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Psychology of Development: main theories and authors

Psychology of Development: main theories and authors

May 24, 2022

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

Many researchers have focused on knowing 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, the psychology of development, have highlighting the importance of childhood in the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior.

Psychological theories about development in childhood

Psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget or Lev Vygotsky have tried to explain the different aspects through their theories. And although not all are fully accepted today, the influence of their perspectives have been very helpful in understanding how children grow, think and behave .


The following are some of the many theories of child development that have been proposed by theorists and researchers.

1. Theory of Psychosexual Development by Sigmund Freud

Freud is considered the father of Psychoanalysis. The psychoanalytic theory of child development it tends to focus on things such as the unconscious, the drives and the ego formation. Although their proposals do not enjoy great popularity at present, few doubt the importance that the events and experiences of childhood have on the future development of the child.

According to Freud, the child's development is described as a series of psychosexual stages : oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital. Now, this conception of the development of the mind and personality is the daughter of its time, and it is currently out of phase.


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

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

Erikson thinks that the resolution of the different stages gives rise to the acquisition of a series of competences that help to solve the goals that will be presented during the next life stage. In this way psychological growth occurs.


For example, the main conflict during the period from 6 to 12 years, called Laboriousness vs. Inferiority, implies the domain of social experience. At this stage the child begins his preschool and school instruction, and is eager to do things together with others, to share tasks, etc. If the child can not overcome this stage in the proper way, that is to say if he feels inferior, this will negatively affect his general functioning.

3. The Theory of Learning by Jean Piaget

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, considered the father of constructivism, suggested that the cognitive development of children occurs following a series of stages . He observed that children play an active role in gaining knowledge of the world, that is, that he considered them "little scientists" who actively build their knowledge and understanding of the world, though, by means of mental norms that differ qualitatively from those that use adult people

Piaget's ideas are no longer valid as he formulated them, but this is one of the most important development theories , and in fact it is considered that it laid the foundations of what is now known as Developmental Psychology.

You can get more information about his theory in this article: "Jean Piaget's Theory of Learning". If what you want is to deepen in the different stages that the Swiss theorist proposed, this other article will be of great help to you: "The 4 stages of the cognitive development of Jean Piaget".

4. Sociocultural Theory of Lev Vygotsky

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

In the same way as Piaget, Vygotsky is a constructivist psychologist, and thought that children learn actively and through practical experiences. Now, unlike Piaget who explains that knowledge is constructed individually, Vygotsky concludes that learning is constructed 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 it can not be considered something external that only "influences". The use of language itself, for example, is both collective and individual, and allows the emergence of great cognitive abilities, based on the development of very abstract concepts.

Vygotsky was important to understand the Collaborative learning and to learn more about the influence of the sociocultural environment on the cognitive development of children.

To delve into this interesting theory, you only have to click here: "Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory".

5. Behavioral Theories: Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

The behavioral theories they were important because They emphasized how the interaction of an individual with their environment influences their behavior . Three were the main exponents of these theories: Ivan Pavlov and John B. Watson as precursors of the Classical conditioning, and B.F. Skinner as father of Operant conditioning.

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

Would you like to know more about these theories? Then we leave you two links so you can understand them better:

  • "Classical conditioning and its most important experiments"
  • "B. F. Skinner: life and work of a radical behaviorist"

6. Albert Bandura's Theory of Social Learning

Albert Bandura realized that behavioral theories did not explain the learning of individuals as a whole, since 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 trials. So, understood that children's learning and development can not be understood without both components .

In addition to highlighting the importance of expectations and intrinsic reinforcements, such as a sense of pride, satisfaction and achievement, in the motivation of human beings, in his theory he emphasizes that Children learn new behaviors from the observation of other people . By observing the actions of others, including parents and peers, children develop new skills and acquire new information.

Do not miss his entire theory. Below we show you different articles of this Ukrainian-Canadian psychologist that you can read:

  • "Albert Bandura's Theory of Social Learning"
  • "The Self-efficacy of Albert Bandura: do you believe in yourself?"
  • "Albert Bandura's Theory of Personality"

Overview of theories of development | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy (May 2022).


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