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Introduction to Theories of Development:
Theories of development provide a framework for thinking about human growth, development, and learning. But why do we study development? What can we learn from psychological theories of development? If you have ever wondered about what motivates human thought and behavior, understanding these theories can provide useful insight into individuals and society.
Psychoanalytic theories of development began with the work of Sigmund Freud, who believed that early childhood experiences had a lasting effect on the course of development. Freud’s work was enormously influential and inspired other psychologists to expand upon his work and develop theories of their own. One of the most famous theorists influenced by Freud was Erik Erikson, whose eight-stage theory of human development remains one of the best-known psychological theories.
During the first half of the twentieth century, a new school of thought known as behaviorism rose to become a dominant force within psychology. Behaviorists believed that psychology needed to focus only on observable and quantifiable behaviors in order to become a more scientific discipline.
According to the behavioral perspective, all human behavior can be described in terms of environmental influences. Some behaviorists, such as John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, insisted that learning occurs purely through processes of association and reinforcement. Later, psychologist Albert Bandura rejected this narrow perspective and demonstrated the powerful effects of observational learning.
Cognitive theories of development look at how thought processes and mental operations influence growth and change. Jean Piaget created one of the most famous theories of cognitive development, suggesting that children are not just passive recipients of information. Instead, he proposed that children are little scientists" who actively construct their knowledge and understanding of the world.