Theoretical Perspectives on Human Development: Freud, Piaget and Skinner

Subject: Psychology
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Piaget’s theory of cognitive development analyzes the nature and development of human intelligence. It is more focused on the nature of knowledge and how human beings gradually acquire and use it. Piaget believes that reality involves continuous but dynamic transformations. He proposes that “operative intelligence is behind all the manipulation and changing aspects of reality while figurative intelligence represents the static aspects of reality” (Salkind, 2004). Piaget’s theory also focuses on assimilation and accommodation, which is how human beings take in and integrate new information, and put it to use.

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According to Piaget’s, there are four stages involved in cognitive development. The sensorimotor stage is the first and is the stage at which infants develop their sensory experiences. The stage involves a lot of physical actions, which infants learn from by performing them. The second stage is where children learn to use and communicate things using words and images, and is referred to as preoperational. Concrete operational stage follows and here children are developing and learning how to use logic. The last stage is the formal operational stage, which runs from eleven years to adulthood. In this stage, people learn how to reason abstractly, assemble information and draw logical conclusions.

Skinner is well known for his theory of operant behavior, which states that “behavior is affected by the consequences that follow the behavior” (Goldhaber, 2000). If behavior is good, it is expected that its consequences will be good. Essentially, the theory argues that good behavior is encouraged while bad behavior is condemned. Skinner also adds the theory of operant conditioning, which argues that good behavior does not stop at rewarding. He argues that if a person or animal continues with their positive behavior, they are able to manipulate their habits and system so that they continue acting on a positive manner. “Since positive behavior is rewarded positively through reinforcement, it is more likely to recur” (Goldhaber, 2000). Skinner’s theory differs with that of Piaget’s in that it does not have a step by step development of behavior, but rather believes that reward and reinforcement are key to developing the type behavior we desire. Skinner however agrees with Piaget on the fact that behavior is developed and not acquired or inherited. With proper reinforcement and encouragement, good behavior is developed.

Freud’s psychoanalytical theory believes in an unconscious developmental process. According to the theory, “behavior is determined by powerful inner forces, most of which are buried in the unconscious mind, meaning that the unconscious part of a human being plays an important role in shaping how they behave” (Newman & Philip, 2007). Freud however states that our unconscious is made up of childhood memories, meaning that how and where we grow up play an important role in how we behave as adults. The theory puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of basic needs such as food and shelter. This theory differs with the other two from the fact that it does not recognize the role of other people in our development. According to the theory, basic needs, ego and the unconscious part of a human being contribute a lot to human development. The theory however, agrees with the other two on the fact that our childhood has a major role in how we behave as adults.

Piaget’s theory best explains human development. The theory recognized a step by step process by which people know what knowledge is, appreciate it and learn how to use it. The theory appreciates the importance of simple reflexes, first habits, primary and secondary reactions and coordination of all these factors. This theory easily relates to that of constructive developmental theory which argues that “human beings naturally progress over a lifetime through as many as five distinct stages” (Salkind, 2004). At the first stage is a young child, who has not yet developed the idea of a permanent self. At the second stage is a young adolescent who is trying to grasp the concept of uniqueness and wants to be differentiated from other people. Stage three is a young adult who is ready to socialize with adults and has started looking out for the good of the community. At this stage, one has developed self worth and value. At stage four is a fully grown adult who has relationships with other people, values other peoples’ opinion, but has strongly developed their own regarding different things. At this stage, one has a sense of balance and has developed the ability to solve conflicts. At the final stage, people are able to look beyond their own value system and are more concerned with bigger and community concerns other than selfish priorities.

Reference list

Goldhaber, D. (2000). Theories of human development: Integrative perspectives. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield.

Newman, B., & Philip, R.N. (2007). Theories of human development. New York: Routledge.

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Salkind, J. (2004). An introduction to theories of human development. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publishers.