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Major Developmental Theorists

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Sigmund Freud:

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud proposed one of the best-known grand theories of child development. According to Freud’s theory, child development occurs in a series of stages focused on different pleasure areas of the body. During each stage, the child encounters conflicts that play a major role in the course of development.

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Erik Erikson:

Freud’s famous work influenced a number of other psychoanalysts, including theorist Erik Erikson. While Erikson’s theory shared some similarities with Freud's, it is dramatically different in many ways. Rather than focusing on sexual interest as a driving force in development, Erikson believed that social interaction and experience played a decisive role. His eight-stage theory of human development described this process from infancy through death. During each stage, people are faced with a developmental conflict that impacts later functioning and further growth.

John B. Watson:

According to behaviorist John B. Watson, any behavior can be learned. "Give me a dozen healthy infants…and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select…regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors," he suggested (1930). Other theorists including Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner also contributed greatly to behaviorism, driving this school of thought to become a dominating force in psychology for many years.

Albert Bandura:

Social learning theory is based on the work of psychologist Albert Bandura. Bandura believed that the conditioning and reinforcement process could not sufficiently explain all of human learning. For example, how can the conditioning process account for learned behaviors that have not been reinforced through classical conditioning or operant conditioning? According to social learning theory, behaviors can also be learned through observation and modeling.

Jean Piaget:

Theorist Jean Piaget proposed one of the most influential theories of cognitive development. Cognitive theory seeks to describe and explain the development of thought processes and mental states. It also looks at how these thought processes influence the way we understand and interact with the world. Piaget proposed an idea that seems obvious now, but helped revolutionize how we think about child development: Children think differently than adults. Piaget then proposed a theory of cognitive development to account for the steps and sequence of children's intellectual development.

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