Development Theories

Posted: October 17th, 2013

Development Theories







Development Theories

Behaviorist and psychosocial theories are among the famous human development theories. Each of these theories conceptualizes child and adolescence development in different ways. Behaviorist theory views child and adolescent development as a factor determined by experience and practices through reinforcement of the desired behavior. Psychosocial theory on the other hand purports that development occurs in a series of different stages of life, describing the influence of experience throughout the lifespan of a man. The two theories tend to have a similarity in terms of basing development in terms of experiences (Keenan, 2002). However, the experiences differ, where behaviorist focuses on reinforced behaviors while psychosocial focuses on ego identity.

Behaviorist Theory

            Behaviorist theory suggests that development occurs through interaction within the environment. The theory utilized classical and operant conditioning as the main aspects of development. Classical conditioning is based on the assumption that development occurs through an association of environmental and natural stimuli. Operant conditioning on the other hand is about rewards and punishment to reinforce specific behaviors. This theory suggests that development occurs through such interaction where a teacher can reward good behaviors and punish bad behavior (Peet & Hartwick, 2009). This happens the same way even for children at adolescent. Reinforcement and continuous practice until desired behavior is achieved is the main idea of behaviorist theory.

Its strength is the use of behavior that can be reinforced, making it easier for experiments within a laboratory. Its biggest limitation is that it does not consider development through other methods such as observation. It argues that behavior is only developed through such reinforcement and response to stimuli. It does not consider other behavior development methods such as observation. Children do learn through observation as well.

Psychosocial Theory

            Psychosocial theory is of the view that development of human beings is based on a series of stages. Its major element is ego identity, suggesting that self-consciousness or self-awareness develops through interaction with the environment at different stages of life. The first stage is usually the trust vs. mistrust that happens at birth to one year. At this stage, the infant develops trust through the care provided by the caregivers. The child is dependent and feels safe if he/she is able to develop trust. If caregivers are not good, the child does not develop full trust and does not feel safe. The second stage occurs during early childhood. It is about autonomy vs. shame where children develop personal control. At this stage, learning to control body function creates a feeling of independence and control. Initiative vs. guilt is the next stage of preschool children where they ascertain their control around them through directing things such as play. At this stage, the children feel their capability in matters such as leadership (Keenan, 2002).

The fourth stage, industry vs. inferiority occurs from age of 5 to 11. At this stage, children develop a sense of pride through their accomplishments. Through encouragement, children are able to develop feelings of competence and confidence in their skills. At the fifth stage, identity vs. confusion, children are at their adolescent. At this stage, children explore more on their accomplishments to know themselves better (Peet & Hartwick, 2009). Through encouragement on their cause of finding about self, people emerge with a great sense of identity and sure of themselves in life.

Its strength is that the eight stages hold for long across different ages, explaining development from stage to stage. One of the limitations of the psychosocial theory is its failure to recognize different cultural backgrounds that could affect such development. For instance, some children could be trained in using the potty earlier while others might be trained later. Additionally, in some places, girls will get married at young ages, forcing them to be at another stage than the one meant for their age (Peet & Hartwick, 2009). Thus, with such differences, the theory could not be applicable the same way to all people. A similarity with the behaviorist theory occurs in terms of using the experiences around one’s environment. The other similarity is that they are applicable for all generations including mature people. The difference is that behaviorist theory is not divided into stages as the psychosocial theory.




Keenan, T. (2002). An Introduction to Child Development. New York, N.Y: SAGE

Peet, R., & Hartwick, E. (2009). Theories of Development, Second Edition: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives. New York, N.Y: Guilford Pres


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