Santos on infant development than industrialised cultures

Santos et. al.’s (2000) study in Brazil provides the second exemplar analysis. Their aim was to investigate the motor abilities of infants under six months and look for differences or similarities and compare this to US norms derived from the Bayley II Motor Scale (Bayley, 1993). Abilities within sitting and grasping such as ‘uses whole hand to grasp rod’ and ‘sits alone steadily’ were assessed.

The results showed a steady maturational increase in abilities comparable to the US infants, however at three, four and five months old the Brazilians scored significantly lower. The methods used in this research are problematic.Brazilian infants were tested in a laboratory setting, which arguably strips the context away from the tested individual. Indeed, Werner (1988) argues in third world cultures at least, there are wider biological and psychosocial factors impinging on infant development than industrialised cultures which are often restricted in research environments. As culture is a focal point of explanation in the study, it seems important to analyse motor abilities in their real-life contexts.

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Parental care, objects in the home and other family members are all factors existing in the infants home environment that may not be in a laboratory environment.All have the potential to shape how an infant physically behaves, so can behaviour be generalised outside the laboratory context? It may be more beneficial to study motor development, for example in their home environments during play, with objects they are familiar with. Werner (1988) supports this, illustrating that symbolic play is universal but cultures merely use different objects.

Moreover, Werner (1988) argues infant motor assessment is more successful if longitudinally studied where context and culture is included. Although, longitudinal analysis may encounter temporal cultural changes within the study frame particularly if this is over a long period, such as material changes of objects e.g. wooden toys were once predominant but now these are primarily plastic. These clearly need to be considered in subsequent analysis.In the above study, the Bayley II test (Bayley, 1993) was used in assessment as a revised as the baseline norm with which to compare motor abilities to. This is used in many developmental studies, having the advantage of applicability across problems such as motor and speech delays (Dilworth and French, 1990) and can be used cross-culturally as a quantitative measure (Berry et. al.

, 2002). Furthermore, it has interesting tasks for the infant to do (Gangnon and Nagle, 2000) and discriminates between fine (finger, head movements) and gross (standing, walking, sitting) motor abilities. However, discrepancies arise in its use, particularly in cross-cultural studies.The test manual should be followed stringently; for example the manual advises at least two observers should be present to achieve inter-rater reliability, however there was no evidence of this in Santos et. al.

, (2000), thus questioning the validity of the observer’s ratings. It is unclear how the US normative data was acquired, if this was laboratory or an ecologically valid testing environment, but comparability of testing environments should be ensured to compare samples. This is a major critique of cross-cultural research as although researchers aim to match procedures, etc, this in practice is difficult and may be an explanation for why motor development cross culturally is under-studied.There has been the recognition for many years that tests may be culturally biased (Richards, 1996) if applied elsewhere from where they were developed. Even Santos et. al., (2000) admit the US standard is a starting point which should not be considered a benchmark and ‘is reasonable until a less culturally biased representative norm group is established’ (Santos, et, al, 2000: 161). Indeed, other researchers acknowledge developmental theories and methods are “innocently Western” (Warren, 1980; Werner, 1988), therefore the problem is yet to be solved.

In solution, Dutch researchers Ruiter and Nakken (2000-2004)1 are currently developing their own normative data and perhaps this should be considered by others to aim for indigenous psychologies, particularly where their culture diverges sufficiently from the traditional American Caucasian norms. Even though other motor development measures are used in cross-cultural motor development, this example illustrates the difficulties researchers in this field face.The style of measurement and theory attained to studying cross-culturally generally, raises philosophical issues (Richards, 1996) and shows the difficulty of analysing at an individual level (the infant’s motor behaviour) in the context of a wider level of analysis in terms of culture.

A general problem recognised in cross cultural studies is that the researchers make the assumption that certain cultures want instructions and education devised from study findings. Santos et. al.

, (2000) is one example of this, as they suggest a programme for stimulating infant motor development to expectant parents. However, for perhaps reasons of cultural tradition, parents may not want to change their behaviour or that of their infant(s). If so, this shows the cultural specificity of our research problems (Boesch, 1996: 9).Indeed, the BPS ethical code of conduct advises researchers that local cultural values and the possibility of intruding upon privacy should be considered.2 Although, the aim to discover delayed or advanced motor abilities and devise educational programs is still promoted and a recent study by Kolobe (2004) shows this. Motor development was assessed again using the Bayley II scale and wider variables of acculturation and socio-economic status were measured. This study highlights some optimism in researchers aiming to combine the individual level of analysis (of motor development) and the socio-cultural analysis of the said wider variables.However, as a statistical issue, still only 32% of the variance in Kolobe’s (2004) motor development analysis could be explained by all the variables they studied.

Hence, how much variance in studies are accounted for by culture and can this be quantified seeing how it is a loose and fuzzy concept and subtle socio-cultural variables exist? Pollitt (1983) claims in third world cultures at least, more variance can be attributed to risk factors such as health and nutrition to motor development than more affluent industrialised cultures. Furthermore, due to interpretation, linguistic, differences in meanings and so forth, there is likely to be a higher error variance which masquerades important information (Boesch, 1996). More of an awareness of these are needed in research as motor development findings can be confounded.Also, what is required is the need to ascertain specific causes and study longitudinally, as many studies do not provide specific determinants of infant motor development.

Furthermore, for the credibility of motor development studied cross-culturally to be higher, more cultures require studying to expand the cultural boundness beyond Hopi Indians, Brazilians, western cultures and so forth previously studied. However, realising the limited resources researchers are faced with.Finally, there is still the issue of intra-cultural variation (Lave, 1988), particularly in multicultural societies such as the UK, Australia and the US; a blurring of cultural boundaries has occurred.

Even though Berry (1985) justifies this form of ethnic psychology by claiming most groups continue to express their original cultures. Arguably, although we can ascertain one participant originates from a particular culture or specific generation, they would need to be assessed as to how much they had been exposed to other cultural practices and behaviour which would be not be impossible but problematic.In summary, the beneficiaries of studying motor development cross culturally are accepted as important for any scientific discipline, to progress in our knowledge, and if cultures do desire intervention programs then to develop these. This is reiterated through an increasing awareness throughout the scientific field to move beyond the cultural boundedness of developmental research which is criticised rightly so, for example by Richards (1996) as overly Westernised. However, as argued here, there is not an ignorance in the research field of the problems and arguably whilst it is theoretically sound to study cross-cultural motor development, in reality methodological and practice problems arise. As shown, perhaps this is why there is a lack of recent research in the field as researchers realise the problems.The ideology of scientific progress we know of, may be culturally biased in itself as our scientific rituals may be incompatible to other cultures (Boesch, 1996). Whilst not as extreme as Nisbet’s (1971) claim that comparing motor development cross-culturally places non-Western cultures on top of a hierarchy, the problems are just too strong currently to be ignored, thus questioning the validity and reliability of many of the existing studies.

The question then raised is, if researchers are using culturally biased instruments until fairer methods come along; does this render the findings so far, culturally biased and therefore invalid? Perhaps culturally biased, but not wholly invalid as these studies are a starting point for researchers to advance on. Although, it is recognised, recent studies such as Kolobe’s (2004) are striving to avoid problems presented here, by investigating wider demographic, political and parental behaviour effects on infant motor development.For the future, this wider appreciation surrounding infant motor development needs to be addressed further, as motor development is not bound within the individual psyche which renders motor development as not in totality, psychological but as Lave (1988) argues socially anthropological. The remaining variance and testing in a variety of field settings should occur, in assessing the ecological developmental niches that researchers (e.g.

Berry et. al., 2002; Santos et. al., 2000; Super and Harkness, 1986) suggest exist. This, as evident from the sources utilised in this paper requires the continued knowledge from eclectic disciplines. However it is recognised the problems may never be fully eradicated (Boesch, 1996; Berry, et.

El, 2002).To conclude, if cross-cultural psychology involves the study of ongoing changes in variables (Berry, 2002) then the quite outdated studies and general scarcity of research in this field needs to be addressed. Cross cultural psychology needs to keep apace with any changes in infant motor development or the cultural contexts surrounding the behaviour for the field to attain credibility and gain insights.

ReferencesBayley, N. (1993). Bayley Scales of Infant Development: Second Edition. San Antonio, TX: ThePsychological Corporation.

Berry, J.W., and Dasen, P.R. (1974). Culture and Cognition.

London: Metheun.Berry, J.W.

, Poortinga, Y.H., Segall, M.H., and Dasen, P.R.

(2002). Cross-Cultural Psychology:Research and Applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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