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Why learn about developmental
theories ?
• Guides our thinking about how and what
development occurs; describe/define
concepts, and relations among concepts
• Enables prediction of behavior
• Provides a scientific basis or evidence creating
a foundation for understanding/explaining
events..for helping us know how to promote
development, and prevent atypical or delayed
• Different theories take various positions
regarding the controversies.
– The Nature – Nurture Controversy
– The Continuity – Discontinuity Controversy
– The Active – Passive Controversy
• Some developmental theories are broad (like
ecological models) while others are more
specific (like Piaget’s model of cognitive
Theories of Development
• Learning Perspectives
o Behaviorism (J. Watson);
o Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura)
• Psychoanalytic Perspectives
o Psychoanalytic approach; Psychosexual
Development (S. Freud)
o Psychosocial Development ( E. Erikson)
• Cognitive Theories
o Cognitive Developmental Theory (Piaget)
o Information Processing Theory (Brigham and
Theories of Development continued
• Biological Perspective
o Ethology,
o Behavioral genetics, evolution
• Ecological Perspective (Bronfenbrenner)
o Development occurs within a number of embedded
systems (micro-, meso-, exo-, macro, and chronosystems), and as a result of two-way interactions
between the child and contexts (environments,
caregivers etc.)
• Sociocultural Perspective (Vygotsky)
o Emphasizes the social nature of humans, human
diversity, and sociocultural influences, along with
learning theories
Learning Perspectives
o Includes Behaviorism and Social Cognitive Theory
o Children LEARN how to do things; Emphasizes
NATURE; children begin like a blank slate and must
be taught
o Children learn mostly by association (positive and
negative consequences), and by watching others
(role modeling)
o Behaviorism (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner)
• Classical conditioning: through association
• Operant conditioning: through reinforcement
Classical Conditioning
Figure 1.1
Operant Conditioning
• Learn to do something because of its effects or reinforcement- a
stimulus that increases the frequency of the behavior it follows
• Positive reinforcer (good thing happens) or a negative reinforcer
(a bad thing is removed) **both increase the frequency of
desired behavior
• Punishment (a bad thing happens); decreases the frequency of
an undesirable behavior
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT….Spanking?;“Time-out”; Parents
paying their kids a dollar every time they score a goal?? Taking
away videogames when kids get a C in school?
Shaping: using small steps with reinforcement; then fading the
• Behaviorists believe that children are PASSIVE LEARNERS
Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura)
• Learning alters child’s mental representation of the
environment and influences belief in ability to change the
• Acquire basic “know-how” through observational learning;
Latent learning often occurs
• Child is an active learner, and learning requires cognitive
thought; Learning occurs as long as the child is paying
• OVERALL, learning theories underestimate the importance of
biological-maturation factors, and view learning as too
• They help to describe, explain, predict, and influence aspects
of children’s behavior AND the principles are routinely applied
in education, parenting and clinical work (psychology)
Psychoanalytic Perspective
Psychosexual Development (S. Freud);
Psychosocial Development (E. Erikson)
• View children(and adults) as experiencing conflict with
Internal drive and urges; human Internalize ‘external’
demands and rules
• Stage theories with distinct periods of development
Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development (1856-1939)
o Focused on social-emotional aspects
o Much of the human mind lies beneath consciousness
o 3 parts of personality: id (unconscious biological
drives/instincts); ego (conscious sense of self) and
superego (norms, morality)
Freud’s 5 Psychosexual Stages
• Oral (0-1yrs) ; gratification largely oral
• Anal (1-3yrs); gratification through control and
elimination of the body’s waste)
• Phallic (3-6 yrs); gratification through masturbation
• Latency (6-12yrs); sexual feelings remain
unconsciousness; focus on same sex peers,
schoolwork etc.
• Genital (13-18) sexual impulses reappear; relations
with opposite sex
Comments on Freud’s Theory, and
contributions to today’s understanding
• Comprehensive theory of childhood that influenced
work on attachment, gender roles and abnormal
• BUT limited because his theory was largely based on
patients (women) who were emotionally troubled,
with little empirical data; AND too much emphasis
on sexuality, instincts and unconscious motives
rather than motivations driven by interests, and
social relationships
Erikson’s Theory of
Psychosocial Development
o Also focused on psychological and emotional traits;
expanded Freud’s theory; Included 8 rather than 5
stages, and extended through adulthood
o Belief that successful resolution of life crises bolsters
sense of identity; that early experiences greatly
affects future development
o Focuses on the development of self-identity, and
conscious choice
o Each stage has a specific developmental task;
completion largely depends upon social
The Cognitive Perspective: Piaget,
Information Processing
• Focuses on children’s mental processes; How children perceive
and mentally represent the world, think, apply logic, learning
style, solve problems
J. Piaget (1896–1980):Cognitive-developmental theory
- development is based on children’s interactions with their
environments; he linked mental processes that can’t be directly
observed to child behavior using five main concepts
- Piaget underestimated children’s abilities by age; also
cognitive growth is probably more gradual rather than having very
distinct stages
Piaget’s 5 Basic Concepts
• Scheme
o Pattern of action involved in acquiring or
organizing knowledge
• Adaptation
o Interaction between child and the environment
• Assimilation
o Responding to new object or event according to
existing schemes
• Accommodation
o Adjusting scheme to a new object or event
• Equilibration
o Process of restoring equilibrium after a period of
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
o Sensorimotor (0-2): reflexive; lacks language
and mental representation of objects
o Preoperational (2-7): has mental
representation of objects; language;
egocentric; can’t focus on more than one
property at once
o Concrete Operational (7-12); develops
logical mental actions; adopts views of
others; understands relational concepts
o Formal Operational (12-adulthood); mature,
adult thought emerges; abstract thought;
weighs possibilities, tests hypothesis
Information-Processing Theory
• Influenced by the concepts of computer science
o Process of encoding information (input)
o Storage of information (long-term memory)
o Retrieval of information (short-term memory)
o Manipulation of information to solve problems
o Software (mental processes)
o Hardware (brain)
• Consider “limitations” of child
o Short-term memory
o Ability to multi-task
• Applications in education; breaking tasks up into
steps; tips to memorize and retrieve information
The Biological Perspective
• Ethology and Evolution: instinct; inborn qualities, prewired or preprogrammed; perhaps infant-caregiver
• Emphasizes Nature; genetic predisposition
• Biologically determined sensitive or critical periods
• Human behavior is just not as mechanical or preprogrammed as lower animals; predictability with
physical development like height and weight;
development of the nervous system, heredity
factors, hormonal influences of development
• What developmental traits might be driven by
instinct? Or are genetically pre-determined?
The Ecological Perspective
• Relations between organisms and the environments in which
in live; Explains development through interactions between
children and context/setting/environment
• Focuses on Nurture; and interaction of nature and nurture;
Children are active participants in their development
• U. Bronfenbrenner (1917–2005)
o Emphasized reciprocal nature of interactions between parent
and child (bidirectional)
o Five Embedded Systems
• Microsystem: Child direct interactions with significant others
• Mesosystem: Home school, neighborhood settings
• Exosystem: Youth sport organizations, health care systems ,
school board
• Macrosystem: Attitudes, beliefs, cultural norms/expectations,
• Chronosystem: Changes that occur over time
o Helps focus attention on the influence of changing systems;
Ecological Model of Development
The Sociocultural Perspective
• View children as social beings who are
influenced by the cultures in which they live
• Lev Vygotsky’s (1896–1934) sociocultural theory;
considers the “zone of proximal development”
• Scaffolding; types of assistance, cueing; use of
self-talk/private speech; building on prior
• Emphasizes nurture mostly; children’s
development is continuous (not stage specific)
and children are viewed as both passive and
active (but mostly active)
Sociocultural Perspective and Human Diversity
• Awareness of diversity among children
o Ethnic Groups
• Understanding of children’s family values and
cultural expectations
o Gender
• Understanding of gender-role expectations
o Socio-economic Status
• Associated with opportunity
o Emphasizes the influence of socioeconomic
status, and other sociocultural factors on a
child’s development; emphasizes nurture