Chapter 2 - Theories of Human Development
Theory: Set of concepts and propositions that describes, organizes, and explains a set of
Good theory is:
Concise and parsimonious
Falsifiable - capable of making explicit predictions about future events so that the theory
can be supported or disconfirmed
Heuristic - they build on existing knowledge
The debate among developmental theorists about the relative important of biological
predispositions (nature) and environmental influences (nurture) as determinants of human
A debate among developmental theorists about whether children are active contributes to
their own development or, rather, passive recipients of environmental influence.
A debate among theorists about whether developmental changes are quantitative and
continuous, or qualitative and discontinuous (ex. stage-like)
Quantitative changes are changes in degree or amount. (Ex. children learn more and run
faster year after year) (Continuity theorists)
Qualitative changes are changes in form or kind, changes that make the person different
in some way that he or she was earlier. (Ex. infant that can’t speak to toddler with first
word) (Discontinuity theorists)
Discontinuity theorists believe that we progress through developmental changes, each of
which is a distinct phase of life characterized by a particular set of abilities, emotions,
The Psychoanalytic Viewpoint
Sigmund Freud: We are driven by motives and conflicts of which we are largely unaware and
that our personalities are shaped by our early life experiences.
Freud’s Psychosexual Theory
Unconscious motives: Freud’s term for feelings, experiences, and conflicts that influence a
person’s thinking and behavior, but lie outside the person’s awareness.
These motives are repressed (forced out of their conscious awareness)
He believed that as biological creatures, we have basic sexual and aggressive instincts that must
be served, yet society dictates that many of these drives are undesirable and must be restrained.
3 components to personality
Id: Present at birth, to satisfy inborn biological instincts. (Babies cry and fuss when
hungry and won’t stop until they are fed)
1 Ego: Conscious, rational, reflects the child’s emerging abilities to perceive, learn,
remember and reason. (When hungry a child remember that saying “cookie” will get
Superego: Seat of conscience (develops between 3 and 6 and children internalize (take
on as their own) moral values
Freud believed that early childhood experiences and conflicts heavily influence our adult
interest, activities, and personalities.
Fixation: Arrested development at a particular psychosexual stage that can prevent
movement to higher stages (ex. a child being punished for sucking thumb may result in an
adult indulged in oral sex)
Stages of Freud’s Psychosexual Development (See Table 2.1)
Erickson compared to Freud
- Erickson believed that children are active, curious explorers who seek to adapt to their
environment, rather than passive slaves who are molded by their parents.
- Less emphasis on sexual urges and much more on cultural influences.
Stages of Psychosocial Theory (See Table 2.2)
The Learning Viewpoint
John B. Watson - he claimed that he could mold children to be whatever he chose, regardless of
their backgrounds or ancestry.
Behaviorism: Conclusions about human development should be based on observations of overt
behavior rather than on speculations about unconscious motives or cognitive processes that are
He also believed that well-learned associations between external stimuli and observable
responses (habits) are the building blocks of human development.
Watson and Locke viewed infants as tabula raska (blank state) to be written on by experience.
How they turn out depends on their environments and the ways in which their parents and other
significant people in their lives treat them. Continuous process
Skinner’s Operant Learning Theory (Radical Behaviorism)
- Both animals and humans repeat acts that lead to favorable outcomes and suppress those
that lead to unfavorable outcomes.
- Reinforcer: Any desirable consequence of an act that increases the probability that the act
- Punisher: Any consequence of an act that suppresses that act and/or decreases the
probability that it will reoccur.
- Operant learning: A form of learning in which voluntary acts (or operants) become either
more or less probable, depending on the consequences they produce.
o Claims that development depends on external stimuli (reinforcers and punishers)
rather than on internal forces such as instincts, drives, or biological maturation.
2 Bandura’s Cognitive Social Learning Theory
- Believes that animals couldn’t be used to research humans.
- Humans are cognitive beings, active information processors, are likely to think about the
relationships between their behavior and its consequences.
- Often affected by what they believe will happen than by what they actually experience.
- Observational learning: Learning that results from observing the behavior of others.
(Models) could not occur unless cognitive processes were working
o Ex. young boy might learn how to pet the dog from watching big sister do it
o Children do not need to be reinforced to learn this way.
o Attend carefully the behavior, encode what we see, store the information in memory.
o Children development very rapid this way
Environmental determinism: The notion that children are passive creatures who are molded by
their environments. (Watson)
- Bandura disagrees children are active, thinking beings that contribute in a very large way
to their own development (observation learning)
o Proposed concept of reciprocal determinism
Human development reflects an interaction among an active person (P), the
behavior (B), and the environment (E) bidirectional (A child can also affect its
environment) (Figure 2.4)
Different than Watson and Skinner who said that the environment (E) shaped a
Contributions and Criticisms
- Wealth of information has provided a lot of knowledge about children
- Emphasis on the immediate causes of behavior can solve problems very quickly (like name-
calling or bullying)
- Doesn’t take in account biological influences (genes)
- Doesn’t take in account the cognitive development: age-related changes that occur in
mental activities such as attending, perceiving, learning, thinking and remembering.
The Cognitive-Development Viewpoint
- Children have a different thought process than humans
- Children are born with no knowledge
- Defined intelligence as a basic life process that helps an organism adapt to its environment.
(Adapt cope with demands of immediate situation)
- Cognitive structure scheme: an organized pattern of thought or action that a child
constructs to make sense of some aspect of his or her experience.
- Children actively construct new understandings of the world based on their own
o Assimilation: Process by which children interpret new experiences by incorporating
them into their existing schemes.
3 Ex. Things that move are alive; therefore kids think that the sun is alive.
o Disequilibrium: Imbalances or contradictions between one’s though processes and
environmental events. (Things that move aren’t always alive)
o Accommodation: Process by which children modify their existing schemes in order