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Personality Development

Major Theories of Personality Development

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Personality development has been a major topic of interest for some of the most prominent thinkers in psychology. Our personalities make us unique, but how does personality develop? How exactly do we become who we are today?

In order to answer this question, many prominent theorists developed theories to describe various steps and stages that occur on the road of personality development. The following theories focus on various aspects of personality development, including cognitive, social and moral development.

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development remains one of the most frequently cited in psychology, despite being subject to considerable criticism. While many aspects of his theory have not stood the test of time, the central idea remains important today: children think differently than adults. Learn more about Piaget’s groundbreaking theory and the important contributions it made to our understanding of personality development.

Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development

In addition to being one of the best-known thinkers in the area of personality development, Sigmund Freud remains one of the most controversial. In his well-known stage theory of psychosexual development, Freud suggested that personality develops in stages that are related to specific erogenous zones. Failure to successfully complete these stages, he suggested, would lead to personality problems in adulthood.

Freud’s Structural Model of Personality

Freud's concept of the id, ego and superego has gained prominence in popular culture, despite a lack of support and considerable skepticism from many researchers. According to Freud, three elements of personality—known as the id, the ego, and the superego—work together to create complex human behaviors.

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory of human development is one of the best known theories in psychology. While the theory builds on Freud’s stages of psychosexual development, Erikson chose to focus on how social relationships impact personality development. The theory also extends beyond childhood to look at development across the entire lifespan.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory of personality development that focused on the growth of moral thought. Building on a two-stage process proposed by Piaget, Kohlberg expanded the theory to include six different stages. While the theory has been criticized for a number of different reasons, including the possibility that it does not accommodate different genders and cultures equally, Kohlberg’s theory remains important in our understanding of how personality develops.

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