Heather L. Justice
May 6, 2009
A Comparison of Theoretical Perspectives
Developmental psychology is the study of human development and the changes that take place from conception on. Through the study of human development, scientists are able to uncover patterns of development in which they make hypothesis and theories from. In their observations, developmental scientists have offered many theories that explain the growth of a child’s body, mind and personality. There are five major psychological theories which are the psychoanalytic, learning, cognitive, contextual and evolutionary / sociobiological perspectives. These perspectives guide scientist down a path of study and questioning that best suits their beliefs about the development of children. Of the five perspectives, I have chosen to compare and contrast the learning, cognitive and contextual theories. In this comparison I will discuss the key concepts, similarities and differences of each perspective. In an effort to explain the overall development of a child, I plan to discuss the interaction between the cognitive, physical and emotional changes that take place during development. Lastly I will explain, how understanding child development can help children reach their full potential. The job of a developmental scientist is an important one; they investigate and study changes or lack of change in the characteristics of children. The distinctive changes of the body, mind and personality are sorted into the physical, cognitive and psychosocial domains of development. What causes these changes to occur, do they occur in stages or are they reactions to the environment and how much influence does the person have on their own development? These are the questions that developmental scientist seek to answers. By observing how children learn, think, and socialize as guided by the learning, cognitive and contextual perspective, developmental scientists propose answers that explain the changes in the development of children. The learning perspective focuses on the ability of children to learn to anticipate an action through experience. This perspective maintains that development is continuous and that people continue to modify their behavior in response to experiences or adaptation to their environment. Learning theorists vary on their view of a child’s active or passive role in development. Behaviorists maintain that children are passive in their development and that the environment controls their behavior, where as Social Learning theorists believe, child development involves two way interactions between the child and the environment. Behaviorism is the study of observable behavior as a result of environmental influences. Behaviorists maintain that through the process of associative learning children form connections between events, causing them to respond in certain ways. Further Papalia, Olds & Feldman (2008) explain that two types of associative learning called classical conditioning and operant conditioning are ways in which children form connections. Papalia et al. (2008) explain, classical conditioning is a key concept of the learning theory and was first proven by “The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) when he devised experiments in which dogs learned to salivate at the sound of a bell that rang at feeding time”(p.31). Because a bell wouldn’t normally cause a dog to salivate the experiment proved that dogs could be conditioned to respond involuntarily to an improbable stimulus. A later experiment proved this technique viable in child development and was seen by some as manipulation or mind control. The second form of associative learning, operant conditioning, occurs naturally and elicits a voluntary reaction to positive or negative stimuli. This kind of learning is very common in my house and is very useful in motivating my children to perform better...