People and Society

Hiromichi Kato

Identifying Development Possibilities in Problems

Hiromichi Kato , Associate Professor

Graduate School of Education; Faculty of Education (Department of Education, School of Education)

High school : Takamatsu Nishi High School, Kagawa

Academic background : Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University

Research areas
Developmental Psychology
Research keywords
adolescence, problem behavior, development

What are you aiming for in your research?

We humans face various problems in the process of our growth. During adolescence, in particular, we see frequent appearance of various problems including delinquency, school non-attendance, social withdrawal, and bullying. My research theme is to shed light on the mechanism of these problems of adolescence and respond to them from the viewpoint of development.

Up to now a great deal of psychological investigation on problem behaviors has been conducted from the viewpoint that problems occur due to failure in development. For example, they explain that problems occur because the parent-child relationship is strained, the children have disabilities, or they have not learned the norms.

I will reverse this way of thinking and approach problem behaviors from the point of view that problems occur because the children have developed. For example, bullying requires an ability to guess in its own way the minds of others (“What will make the person feel unpleasant?” “How can I make sure teachers and parents do not find out about this?”). Humans are not born with this ability but acquire and develop the ability in the process of development. If the ability is manifested in a good way, it will lead to the rise of sympathy (consideration for others). However, if it is manifested in a bad way, it will lead to problem behaviors including bullying. Generally the term “development” is correlated with the concept of “improvement,” but development itself is neither good nor bad. Developed ability can lead to desirable or problem behaviors depending on the context where it is manifested. 

My interest is in shedding light on development that enables the occurrence of problems and investigating the conditions under which development leads to problem behaviors. In terms of practice, beyond simply eliminating or controlling “problems,” I am thinking about what context (classes, activities, etc.) we should connect children’s development that enables the problems so that we can turn it into socially more meaningful development. By looking at development from the “problem” point of view, I aim to deepen understanding of humans and describe development systematically in a different way than has been done to date.


What kind of research are you doing?

The figure shows changes in self-esteem due to a difference in the development of thinking. A drop in self-esteem started earlier in the group with advanced development of thinking (blue line) whereas the drop starts late in the group with immature development of thinking (purple line).

I am now pursuing research in two main areas of basic and applied studies. The basic study aims to shed light on thoughts during adolescence and the basic self development. Actually there is a paucity of research on adolescence and many things are not known. For example, I am investigating the relationship between thinking and self-esteem (self-affirmation) in my current research. It is known that self-esteem significantly drops during adolescence in Japan and other developed countries. 

Assuming the involvement of development of thinking in this process, I conducted a longitudinal survey of junior-high school students and empirically studied the relationship. As a result, I found that development of the ability to think deeply is linked to the drop in self-esteem. This indicates that though the drop in self-esteem is a problem, a positive change which is the development of thinking is behind the problem. This means that there is the development of thinking that enables the problem of “feeling short on self-confidence” during adolescence.

In applied research focusing on phenomena of delinquency in groups, especially disruptions at school, I have conducted a great deal of research on their causes and response to them. As a result, comparing schools with difficulties and other schools in terms of student-teacher relationships and satisfaction in school life, I found a big difference not in problem students but in other students. This means that an anti-school culture (poor relationship with teachers, negative perception of school life, for example) is formed among students who don’t have behavior problem in schools with difficulties, which contributes to the spread of problem behaviors to the entire school. The result shows that the key to the solution of school disruption is not in response to problem students but actually in response to other students. This is a practically useful suggestion.


What is your next goal?

In a new trend of the study of adolescence, evolutionary psychology studies in recent years showed that the developmental stages of infancy and adolescence are unique to humans and not found in other animals. This means, while other animals have only the developmental stages of babyhood, childhood, and adulthood, humans have evolved to have the developmental stages of babyhood, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Therefore, studying adolescence (and infancy) may be an effort to shed light on the following questions: “What are human beings?”, “Why have humans evolved to bring adolescence into being?”, “What has adolescence brought about?” and “Why is adolescence fraught with problems?” I will think about human beings further through investigation into problems of adolescence in a larger context.



(1) Hiromichi Kato, Problem Behaviors and School Disruption (Mondaikoudou to gakkou no are) Nakanishiya Shuppan (2007)