Chapter 4:
Major Theories for
Understanding Human
Development
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Chapter Objectives
– To review the basic concepts of seven major
theories that have guided research in the
study of human development. These theories
include: evolutionary theory, psychosexual
theory, cognitive developmental theory,
theories of learning, cultural theory, social role
theory, and systems theory
– To examine the implications of each theory for
the study of human development
– To clarify the links between each theory and
psychosocial theory
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• The Theory of Evolution
– Darwin emphasized the adaptive value of
behavior and physical characteristics to
specific environments
– Natural selection - certain species were
selected by nature to survive in particular
parts of the world because they had
characteristics that fit with, or were adapted
to, their surroundings
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• The Theory of Evolution (cont.)
– Natural selection has 3 underlying
characteristics:
• Variation
• Genetic inheritance
• Selection
– Fitness, or reproductive success: varies
among members of a species and is the
passage of genes form one generation to the
next in individual organisms
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• The Theory of Evolution (cont.)
– Inclusive Fitness: suggests that fitness is not
only determined by an individual’s success in
passing genes along to the next generation
through reproduction, but also by promoting
the survival and reproductive success of
others who carry the genes
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Ethology
– Studies the survival value of behavior and its
evolutionary history
– Not concerned just with growth and
development, but to the adaptation and
continuation of the species
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Evolutionary Psychology
– Studies long-term historical origins of
behavior
– With each generation, the human genome
evolves; whether they are passed on to
subsequent generations depends on whether
they increase fitness
– Account for common patterns of behavior in
light of the likely pressures on survival and
reproduction for human beings during the
prehistoric period
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Psychosexual Theory
– Assumes children move through a series of
stages in which they confront conflicts
between biological drives and social
expectations
– Healthy personality development is
determined by how parents manage their
child’s early sexual and aggressive drives
– How they resolve these conflicts determines
their ability to learn, to get along with others,
and to cope with anxiety
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Domains of Conscience in Psychosexual Theory
– Freud believed that all behaviors were
motivated
– Conscious processes are the mental
processes, which are related to behavior, and
individuals are aware of
– Preconscious processes are the mental
processes, which are absent from mental
awareness or conscious, but are capable of
being called into mental awareness
– Unconscious processes are wishes, needs,
and fantasies that influence behavior which
we are not mentally aware of
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Portions of Personality in Psychosexual Theory
– Id, present at birth, represents biological
needs and desires and requires immediate
gratification
– Ego develops in early infancy, and is the
conscious, rational part of personality. It is the
mediator between the id and the superego
– Superego represents the values of society
and one’s conscience
– The relations between the id, ego, and
superego determine an individual’s basic
personality
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Stages of Development in Psychosexual Theory
– Oral
– Anal
– Phallic
– Latent
– Genital
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cognitive Developmental Theories
– Cognition is the process of organizing and
making meaning of experience
– Two Cognitive Developmental Theories
• Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory
• Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Basic Concepts of Piaget’s Cognitive
Developmental Theories
– Occurs in stages as children actively
manipulate and explore the environment
– Central to his theory is the biological concept
of adaptation, which leads to equilibrium, or
balance, between internal structures, and
information children encounter in their
everyday worlds
– Scheme is a specific structure, or an
organized way, of making sense of experience
that changes with age
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Basic Concepts of Piaget’s Cognitive
Developmental Theories (cont.)
– Adaptation in Piaget’s theory
• The process of building schemes through direct
interaction with the environment occurs through 2
processes
– Assimilation is the part of adaptation in which
the external world is interpreted in terms of
already existing schemes
– Accommodation is the part of adaptation in
which old schemes are created and new ones
adjusted to produce a better fit with the
environment
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
Figure 4.1 Adaptation = Assimilation + Accommodation
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Piaget Developed Four Stages of Cognitive
Development
– Sensorimotor Stage - an infant uses his
senses and movements to explore the world
(0-18 months)
– Preoperational Stage - the preschooler uses
symbolic but illogical thought and play (18
months to 6 years)
– Concrete Operational Stage - school-age
children use more organized reasoning (7-11
years)
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Piaget Developed Four Stages of Cognitive
Development (cont.)
– Formal Operational Stage - thought is used by
adolescents and adults and is represented by
abstract logical thought (11 years on)
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
– Vygotsky is referred to as a contextualist,
because he argued that human development
can only be understood within a social
framework
– Focuses on how culture or culturally specific
practices are transmitted from one generation
to the next
– He viewed cognitive development as a
socially mediated process in which children
benefit from parental and peer support to
accomplish new things
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory (cont.)
– Vygotsky believed that all higher cognitive
processes develop out of social interaction
– Zone of proximal development refers to a
range of tasks that the child cannot yet handle
alone but can accomplish with the help of
adults and more skilled peers
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Theories of Learning
– Classical Conditioning
– Operant Conditioning
– Social Learning Theory
– Cognitive Behaviorism
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Classical Conditioning
– Ivan Pavlov was interested in animal learning
and from studies with dogs, found the
classical conditioning paradigm
– Classical conditioning can be defined as a
form of learning that involves associating a
neutral stimulus that leads to a reflexive
example
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
Figure 4.2 Classical Conditioning
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Operant Conditioning
– Developed by B. F. Skinner
– Emphasizes the role of repetition and the
consequences of behavior in learning
– There are 2 types of reinforcers:
• Positive reinforcers: increase the rate of a
response (i.e., food)
• Negative reinforcers: increase the rate of a
response when removed (i.e., shock)
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Operant Conditioning (cont.)
– Shaping is the gradual building up an operant
behavior by reinforcing successive
approximations and is used to convert
existing simple behaviors into more complex
patterns of behavior
– Schedule of Reinforcement: the frequency
and regularity with which reinforcements are
given
– Continuous: reinforcement is given every
learning trial
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Operant Conditioning (cont.)
– Intermittent: vary time or number of trials
between every reinforcement
– Extinction: a process in which an expected
reinforcement no longer occurs following the
behavior
– Punishment: a noxious stimulus that follows
an undesirable behavior
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Social Learning Theory
– Albert Bandura promoted social learning
theory, which emphasizes learning in a social
context and the role of modeling as a shaping
factor for development
– Bandura has shown that both children’s ability
to listen and remember as well as their
understanding of abstract general rules from
complex sets of observed behavior affects
their imitation and learning, vicarious
reinforcement
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Social Learning Theory (cont.)
– The most recent revision of Bandura’s theory
places a strong emphasis on what he calls
social cognition rather than a social learning
approach
– Efficacy is the culmination of this learning
process
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cognitive Behaviorism
– A criticism of operant conditioning and
classical conditioning is that they do not
describe and explain what happens in a
learner’s mind
– Edward Tolman said that the learner develops
a cognitive map or an internal mental
representation of the learning environment
– Map includes expectations about the reward
system in operation, the existing spatial
relationships, and the behaviors accorded
highest priority
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Six Cognitive Dimensions of Cognitive
Behaviorism
– Encodings: constructs the person has about
the self, the situation, and others in the
situation
– Expectancies: cognitive assessment about
one’s behavior, and the maintaining of events
in one’s environment
– Affects: feelings and emotional reactions, or
physiological responses that are associated
with the situation
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Six Cognitive Dimensions of Cognitive
Behaviorism (cont.)
– Goals and values: relative importance one
places on the outcomes and situations
– Cognitive competencies: knowledge, skills,
and abilities
– Self-regulatory plans: strategies for achieving
one’s goals, including techniques for
managing internal emotional states, creating a
plan, and setting the plan into action
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
Figure 4.3 The Six Cognitive and Affective Dimensions that Influence
Behavior
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cultural Theory
– Emphasizes the learned systems of meaning
and patterns of behaviors that are shared by a
group of people and transmitted from one
direction to the next
– Physical culture: objects, technologies,
structures, tools, and other artifacts of culture
– Social culture: norms, roles, beliefs, values,
rites, etc.
– Worldview: making meaning of the
relationships, situations, and objects
encountered in daily life
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cultural Theory (cont.)
– Cultural determinism: individual’s
psychological experiences are shaped by the
expectations, resources, and challenges
posed by one specific cultural group
– Enculturation: culture carriers teach, model,
reward, punish, and use other symbolic
strategies to transmit critical practices and
values
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cultural Theory (cont.)
– Continuity: when a child is given information
and responsibilities that apply directly to his or
her adult behavior
– Discontinuity: found when a child is either
barred from activities that are opened only to
adults or forced to unlearn information or
behaviors that are accepted in children but
considered inappropriate for adults
– Collectivism: refers to a worldview in which
social behavior is guided largely by goals that
are shared by a collective group of people
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Cultural Theory (cont.)
– Individualism: refers to a worldview in which
social behavior is guided largely by personal
goals, ambitions, and pleasures which may or
may not coincide with the interests of the
group
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Social Role Theory
– Social roles serve as a bridge between the
individual and society and suggest that
learning is organized around a key social
function called roles
– Three Elements of Concern
• Role Enactment: patterned characteristics of social
behavior
• Social Roles: parts or identities a person assumes
• Role Expectations: scripts or shared expectations
for behavior that are linked
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Social Role Theory (cont.)
– Four Dimensions of Social Roles Exist
• Number of roles: increase in number, increase in
cognitive advances
• Intensity of involvement: increases involvement
and increases emotional commitment
• Amount of time the role demands: limits other role
possibilities
• Degree of structure: expectations about role
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Systems Theory
– Attempts to describe and account for the
characteristics of systems and the
relationships among component parts
comprised within the system
– Whole is more than the sum of its parts
– Open system: structures that maintain their
organization even though their parts
constantly change
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Systems Theory (cont.)
– Adaptive self-regulation: systems change in
the direction of adjusting to or incorporating
more and more of the environment into
themselves in order to prevent disorganization
as a result of environmental fluctuations
– Feedback mechanisms: to identify and
respond to environmental changes
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Systems Theory (cont.)
– Adaptive self-organization: when confronted
with new, or changing environmental
conditions, systems revise the relationships
among components, or create new, higher
levels of organization that coordinate existing
substructures
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
Figure 4.4 A Topography of the Relationship Among Systems
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Ecological Systems Theory
– Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems
theory considers the individual as developing
within a multilayered system of relationships
– Microsystem is the innermost level of the
environment or the activities and interaction
patterns in the child’s immediate surroundings
– Mesosystem is composed of contexts that
connect microsystems
– Exosystem contains social settings that do not
include the individual, but affects their
microsystem and mesosystem experiences
Major Theories for Understanding Human Development
• Ecological Systems Theory (cont.)
– Macrosystem is the outermost layer, which
includes a culture’s laws, values, and customs
– Chronosystem is the temporal dimension of a
dynamic, ever-changing system
• Intervening in the Environment
– Interventions at any level of the environment
can affect development
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Chapter 4: Major Theories for Understanding Human Development