Theories of Human Development

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Environmental versus Epigenetic Theories:

When referring to epigenetic theory, it is a relatively new theory that focuses on the genetic origins and how they are affected by the interactions with the environment. Proponents of this theory believe that over time environmental forces will impact the expression of certain genes. On the other hand, the environmental theory removes the genetic factor. This theory believes that a child is a product of direct interaction with their environment. Proponents of the environmental theory believe that children learn best through repetition and rote memorization.

Psychoanalytical Theory (Freud)

This theory describes the developmental process as an unconscious act. Freud believed that humans need for the basic necessities of life, food, shelter, and warmth. Fulfilling these instincts, through development, becomes the foundations for human sexuality. Progression of children through various stages such as the oral, anal and phallic, is a “gradual organization of the libidinal drives, but one still centered on the child’s own body” (Quigley, 1998). As children further develop, Freud states they experience the “Oedipus Complex” which involves boys falling in love with their mothers and girls falling in love with their fathers. More focus is placed on the boys at this stage with the girls being considered by Freud as a “dark continent” (Quigley, 1998). Freud’s theory seems “to overemphasize the role of sexuality in human psychological development and experience” (Quigley, 1998).

Behaviorist Theory (Watson)

In response to Freud’s theories, Watson felt that psychology needed to focus on measurable variables in order for it to progress. Watson believed that one’s environment was the driving force behind development with no attention paid to the subconscious. He felt that the environment in which one was place was the “determinant factor in behavior” (Hall). “[T]o the behaviorist, normal behavior results from acceptable conditioning, reinforcing, modeling, etc.” while “[a]bnormal behavior results from defective conditioning, reinforcing, modeling, etc.” (Pearson Ed.).

Classical Conditioning (Thorndike, Skinner)

Thorndike and Skinner focused on reward and punishment to achieve a desired result. They felt that human learning could be changed by eliciting a new stimulus and the change in behavior is a form of learning (TEXTBOOK). Thorndike developed the “Law of Effect” which states that a behavior with a favorable consequence will be repeated while behaviors with negative consequences will not be repeated. Skinner’s theory states that behavior that is reinforced will be repeated more often. Skinner believed that behavior will be modified by learning from consequences. His theory is known as “Operant Conditioning.”

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

In Bandura’s theory of social learning, both the social aspect of a child along with the psychological aspect work together in order for learning to occur. In this theory, there are four stages that a learner must complete in order for something can be considered learned. The first stage is attention where the learner notices. Secondly, retention where the learner remembers what has been observed. Next, the learner enters the reproduction stage where he mimics the behavior to be learned. Finally, the learner enters the stage of motivation where the learner recognizes the need for the behavior to be learned.

Cognitive Theory (Piaget)

In Piaget’s work, his focus was on how humans come to know and how we adapt to our environment. In order to make these adaptations, there are two processes that occur: assimilation and accommodation. To assimilate information, the learner transfers the new information into recognizable contexts. However, accommodation is the learner’s ability to “change cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment” (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). According to...
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