same stages of development in the same order but not necessarily presenting them at the same time. That is, each child goes at their own pace, but what is expected is that they carry out their learning following the same sequence.

This theory, although quite classic considering that it was presented almost a hundred years ago, has had a profound impact on many aspects of educational psychology, especially with regard to parenting methods.

Arnold Gesell was a pioneering psychologist known for his theory of maturation, which emphasizes the role of biological growth and development in shaping human behavior and milestones. Gesell’s theory posits that children go through a predictable sequence of developmental stages, guided primarily by genetic factors and physiological maturation.

Definition and direction of maturation

Arnold Gesell considered that genetics and the environment play a very important role in development of the person, however his research focused especially on the physiological part of development. Using his language, the term ‘maturation’ for Gesell refers to a process that is more biological than social, in which greater weight is given to the influence of genes than to the environmental factors to which the person is exposed.

In the research carried out by this psychologist, he was able to observe that development occurred following a fixed sequence in terms of the formation of organs and physical development that occurred both while an embryo and during childhood. Physiological development always occurred from head to toe (cephalocaudal direction), both before and after childbirth.

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When you are still an embryo, the first organ to develop is the heart, followed by the central nervous system and then the more peripheral organs, such as lungs, liver, intestines and others. Once the world has arrived, the first thing babies do is learn to control their mouth, lips and tongue. Later they begin to acquire better control of their saccadic movements, movements of the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, legs and feet.

As for more complex behavior, babies first learn to sit, then stand without the need for adult support, walk, and finally run. All babies learn these abilities in this same order according to theory, and the basis for this is that it is because the nervous system develops in the same way in all people, although at different rates.

There are multiple environmental factors to which the child is exposed throughout his development such as the socioeconomic status of their family, relationships with their parents, types of diet, among others.

However, the theory maintains that each baby has its own pace of maturation, which will be optimized if the social environment is aware of how the child is developing and gives him the necessary social stimuli given in due time. From the theory it is extracted that Once the child has acquired the full development of his nervous system, he will be able to master multiple abilities both individual and social.

Highlights of the theory

A series of aspects can be highlighted from Arnold Gesell’s theory of maturation that, although they have already been introduced in previous sections of the article, will be described in greater detail below.

1. Study of behavioral patterns

Throughout his professional career, Gesell studied the motor behaviors of babies Based on what he observed, he concluded that behavior was best studied not quantitatively but in terms of behavioral patterns.

Behavioral pattern refers to any behavior that is defined as having shape or size. That is, basically whatever the baby does, from a simple blink of an eye to throwing a ball with a baseball bat.

Thus, Gesell observed a series of behaviors that all babies manifest sooner or later following the same pattern and sequence.

This is quite remarkable in comparison to development models such as those of Jean Piaget and Erikson, who although they carried out part of their research observationally, most of the stages they proposed were more theoretical.

2. Reciprocal interleaving

This term proposed by Gesell, in English ‘reciprocal interweaving’, refers, both at a motor and personality level, to how the baby behaves in a way that appears to follow two opposing tendencies with the intention of finally finding balance.

That is to say, if we observe young children, they are still in a state of personality formation, which makes their relationship with others ambivalent in many contexts. their treatment being more extroverted with some people while with others they become more closed

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Thus, progressively, throughout development, the child’s personality reaches a balance between both extremes and his personality traits are finally established.

This can also be seen at a motor level, with many children in the first months of life making fairly balanced use of both hands, without being completely ambidextrous. Subsequently, greater lateralization is achieved in terms of their actions, definitively becoming right- or left-handed.

3. Self-regulation

This is possibly the most striking aspect of Arnold Gesell’s theory, given that came to ensure that newborns are capable of regulating their own behavior and are even able to determine their own sleeping and eating schedules.

His research suggests that you can also control your personality and behavioral and motor balance.

4. Generalization and individuality

The theory of maturation maintains, as has already been said, that all children develop following the same sequence in terms of their behavioral and physiological development; however, it also points out that each one does so at their own pace.

Thus, there is a generalization regarding how the main behavioral milestones are acquired during childhood, but It is taken into account that each individual, due to individual differences does so following its own maturation.

Key Principles of Gesell’s Theory

Maturation as a Guiding Force

Gesell believed that maturation, defined as the unfolding of genetically programmed behaviors and abilities, serves as the primary driving force behind development. According to his theory, children progress through a series of predetermined stages, each characterized by specific milestones and behaviors.

Developmental Norms and Sequences

Gesell emphasized the importance of understanding developmental norms and sequences, which refer to the typical patterns of growth and progression observed in children. He conducted extensive observational studies to document the sequential unfolding of motor, cognitive, and social skills in infants and young children.

Universality of Developmental Stages

Gesell proposed that the sequence of developmental stages is universal, meaning that children across cultures and backgrounds follow a similar progression of growth and development. While the rate of development may vary among individuals, the sequence of milestones remains relatively consistent.

Stages of Maturation

Motor Development

Gesell’s research focused extensively on motor development, including gross motor skills (such as crawling, walking, and running) and fine motor skills (such as grasping and manipulating objects). He observed a predictable sequence of motor milestones, with each stage building upon previous achievements.

Cognitive Development

In addition to motor skills, Gesell explored cognitive development, including perceptual abilities, language acquisition, and problem-solving skills. He observed how children’s cognitive abilities matured over time, leading to increasingly complex thinking and reasoning abilities.

Social and Emotional Development

Gesell also studied social and emotional development, including attachment patterns, social interactions, and emotional regulation. He observed how children’s relationships with caregivers and peers evolved over time, influencing their social and emotional well-being.

Implications and Applications

Parental Guidance and Education

Gesell’s theory of maturation has practical implications for parents, educators, and caregivers. By understanding the predictable sequence of developmental stages, adults can provide appropriate support and stimulation to facilitate children’s growth and learning.

Early Intervention and Assessment

Gesell’s developmental norms and milestones serve as valuable tools for assessing children’s progress and identifying potential developmental delays or disorders. Early intervention programs can help address developmental challenges and promote optimal outcomes for children.

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Research and Theory Development

Gesell’s theory laid the groundwork for subsequent research in child development and psychology. His emphasis on the role of maturation in shaping behavior paved the way for further exploration of genetic, biological, and environmental influences on development.

How should children be cared for?

Arnold Gesell considered that each child had his own pace of development, although the main learning was developed based on the development of the nervous system, which followed the same pattern and order in all individuals.

However, despite generalizing about the acquisition of the main abilities during childhood, Gesell maintained that the closest environment must become aware of the rhythm of its own child in addition to understanding that the fact that your son or daughter did not develop at the same rate as other children of his or her age did not necessarily mean a pathology or a delay.

The best way to guarantee that satisfactory maturation is acquired and that the individual acquires the behaviors that allow him to fully develop both socially and intellectually is make the family realize the speed that this same maturation is acquiring Parents must learn to recognize how their children’s development is biologically programmed.

Criticisms of the theory

Although today Gesell’s theory of maturation is quite widespread and applied in the field of educational psychology, there are many critical voices who have pointed out some limitations of the model.

The main one is that Arnold Gesell He focused too much on what he himself understands as physiological maturation leaving aside aspects more related to the environment and the multiple social stimuli that the infant will receive throughout its development.

A very notable environmental aspect that Gesell ignores in his theory is teaching, both at school and in the family, a very powerful stimulus in terms of the formation of the child’s personality and intelligence.

Another aspect that is also quite criticized is that generalizes too much regarding the order in which this maturation occurs It also does not specify what variability is expected for each behavior and learning, nor if there is the possibility that some of them can change their order of acquisition.

It should be said that Arnold Gesell’s research has a very striking limitation, which is the fact that having investigated only children from white, middle-class American families This means that his observations cannot be generalized to other socioeconomic statuses or to other cultures.

From Gesell’s model it can be mistakenly interpreted that all children, sooner or later, will end up developing in the same way, so it is not necessary to give them educational support if they are not developing in the same way as the rest of the children. their fellow humans. This is very harmful in case the child has a real disorder in which early intervention is necessary to guarantee that it develops as completely as possible.

Arnold Gesell’s theory of maturation revolutionized our understanding of child development, highlighting the importance of biological factors and innate processes in shaping human behavior. By documenting the predictable sequence of developmental stages and milestones, Gesell provided invaluable insights into the complexities of human growth and maturation.