The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of many human development theories, many of which are still largely followed today. Four psychologists, Lev Vygotsky, Erick Erickson, Sigmund Freud, and Jean Piaget, still stand out and have many followers. These theories have several differences, but they also agree on some aspects of their research. Some psychologists believe that people’s growth happens in stages, while others believe in continuous development. Some also hold social cultural points of view where they believe attitudes and feelings are shaped by social variables. Other hold the cognitive point of view believing in mental processes to be vital in solving psychological problems. Analyzed below are four different psychologists, how their theories compare and contract, and a reflection on the best approach.
Description of the Psychologist and Their Approaches
Jean Piaget was a Swiss cognitive theorist born in 1896 and lived until 1980, his time of death. Piaget had a huge influence on the way people view child development (Berk, 2008). His ideas were, however, not popular in North America during the mid-twentieth century largely because they did not agree with behaviorism theories by Skinner and Pavlov (Berk, 2008). According to Jean Piaget, children do not get their behaviors from adults’ rewards and punishments. They become who they are from interacting with the environment as they exploit and manipulate the world (Berk, 2008). Piaget, a biologist, proposed that, like the physical structures of the body, the mind is adapted to fit the environment. He proposed that the understanding of small babies is different from that of grown-ups saying that children do not believe that objects outside their view exist. The biological psychologist also proposed that preschoolers less than seven demonstrate faulty thinking, such as believing that liquids poured from glass to another object change in quantity.
The Swiss also argued that cognitive development happens in four stages; sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. The first stage is from birth to 2 years, and in this stage, infants think by acting with their eyes, ears, hands, and mouth (Berk, 2008). The preoperational stage happens from two to seven years, depending on the child, and is demonstrated by the use of symbols to demonstrate what they learned in the first stage (Berk, 2008). Learning of language also happens during this stage, according to Jean Piaget. A child’s thinking becomes more logical and organized in the next stage called the concrete operational (Berk, 2008). This newfound ability is, however, limited to concrete objects for seven- to eleven-year-old children. From eleven years onwards, adolescents can hypothesize things, deduce testable inferences, and isolate and combine variables seeing which inferences are confirmed (Berk, 2008). Piaget discovering’s have sparked a wide array of discussions, but critics say he underestimated the abilities of infants and preschoolers.
Lev Vygotsky was a Russian cognitive theorist born in 1896 and lived until 1934, his time of death. His theory, called the sociocultural theory, states that a social group’s cultural beliefs, values, customs, and skills are transmitted from one generation to another (Berk, 2008). Vygotsky argued that social interactions among children and more mature people in the community are key for the children to acquire the ways of thinking and behaving that make up the community. Communication is key in ensuring that children behave the way the community wants, Vygotsky stated (Berk, 2008). Children internalize the features of the dialogues, and they use the language to guide their thoughts and actions to acquire development (Berk, 2008). Lev Vygotsky ignored that children could shape their growth using nature and the environment. The followers of Lev Vygotsky oppose this criticism arguing that children interact with the environment that is carefully selected for them by the adults. This sociocultural theory has been greatly supported by recent developmental science research, which has found that growth and culture are closely intertwined.
Sigmund Freud was a Viennese physician born in 1856 and died in 1939. During his time of practice, psychiatrists and social workers treated people by having them narrate their life experiences so that they could understand who they were (Berk, 2008). Freud used this method in his practice and would have his patients freely narrate their painful events as children (Berk, 2008). In doing so, the physician examined their hidden motives and developed his famous psychosexual theory (Berk, 2008). He advised parents that how they dealt with their children’s sexual and aggressive behaviors was crucial for their healthy personality development. Sigmund Freud believed that if children skipped any stage during their growth, they would have problems later. This theory has been greatly criticized due to its great focus on sexuality on a child’s development. Freud is however appreciated for building a platform for other to study further.
According to Freud, personality is divided into three broad categories; the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the biggest part of the brain and controls biological needs and desires (Berk, 2008). The ego is the conscious and rational part of the brain and controls the id into more socially acceptable behaviors (Berk, 2008). The superego develops when a child is between 3 and 6 years and reconciles the demands of the id and those of the external world (Berk, 2008). According to this theory, the interaction between the id, ego, and superego determines when a person is a child and determines a person’s character when they become adults.
Freud’s psychosexual theory is divided into five stages. The first is the oral stage, where a child’s oral needs are met through sucking breasts and bottles (Berk, 2008). This sucking leads to the development of other habits such as sucking of thumbs, accessories, and smoking when a person matures. The second psychosexual stage is the anal stage which happens between one and three years. This is observable by the desire of children in this age bracket to play with their urine and feces. If parents toilet train before children are ready or make too few demands, conflict about anal control may appear in the form of extreme orderliness or disorder (Berk, 2008). From three to six years, focus changes from feces to genitals stimulation. Children at this age develop a preference for either of their parents. Freud’s Oedipus conflict arises for boys, and the Electra conflict arises for girls (Berk, 2008). From six to eleven years, the sexual desires wade off, and the latency stages kick in where a child’s superego matures. The last stage is the genital stage portrayed by adolescence, and successful development in this stage leads to successful marriage and childbearing.
Erik Erikson was a follower of Sigmund Freud, who was born in 1902 and lived for most of the twentieth century: he died in 1994. In his psychosocial theory, Erikson stressed that in addition to meditating between the id impulses and the superego, as Freud had stated, the ego plays a pivotal role (Berk, 2008). The ego, according to Erickson, contributes to development by giving a person attitudes and skills that make them an important part of society (Berk, 2008). The positive and negative feedback an individual receives during their development plays a pivotal role in determining their behaviors later. Erikson used an example of how Yurok Indianans instill resistance into children through various practices while they are infants.
Like Freud, Erickson’s theory has five stages for a person as a child, but he added three stages for adults. From birth to age one, a child develops instincts of basic trust and mistrust. If the people around an infant are warm and receptive, the child develops an instinct that the world is good; however, if the people around it neglect them, they feel that the world is harsh and develop mistrust (Berk, 2008). Children gain autonomy from age one to three years, and if misused, a feeling of shame and doubt fills them (Berk, 2008). From three to six years, children want to feel the initiative, and if the parent is too demanding, they feel guilty (Berk, 2008). Therefore, from infancy to seven, children’s behaviors are controlled by their parents and guardians, according to Erick Erickson.
Six-to-eleven-year-olds work and cooperate with others in school; if they fail to do so, a feeling of inferiority occurs. Adolescents, according to Erickson, have a personality identity that could be negatively impacted by not understanding their future roles (Berk, 2008). During early adulthood, people develop intimacy, and those who cannot due to developmental challenges choose isolation (Berk, 2008). People in their middle adulthood need to give back to society through childbearing or other means, and those who fail to achieve such may feel a lack of accomplishment (Berk, 2008). During old age, people could either be filled with integrity that their lives were well lived or may be filled with fear of death.
Similarities and Differences
The four theories discussed above can be grouped into two categories. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky focus on children and adolescents’ cognitive development and learning (Berk, 2008). On the other hand, Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytic theories hold that people develop in stages in which they confront conflicts between biological drives and social expectations (Berk 2008). Both psychoanalytic and cognitive theories base their arguments on internal processes where the latter focuses on emotions, feelings, and drives, and the former focuses on the mind. All four theories successfully treat adjustment problems since they focus on how people develop (Berk, 2008). All four theories agree that human development happens in stages rather than the continuous developmental theories, which came to be proposed later. There is also a general agreement that although people do not take the same amount of time in each stage, a person can’t skip a stage.
Freud and Erickson’s theories are very similar since one drew inspiration from the other. Both believe that behaviors are acquired as a person develops, with Freud insisting on sexuality while Erickson focuses on the influence of guardians. The two also are similar in their belief that the subconscious part of the brain contributes greatly to development. On the other hand, Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories hold that cognitive conflict is key to the growth and development of children. This point of view is also held in Erickson’s growth theory, where he states that without conflict between children and parents, there would be no growth (Berk, 2008). The two cognitive theories agree that egocentric speech is crucial for the cognitive growth in a person’s brain (Berk, 2008). Freud, Erickson, Piaget, and Vygotsky agree that people’s growth and development rate declines as they age (Berk, 2008). All four theories analyzed above also agree that biology plays a key role in the development of people, although they differ on the extent.
The four theories discussed above contrast in numerous aspects. The first area where the theories differ is on the development process as to whether it is continuous or discontinuous. The psychoanalytic development theories that are the psychosexual and the psychosocial development stages take place in stages and are therefore discontinuous (Berk, 2008). Piaget’s cognitive development theory is also discontinuous as the proposer argued that development happens in stages. Vygotsky’s social-cultural theory is both continuous and discontinuous. This theory holds that language acquisition and schooling happen in stages that the Russian developed hence discontinuous (Berk, 2008). In contrast, dialogue with more expert members of the society leads to continuous changes that vary from culture to culture (Berk, 2008). Therefore, all the theories follow stages apart from the sociocultural theory, which follows stages mixed with lessons from elsewhere.
The development theories could also be differentiated using the courses they follow and can be followed by one course or many courses. Freud and Erickson’s psychoanalytic theories follow one course and therefore are assumed to be universal (Berk, 2008). The same is observed in Piaget’s theory, where reinforced behaviors are similar for everybody (Berk, 2008). Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory observes many possible courses of development since cultures vary from place to place (Berk, 2008). All the theories are influenced by nature and nurture, although the relative degree of influence varies from one theory to another. Freud’s theory believes that the id has more influence on an individual and helps shape the superego. Erickson contrasts him by stating that the ego is more influential (Berk, 2008). Piaget states that growth occurs as the child’s preprogrammed brain interacts with the environment. Piaget differs from Freud, who holds that growth stops at adolescence as he believes adult experiences are critical in shaping one behavior. Vygotsky differs from the others on the nature vs. nurture aspect as he argued that the hereditary brain of a child grows as it interacts with the expert members of society.
Of the four theories analyzed, Piaget’s Cognitive development theory is the most effective from a personal point of view. This is so partially because the Swiss had a biological background and mainly because he deployed the biological concept of adaptation in it (Berk, 2008). It fits well with Darwinian evolution theory in that as the environment shapes physical parts, so are the cognitive parts of the brain (Berk, 2008). The four stages of Piaget’s cognitive development theory can be easily observed, and there are few critics of them. His argument that children are active listeners whose minds consist of rich knowledge structures is true and is widely used by developmental scientists (Berk, 2008). Piaget’s development theory not only explained how children acquire knowledge but also explained the nature of intelligence.
Piaget’s cognitive development theory also explained the nature of the social world in which people live. It sparked much interest from scholars in different fields to research children’s conception of themselves, other people, and human relationships (Berk, 2008). It also impacted educational practice by encouraging the development of philosophies and programs that emphasize discovery learning and direct contact with the environment (Berk, 2008). It, however, has been criticized for the argument that no development happens after adolescence (2008). Nonetheless, this theory is the most applied by practitioners among the four.
Berk, L. E. (2008). Exploring lifespan development (3th ed.). Pearson.