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Types of Psychology Theories


There are many different psychology theories, but most can be categorized as one of four key types:

Developmental Theories

Developmental theories provide a set of guiding principles and concepts that describe and explain human development. Some developmental theories focus on the formation of a specific quality, such as Kohlberg's theory of moral development. Other developmental theories focus on growth that happens throughout the lifespan, such as Erikson's theory of psychosocial development.

Grand Theories

Grand theories are those comprehensive ideas often proposed by major thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget.

Grand theories of development include psychoanalytic theory, learning theory and cognitive theory. These theories seek to explain much of human behavior, but are often considered outdated and incomplete in the face of modern research. Psychologists and researchers often use grand theories as a basis for exploration, but consider smaller theories and recent research as well.


Minitheories describe a small, very specific aspect of development. A minitheory might explain fairly narrow behaviors, such as how self-esteem is formed or early childhood socialization. These theories are often rooted in the ideas established by grand theories, but they do not seek to describe and explain the whole of human behavior and growth.

Emergent Theories

Emergent theories are those that have been created fairly recently and are often formed by systematically combining various minitheories. These theories often draw on research and ideas from many different disciplines, but are not yet as broad or far-reaching as grand theories. The sociocultural theory proposed by theorist Lev Vygotsky is a good example of an emergent theory of development.

Important Psychology Theories
Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development
Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

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