The model of the “Developmental Niche
” seeks to explain how various influences may exert control over the psychological, social, etc. development of children
within a specific culture. According to this model, the three major factors that influence development are the settings/contexts (both physical and social), the customs
and childrearing practices
, and caretaker psychology
There are numerous ways that the major components in this model may influence the development of independent (individualist) or interdependent (collectivist) selves. I will discuss some possible ways that these influences may foster such self-development.
The physical and social settings may influence the development of an individualistic or collectivistic self in a variety of ways. The size and organization of living space may be one such example. In cultures where space is more limited, we may expect that an infant will spend more time in social interaction than in isolation. Further, we may expect that in such cases it would be relatively more important to sustain group harmony since spaces where one can be alone are limited. Monroe and Monroe (1971) found that infants in high-density households had more physical contact with caregivers and were attended to more quickly than those in low-density households. The presence of grandparents also increases the amount time children spend in the presence of others. Given the relative importance of extended familial ties in collectivist cultures, we can expect that the general experience of children and infants in these cultures will generally follow this pattern and that relationships will hold relatively more importance to the individual psychology as a result.
The influence of customs and childrearing practices could also have a profound impact on the development of individualist or collectivist orientations. Bril and Zack (1989) reported that infants in Mali spent 93% of their time in bodily contact with the mother, compared to 30% for French babies. Increased physical contact with the caregiver stresses the importance of connectedness and interaction with others while decreasing the perceived importance of independence seen in individualistic cultures. The practice of cosleeping may also stress the importance of social ties. Wolf et al (1996) found higher rates of cosleeping in more collectivistic cultures (ie. Italy, Japan, African American) than in more individualistic cultures (ie. White Americans).
The amount of time children spend working and the age at which they begin various types of work also seems to play a role in the development of individualistic or collectivistic orientations. Whiting and Whiting (1975) found that Kenyan children spent an average of 41% of their time to work, compared with 2% for the U.S. sample. This difference clearly stresses that, at least in Kenya, a child is expected to make contributions to the household, while the contributed expected in the American sample is relatively low, de-emphasizing the importance of contributing to group goals. If this finding holds up for other collectivist cultures, it should be a clear indication of how childrearing practices contribute to the development of collectivistic or individualist orientations.
The role of caretaker psychology can also be considered as an important contributor to the development of independent or interdependent views of self. One example of this is the importance placed on lineage among the Nso of Cameroon. In this culture, the mother and child are highly valued in the extended family (Rabain, 1979). This emphasis on the interconnectedness of family, particularly the emphasis on even the deceased members of the family, would be passed on to the children. We would also expect that through processes of modeling of caretaker behavior, the child would have similar belief systems and worldviews (eg. individualism/collectivism) and react to various social contexts in a similar manner.
From the perspective of transactional functionalism, we can view the development of collectivist or individualist orientations as a form of psychological adaptation to the particular needs and demands of the environment, whether they are the setting/context, the customs and childrearing practices, or caretaker psychology.