Affective Growth & Development: Stages & Characteristics

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

You can think of affective growth as a person's social-emotional development, and like all learning, it occurs over a lifetime. This lesson will take a look at the stages of affective growth as they're experienced at different points of life.

What Is Affective Growth?

Throughout your life, you are constantly learning, even if you don't realize it. Have you ever stopped to wonder how this learning takes place? Who you are as a person depends on the experiences you have during key points of your development, and a lot of research has gone into studying and classifying how and what people learn, especially at different life stages (infant, child, teenager, adult). When referring to learning, we may use the terms learning and growing or growth interchangeably.

Current research adheres to three types, or domains, of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Without getting caught up in details, we can loosely define each type. Cognitive refers to our mental skills or knowledge; affective refers to our feelings or emotions; psychomotor refers to our manual or physical capabilities. All of these domains are interconnected, but in this lesson we'll only focus on affective growth.

Affective growth, or affective learning, relates to how we emotionally process information. It refers to feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasm, motivations, and attitude. You can also think of it as our social-emotional development as human beings.

Generally speaking, we can break affective growth down into five categories or stages.

  1. Receiving: the ability to recognize and receive emotional stimuli from outside sources
  2. Responding: the ability to actively respond and react to emotional stimuli
  3. Valuing: the ability to assign worth to different objects, people, or behaviors
  4. Organization: the ability to prioritize values once they've been assigned to something
  5. Characterization: the ability to base one's behavior off of his or her internalized value system

This may sound confusing, but we can summarize affective growth as the ability to correctly recognize and identify a range of emotions, as well as adequately respond to them. Obviously, this isn't something you're born knowing how to do (or there might be a lot less crying involved in infancy); it's something that both develops naturally and is learned over time.

Affective Growth During Infancy

Anyone who has experience with infants knows that at first, every reaction is based on instinct. When babies are unhappy, they cry. Gradually, however, they begin to find more appropriate ways to express how they are feeling. Some of this learning is natural, and some of it is learned through interactions with caregivers.

During infancy, we can identify three major milestones of emotional growth: crying, cooing (babbling softly), and smiling. Parents can encourage affective growth by responding to the cues given off by their child and by giving names to each emotion early on. Over time, infants will begin developing skills to self-soothe, as well as to respond to external cues.

In terms of the five stages of affective growth, infants mostly experience and develop the ability to receive and respond to emotional stimuli.

Smiling is one emotional milestone reached during infancy.
emotional development in babies

Affective Growth During Childhood

These are critical years for affective growth and development, and a lot happens during this time. Throughout childhood, you can watch a child develop more awareness of their own feelings as well as those of other people. They'll show the first signs of becoming self-conscious, and they gradually become more emotionally independent from their caretakers.

As children grow, they start to match their own emotions to those of the people around them, and they begin to adjust their own behavior and emotions to match what is 'socially acceptable'. They also begin to develop and fine-tune their problem-solving skills and ability to cope with stress.

Children continue to refine their ability to receive and respond to emotional stimuli, and they also begin to set values and organize those values into a personalized system.

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