Becoming A Person (Child Development in Social Context; 1)


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We all make mistakes and learn through experience. But with all the focus on looking after a child or baby, lots of parents and carers forget or run out of time to look after themselves. Looking after yourself will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to raise your child. Skip to content Skip to navigation. Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. A loving, nurturing relationship helps you and your child learn a little more about each other every day.

As your child grows and develops, his needs will change. Play is a great relationship builder. Spending time playing with your child sends a simple message — you are important to me. New York: Guilford Press. Brooks-Gunn, J. Butterworth, G. Nadel and C. New York: Cambridge University Press. Carey, S.

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Edited by E. Clements, D. Edited by D. Clements and J. Coplan, J. Austin, TX: Pro-ed. Fenson, L. Fogel, A. Infancy: Infant, Family, and Society Fourth edition. Fuson, K. New York: Springer-Verlag. Gallistel, C. Gelman, R. Oxford, England: Harvard University Press. Ginsburg, H. Gopnik, A. Meltzoff; and P. New York: William Morrow.

Gowen, J. March, Hart, B. Howe, M. Hulit, L. New York: Pearson Education.

Becoming a Person (Child Development in Social Context 1)

Kail, R. The Development of Memory in Children Third edition. New York: W. Lally, J. Legerstee, M. Lerner, C. Madole, K. Mandler, J. Mangione, P. Lally; and S. Discoveries of Infancy: Cognitive Development and Learning. Mareschal, D. Meltzoff, A. Meisels, S. New York: Pearson Early Learning. Mix, K. Huttenlocher; and S. Quantitative Development in Infancy and Early Childhood. New York: Oxford University Press. Moser, R. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Shonkoff and D.

Parks, S. Perry, J. How can a linear numerical growth in memory be transformed into a change from, for example, concrete operational to formal operational perspective-taking skills Elkind, ? Although such a transformation may be possible, its nature has not proved to be transparent or simple Flavell, Moreover, how to conceptualize working memory is itself a controversial issue.

Various investigators have challenged the traditional conceptualization that there is an increase in the size of the short-term memory store Chi, ; Dempster, ; see also Grossberg, chs. Fortunately, ever richer developmental models involving ideas about working memory capacity have continued to appear since Pascual-Leone's ground-breaking work see Case, ; Halford and Wilson, , and perhaps one of these will be successful in overcoming the problems mentioned. The third common type of model assumes that development involves continuous change instead of general reorganizations of behavior like those predicted by the logic and limited-memory models.

The fundamental nature of intelligence is laid down early in life, and development involves the accumulation of more and more learning experiences. Behaviorist analyses of cognitive development constitute one of the best-known forms of this functionalist model. A small set of processes defines learning capacity, such as conditioning and observational learning, and all skills—ranging from the reflexes of the newborn infant to the creative problem solving of the artist, scientist, or statesman—are said to arise from these same processes Bandura and Walters, ; Skinner, Any behavioral reorganizations that might occur are local, involving the learning of a new skill that happens to be useful in several contexts.

Some information-processing approaches also assume that the nature of intelligence is laid down early and that development results from a continuous accumulation of many learning experiences: The child builds and revises a large number of cognitive "programs," often called production systems Gelman and Baillargeon, ; Klahr and Wallace, Children construct many such systems, such as one for conservation of amount of clay and one for conservation of amount of water in a beaker.

At times they can combine several systems into a more general one, as when conservation of clay and conservation of water are combined to form a system for conservation of continuous quantities. These reorganizations remain local, however. There are no general levels or stages in cognitive development—no all-encompassing logical reorganizations and no general increments in working memory capacity. Researchers who believe in the continuous-change model tend to investigate the effects of specific types of processes or content domains on the development of particular skills.

One of the processes emphasized within the continuous change framework has been automatization, the movement from laborious execution of a skill or production system to execution that is smooth and without deliberation. Several studies have demonstrated that automatization can produce what seem to be developmental anomalies.

When school-age children are experts in some domain, such as chess, they can perform better than adults who are not experts Chi, More generally, many types of tasks produce no differences between the performances of children and adults Brown et al. In research on specific content domains, the general question is typically how the nature of a domain affects a range of developing behaviors. For example, the nature of language, mathematics, or morality is said to produce "constraints" on the form of development in relevant behaviors Keil, ; Turiel, Development in domains that involve self-monitoring, such as knowledge about one's own memory processes metamemory , is hypothesized to have general effects on many aspects of cognitive development Brown et al.

Within the continuous-change, functionalist framework, investigators often assume that there is some intrinsic incompatibility between general cognitive-developmental reorganizations and effects of specific domains or processes. Yet it is far from obvious that any such incompatibility exists. The process of automatization can have powerful effects on developing behaviors, and at the same time children can show general reorganizations in those behaviors Case, The domain of mathematics can produce constraints on the types of behaviors children can demonstrate, and at the same time those behaviors can be affected by general reorganizations.

The reason for the assumption of incompatibility seems to be that developmentalists view the logic and limited-memory models as incompatible with the continuous-change model. The assumption of incompatibility between reorganization and continuous change seems to stem from the fundamental starting points of the models: The logic and short-term memory models focus primarily on the organism as the locus of developmental change, whereas the continuous models focus on environmental factors.

Several recent theoretical efforts have sought to move beyond this limit of the three standard models by providing a more genuinely interactional analysis, with major roles for both organismic and environmental influences Fischer, ; Halford and Wilson, ; Silvern, Approaches that explicitly include both organism and environment in the working constructs for explaining developmental processes may provide the most promise for future research.

The differences among the traditional approaches to development are important to understand, but they seem much less significant today than they did 10 years ago. A pervasive change in orientation seems to be taking place among behavioral scientists—a shift away from emphases on competing theories toward integrating whatever tools are available to explain behavior in the whole person, in all of his or her complexity.

The present era seems to be a time of integrating rather than splitting. Structuralism and functionalism, for example, are seen not as competing approaches but as complementary ones, emphasizing different aspects of behavior and development. This new orientation is evident throughout this volume. In the study of cognitive development, this change in the field appears to be associated with attempts to go beyond certain fundamental limitations of previous approaches and to move toward a more comprehensive framework for characterizing and explaining cognitive development.

At least three basic questions have arisen as part of this movement toward a new, integrative framework. All three involve efforts to avoid conceptual orientations that have proved problematic in past research. The most fundamental of the three questions is: How do child and environment jointly contribute to cognitive development? The other two questions involve elaborations of this question: How do developing behaviors in different contexts and domains relate to each other?

What methods are appropriate for analyzing cognitive development? In a general way the answers to these questions apply to development at any age, but the answers apply in particular ways to school-age children. The central unresolved issue in the study of cognitive development today seems to be the manner in which child and environment collaborate in development. As a result of the cognitive revolution, it is generally accepted that the child is an active organism striving to control his or her world. But this emphasis on the active child often seems to lead to a neglect of the environment.

Contrary to the structural approaches of such theorists as Piaget and Chomsky , it appears to be impossible to explain developing behavior without giving a central role to the specific contexts of the child's action, including those in the school environment see Scribner and Cole, ; Flavell, b. Giving context a central role does not mean merely demonstrating once again that environmental factors affect assessments of developmental steps.

Researchers have documented these effects in thousands of studies, thus pointing out the inadequacies of the Piagetian approach to explaining the unevenness of development. Surely Piaget, Kohlberg , , and other traditional structural theorists have failed to deal adequately with the environment. It is also true, however, that the functionalists have not produced a satisfactory alternative—an approach that both deals with the environment's roles in development and treats children as active contributors to their own development Lerner and Busch-Rossnagel, An analysis of the collaboration of child and environment in development is just as unlikely to arise from a functionalist emphasis on the environment as from a structuralist emphasis on the child.

Why has the study of cognitive development repeatedly fallen back on approaches that focus primarily on either the child or the environment? Why have developmentalists failed to build approaches based on the collaboration of child with environment? Historically, developmental psychology has been plagued by repeated failures to accept what should be one of its central tasks: to explain the emergence of new organization or structure.

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These failures have most commonly taken either of two complementary forms. In one form, nativism, the structures evident in the adult are seen as already preformed in the infant. These structures need only be expressed when they are somehow stimulated or nourished at the appropriate time in development. In the second form, environmentalism, the structures in the adult are treated as already preformed in the environment.

These structures need only be internalized by some acquisition process, such as conditioning or imitation. Typically, structuralist approaches assume some form of nativism, and functionalist approaches assume some type of environmentalism. Although it is common to focus on the difference between nativism and environmentalism, there is a fundamental similarity, a common preformism. Both approaches reduce the phenomena of development to the realization of preformed structures.

The mechanisms by which the structures are realized are clearly different, but in both cases the structures are present somewhere from the start—either in the child or in the world Feffer, ; Fischer, ; Sameroff, ; Silvern, ; Westerman, A mature developmental theory, we believe, must move beyond explanation by reduction to preexisting forms. It must build constructs that explain how child and environment collaborate in development, and one of the primary tasks of such constructs must be to explain how new structures emerge in development Bullock, ; Dennett, ; Haroutunian, If the future is not to be a reenactment of the past, it is important to ask why it has been so difficult to avoid drifting toward one or another type of preformism.

Why has no well-articulated, compelling alternative to preformism been devised? Any compelling alternative to preformism must describe how child and environment collaborate to produce new structures during development. Constructing such a framework is an immensely difficult task. At the very least, the framework must make reference to cognitive structure, environmental structure, the interaction of the two, and mechanisms for change in structure.

The scope of these issues makes such a framework difficult to formulate and difficult to communicate once formulated. Unfortunately, even approaches that have explicitly attempted to move beyond preformist views have typically failed to do so. Piaget provides a case in point. Yet the theory he eventually built placed most of its explanatory weight on the child and neglected the environment. Consider, for example, his famous digestive metaphor for cognitive development. Just as the digestive system assimilates food to the body and accommodates to the characteristics of the particular type of food, so children assimilate an object or event to one of their schemes and accommodate the scheme to the object or event.

Piaget seems to have chosen this metaphor expressly as a device to avoid preformist thinking, yet he still drifted back toward preformism. In practice, the focus for applications of the metaphor was the assimilation of experience to preexisting schemes. The other side of the metaphor—accommodation to experience—was systematically neglected. Similarly, the structures behind Piaget's developmental stages—concrete operations and formal operations in school-age children—were treated as static characteristics of the child. In a genuinely interactionist position, these structures would have been attributed to the collaboration of the mind with particular contexts.

Piaget's neglect of the environment became particularly evident when he was faced with a host of environmentally induced cases of developmental unevenness termed horizontal decal-age. His response was that it was simply impossible to explain them Piaget, Because of Piaget's neglect of the environment, even supporters of his position have argued that it is essentially nativist Beilin, ; Broughton, ; Flavell, If the foregoing diagnosis is accurate, any remedy must explicitly counteract the tendency to drift toward attributing cognitive structures to either the child or the environment.

What is needed seems to be a framework providing constructs and methods that force researchers to explicitly deal with both child and environment when they characterize how new structures emerge in development. What might such a framework look like? Many would recommend general systems theory, because it views the child as an active component in a larger-scale dynamic system that includes the environment. To date, however, systems theory does not seem to have been successful in promoting research explicating the interaction between child and environment in development.

Many investigators appear simply to have learned the vocabulary of the approach without changing the way they study development. Apparently, the concepts of systems theory lack the definiteness needed to guide empirical research in cognitive development toward a new interactional paradigm. A few provocative approaches based on general systems concepts have begun to appear in the developmental literature e. It is in such practical tools that the proposed remedy lies. To promote interactional analyses, a framework needs to affect the actual practice of cognitive-developmental research.

We would like to suggest that the concept of collaboration may provide the basis for such a framework.

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Human beings are social creatures, who commonly work together for shared goals. That is, people collaborate. Often when two people collaborate to solve a problem, neither one possesses all the elements that will eventually appear in the solution.

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During their collaboration, a social system Kaye, emerges in which each person's behavior supports the other's behavior and thought in directions that would not have been taken by the individuals alone. Eventually a solution—a new cognitive structure—emerges. It bears some mark of each individual, yet it did not exist in either person prior to the collaboration, nor would it have developed in either one without the collaboration.

Indeed, even after the structure has developed, the individuals may be able to access it only by reconstituting the collaboration.


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Of course, besides having the same two people collaborate again, it is also possible for one of them to collaborate with a different partner Bereiter and Scardamalia, ; Brown et al. Figure shows this developmental process as a collaborative cycle. The two left circles represent, respectively, structures that are external and internal to an individual. Consider a girl engaged in solving a puzzle with her father.

The father provides external structures to support or scaffold her puzzle solving by stating the goal of the task, lining up a puzzle piece to highlight how it fits in its particular place, providing verbal hints, and so forth Brown, ; Kaye, ; Wertsch, ; Wood, The child's knowledge and skills for solving the puzzle constitute the core of the developing internal structures. The collaboration of external and internal structures produces the behavioral episodes represented in the right circle.

The girl and her father work at solving the puzzle, and, as a result of the collaboration, she can achieve a scaffolded mental state, which she could not achieve by herself as quickly or in the same form. The feedback arrows running from the right circle to the left ones in Figure show the dependence of developmental change on collaboration. By performing the task in a scaffolded interaction, the girl learns the goal of the puzzle and how to go about solving it without her father's help. She develops more sophisticated internal structures so that she is less dependent on the complex external structures provided by her father.

Of course, the development of this ability takes many steps: The father constantly updates his scaffolding to fit the child's present knowledge and skill.

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In this way, developmental change occurs both inside the child and outside her—an often overlooked fact to which we will return. In much human behavior there is indeed a collaboration between two or more individuals. Recent socially oriented analyses of development have emphasized this process. Sometimes the emphasis is on the joint contributions of collaborating individuals, and the process is called coregulation or something similar see Feldman, ; Markus and Nurius, Maccoby, and Weisner, in this volume; Westerman and Fischman-Havstad, Even when a child is acting alone, collaboration can occur because the nonpersonal environment can play the role of collaborator.

Because environments have structures, every environment supports some behaviors more than others. For example, a tree that has strong branches far down on its trunk provides strong support for climbing, a tree with only high branches provides less support, and a pole with no branches provides little support.

Of course, much about human environments is socially constructed. Consequently, the collaboration between child and environment often involves other people even when no other person is immediately present, because people have constructed the physical environment to correspond with mental structures that organize their activity.

Although the collaboration approach has not yet been fully articulated, it already seems to have straightforward implications for research practice. If child and environment are always collaborating to produce a behavior, explanations of that behavior must invoke characteristics of both. As a practical procedure to encourage such explanations, investigators can use research designs that vary important characteristics of both the child and the environment.


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  7. With such designs, variations in both child and environment are likely to affect behavior Fischer et al. A series of studies on the development of understanding social categories illustrates how this type of research design can lead to analyses of the collaboration between child and environment in cognitive development Hand, ; Van Parys, ; Watson and Fischer, , The studies were designed to test several predicted sequences for the development of social categories such as the social roles of doctor and patient and the social-interaction categories of ''nice'' and "mean.

    The main variable involving child characteristics was age. A wide age range was included in each study to ensure substantial variation in children's capacities to understand the social categories. Ages ranged from 1 to 12 and thus included the relevant periods for the major developmental reorganizations in preadolescent school-age children.

    To determine the contribution of environmental characteristics, behavior was assessed under three different conditions, which were designed to provide varying degrees of support for advanced performance. In a structured condition—the elicited-imitation assessment—a separate task was administered to test each predicted step in the developmental sequence. The subject was shown a story embodying the skill required for that step and was asked to act out the story. Thus this condition provided high environmental support for performance at every step. The other two conditions provided less support and thus assessed more spontaneous behavior.

    In the free-play condition, each child played alone with the toys, acting out his or her own stories. In the best-story condition the experimenter returned to the testing room and asked the child to make up the best story he or she could. The results showed a systematic effect of environmental support on the child's performance, but the effect varied as a function of the developmental level of the child's best performance. For the first several steps in the developmental sequence, virtually all children showed the same highest step in all three conditions.

    However, a major change occurred beginning with the first step testing the developmental level of simple relations of representations which typically emerges at approximately age 4. At this step most children performed at a higher step in the structured assessment than in the two more spontaneous conditions, and that gap grew systematically in the later steps in the sequence.

    Figure shows these results for the studies of the social roles of doctor and patient, and parallel results were obtained in studies of the social interaction categories of nice and mean Hand, and the self-related categories of gender and age Van Parys, A systematic change in the proportion of children showing the same step in elicited imitation and free play.

    A similar design and method was used to test for an analogous phenomenon in adolescents. The developmental sequence involved the moral concepts of intention and responsibility. It was predicted that at the cognitive-developmental level of formal operations also called "single abstractions" subjects would show the same highest step in a structured assessment and in a spontaneous condition. However, when they became capable of performing at the next developmental level, relations of abstractions, a major gap would appear between performance in the structured and spontaneous conditions.

    The prediction was supported. Once again, the highest developmental step that the individual demonstrated varied systematically as a function of both the individual's capacity and the environmental condition Fischer et al. In analyzing results of this sort a proponent of a noncollaborative approach would ask which condition provides the best assessment of the child's true competence. The collaboration theorist replies, "You've missed the point.

    Competence as traditionally assessed is a joint function of child and environment. Competence varies with degree of support. Even for an individual child research can be designed to investigate variations in both the child and the environment. Cole and Traupman , for example, assessed a learning disabled child's capabilities using a range of cognitive tests and examined his performance in settings outside the classroom.

    They found that, in settings involving social interactions with other people, his disabilities were hardly noticeable because he used his social skills to compensate for them. Thus, the portrait of the child in a standard testing situation was vastly different from the portrait in a real-life social setting. It is surprising how few cognitive-developmental studies have systematically varied characteristics of both child and environment.

    Typically, studies examine either changes with age and ability or changes resulting from environmental factors. In the infrequent studies that include variations in both child and environment, the interpretations often neglect the interaction and instead focus on the child and the environment separately. For example, many studies criticizing Piaget's work demonstrate that variations in environmental conditions produce developmental unevenness decalage , but they seldom deal with the variations as a function of children's ages or abilities.

    Fortunately, there are a growing number of exceptions to this characterization—studies that seriously consider the effects of both child and environment on performance. The results of these studies are already beginning to transform explanations of cognitive development see O'Brien and Overton, ; Rubin et al. As these research examples illustrate, analyzing development as a collaborative process leads to a reconceptualization of many basic cognitive-developmental concepts.

    Since every behavior can be seen to depend on a collaboration between child and environment, it becomes impossible to analyze any behavior without including both organismic and environmental factors. Cognitive developmentalists and psychometricians commonly speak of children's ability, or capacity, or competence, as if a child possessed a set of static characteristics that could be defined independently of any context: One child has the ability to understand conservation of water, and another child does not.

    As soon as the collaborative role of the environment is introduced, these concepts must be radically changed. Competence is not a fixed characteristic of the child but an emergent characteristic of the child in a specific context. It is not enough to make a distinction between competence and performance, because in standard usage this distinction begs the question. The assumption is made that children really do possess a set of competences, but they are somehow prevented from demonstrating them in their performance Overton and Newman, If concepts such as ability and competence are to be consonant with a collaboration approach, they must be redefined in terms of the interaction of child with environment.

    Within a collaboration approach, concepts of ability and competence retain their utility, because the child is part of the analysis, too. In certain contexts, children perform up to a certain level of complexity and not beyond it, thus demonstrating a certain competence for those contexts.

    Developmental pathways for social understanding: linking social cognition to social contexts

    At times children show partial knowledge of what is needed for a particular task Brown et al. Also, children evidence large individual differences in the facility with which they can generalize an ability to new contexts, thus demonstrating variations in the competence to generalize. Upon the emergence of formal operation, for example, very bright children seem to be able to use their new capacity quickly in a wide range of tasks, whereas children of normal intelligence take much longer to extend the capacity to many tasks Fischer and Pipp, ; Webb, The collaboration orientation poses many new questions for the study of cognitive development.

    It is not enough to ask questions such as: How does the child's behavior change with age, or how does the child's behavior change as a function of experience? Instead, questions like the following need to be asked: Why do children often perform below capacity? How does context support or fail to support high level performances that are known to be within the child's reach?

    How do specific collaborative systems support the acquisition of particular skills in different ways at different developmental levels? How is the nature of the child's experience jointly regulated by the child and by resources human and other available in the child's environment? Later, we examine several lines of research that show promise of contributing answers to such questions. In the same way that scholars are coming to treat child and environment as collaborators in development they are recognizing the need to integrate the traditional categories for categorizing behavior.

    Cognition and emotion, for example, are not separate in the developing child. There seem to be at least three reasons for this changing orientation. First, after decades of research, developmentalists have found that a child's behavior does not fit neatly into separate boxes labeled cognition, emotion, motivation, social skills, personality, and physical development see, for example, Harter, , ; Selman, Indeed, even behavior in more restricted, intuitively appealing categories such as perspective taking and conservation does not fit together coherently see Hooper et al.

    Behavioral development has not proved to follow the "obvious" categories devised by developmentalists. Second, the general movement toward integrating diverse approaches and dealing with the whole child leads not only to an emphasis on the collaboration of child and environment but also to the consideration of relations between behaviors in the traditional categories: How does emotional development relate to cognitive development? How does social development relate to cognitive development?

    Instead of one set of researchers studying a cognitive child, while another set studies a social child, and still another set studies an emotional child, the field is moving toward viewing the child as a whole—a cognitive, social, emotional, motivated, personal, biological child. Third, during the last 20 years the cognitive-developmental orientation has become a dominant influence in the study of development, and it has provided a major impetus toward integration.


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    The central questions in the study of cognitive development involve the organization of behavior and the processes underlying behavioral change. Because these questions are so general and fundamental, their applicability is not limited to the traditional domain of cognitive development—increments in knowledge about "cold" topics, such as objects, space, and scientific principles. All behavior, including that involving "hot" topics, such as emotions and social interaction, is organized in some way and undergoes developmental change. The movement toward integration across behavioral categories has been promising, and many interesting results have come from research in this new tradition.

    But thus far progress has been limited by several conceptual difficulties. One of the central conceptual problems has been the tendency to reify the traditional behavioral categories despite the lack of evidence that children's behavior fits the categories. Thus, the most common hypotheses about the relationship between, for example, cognitive development and social development have assumed the validity of cognition and social skills as separate categories. This assumption is especially clear when cognitive development is postulated as a prerequisite for social development.

    One such hypothesis that has received much attention involves the relation between cognition and morality: Cognitive development is hypothesized to be a prerequisite for moral development see Kohlberg, In practice, this proposition has been taken to mean that performance on Piagetian tasks is a prerequisite for performance on Kohlberg's moral dilemmas. Why should conservation of amount of clay, for instance, be a prerequisite for moral reasoning based on normative concepts of good and bad Kohlberg's stage 3?

    Is there any sense in which conservation is included in the concepts of good and bad? Or is there any way that conservation is more fundamental to mental functioning than concepts of good and bad? Isn't it just as reasonable or unreasonable to suggest that concepts of good and bad may be a prerequisite for conservation? If evidence does not support the division of behavior into separate categories of cognition about science problems and moral reasoning, it cannot be meaningful to suggest that such cognition is a prerequisite for moral reasoning Rest, , A similar problem arises when investigators assume that the behaviors captured by the traditional categories are totally separate, showing no relation to each other at all.

    One of the most neglected topics for school-age children is emotional development, which is sometimes treated as if it is not related at all to cognitive development. Perhaps this assumption helps explain why cognitive developmentalists have omitted emotions from their research agenda. In a later section we suggest some guidelines for stimulating the study of emotional development in school-age children, especially as it relates to cognitive development.

    A third, related conceptual problem has been the assumption that one variable can capture an entire behavioral category. Self-esteem as assessed by a questionnaire is treated as measuring the core of the developing self Hatter, ; Markus and Nurius, in this volume; Wylie, The stage of moral judgment, as assessed by reasoning about a set of moral dilemmas, is believed to assess the fundamental nature of moral development Rest,

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