Chapter 2: Theories of Human Development
Major Controversies About Human Development
1. Nature/Nurture Issue
Nature: Biological predispositions are most important
Nurture: Environmental influences are most important
2. Active/Passive Issue
Active: Children actively contribute to own development
Passive: Children are passive recipients of environmental influence
3. Continuous/Discontinuity Issue
Continuous: Development is additive and gradual
Discontinuity: Development is a series of discrete stages
Quantitative Change: incremental change in degree without sudden transformations
Qualitative Change: change in kind that makes individuals fundamentally different
than they were before; the transformation of paralinguistic infant into language user
is viewed as qualitative change.
Developmental stages: discontinuity theorists say we progress through
developmental stages, each with a distinct phase; a period characterized by a
particular set of abilities, motives, behaviours, or emotions that occur together and
from a coherent pattern.
Parsimony: a criterion for evaluating the scientific merit of theories- a parsimonious
theory is a theory with few principals that account for a large number of empirical
Heuristic value: a criterion for evaluating the scientific merit of theories- a heuristic
theory is one that continues to stimulate new research and discoveries. Good
theories survive because they continue to stimulate new knowledge.
Falsifiability: a criterion for evaluating the scientific merit of theories- A theory is
falsifiable when it is capable of generating predictions that could be disconfirmed. The Psychoanalytic Viewpoint
Freud’s Psychosexual Theory
- Freud’s theory that states that maturation of the sex instinct underlies stages
of personality development, and that the manner in which parents manage
children’s instinctual impulses determines the traits that children display.
- Freud relied on hypnosis, free association, and dream analysis because they
gave some indication of unconscious motives (feelings, experiences, and
conflicts that influence a person’s thinking and behaviour, but lie outside the
person’s awareness) that patients had repressed (forced out of their
- Freud concluded that human development is a conflictual process; 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. The way in which parents manage these sexual instincts
plays a major role in shaping children’s conduct and character.
Three Components of Personality
1. ID: the inborn component of the personality that is driven by instincts
2. Ego: the conscious, rational component of personality that reflects the child’s
emerging abilities to perceive, learn, remember and reason.
3. Superego: develops around the ages of 3 and 6 as children internalize the moral
values and standards of their parents.
Stages of Psychological Development
1. Oral: Birth – 1 year Pleasure from sucking, chewing, biting
2. Anal: 1-3 years Pleasure from voluntary urination and defecation
3. Phallic: 3-6 years Pleasure from genital stimulation
Oedipus and Electra complex
4. Latency: 6-11 years Sexual conflicts repressed
Sexual urges rechanneled
5. Genital: age 12 onward Puberty reawakens sexual urges
Learn to acceptably express urges
Fixation: arrested development at a particular psychosexual stage that can prevent
movement to higher stages. i.e. punished for sucking thumb as a child might lead to
oral fixation in adulthood such as smoking or oral sex. Contributions:
- Idea of unconscious motivation
- Focuses on later consequences of early experiences
- Studies emotion side of human development
-No real evidence of early conflicts affecting adult personality
Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
- Theory of psychosocial development- differed from Freud in 2 important
o First Erikson stressed that children are active, curious explorers who
seek to adapt to their environments.
o Emphasizes sociocultural rather than sexual determinants of
development and posits of a series of 8 psychosocial conflicts that
people must resolve.
STAGE AGE KEY SOCIAL AGENT
Basic Trust vs. Mistrust Birth -1 year Parents
Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt 1 - 3 years Parents
Initiative vs. Guilt 3 - 6 years Family
Industry vs. Inferiority 6 - 12 years Teachers, Peers
Identity vs. Role Confusion 12 - 20 years Society of peers
- Easier to accept than Freud’s
- Remains more popular than Freud’s theory; has had lasting impact
- Stages capture many central issues of life
- Vague about the causes of development Learning Theories
John B. Watson’s Behaviourism
Behaviourism: Watson was the founder - main point was that we should make
conclusions about observations on overt behavior rather on speculations about
- Viewed child as blank slate to be written on by experience. In this view
people do not go through a series of stages, instead development is viewed as
a continuous process of behavioral change that is shaped by peoples
environments and may differ dramatically from person to person.
- Habits are building blocks of human development
- He set out to demonstrate that fear is acquired rather than inborn. He held
that parents are huge influences and they should cut down on coddling if
they want their children to develop good habits.
- Little Albert Experiment: Baby is comfortable with rat until Watson instills
fear by banging a bat whenever the rat is near.
B. F. Skinner’s Operant Learning Theory (Radical Behaviourism)
- People repeat acts that are reinforced- desirable consequence of an act.
- i.e. Rat press bar that releases food pellet.
- The Bar pressing is called the operant.
- The food pellet that strengthens this response is called the reinforcer.
- Operant Learning: a form of learning in which voluntary acts (or operants)
become either more or less probable depending on the consequences they
- Development depends on external stimuli rather than on internal forces
Albert Bandura’s Cognitive Social Learning Theory
- Argues humans are cognitive beings- active info processors.
- People are more likely to act on what they expect to rather than what
actually will happen.
- Emphasizes Observational Learning: learning that results from observing the
behaviour of others.
o Attend, encode, store, imitate
o Not dependent on reinforcement Social Learning as Reciprocal Determinism
Environmental Determinism: (Watson) the notion that children are passive
creatures who are molded by their environments.
Reciprocal Determinism: the notion that the flow of influence between children and
their environments is a 2 way street- child is affected by environment and vice
- Approach is precise and testable
- Knowledge about basic learning
- Practical applications (behavior modification)
- Ignores genetic contrib