Child development as social action: Reflections on four underrated contributions of Edward Zigler to science and society

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In a career spanning six decades, Edward Zigler redefined developmental psychology as the equal integration of scientific inquiry and evidence with social policy formulation and analysis to improve child well-being. The theme of his accumulated work was advancing child development as social action for children and families. Besides early childhood intervention and policy, for which he devoted most of his time, Dr. Zigler did pioneering work in education and school reform, social policy, prevention, child maltreatment, family support, developmental disabilities, and in service to government. In this article, I reflect on four of Dr. Zigler's major contributions to science and society that are underrated and, in many respects, under-appreciated in the larger context of the field. These are (a) historical analysis of Head Start, (b) conceptualization and analysis of motivation as a key component of early childhood program impacts, (c) development of preschool-to-third-grade programs and school reforms, and (d) critical analysis of theory, research, policy, and practice. Together, these and other contributions by Dr. Zigler provide a strong foundation to build a better society for all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)466-482
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding Statement. Preparation of this article was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (No. HD034294) and the Lorraine M. Sullivan Memorial Fund of the Child–Parent Education Centers.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Head Start
  • developmental psychology
  • early childhood development
  • poverty
  • social programs and policies


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