Developmental psychology: main theories and authors

the theories of psychological development of the child they pay attention to how they grow and develop throughout childhood in different areas: social, emotional and cognitive.

Many researchers have focused on learning more about this stage of life, and the results of a wide range of studies in the fields of anthropology, medicine, sociology, education and, of course, from developmental psychology, have highlighted the importance of childhood in the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior.

Psychological theories on childhood development

Psychologists like Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky have tried to explain the different aspects through their theories. And although not all are fully accepted today, the influence of their views has been of great help in understanding how children grow, think and behave.

Here are some of the many child development theories which have been proposed by theorists and researchers.

1. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development

Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis. the psychoanalytic theory of child development he tends to focus on things like the subconscious, urges, and ego training. Although his proposals are not very popular today, few people doubt the importance of the events and experiences of childhood in the future development of the child.

According to Freud, the development of the child is described as a series of psychosexual stages: Oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital. However, this conception of the development of the mind and personality is a girl of its time and is now outdated.

To learn more about this theory, in this article we explain it in detail: “Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst”.

2. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development (by clicking on the link you can access a magnificent summary prepared by psychologist Bertrand Regader) is one of the most widespread and accepted theories in developmental psychology. It is also a psychoanalytic theory, and this theorist, like Freud, proposed that there are different stages of development.

Erikson believes that solving the various stages results in the acquisition of a series of skills that help to solve the objectives that will be presented in the next vital stage. In this way, psychological growth occurs.

For example, the main conflict during the period of 6 to 12 years, called Work vs. Inferiority implies mastery of social experience. At this point, the child begins his preschool and school education, and is eager to do things with others, share tasks, etc. If the child does not pass this step in the proper way, that is, if he feels inferior, it will negatively affect his general functioning.

3. Learning theory by Jean Piaget

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, considered the father of constructivism, suggest that children’s cognitive development takes place in several stages. He noted that children play an active role in acquiring knowledge of the world, that is, he sees them as “little scientists” who actively develop their knowledge and understanding of the world, but through rules that differ qualitatively from those used by adults.

Piaget’s ideas are no longer valid as he formulated them, but that’s it one of the most important theories of development, And in fact, he is believed to have laid the foundation for what is now known as developmental psychology.

You can learn more about his theory in this article: “Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning”. If you want to dive into the different stages proposed by the Swiss theorist, this other article will be of great help to you: “The 4 stages of cognitive development by Jean Piaget”.

4. Sociocultural theory of Lev Vygotsky

Another psychologist named Lev Vygotsky proposed a theory of children’s cognitive development which has become one of the most influential and important theories, especially in the field of education and learning.

Like Piaget, Vygotsky is a constructivist psychologist, and he believed that children learn actively and through practical experiences. However, unlike Piaget who explains that knowledge is built individually, Vygotsky concludes that learning is built through social interactions, With the support of someone more expert.

Thus, according to this theory of psychological development, the social context is part of the process of cognitive development, and cannot be seen as something external that only “influences”. The very use of language, for example, is both collective and individual, and allows the emergence of great higher cognitive skills, based on the development of very abstract concepts.

Vygotsky was important to be able to understand collaborative learning and to learn more about the influence of the socio-cultural environment on children’s cognitive development.

To learn more about this interesting theory, simply click here: “Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory”.

5. Behavioral theories: classical conditioning and operant conditioning

the behavioral theories were important because they highlighted how an individual’s interaction with their environment influences their behavior. Three were the main representatives of these theories: Ivan Pavlov and John B. Watson as precursors of classical conditioning, and BF Skinner as the father of operant conditioning.

Although both theories are important in the field of learning, they only deal with observable behaviors. Therefore, development is seen as a consequence of rewards (or reinforcements) and punishments, and they do not take into account internal thoughts or feelings as conceived by cognitive psychologists, but regard them as mere attributions to behaviors that are more difficult to observe than movements.

Would you like to know more about these theories? Here are two links to better understand them:

  • “Classical conditioning and its most important experiences”

  • “BF Skinner: Life and Work of a Radical Behaviorist”

6. Albert Bandura’s theory of social learning

Albert Bandura realized that behaviorist theories do not explain the learning of individuals as a whole, because they underestimate the social dimension of human behavior and the internal dimension of the subject, reducing it to an association that occurs. due to repeated testing. So, understood that children’s learning and development cannot be understood without two elements.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of intrinsic expectations and reinforcements, such as a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment, in motivating human beings, in his theory he points out that children learn new behaviors by observing other people. By observing the actions of others, including parents and peers, children develop new skills and learn new information.

Don’t miss his theory in its entirety. Here are some articles from this Ukrainian-Canadian psychologist that you can read:

  • “Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory”

  • “Self-efficacy of Albert Bandura: Do you believe in yourself?”

  • “Albert Bandura’s Theory of Personality”

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