The Role of Environment in Childhood Physical Development


Middle childhood is a stage in a person’s development that has a significant influence on their future life. Both the school and the family environment play a considerable role in the development of an individual during their middle childhood, which means that the peculiarities of the environment may have a serious effect on the future of a person. Therefore, it is paramount to investigate the role that the environment plays in one’s development during middle childhood in more detail. Because of this, a review of the literature on this topic is provided below. After discussing the main themes in the reviewed studies, the findings and conclusions provided in these studies are considered.

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The Main Themes in the Research Literature

On the whole, it is possible to speak about three main themes present in the scholarly literature that was reviewed for the current paper. The first theme is related to the evolutionary perspective; according to several studies, it is possible to consider the peculiarities of persons’ physical development during their middle childhood from the evolutionary point of view (Bjorklund & Ellis, 2014; Del Giudice, 2014).

The second theme pertains to the issue of negative emotional and behavioral influences during middle childhood that may have an impact on people’s physical and psychosocial development, potentially leading to certain issues in the future (Dubois-Comtois, Moss, Cyr, & Pascuzzo, 2013; Elsaesser, Gorman-Smith, & Henry, 2013; Schwartz, Lansford, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 2018). Finally, the third theme pertains to the impact of the external environment (such as the presence of pollutants and noise, the quality of schooling and neighborhood) on the development of children (Ferguson, Cassells, MacAllister, & Evans, 2013). The findings described in all these studies are discussed in more detail below.

Discussing the Findings and Conclusions of the Reviewed Literature

One of the issues that the reviewed literature focuses on is that it is possible to consider the physical development of individuals during their middle childhood from the evolutionary perspective. For example, Bjorklund and Ellis (2014) conclude that the evolutionary theory can be successfully utilized as a metatheory for developmental psychology on the whole. In particular, it is averred that the contemporary evolutionary theory recognizes the impact of the environment, including the social environment, on the development of an individual (Bjorklund & Ellis, 2014).

It is stated that during their childhood, in particular, during the middle childhood, individuals learn to compete and collaborate with others while participating in a wide array of institutions that facilitate their physical development and adaptation to the society, for the social instincts were made possible, in particular, due to the evolutionary adaptation of the human (Bjorklund & Ellis, 2014). Del Giudice (2014) also states that it is possible to view development in middle childhood from the evolutionary perspective. For instance, the author concludes that inputs that one receives from their surroundings interact with that person’s genotype, which may have an impact on their phenotype (Del Giudice, 2014).

Also, it is stated that the social environment might affect sex differences between individuals and that both social competition and social integration are crucial when it comes to one’s future reproductive success (Del Giudice, 2014). On the whole, both studies provide rather convincing arguments and facts to support their position that the development of individuals may be viewed from the evolutionary perspective. This also means that a persons’ physical development in middle childhood can also be considered from the evolutionary point of view.

Another theme encountered in the reviewed literature is that of the adverse behavioral and emotional impacts during middle childhood which may influence children’s development, causing problems in the future. For instance, Dubois-Comtois et al. (2013) found out that greater rates of psychosocial distress of mothers and a controlling type of attachment of a mother to her child (both care-giving and punitive types of attachment) are significantly associated with both externalizing and internalizing clinical issues (p<.05).

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The low quality of interaction between mothers and their children, the male sex of children, and an ambivalent attachment of children are also associated with externalizing clinical issues (p<.05; Dubois-Comtois et al., 2013). Elsaesser et al. (2013), using a sample of 5625 (50.8% male), show that the school climate is not correlated with victimization and relational aggression, but that individual belief about aggression is strongly correlated with relational aggression (both in the roles of a victim and a perpetrator), which is contrasted to the common beliefs that the school environment has an impact on aggressive behaviors.

Finally, Schwartz et al. (2018) explore the connection between the victimization of peers and the aggression displayed by individuals during their middle childhood, and show that early aggression is correlated to more frequent arrests in the future, but only among persons who were never victimized. This also means that the interaction with the environment in middle childhood influences a person’s development and their future behaviors. On the whole, all the cited studies provide strong evidence to support their claims, although the assertions made in the study by Elsaesser et al. (2013) that the school climate might not affect relational aggression and victimization may have been related to specific measurement instruments employed by the authors.

Finally, Ferguson et al. (2013) aver that the physical environment of individuals may influence the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of these persons, in particular, during their childhood (including their middle childhood) and adolescence. The authors claim that the low quality of the physical environment (including the neighborhood, the school environment, the access to various resources, and so on) may hurt the said aspects of the development of an individual (Ferguson et al., 2013). Although the authors do not provide any specific research data of their own, their work is based on an extensive review of literature on the topic in question.


On the whole, the reviewed articles provide considerable evidence to support their claims. While the studies by Bjorklund and Ellis (2014), Del Giudice (2014), and Ferguson et al. (2013) are based on a significant amount of scholarly literature, Dubois-Comtois et al. (2013), Elsaesser et al. (2013), and Schwartz et al. (2018) are all grounded in original research. It might be possible to state that the studies by Bjorklund and Ellis (2014) and Del Giudice (2014) appear to be the most convincing ones, for they provide a large number of arguments and examples that are based on the scholarly literature.

Their contribution to this area of research is significant, for they propose a metatheory from the perspective of which this topic could be explored further. However, studies by Dubois-Comtois et al. (2013), Elsaesser et al. (2013), and Schwartz et al. (2018) are based on thorough research employing quantitative methods, and their conclusions are based on the data that was collected by the authors. On the other hand, the study by Ferguson et al. (2013) is a general overview of the topic area and does not focus on supplying a wide array of convincing arguments to support its claims.

The purpose of the current study will be to identify and determine the role of the environment in middle childhood in a detailed manner.


Bjorklund, D., & Ellis, B. (2014). Children, childhood, and development in evolutionary perspective. Developmental Review, 34(3), 225-264.

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Del Giudice, M. (2014). Middle childhood: An evolutionary‐developmental synthesis. Child Development Perspectives, 8(4), 193-200.

Dubois-Comtois, K., Moss, E., Cyr, C., & Pascuzzo, K. (2013). Behavior problems in middle childhood: The predictive role of maternal distress, child attachment, and mother-child interactions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41(8), 1311-1324.

Elsaesser, C., Gorman-Smith, D., & Henry, D. (2013). The role of the school environment in relational aggression and victimization. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(2), 235-249.

Ferguson, K. T., Cassells, R. C., MacAllister, J. W., & Evans, G. W. (2013). The physical environment and child development: An international review. International Journal of Psychology, 48(4), 437-468.

Schwartz, D., Lansford, J. E., Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., & Bates, J. E. (2018). Peer victimization during middle childhood as a marker of attenuated risk for adult arrest. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 46(1), 57-65.

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