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Developmental Theories

A theory provides information that consists of assumptions that can be tested and proven for accuracy. Researchers use theories as a tool to guide them in their observations to generate new information. There are many famous researchers such as Sigmund Freud, Erik H. Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, to name a few, whom studied developmental theories. Developmental theories differ on two basic issues which are whether children are active or passive in their development or whether development is continuous or occur in stages.

Although there are five theoretical perspectives of child development, this paper will expound on three of the perspectives; contextual, cognitive, and psychoanalytic, from different viewpoints. Contextual perspective is defined as a “view of child development that sees the individual as inseparable from the social context” (Papalia, 2008). Our environment is an important part of our lives. The way we develop is influenced by many factors such as the way we are raised, the schools we attend, the neighborhood we live in, or economic status of our parents.

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According to Bronfenbrenner development occurs through processes of context in which he introduced systems. The systems are dependent on each other and continually interact. The microsystem consists of a child’s family, school, peers, church, and neighbor play area. Everything that is associated with living is an influence. There are five interlocking contextual systems: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, chronosystem (Papalia, 2008). The microsystem includes the relationships and interactions a child has with her immediate surroundings. Read how to apply Bronfenbrenner’s theory

Structures in the microsystem include family, school, neighborhood, or childcare environments.

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Mesosystem represents the fact that what happens in one microsystem is likely to influence another microsystem. Often children can become moody by the stresses that are dealt with at home. So the family is affecting the performance and attitude in school. The exosystem refers to social settings that a person may not experience firsthand but that still influence development. A mother’s work environment is part of her child’s exosystem.

The macrosystem is the culture in which we live. Chronosystem is the dimension of time as it relates to a child’s environment. The important thing to remember regarding the contextual perspective is that development is influenced by immediate and more distant environments, which influence each other. (Papalia, 2008) Children are a product of their environment. Children that are sheltered have very little social skills, and lack of knowledge to what seems to be common sense to others can easily be identified.

On the other hand, the environment can give the opposite effect on a child who lives in a low-income area, where ways of the streets influence children. The environment is a definite factor on a child’s development. Cognitive theory is concerned with the development of a person’s thought processes. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world. A Swiss psychologist by the name of Jean Piaget studied children cognitive development and believe that children are born with a certain level of ability to adapt to the environment.

Piaget focuses on the individual’s thought process and how they interrupt the world around them whereas a Russian psychologist, Lev Semenovich Vygotsky believes that the cognitive development is based more off of social and cultural interactions and how they shape the individuals thought process. Other developmental psychologists suggest that cognitive development is more of a process of becoming more efficient at processing information. Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children. Cognitive development involves changes in cognitive process and abilities.

Piaget has four stages of cognitive development and associates them to a person’s ability to understand and learn new information. The stages are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete and formal operations. There are also key concepts to cognitive theory. The first concept of cognitive theory is organization. Organization refers to the mind’s natural tendency to organize information into related, interconnected structures. The most basic structure is the scheme. According to Piaget, “schema is a mental representation of some physical or mental action that can be performed on an object, event, or phenomenon. (Schunk, 2000) Adaption is another concept of cognitive theory, that how children will adapt to new information that involves assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is taking in new information and incorporating into existing cognitive structures. Accommodation is modifying one’s cognitive structures to include the new information. (Papalia, 2008) And, equilibration is the final concept of cognitive theory. Equilibration is where balance is required. This is the stability of the assimilation and accommodation. Equilibration helps explain how children are able to move from one stage of thought into the next.

Cognitive theory work on children’s intellectual development, and has an important impact on the scheduling of school curriculums. A Russian Psychologist by the name of Lev Vygotsky developed sociocultural theory that suggests children learn through social interaction. Vygotsky believed social interaction plays a fundaments role in the process of cognitive development. He argued that language was the most important symbolic tool provided by society. Unlike Piaget who felt development precedes learning, Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development.

He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)” (Vygotsky, 1978) Vygotsky also introduced zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding. Because adults are more advanced, then they are capable of guiding and directing a child’s learning process in which ZPD plays a part which is the gap between what they are already able to do and what they are not quite able to do themselves.

Scaffolding is the temporary support given until a child can accomplish a task alone. (Papalia, 2008) Parents and teachers should challenge a child’s ability, but must be careful in choosing the information being presented. The material can’t be too far beyond the child’s level. Information processing is another cognitive development that analyzes mental processing. The theory is based on the idea that humans process the information they receive, rather than merely responding to stimuli. Theorist claim that our cognitive processes are like that of a computer.

They have used this as a model to break down the process of the human thinking processes and cognitive performance. When you receive some stimuli through your senses, your brain puts this information into the sensory store. Then the information is placed into short term memory. If the information is not encoded from short term memory to long term memory, the information is lost. However, once in long term memory the information is ready for retrieval. As children get older they begin to process information at a higher speed and tend to remember more than younger children.

The final perspective that will be discussed is psychoanalytic. It was originated through the works of Sigmund Freud. Through his clinical work with patients suffering from mental illness, Freud came to believe that childhood experiences and unconscious desires influenced behavior. Freud proposed three hypothetical parts of the personality- the id, the ego, and the superego-that develop early in life. (Papalia, 2008) The id, ego, and superego are in constant struggle to maintain balance. The id is the child in you, and operates on the pleasure principle. The ego operates on the reality principle.

The ego is the nagging parent keeping you out of trouble, or our sense of morality. Based on his observations, he developed a theory that described development in terms of a series of psychosexual stages. According to Freud, conflicts that occur during each of these stages can have a lifelong influence on personality and behavior. Papalia (2008) found the following: These conflicts occur in unvarying sequence of five maturationally based stages of psychosexual development, in which pleasure shifts from one body zone to another-from the mouth to the anus and then to the genitals.

At each stage, the behavior that is the chief source of gratification (or frustration) changes- from feeding to elimination and eventually to sexual activity. Oral (birth to 12-18 months). Anal (12-18 months to 3 years). Phallic (3 to 6 years). Genital (puberty through adulthood). (pgs. 29-30) If these psychosexual stages are completed successfully, the result is a healthy personality. Erik Erickson is possibly the best known of Sigmund Freud’s many followers. He grew up in Europe and spent his young adult life under the direction of Freud.

Erikson argue that social and cultural influences have a critical role in shaping human development, and less significance should be placed on the role of sexual urges. His theory of psychosocial development covers eight stages across the life span, each with two possible outcomes. In each stage, Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. In Erikson’s view, these conflicts are centered on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality.

If the stages are completed successfully, the results are a healthy personality and successful interactions with others. Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a lack of ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. These stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time. Theories are compared, because usually they are similar with a twist. Lev Vygotsky’s ideas of cognitive development are often compared to Jean Piaget.

There are conflicting concepts that children shouldn’t be taught until they have reached a certain age in development. Piaget opposed ZPD, and fought that the most important source of cognition is the children themselves. Both had a common goal of finding out how children master ideas and then translate them to speech. Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson are also often compared because Erickson was once a part Freud’s circle and is known for modifying and extending Freudian theory by emphasizing the influence of society on the developing personality. Papalia, 2008) A difference in the two theories concerns whether people must go through all of the postulated developmental stages. In Erikson’s model, if a person lives long enough, he or she will face each developmental crisis. This person may or may not resolve this crisis but he/she will pass through it at the given time. Development evolves and is continually learned through interactions and observations the child has with the people and the environment around them. Cognitive development is learned in stages and is grasp better by a child as he/he mature.

Cognitive, physical, and emotional development is important determining factor on whom a child will blossom into as an adult. Cultural and socio-economic status also influences the outcome. After the one understands a child and their development stages, one can easily identify what a child is experiencing at the time, and can help guide them in the right direction. As children are being guided, parents and teachers should remember to challenge them to help reach their full potential, but must be careful when doing so. Pushing a child too much can have a negative effect on development.

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Developmental Theories. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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