The International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Socio-Emotionally Intelligent Development Politics 
Towards a Framework for Socio-Emotionally Intelligent Development Politics:
A Concept/Advocacy Paper*

Friedrich W. Affolter, Ed.D.
Currently on Assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: 0093-70-289617
as well as


Affolter, F.W. (2004)  Socio-Emotionally Intelligent Development Politics
Towards a Framework for Socio-Emotionally Intelligent Development Politics:
 A Concept/Advocacy Paper. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 8,  119-140.

* I would like to thank my dissertation committee members, Professors David R. Evans, Gretchen B Rossman, Alfred S. Hartwell, and Ervin Staub, all University of Massachusetts at Amherst, whose lectures and publications have inspired me to write this paper. (F.A.)


This paper deplores the absence of socio-emotional capacity development content in traditional socio-economic development thought.  It reviews arguments why the theme of socio-emotional well-being deserves to be acknowledged as a key contributor to human capital development. Next, the paper discusses conceptual frameworks and strategies for assisting planners and policy makers to include socio-emotional well-being into their socio-economic development strategies. The paper concludes with a framework proposal for planning socio-emotionally effective and sustainable development programs.

Socio-emotional (or psychosocial) well-being is a prerequisite that enables children and adults to evolve into caring, non-violent, emotionally-healthy citizens (Staub, 2003). As globalization and social change have - in recent decades - led to increased levels of “socially constructed uncertainty” (Marris, 1991), there is concern that social support networks and care-taking relationships erode (UNDP, 1999), leaving behind “unhealthy” or “toxic” societies (Wilkinson, 1996; Garbarino, 1995; Vimpani, 2000).
Psychologists have called upon policy makers to foster and protect communities’ and nations’ social support network structures. A “Global Community Psychology” is needed, which - rather than strengthening therapeutic services - contributes through “envisioning, negotiating, designing and evaluating a humane social order” (Marsella, 1999, p. 1289). “Reservoirs of care” must be preserved since “no vision becomes real, nor can it gain momentum, if there is not a main thread stitching together relationships at all levels of experience” (Independent Commission on Population and the Quality of Life [ICPQL], 1996, p. 115).
Notwithstanding, the theme of socio-emotional well-being presents a neglected building block in Third World socio-economic development discourse (Affolter, 2003). Although development agencies have abolished their rigid approaches of “economic growth through urban/rural industrialization”, and adapted instead “modernization” and “human capital development” frameworks  (Peet & Hartwick, 1999), the theme of socio-emotional well-being - as a contributor to human capital development - remains un-discussed. LeVine (1983) observes:

[T]he logical connections between international development and child development - so transparently obvious … do not guarantee [a] rapprochement, either in science or in policy. One reason is that policy analysis in the international development field draws its concepts of human behavior largely from economics, in which formal utilitarian models of labor markets provide the primary basis for analyzing microsocial phenomena. In economic analysis, the processes of interest to child development research are more often relegated to the black box between aggregate inputs and outputs, or else they are ignored altogether…. (p. 45)

This paper seeks to close the disconnect between socio-economic development thought and socio-emotional well-being research. It advocates for an expanded human capital development notion that does not just seek to nurture sustained economic productivity (see UNDP, 1996), but also promotes - across communities and nations - the development of a caring, non-violent, optimally functioning citizenry (Staub, 2003). By this is meant the nurturance of people capable of fulfilling their basic psychological needs to a reasonable extent, in constructive rather than destructive ways, and who engage in continuously evolving series of experiences of effectiveness, identity and connection as a result of the continued fulfillment of these needs (Staub, personal communication, May 3rd, 2002).
The paper briefly summarizes insights from the fields of developmental psychology, social psychology and brain research that affirm the notion that human capital development is closely linked to socio-emotional well-being. Next, examples of frameworks and socio-emotionally conducive policies and development interventions will be reviewed. The paper concludes by proposing a conceptual framework for nurturing socio-emotionally healthy human ecologies, and psychosocial rehabilitation across communities and nations.
1.     Review of the Literature: Human Development and Socio-Emotional Well-Being
“Caring” relationships between children and caretakers are - cross-culturally - a key ingredient for nurturing socio-emotional well-being. Although the cultivation of attachment ties may differ amongst cultures, the pursuit of proximity and protection, and suffering resulting from loss are universal phenomena (Valsiner, 1989; Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake & Morelli, 2000, p. 1102; Eisenberg, 1992). Bretherton (1990; 1992) argues that transactional patterns evolve through initial child-caretaker interactions. They become internalized as mental working models, and eventually determine how an infant (child, adult) discusses attachment relationships with a third person (p. 237). Werner (1989) found that even vulnerable children (who suffered perinatal stress, chronic poverty, parents lacking education, troubling parental divorce experiences, discord, parental alcoholism or mental illness) eventually became successful adults, provided that their stressful lives were - during critical turning points - buffered and counterbalanced through protective social support network structures:

Competence, confidence and caring can flourish even under adverse circumstances, if young children encounter people in their lives who provide them with a secure basis for the development of trust, autonomy, and initiative. (p. 14)

Brain research confirms the conduciveness of socio-emotionally adequate support structures for physical, social and cognitive capacity development. Dobbing (1990) asserts that optimal brain development requires - beyond nutritional intake - emotional support:

Nutritional deprivation is only one element restricting normal child development, and it may even be a small one in relation to the other deprivations to which they are subject, except where malnutrition leads to serious infective illness, as it often does. Several examples were found of nutritional relief on its own, without adequate attention to “stimulation” in the environment, being without effect. Indeed there were even examples of  “stimulation” alone producing apparent restoration to bodily, if not intellectual normality…, and, on the other hand, of undernutrition in an otherwise enriched environment not resulting in any detectable deficit at all…. (p. 14)

Already during pregnancy, a mother’s physical and emotional well-being is crucial for the active promotion of optimal brain development of the fetus (Diamond & Hopson, 1998). Appropriate pre-school stimulation and nurturance is crucial for ensuring the realization of intellectual and social skills, particularly when considering that the “amygdala” (the part of the brain that manages emotional responses) grows and matures earlier than the cerebral cortex, and is very sensitive to parental feedback and handling:

An atmosphere conducive to healthy emotional development is probably the most important foundation a parent can provide. Proper nurturing at this stage is a priceless form of mental enrichment that lasts a lifetime, whereas inappropriate or inconsistent treatment, neglect, or outright abuse are forms of mental impoverishment that can also take a life-long toll….
Emotional development has a curious and important quality: As tiny infants, long before we have words to describe our feelings, our experiences with parents, siblings and caregivers - loving or harsh, supportive or destructive - help establish a mental map that will guide our emotional life, and, in turn, its influence on all of our thinking processes. (Diamond & Hopson, 1998, pp. 125-126)

Brain researchers today are able to explain how the “emotional mind” influences and dominates the “rational mind” (see Damasio, 1998; LeDoux, 1994). By controlling the endocrine system, whose hormonal outputs affect all bodily functions, the emotional brain affects the neocortex tone of symbolic activities such as language, strategic operations, and action planning. Thought is the product of the brain’s genetically specified wiring system, and past experiences of similar situations. Humans interpret reality in obedience to the dictates of their own emotions:


In the nervous system, information echoes down the filaments that join harmonious neural networks. When an emotional chord is struck, it stirs to life past memories of the same feeling.
One manifestation of these orchestral evocations is the immediate selectivity of emotional memory. Gleeful people automatically remember happy times, while a depressed person effortlessly recalls incidents of loss, desertion, and despair. Anxious people dwell on past threats; paranoia instills a retrospective preoccupation with situations of persecution. If an emotion is sufficiently powerful, it can quash opposing networks so completely that their content becomes inaccessible – blotting out discordant sections of the past. Within the confines of that person’s virtuality, those events didn’t happen. To an outside observer, he seems oblivious to the whole of his own history. Severely depressed people can “forget” their former, happier lives, and may vigorously deny them when prompted by well-meaning guardians of historical verity. Rage affords hatred an upper hand that is likewise obtuse, sometimes allowing a person to attack with internal impunity those he has forgotten he loves. (Lewis, Amini & Lannon, 2000, p. 130)


Beyond the formation of attachment ties and relationship dynamics that impact dentritic growth and socio-emotional programming, macro-social structures facilitate or impede support networks’ ability to stimulate socio-emotional well-being (see Folbre, 2001; UNDP, 1999; Kirby

Table 1.
 The Need for Positive Social Support Structures, and Developmental Consequences Across the Life-Span

Human Development

Developmental Psychology

Brain Development Research


Western Developmental

Non-Western Developmental Psychology



Psychological support prepares caretaker to effectively engage in child-parent relationship.

Women use pre-structured meaning systems provided by cultured environment for reasoning and adjusting to pregnancy.

Freedom from stress and “deliberate calmness” prevent possible damages in brain and nervous system.


Caretakers’ external feedback complements maturing forces of central nervous and internal feedback systems. Socio-emotional well-being of caretaker determines quality of child-parent interaction.

Non-Western cultures have alternative attachment procedures that may draw on infants’ mothers only marginally, but instead draw on a variety of alternative resources available in the community.

Positive social stimulation produces bodily and intellectual normality. The emotional quality of social experiences determines the programming of the amygdala, and of the cerebral cortex of children.


Early Childhood

Affective communication with caretakers allows infants to develop and regulate their social interaction capabilities.

Affective communication, and processing of misunderstandings with adults and older siblings allows for the development of “cultured understanding”.

Proper nurturing allows brain to establish mental map that will guide emotional life and thinking processes.

Middle Childhood

Multiple positive relationship opportunities (i.e. extended family) provide a rich data source for reflective experiential learning and the drawing of comparisons.

Children learn from emotional tones of adults and older siblings who frequently serve as their caretakers.

Structured leisure activities that elicit intrinsic motivation and high levels of attention produce continued branching/growing of dendritic trees.

Late Childhood

Nurturing, pro-social culture of parents and peers mold children’s identity, behavior patterns, feeling of self-worth, as well as intellectual and social survival skills.

Kinship/informal education systems provide nurturance and guidance. Children become caretakers of younger siblings, thereby developing pro-social competence.

Same as above.


Through socio-emotionally competent caretakers, peers and prosocial bystanders, adolescents establish a sense of role and identity in life.

Different folk ideas harness different collective relationship experiences in terms of self-worth, social relationships and quest for meaning.

Structured leisure activities - “constructively connected to teens’ emotional status quo”  -produce continued branching/growing of dendritic trees.


Adults thrive in environments that make it possible to accommodate internal moral and mental attitudes with traditional values dictated by outer society.


Education, strenuous activity & active social life style increases and maintains mental agility, even among old people.

 Table 2.

 The Threat of “Toxic” Environments and Social Stress, and Developmental Consequences Across the Life Span

Human Development

Developmental Psychology

Brain Development Research


Developmental Psychology

 Developmental Psychology



Psychological discrimination enhances pre-partum depressions.

(No data available)

Anxiety releases stress hormones that damage dendritic trees.


Poverty correlates with low maternal education, negative parental values and attitudes. Lack of social and economic support correlates with mental health problems and maternal anxiety.

Parents who have left behind traditional social support structures are vulnerable to various types of stress situations. Poverty may force women to intentfully neglect/abandon newborns.

Emotional deprivation inhibits bodily ability of self-restoration and development of intellectual normality.


Early Childhood

Anxious or insecure parents are inhibited in establishment of relationships with their own children. Single caretakers have limited resources to nurture the child or foster a reciprocal, responsive-sensitive relationship.

Life in “unplanned communities” deters caretakers’ attention from children towards economic production. Loss of pride and family separation leads to disoriented and deviant children and youth.

Harsh destructive relationship experiences establish mental map inspired by aggression rather than nurturance; and eventually guide future emotional & intellectual life.

Middle Childhood

Authoritarian / laissez-faire parenting prevents children from becoming effective agents in their own socialization, or to experience rational, issue-oriented cooperative interactions.

Life in communities separated from traditional kinship systems distances children from traditional values embraced by parents. Economic needs facilitate situations of child labor.

Families that are economically struggling, uneducated, emotionally distressed are less able to provide brain-stimulating environment.

Late Childhood

Negative regard from peers or parents correlates with negative self-worth, relationship problems and poor adjustment ability.

Social stress as a result of deteriorating levels of living, and communal disintegration creates anxiety spillovers.

Boring, uneducational, meaning-less instructive experiences fail to stimulate dendrite development.


Lack of socio-economic stability produces hostility. Lack of positive relationships results in feelings of alienation; resulting isolation may lead to the desire to commit suicide.

Socio-cultural changes and resource depletion leads to questioning of time-honored practices. Changes demand socio-emotional competence for responding and internalizing change.

Lack of meaningful relationships and learning environments results in failure to constructively address teenagers’ emotional “status quo”.


Unresolved tensions between inner moral and mental attitudes, and traditional values dictated by outer society create socio-emotional uneasiness.

Worries about food, housing, inability to satisfy children’s physical needs leads to worries and anxiety, which have a pervasive effect on relationships and parenting quality.

Lack of socio-economic stability and meaningful, satisfactory social relationships decrease physical and emotional health.

Child Abuse

Physical, sexual and psychological trauma leads to psychiatric difficulties that show up in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

Immigration, urbanization, changes from agrarian to urban economies, and alien social environments may increase potential maltreatment of children.

Stress affects brain’s transmitters and leads to irrecoverable brain deformation.

& Frazer, 1997; Comer, 1989). Material inequality, for example, affects social relationships by imposing a psychological burden that reduces physical and emotional well-being (Wilkinson, 1996):


One of the ways in which adverse socio-economic circumstances may do lasting psychological and emotional damage is through increasing the levels of stress in which domestic life is lived. The social and economic environment establishes many of the difficulties with which domestic life has to cope and cannot be separated from a range of what are normally seen as family problems. It is not just worries about money, jobs and housing spill over into domestic conflict as tempers become more quickly frayed and parents find themselves with smaller reserves of patience and tolerance. It is also that lack of money, of choices, play space, the need for enough indoor space to accommodate incompatible family activities – in short, the lack of resources of all kinds (including time) – means that people’s needs and demands are brought into conflict with each other. The tighter the constraints within which a family must operate, the fewer the dreams which can be satisfied, and the more people’s interests conflict. The smaller the resources, the less the capacity to overcome unforeseen difficulties, accidents, breakages and losses. The greater the potential sources of stress and conflict, the more family life and social support will suffer. (pp. 163-164)

Economic, social and cultural challenges also stress well-established social systems in Non-Western societies. Globalization has led, on the one hand, to economic growth and spread of new technologies, but also, on the other hand, to social fragmentation, widening income disparities, job and income insecurity, financial volatility, threat of a worldwide recession, crime, the spread of HIV/Aids, as well as environmental degradation (UNDP, 1999). Globalization has uprooted traditional social support networks, sparking social morbidity and mass migration:


Deteriorating levels of living forced people to live in unplanned communities, witnessing how the environment became polluted, how community members suffered loss of pride for having become dependent on others rather than self sufficient, experiencing family separation and the generation gap, observing disoriented and deviant children and youth, watching the dying heritage of the past, seeing the misuse of leisure time, having sources of traditional foods neglected and feeling the mounting pressure of excess population. Such dimensions of social life and consciousness may very often be of much more importance in defining the quality of life as experienced by individuals, than are some of the factors more amenable to measurement and thus more attractive to policy makers. (MacPherson & Migdley, 1987, p. 76)


Table 3.  Modernity’s Socio-Emotional Legacy


Developmental Psychology


Socio-emotional consequences (West)

Socio-emotional consequences (Non-West)






Values: individualism independence

Democracy, human rights, entrepreneurship, scientific achievement, economic growth.

Social “injustice”, ecologically unsustainable exploitation of the environment, social morbidity.

Perhaps human rights protection, benefit of technological achievements.

Colonization, dependency, socio-cultural deterioration and morbidity.


Economic beliefs: Free- market theory

Fosters entrepreneurial initiative and risk-taking; enhances material choices.

Unequal distribution of wealth, economic exclusion & discrimination; disruption of social support structures. Disregard for “social economy of well-being”.

Technological and financial input.

Socio-economic dependency. Unequal distribution of wealth; exploitation; disruption of social support structures and kinship ties.

Women’s well-being

Inclusion in labor force creates economic independence and socio-political influence.

Double workload (care-taking and breadwinner). Socio- economic discrimination. Abuse.

Perhaps improved health. Women’s rights. Child survival.

Socio-economic exploitation. Abuse. Women make up for dysfunctional support systems.

Family well-being

Nuclear families: More physical and social resources available for less children.

Lack of social support networks; social stresses make caretakers dysfunctional; violence, abuse, divorce.

Some selected families enjoy perhaps increased prosperity and material choices.

Migration and urbanization.

Disruption of social kinship ties. Impoverishment.  Inability to cope in new circumstances.

Child well-being

Improved physical health. Perhaps early childhood programs. Free primary school education. Children’s rights.

Child neglect; violence, abuse.

Perhaps improved standards of health. Perhaps access to formal schooling and protection against abuse.

Child neglect and abuse. Child abandonment, labor, and prostitution.

Adolescent well-being

Improved school quality.

Access to varied sources of stimulation.

Over-stimulation, lack of role models and meaningful relationships with caretakers; drugs, teenage pregnancy, school drop-out, social isolation.

Access to various sources of stimulation. Perhaps access to educational opportunities and more health benefits.

Cultural and socio-economic changes are socially stressful and put squeeze on adolescent social support networks.

Adult well-being

Increased economic opportunities, choices, social security.

Increased competitiveness, social isolation, disruption of social support systems.

Perhaps more material choices, increased levels of health and material prosperity.

Economic pressures lead to socio-emotional exhaustion, break-up of kinship systems and social isolation.

Nobody knows how modernity, mobility, mass media, and industrialization will affect the “neural core of emotional identity” (Lewis, Amini & Lannon, 2000, p. 150). Yet, as change upsets social support mechanisms, it is likely to nurture a generation of perhaps educated, but psychosocially impoverished, and possibly dysfunctional, aggressive and violent citizens.
2.  Towards a Framework for the Social Construction of Resiliency
Daniel Goleman (1995) has suggested that societies must psychologically “inoculate” (p. 247) children and leaders to handle emotional stress in an “intelligent” manner. Marris (1991) has advocated for social systems promoting socio-emotional resiliency, which “… minimize disruptive events, protect each child’s experience of attachment from harm, and support family coping” (p. 88). The challenge lies in the unfortunate dilemma that

Individuals and families are tempted to achieve certainty at the expense of others (i.e. by imposing a greater burden of uncertainty on them or by providing fewer material and social resources). When powerful groups in society promote their own control over life circumstances by subordinating and marginalizing others, they make it less possible for these groups to offer and experience security in their own families. (p. 88)

The following section presents “food for thought” for those development planners wishing to use socio-economic development interventions as a vehicle for “inoculating socio-emotional well-being”. It will:

1.      Propose a map of social factors that influence - directly or indirectly - socio-emotional well-being. Visualizing and mapping out social contexts has the advantage of providing policy makers and development planners with an overview of key components affecting socio-emotional well-being.

2.      Introduce Staub’s (2003) Taxonomy of Basic Human Needs. This taxonomy lists socio-emotional objectives to be pursued by policy makers and development planners interested in strengthening and protecting socio-emotional well-being.

3.      Review policy recommendations, as well as practical examples of project interventions carried out in the past in order to enhance socio-emotional well-being and enablement - in the US as well as developing countries.

4.      Propose a “Framework for Planning Socio-Emotionally Effective and Sustainable Development Programs”, which summarizes above mentioned concepts (#1-3), and serves as a checklist for guiding socio-emotionally “intelligent” development action.

2.1.      Socio-Emotional Well-Being and the Human Environment
Garbarino (1995) argues that policy makers must consider “the environmental balance of culture, economies, politics, biology, and the psychological ebb and flow of day-to-day life” (p. 36) in order to appreciate how social systems shape socio-emotional well-being. As illustrated in Figure 1 (Garbarino, 1982, p. 648), a variety of factors affect well-being at the micro, meso, exo and macro-levels of the human ecology. Following Bronfenbrenner (1979), Garbarino describes them as follows:  

Microsystem refers to relations between the child and the immediate environment; mesosystem refers to the network of interrelationships of settings in the child’s immediate environment; exosystem refers to social settings that affect the child but do not directly impinge upon him or her; and macrosystem refers to the attitudes, mores, beliefs, and deologies of the culture. (Garbarino, 1982, p. 648)


Figure 1. The Child in a Social Context

 In order to benefit from Garbarino’s map for program planning in non-Western environments, it is necessary, however, to expand Garbarino’s design by including the socio-cultural and political particularities of the developing world. Figure 2 is an attempt to list those factors that shape socio-emotional well-being across cultures and nations. In addition, Figure 2 features an additional “meta-macro” eco-layer, in recognition of the fact that developing nations’ economic and civic stability, or misery, is a reflection not just of internal dynamics, but also of global political and economic power constellations.

 Figure 2 provides a convenient map for policy makers and planners interested in identifying those social factors through which socio-emotional well-being can be stimulated.

Figure 2:  Factors that Shape Socio-Emotional Well-Being Across Cultures



2.2     Staub’s “Taxonomy of Basic Human Needs”

According to Staub (2003), the development of caring, non-violent and optimally functioning citizens depends on caretakers’ and societies’ ability to facilitate and sustain a long-term, well-balanced and constructive satisfaction of basic human needs, such as (a) security, (b) effectiveness and control, (c) positive sense of identity, (d) positive connection, (e) comprehension of reality, (f) independence or autonomy, (g) transcendence, and (h) long-term satisfaction (see Table 4). Staub’s taxonomy complements the map visualized in Figure 2, by providing a list of socio-emotional development objectives development planners should aim for when seeking to facilitate socio-emotional enablement and protection. According to Staub (2003), “security” is the most basic of all human needs.  In addition, experiencing - on an ongoing basis - “effectiveness and control”, “positive identity”, “comprehension of reality”, “positive connection”, as well as “independence or autonomy” is necessary for engaging in social learning, and for choosing constructive means of basic needs satisfaction. Needs such as “transcendence” become progressively more important as life moves on; “long-term satisfaction” evolves with the prospect of being able to constructively satisfy of earlier-mentioned needs.

 Staub claims that his taxonomy has cross-culturally validity. In other words, it does not matter whether one lives one’s life as a Bushman in the Kalahari dessert, or as a New York City citizen. The emotional need for feeling safe - i.e. freedom from physical and psychological threats - determines any person’s subjective well-being. At the same time, needs satisfaction strategies are culturally pre-determined. The satisfaction of needs such as “independence” and “positive connection”, for example, must match norms pertinent to a culture’s understanding of “legitimate independent behavior” or “culturally-valued behavioral expressions of social relatedness”.  As such, any culture provides orientation, and permits experiences of independence or positive connection within fixed parameters of cultural propriety (see Raeff, 1997). 

   Table 4: Staub’s Taxonomy of Basic Human Needs




q       Security


Experiences that foster the development of a sense of physical and psychological security, such that one considers oneself secure and protected against physical or psychological threats.

Self-confidence and desire for reaching out for positive relationships.

q       Effectiveness and control


Opportunities to develop a sense of capacity for self-protection and goal achievement.

Enhanced self-esteem, trust in one’s own significance and desire to open up towards others.

q       Positive Identity

Experiences that allow for the emergence of self-appreciation, self-awareness and desire to forge social relationships.

Positive outlook on one’s own  (and consequently also others’) personal reality and being, as well as trust in capacity to transform oneself.

q       Positive Connection

The ability to enjoy and draw energies from one’s contacts and relationships with other people or groups.

Readiness and openness for social interactions, and for supporting or contributing to the relationships (or the creation of relationships) of others.


Comprehension of Reality


Development of an understanding of the world and its people (identities and functionalities).

Enhanced understanding on one’s own purpose and role in life.

q       Independence or Autonomy


Opportunities to take one’s own initiatives, as well as to choose and select on one’s own (feeling of being independent).

Enhances characteristics such as initiative, independence, perseverance and moral courage.

q       Transcendence of the Self

Opportunity to relate oneself towards realities beyond one’s current “personal reality” (e.g. nature, the arts, spirituality, social activism).

Opens people up to new forms of creativity, inspiration and mind-expansion. Makes people less likely to loose faith in the world and in oneself.

q       Long-Term Satisfaction

Life context is such that people can develop confidence that there lies happiness and security ahead of oneself for the rest of one’s life.

Enhances optimistic attitude towards future, desire to meet challenges, perseverance when facing obstacles.

Staub’s taxonomy of basic human needs can be used as a tool for facilitating policy makers’ assessment of “landscapes of socio-emotional well-being” of individuals, communities, and perhaps nations. By monitoring and evaluating to what extent a development program enables caretakers and human ecologies to constructively and continuously satisfy basic human needs, policy makers will be able to devise development interventions that will strengthen what Wilkinson (1996) termed as the “Social Economy of Well-being” (p. 109).
2.3.     Proposed Framework for Planning Socio-Emotionally Effective Development
The successful satisfaction of emotional needs requires socio-emotionally enabling environments at the micro, exo, macro and meta-macro level of human ecologies. This can be achieved through development interventions and policies that nurture family well-being and neighborhood safety; appreciation and respect for families within society (expressed in institutional policies and educational school curricula); strengthening natural helping networks; enacting governmental policies that promote tolerance and economic equity; and macro-political constellations that do not limit options for constructive emotional needs satisfaction within communities and societies around the globe.
Recommendations for efforts in the United States and Europe for strengthening families include diminishing economic disadvantages of families, discouraging divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing, increase of parental earnings, and child and family tax exemptions (Hernandez, 1998). Families dealing with difficult stressful experiences require outside or governmental support. Schools could contain childcare and family outreach facilities, in order to counteract mental health disorders and other child development problems early-on. Industries ought to be obliged to grant flexible work schedules, part-time work opportunities, job-sharing, and parental leave policies for buffering stresses associated with work and family life (Zigler & Finn-Stevenson, 1999, pp. 568-569 & 571).
Early child education needs to be taken more seriously. Children’s predisposition to learn, and the brain’s growth spurts during the first ten years of children’s lives implies the need for investing heavily in brain-compatible, socio-emotionally conducive early childhood education (Abbott, 1999). Research and teaching on child and family socio-emotional well-being should be encouraged, and social scientists should be assisted in lobbying on behalf of children and families (Zigler & Finn-Stevenson, 1999).
Governments’ policies must commit to an atmosphere of social tolerance, which, in turn, nurtures security and socio-emotional well-being (Wilkinson, 1996). A “Report on the Social Health of the Nation” might be an effective mechanism for affecting the social rhetoric and consciousness of governments and political elites (Miringoff & Miringoff, 1999).
In the international arena, Levinger (1996) proposes to strengthen communities by cultivating family life, aid for earning of a livelihood, harnessing environmental stewardship, and the promotion of civil society. For Levinger, socio-economic survival in the 21st century depends to a large measure on opportunities to cultivate people’s prosocial and networking skills. Bartlett, Hart, Satterthwaite, de la Barra and Missair (1999) recommend launching institutional capacity development programs for municipal authorities for conducting child and family-conducive project activities at the exo-level.
Beyond national policy initiatives, it will be necessary to institutionalize international trade accords, and to integrate agreements on human rights and environmental protection, in order to make global trade socially and ecologically sustainable. Corporations could and should pay minimum tax in order to financially compensate for their host countries’ investments in the development of human and social capital now harvested by foreign companies. International debt could be forgiven, and the granting of new credits could be made dependent on governments’ commitment to push social policy agendas - such as girls’ education - in areas under their jurisdiction (Folbre, 2001).
As far as post-conflict societies are concerned, programs ought to facilitate reconciliation and “friendly relationships” among groups with histories of recent conflict. Connection-building processes are needed, where members of estranged groups share and engage in planning activities towards common goals. Leadership interaction in politics, business, education and science need to receive active support from the international community, as do institutions that encourage cross-border group initiatives and positive bystandership (Staub, 1989). Agencies should also consider therapeutic interventions for children and adults suffering from trauma as a result of experiences of extreme violence (Staub, 1999; Maynard, 1999).
The section that follows introduces a number of initiatives that have converted above-mentioned policy recommendations into concrete development practice:
2.3.1. US and International Examples for Strengthening Social  at the Micro-Level
In the US, early childhood education programs such as HeadStart have effectively fortified self-esteem and development of language and pre-reading skills in the classroom. The “School of the 21st Century” gained popularity for using school as a coordinating base for childcare and family support services. Community school initiatives advocate for improved student achievement by means of increased communication between school staff and parents, and by fostering positive relationships (Zigler & Finn-Stevenson, 1999).
A variety of schools have successfully implemented courses for socio-emotional capacity development (see Goleman, 1995, for an overview of evaluation results). The Northeast Foundation for Children has developed a classroom management approach that fosters self-control, social participation and human development by teaching children self-control, self-discipline, as well as caring for oneself, one another, and the world (Charney, 1991). Kessler (2000) has developed a curriculum that helps adolescents to find deep connection, silence and solitude, meaning and purpose, as well as joy, delight, creativity and transcendence within school. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD] has published guidelines for psychosocial capacity development that assist US teachers interested in promoting social and emotional learning in American schools (see Elias, et al., 1997).
Internationally, programs such as the Nueva Escuela program in Columbia
(Schiefelbein, 1991), the BRAC Rural Primary School system in Bangla Desh (Lovell & Fatema, 1991), the Upper Egypt Community Schools (Hartwell, 1997) and the Child Scope Project in Ghana (Miller & Pittman, 1997) have taken specific steps to enhance culturally relevant learning in a determined context. UNICEF has used school curricula for addressing topics such as children’s rights and peace education (Fountain, 1999). A successful example of “school as community space” is the “Centro des Formacao do Educador Popular Maria da Conceicao” in Recife, Brazil, which simultaneously serves as a pre-school, day care center, primary school, professional training center and community meeting place (Bartlett, Hart, Satterthwaite, de la Barra & Missair, 1999, p. 166).
2.3.2. US and International Examples for Social Support Initiatives at the Exo-Level
In the United States, needy families receive financial assistance through the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] Program (Folbre, 2001). Training programs for mothers who have experienced abuse in their own childhood were successful in initiating non-abusive relationships with their own infants, provided that the interventions were carried out prior to an infant’s birth (Staub, personal communication, October 2000). Since disadvantaged children and families may need intensive treatments for counteracting the pervasive effects of poverty, violence, social dislocation, and other inner-city childhood experiences, some agencies have launched “two-generation projects” that help children to get the best possible start in life, and parents to become economically self-sufficient (St.Pierre, Layzer & Barnes, 1998).
Riley (1997) has documented how the University of Wisconsin community extension program effectively influenced community psychological well-being by engaging communities in locally-conducted socio-emotional community research. A psycho-educational training program in Florida succeeded in facilitating attitudinal changes amongst citizens of a marginalized inner-city community in Modello (Pransky, 1998). As participants overcame psychopathological dysfunctions, they launched community mobilization programs that gradually transformed the socio-economic status quo of Modello.
Development interventions that use participatory community development approaches at the grassroots level are likely to socio-emotionally empower immediate project beneficiaries. Sebstadt & Chen (1996), for example, in their meta-analysis of women micro-enterprise evaluation reports from Asia, Africa and Latin America, found that micro-enterprise initiatives led to increased self-confidence amongst African women. The Barefoot College in Tilona, India (Barefoot College, 2000) has earned international admiration for creating a learning and community environment where activities are chosen, planned, implemented and evaluated by community members themselves. In Tilona, learning by doing in a meaningful context allowed for intense inductive learning to occur, which, in turn, impacted mind, attitudes and emotions.
Socio-emotional enablement can also be enhanced amongst children and adults by mobilizing rural communities to become the patrons of their own community schools, thereby enhancing social cohesion at the local level (see Hartwell, 1997). In Bolivia, Universidad Núr developed a series of educational leadership manuals, based on a framework that fuses development of social capacities with development learning and community mobilization knowledge (Anello, 1997). Around the world, NGOs have experimented with the so-called “children teaching children” approach, where children participate in the planning and execution of development programs, and serve as trainers or mentors to other child members of the community (Hart, 1997).
In crisis and emergency situations, peace and human rights education programs, programs to reintegrate child soldiers, as well as specific therapeutic assistance for traumatized populations are increasingly used as avenues to provide psychosocial emergency assistance (Affolter & Miller, 2002). A human rights education initiative in Peru that trained 900 community leaders from across the country in human rights, democracy, and citizen participation was particularly well-received amongst women: women participants reported that it improved the communication amongst their own family members, that it motivated them to protect their own rights, and that it stabilized their position as leaders in their communities. Another outcome was a decrease of physical violence (Bernbaum, 1999). In Rwanda, a psycho-educational training on healing and reconciliation for Hutu and Tutsi community mobilizers reduced participants’ level of war trauma, while increasing a positive orientation by Tutsis towards Hutus (Staub & Pearlman, 2003).
Bartlett, Hart, Satterthwaite, de la Barra and Missair (1999) have argued that the use of the Convention of the Rights of the Child - as a framework for guiding development interventions - could inspire ecologically sensitive child development initiatives. Efforts to promote the rights of the child automatically imply strengthening the social support structures in children’s immediate environment, and thus are beneficial even to the socio-economic as well as socio-emotional needs of adult caretakers. Child well-being as a development agenda also serves as a unifying power amongst groups with histories of conflict (see Menary, 1990; Reimers & McGinn, 1997).
2.3.3. Macro and Meta-Macro Examples
There are few documented examples of initiatives that strengthen social support networks at the macro-policy level. One is undoubtedly the welfare systems of some northern European states who finance extended periods of child-leave opportunities for employed parents (UNDP, 1999). Another example is the United States Congress’ initiative to funnel funds into selected, economically depressed urban and rural “Empowerment Zones”, combining individual and family-centered services with social and economic initiatives (Wright, 2001).
The Government of Venezuela created, in the 1970s, a Ministry of Human Intelligence with the mission to nurture a culture of thoughtfulness for fostering mental management, and systemic thinking (Perkins, 1995, p. 207). This initiative no longer exists, however.
At the meta-macro level, the most prominent example for strengthening and protecting children’s socio-emotional well-being is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by almost all World Governments. International research programs such as an initiative entitled “Learning to Hate, Learning to Care” (funded by UNESCO) (Ohsako, personal communication, May 2002) have the potential to develop a deeper cross-cultural understanding into the roots of helping and altruistic behavior, as well as individual and group violence.

2.4.    A Policy and Planning Framework for the Social Construction of Resiliency
Table 5 summarizes strategies that could facilitate the constructive satisfaction of basic human needs, thereby strengthening “reservoirs of care” - across cultures and nations. What remains to be emphasized is a need for complementary socio-emotional support initiatives launched simultaneously at multiple levels of the human ecology!
Not all development agencies have the capacity (or the clout) to sponsor or to advocate for socio-emotional rehabilitation initiatives at local, regional, national and international levels.

Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, or the United Nations, however, are in a position and do have the means to provide socio-emotionally enlightened policy advice to governments around the world, and to integrate socio-emotional rehabilitation strategies into their overall strategic plans. Not only that: they could monitor and evaluate traditional socio-economic development interventions not just for economic productivity, or compatibility with the Human Development Index, but also for their conduciveness to strengthening socio-emotional well-being, and protecting social support networks.

Table 5: Proposed Framework for Planning Socio-Emotionally Effective and Sustainable Development Programs [[1]]












·       International agreements that make institutionalization of international trade accords dependent on

§    Protection of workers’ /children’s) rights;

§    Environmental protection.

·       “Forgiveness” of debts coupled with requirement for pro-social policies.

·       International system of governance in which poor countries have same representation as rich countries, which would allow for

§    Penalization of countries that refuse to guarantee basic democratic rights or environmental protection by restricting access to consumer markets;

§    Imposition of minimum rule of taxation for corporations within developing countries.

·       Economic policies that

§    decrease income differences and enhances economic equity;

§    provide tax incentives and financial rewards for care-takers.

·       Policies/governance that harnesses social tolerance and justice-oriented values in favor of women, parents, disadvantaged classes, races, and citizens with health deficits (through business, labor, welfare, media, educational policies).

·      Governmental and multilateral development agencies’ support for municipal and NGO institutional capacity and advocacy development, for the development of projects and interventions in the areas of child support, family support, women support, and reconciliation.

·      In situations of conflict, governmental and development agencies’ support for social reconstruction, “friendly relationships”, and healing.

·       Government provides family-sensitive sustainable welfare support.

·       Government monitors and reports on “Social Health of the Nation”.

·      Opportunities for education & employment.

·      Care-taker -friendly employment policies.

·      Civic rights.

·      Extended reciprocal network of family members friends.

·      Socio-economic security.

·      Municipal programs supporting child, family and women well-being.

·                     Municipal programs towards reconciliation,

friendly relationships, and healing.

·     Nutritional security and adequate housing.

·     Harmonious, predictable, affectionate & reciprocal relationships within family and kinship structures.

·     Harmonious & reciprocal community structures.

·     Harmonious reciprocal school culture.

·     Harmonious & reciprocal peer relation-ship structures.

·     Prosocial media messages.







·    Security

·    Effectiveness and Control

·    Positive Identity

·    Comprehension of reality

·    Positive Connection

·    Independence or Autonomy

·    Long-term satisfaction

·    Transcendence

















Citizenry  that is

·                      Caring

·                      Non-violent

·                      Optimally functioning




Another important prerequisite for enhancing the effectiveness of socio-emotional program interventions is continuity. Bronfenbrenner & Morris (1998) define Human Development as “stability and change in the bio-psychological characteristics of human beings across successive generations” (p. 995). For development to occur, a person must engage in activity on a fairly regular basis and over an extended period of time. Activities need to become increasingly more complex, and involve reciprocal exchange with people, objects and symbols in ways that attention, exploration, manipulation, elaboration and imagination become a possibility (pp. 996-997). As a result, socio-emotional well-being cannot be positively affected through brief project “injections”, as it often occurs in socio-economic development practice. Instead, systems need to be established that maintain their socio-emotionally nurturing quality over an extended period of time. Multilateral agencies need to prepare policies and programs that provide a constructive and long-term approach to satisfying basic human needs.

Traditional socio-economic development discourse is void of discussions and strategies for strengthening and rehabilitating socio-emotional well-being. If not endowed with a specific child development or human rights agenda, development agencies prefer to focus on economic growth, education and health as a means to contribute to the overall goal of human prosperity. Notwithstanding, socio-emotional well-being or distress has implications for the sustainability of socio-economic development programs. As Wilkinson (1996) states:

 To feel depressed, cheated, bitter, desperate, vulnerable, frightened, angry, worried about debts or job and housing insecurity; to feel devalued, useless, helpless, uncared for, hopeless, isolated, anxious, and a failure; these feelings can dominate people’s whole experience of life, coloring their experience of everything else. It is the chronic stress arising from feelings like these, which does the damage. It is the social feelings that matter, not exposure to a supposedly toxic material environment. The material environment is merely the indelible mark and constant reminder of the oppressive fact of one’s failure, of the atrophy of any sense of having a place in a community, and of one’s social exclusion and devaluation as a human being. (p. 215)

 Socio-economic development planners must accept responsibility to participate with their resources and positions of influence in working towards the socio-emotional rehabilitation and protection of communities, societies and nations. Any type of social action, whether carried out by a caretaker, by communities, or by politicians and business leaders eventually ripples through the ecology of humankind’s interrelatedness, stifling or enhancing care-taking relationships and human capital development. The challenge of the years ahead consists not only in increasing and sustaining economic productivity; there also is a need to decrease “socially-constructed uncertainty”, by protecting and strengthening social support networks as key contributors to socio-emotional well-being. Material and socio-emotional needs must be addressed jointly, so that they positively reinforce one another.


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[1] Garbarino’s (1982) “meso-dimension” is not included in this table. It refers to the overall compatibility of micro, exo and macro structures and can as such be considered by development planners seeking to implement socio-emotionally effective development programs.