Monthly Archives: February 2011

Practical Application of Vygotsky

Vygotsky “believed that all human cognition takes place within a matrix of social history, and thus cognition must be considered within this context.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 105)  This is of particular interest to me since I am a high school history teacher by training, so to put it bluntly, I couldn’t agree with Vygotsky more on this point.  The way in which individuals acquire both thought and language is firmly situated within the context of the culture within which they reside.  This means that when we endeavor to help an individual with who, at first glance, may appear to have a “learning disability…” we should take into account the cultural symbolism that the child will likely identify with.  We should make every effort to communicate in terms that the child will understand, and that others will also understand if the child were to imitate the words or actions.  As an example, if we are working with a child that resides in a predominately Spanish speaking neighborhood where Spanish is the language of choice, then we should utilize that language to facilitate learning (even if it is too soon to be verbal).

Furthermore, when constructing interventions that are intended to maximize learning potential for children, we should take Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” into consideration in effort to make learning “relevant” for the learner.  “The ZPD is the distance between what tasks children can do independently and their potential competence at those tasks, which can be achieved with adult or peer assistance.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 107)  In more simple terms, learning is social… and we learn how to extend our thought and action by observing people around us in a social context.  In early childhood, this takes form in pretend play… which Vygotsky would assert is absolutely essential for later school success.  We should encourage and facilitate private speech to assist the child in internalizing action with thought, especially during difficult problem solving activities.  In short, during play therapy, have them “talk it out.”  This may be as simple as continually asking “tell me what you’re doing right now.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 111)


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Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


B.F. Skinner – Baby in a Box

The baby in a box project performed by B.F. Skinner is testament to power of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  It is remarkable that Aircribs didn’t get picked up and massively produced considering the improvements in the lives of the owners that come as a result of use.  What impressed me the most was the precision of the experiment despite all indications that such an undertaking would surely succumb to the scope of the undertaking.  With some many confounding variables that remain unaccounted for (individual differences between babies, parents, environments) he managed to put together what I consider to be a pretty convincing argument.  How often do people get published without going through the peer-review grinder?

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The Aircrib represents a state of the art solution to one of the most troubling social ills of modern childrearing… quite honestly, I don’t understand why the resistance to this breakthrough?  The correlation between maintaining a regulated environment for infants and health seems to pass the common-sense “eye test.”  What would have made this particular research effort interesting is if baby skinner had a twin that was raised in a more “traditional” fashion.  I don’t mean to diminish the quality of the work that was done, but having a control group would have given him the opportunity to measure net change from baseline.

The frustrating part of the research is that it is suitably difficult to determine which variable is contributing to the behavior change… Skinner is manipulating a lot of variables at once… temperature, light, sound, presence of clothing, etc.  It would have been nice if Skinner had isolated specific variables and given us insight into which specific independent variables had effect on the measured dependant variables… like regular sleep or regular bowel movements.  There is no indication as to whether we can attribute regular bowel movements to the regular feeding schedule (that may or may not have been maintained without the “box”).  It’s problematic, mostly because he’s turning too many knobs at once.


Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Comparing the DSM and the Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology

Comparing the styles of the DSM and the Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology helped me to see how different people can interpret the same information.  I was actually surprised to see the difference between the two books because I thought they would have been much more similar.

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The DSM first shows a list of the ten specific personality disorders with a brief description of each of them, it then describes the three clusters and which of the clusters each disorder fits into, and this is decided by the disorder’s description.  After the definitions, the DSM explains the diagnostic features and how personality traits fit into them and the various criteria associated with personality disorders.  After the chapter gives information about a patient’s background regarding a personality disorder.  It explains the dimensional models where it tells about the effort to find the most important factors in what is considered to be normal behavior.

Once through the introductory information, the DSM begins with Cluster A personality disorders which include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.  Cluster B personality disorders which include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.  Cluster C personality disorders include avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and personality disorder not otherwise specified.

Each disorder description includes a more in depth description and it gives other disorders that are most likely to co-occur, a more specific description of culture, age and gender features which gives more insight into the background of the person experiencing the personality disorder, it gives a small description of how many people in the population are generally affected and an in depth look at how you can tell the difference between this disorder and others that are considered similar.  At the end of the disorder description is a list of criteria specific to that disorder.

The Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology provides the information in a different layout.  This text lists out explanations of disorders in groupings like the DSM, but the groupings are what the text calls “a loose progression that ranges from the prescientific or naïve to what is deemed progressively more scientific” (Blaney, P.H., Millon, T.).  There are four categories that the text displays, these are categorical versus dimensional versus prototypal structural models, mathematical methods of data analysis, theoretical conceptions of personality, and evolutionary theories of personality.  Each category lists out several subheadings, so far instance under the first heading, categorical versus dimensional versus prototypal structural models there is a subheading titles.  The categorical model, which tells us the traditional thought of personality types, how a group of experts gets together and make decisions about how the science will work in this area, and taximetrics, which tells us the basic steps being taken to identify how a personality type would come about in a person and how it would be recognized.  This heading then goes on to discuss the dimensional model, and prototypal models.

Next is the mathematical methods of data analysis which helps to define which characteristics are most important to a personality disorder.  It explains that there are two completely different ways to find these, which are theoretically and methodologically and then lists five different models that help with this process.

Each heading is formatted in a similar manner, but does not give any specific disorders that could or would be attached to it.  This would be the main difference between the DSM and our text.  The most obvious similarities are that they each use groupings for the various categories and then define each subject in the grouping.

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I like the way the DSM is formatted because it gives general guidelines and then gets more specific about each specific disorder.  I like the way it shows the characteristics of the disorder instead of a history of the various ways of thinking about the disorders.