Theories of Development


There exist theories that depict the development of a human being. This paper discusses the Piaget’s theory, Freud’s theory, Erickson’s theory, Social learning theory, information-Processing Theory and the Ecological theory. This paper introduces each theory and compares and contrast them on the basis of Nature versus nurture, Organism versus mechanistic Quantitative versus qualitative and Continuous versus discontinuous

Piaget’s theory

This theory was developed by Jean Piaget, in his theory he discusses the way in which a child develops and learns through the development of a cognitive structure which becomes more complex as development of the child continues. Piaget stated four stages of development which include;

– The sensorimotor stage

This stage lasts from birth to two years of age, the child in this stage interacts with the environment and gets to know of reality and how this works, however the child is not aware of the existence of other objects that are out of sight.

– Preoperational stage:

Theories of development

This stage last between the age of 2 years and 7 years, at this stage the child

interacts with the environment, the child however does not conceptualise abstract and reality.

– The concrete operation:

This stage lasts at the age of 7 years and 11 years, at this stage the child is able to conceptualise, at this stage also the child is able to structures that explain his or

her experience with the environment.

– Formal operation:

This is the final stage that last from the age of 11 to the age of 15, at this stage cognitive structure is like that of an adult and the child develops conceptual reasoning

Freud’s theory

Freud identified stages under which a child will undergo in mental development, the stages include:

– The oral stage:

Theories of development

This stage lasts from birth to two years, the child at this stage explores the world using the most sensitive part which includes the mouth, and the child also uses the mouth to communicate.

– The anal stage:

At this stage the child mostly learns to control their body waste passage

– The phallic stage;

This stage is from 3 to 5years of age, at this stage the child will discover his or her sexual differences.

– Genital stage;

This stage starts from 12 years when poverty starts, sexual differences are evident and also sexual interests are evident

Erickson’s theory:

Erickson accepts Freud’s theory but disagrees with him in that he only considered sexuality

Theories of development

differences in the development of a child, he therefore considers other factors such as culture, he also accept the role of id, the ego and the super ego in development, he identified various concepts that explain the development of a child which include:

Trust versus Mistrust, Autonomy versus Shame, Initiative versus Guilt, Industry versus Inferiority, Identity versus Role Confusion, Intimacy versus Isolation, Generativist versus Stagnation and Integrity versus Despair

Social learning theory:

Lev Vygotsky developed the social learning theory of development; he identifies the importance of social learning in child development. Lev states that learning helps in the acquisition of knowledge which the society expects the child to follow; he also stated that learning is acquired through modelling and observation.

Information Processing Theory:

This theory analyses how the information given enters the mind, how this information is stored and transformed and finally how it is usually retrieved in order to perform complex activities and reasoning and even in problem solving.

Theories of development

Ecological theory:

This theory was developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, he identified the systems that models human development in the society and they include:

– The micro system:

This are the settings in which a person lives in, this micro system includes the family, peer group, neighbourhood and school life, this system helps shape a persons development in that a person have direct contact with them.

– The Meso System:

This system is the relationship between the Microsystems. the Microsystems interrelate with each other and this can be seen with the relationship between school life, the neighbourhood and the family, an example is where the peer groups may distort the performance of an individual in school or even the relationship of an individual with his family.

– The exosystem:

In this system the individual has no active role in determining the settings but the settings have direct influence on the individual, an example is where the government will build schools which will create a micro system environment.

– The Macro system:

Theories of development

This is the system that is caused by the ideology in the society or the culture of the society, this influences the individual directly but the individual has less in determining his settings, this for example includes ideologies such as democracy, capitalism and socialism.

– The chronosystem:

This system develops as a result of

a persons experience in his life, this includes

environmental events and

transitions in an individual’s life, and this also includes the history


an individual

Ethological theory:

It is a theory developed by Conrad Lorenz, this theory states that experience by an individual has a very great influence on the development of an individual, this theory is tied to evolution and states that there are those stages in life that are considered to be sensitive and critical periods, Lorenz identifies concepts which include rapid, innate learning and imprint.

Comparison and contrasting the theories:

Continuity versus Discontinuity:

This comparison involves comparing whether theories describe development in a gradual and continuous manner from birth to death; the theories that are continuous give stages of development while the discontinuous only give distinct stages in life span.

Theories of development

Piaget’s theory, Freud’s theory and the Ecological theory arte continuous theories in that they give us the various stages in which development of a child will occur, these theories identify stages of development in a gradual and continuous manner and therefore they can be termed as continuous theories. The other theories only give a description of how learning and development occurs in certain stages in life and therefore they can be termed as discontinuous.

Nature versus nurture:

Social learning theory and the Information Processing Theory can be viewed as nurture form ofg theories, they give us the process by which the child development process can be nurtured and influenced through information, the other theories take a natural form of describing child development in that they only identify the stages as a form of natural occurrence in child development.

Quantitative versus qualitative

Piaget’s theory and Freud’s theory are quantitive in nature in that they give the specific

Theories of development

occurrence of certain stages in the development of a child, these theories give the duration of years in which specific developments occur, for the other theories they are qualitative in nature in that they don’t give stages and the years in which they occur, they only describe the process of development.


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Carlson N. (2005) Psychology, Pearson press, London, UK

Westen D. (2002) Psychology, Brain, Behaviour and Culture, Wiley and Sons publishers, New York, US