Human Development Theories

    Human development is such a broad topic, and I could go on and on about the various details of human development. In this post, I will share the 8 main theories of human development to help focus on the main concepts of this topic. If you are taking a psychology human development class, this post will help you capture the main concepts of human development. The concepts in these theories will likely be on your exams (some of them are on licensing exams). 

Here are 8 theories of human development: 

1. Psychodynamic

  • This theory is most famously attributed to Erikson. Erikson created a theory of human development, including eight stages:

2. Behaviorism
  • A key component of behaviorism is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the idea that consequences of a behavior determines whether it will be repeated. This theory also considers positive and negative reinforcements relating to behavior. Positive reinforcement means you are adding something (ex. a prize or more TV time) and negative reinforcement means you are taking somethin away (ex. less time on chores). 
  • When we say "positive" and "negative" in behaviorism, it means to add and subtract, rather than good and bad. There are also positive and negative consequences. A positive consequence would be to add more chores. A negative consequence would be to take away play time. 
3. Social Learning Theory
  • An important part of the social learning theory is observational learning. This type of learning means that individuals learn by watching others. Imitation is a key aspect of social learning theory. If an individual is praised for imitating, it is likely that the behavior will continue to occur again.
4. Cognitive-Developmental Theory
  • One of my favorite theories, cognitive-developmental theory, emphasizes the development of thought processes. There are 3 major approaches to this theory:
    • Piaget
      • He believed that we develop in discrete stages

    • Vygotsky
      • He believed that there are expectations of what humans should know at different ages 
      • He also focused on sociocultural influences on child development
      • He viewed development as an "apprenticeship"
    • Information-processing theory
      • This theory compares humans to computers, we become more efficient at processing information as we mature
      • This theory also uses terms like mental hardware and mental software. Both of these help with development.
5. The Ecological and Systems Approach
  • Bronfenbrenner is an important theorist in the ecological and systems approach. This theory explains that all aspects of human development are interconnected. Therefore, environment, family, politics, society, and other aspects of culture impact an individual's development.
  • Here is a diagram of this approach:

6. Lawton & Nahemow's Competence-Environmental Press Theory
  • This theory states that adaptation, or development, depends upon the person's abilities or "competencies"and the demands the environment places on the person. The theory emphasizes how these factors interact.
7. Life-span perspective
  • This many states that many factors influence development; no one factor adequately explains it:
    • multi-directionality
    • plasticity
    • historical context
    • multiple causation
8. The Life-Course Perspective
  • This last theory says that different generations experience/adjust to biological, psychological, and sociocultural forces within the time-period of their lives. For example, personal life events interact with historical influences.

These were all very brief definitions of the theories, but hopefully this post helps you to remember the key components of each! Thanks for reading! I know you are going to do great things!

Kail, R.V., Cavanaugh, J.C. (2018). Human development: A life-span view (8th ed.). Belmont Park, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Books

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