Developmental psychology/Chapter 1/Theories of Human Development

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  • Theory - Well-supported explanation of a phenomena
  • Hypothesis - Educated guess, more limited than a theory and most likely to be proven false.
  • Developmental Theory - A cloud of ideas, perceptions, and guesses about human growth. Provides a holding for understanding how and/or why people change over a lifetime.

Psychoanalytic Theory[edit | edit source]

The psychoanalytic theory, created by Sigmund Freud, provided an explanation for many people's sexual urges and drives. These urges stemmed from irrational and unconscious drives. Freud was well known because he suggested that development stopped after puberty (in the "genital period", which continued out through adulthood). This view is no longer supported. He also believed that each stage he set dealing with the mouth (oral stage), anus (anal stage), and sexual pleasure (genital stage) is linked to conflicts and trials. These trials are what set an individual's personality since our "early stages" set the base of adult behavior.

Erik Erikson[edit | edit source]

See more information comparing the two, visit,are%20to%20a%20child's%20needs.

Erikson was a student of Freud, who set 8 stages dealing with significant trials relating to each age group. He named two extremes for each situation although keeping in mind that most adults keep a balance between the two.


Erikson and Freud both believed that conflicts in adulthood stem from childhood. For example, an adult who cannot hold a secure marriage (intimacy versus isolation) may have suffered issues during infancy (trust vs. mistrust).


Erikson's stages were based on conflicts within family and culture as opposed to sexual urges like Freud.

Behaviorism[edit | edit source]

Behaviorism is a development human theory that focuses on observable actions. This theory is in direct opposition to psychoanalytic. This is also known as the learning theory.

  • Classical Conditioning - Learning takes place through association (the neutral stimulus provides a conditioned response). Created by Ivan Pavlov where he conditioned dogs to salivate based on a certain tone.
  • Operant Conditioning - Learning takes place through punishments (actions that receive punishment [lying to your parents] become extinct, actions that are met with rewards [getting an A on a test and being congratulated by parents] are likely to be repeated, known as reinforcement). This was created by Skinner, who was inspired by Ivan Pavlov's findings.
  • Social Learning - Learning occurs through the behaviors' of others (child sees father hitting mother, this may cause the child to hit his own sibling, be extremely kind to others or forget about the past like a dandelion). This was developed by Albert Bandura. Since human beings are social animals, they will learn from other beings. This "learning" is not the same for everyone, as shown in the example.

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory[edit | edit source]

The cognitive theory deals with the way people think. One's thoughts shape up a person's personality, beliefs and behaviour. Piaget put more importance to babies, who's blabbers and incorrect explanations of the world (that they were interpretation) were held dearly to him as opposed to mainstream scientists who thought they were nonsense.

The central theory of this theory is that the way people think changes with time and experience, thereby affecting actions. Piaget created 4 stages:

  1. Sensorimotor (Birth-2 yrs) - Here, infants use their sensor and motor skills to interpret and interact with the world around them. Learning is always taking place. Here, they learn about object permanence (peek-a-boo) and begin to learn new things about the world through their actions.
  2. Preoperational (2-6yrs) - Children begin to speak and think "symbolically" (a box being a table), They are egocentric, experiencing major difficulty looking at things in different perspectives (I like chocolate, so daddy and mommy like chocolate too!), as observed in the three-mountain problem experiment. Children start asking "why?" more.
  3. Concrete operational (6-11yrs) - Children start understanding and applying logic. They're also able to grasp concepts of numbers, classification and other scientific concepts (just think about what you were learning in school during these years).
  4. Formal operational (12yrs-adulthood) - Ability to analyze (not just emotion) and use abstract concepts.

Humans are able to cognitively grow and apply previous life experiences to a new event (cognitive equilibrium). The "new event" serves as a "disequilibrium", to which the individual looks back at their old learnings (accommodation) in order to reach assimilation (mental balance). This leads to new equilibrium. Examples are an escape room or unfamiliar puzzle piece sets.

Evolution Theory[edit | edit source]

Basically, every human being strives to reproduce and survive. This theory comes into handy when dealt with this question.

Why is everyone scared of snakes, which causes less deaths, but everyone is comfortable driving cars, which causes more deaths?

The evolution theory suggests that this is because the fear instinct evolved to protect us during a time when snakes were a major enemy and cause of death for humans. This is still a controversial theory but has been used to answer many hypothesizes.