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Human development theories

Human Development Theories


Human development theories are models intended to account for how and why people become, as they are (Thomas 1997). Theories provide the framework to clarify and organize existing observations and to try to explain and predict human behaviour (Schroeder, 1992). It is important to recognize the complexity of human development and the theories that explain human development.

Through out history there have been theories about human development. The writer will look at the different Theorie’s related to Psychoanalytic, Humanistic, and Cognitive Theory’s. Psychoanalytic meaning behaviour development of the psyche, Humanistic meaning to become fully functional, cognitive meaning, thinking. The writer will look at the following theorists Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget and Abraham Maslow of their theories through out time.


Freud was a theorist who wanted to look at humans and how they developed. He believed strongly that there were five sexual stages in life as follows the Oral, Anal, Phallic, latency and Genital. from when you were born though till you died. Freud also believed that many emotions were caused by unconcious sexual desires, some of which originated in infancy

Eriksons theory was that development resulted from the interaction between inner instincts and outer cultural and social demands: hence the name psychosocial stages. . The stages are as follows, basic trust verses mistrust, autonomy verses shame, and doubt, initiative verses inferiority, identity verses role confusion, intimacy verses isolation, generatively verses self absorption and stagnation, ego integrity verses despair. So from learning these he believed you could gain hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care and wisdom.

Jean Piaget was a swiss scientist whose theories shaped the thinking of several generations of developmental psychologists. Piaget was only interested in " how does thinking develop"(Bee pg.35). A pivotal concept in Piaget’s model and the hardest to grasp is that of schema Piaget believed there were four stages in the thinking process, these were the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage.

Abraham Maslow looked at the humanistic side of development he believed there was a third force. Maslow focused on human experience, problems, potentials and ideals. . He believed that self-image, self-evaluation and frame reference as to how humans perceive themselves and experience the world.

Main Discussion

Freud’s theories were that children have sexual pleasures and fantasies long before they reach adolescence. one of his theories is the idea that behaviour is governed not only by conscious but by unconscious processes, according to freud, is an instinctual sexual drive he called the libido present at birth and forming the motive force behind virtually all our behaviour. According to this theory of infantile sexuality, developed in the first five or six years occurs in three psychosexual stages. Freud also believed that a parent’s influence is crucial in helping the child through the stages of psychosexual development. Freud also argued that personality has a structure that develops over time there are three parts, the id the ego and the freuds theory, these three parts are not present at birth..

Apart from Freud the greatest influence on the study on development of Psychoanalytical behaviour has been Erik Erikson, (Erikson Erikson,1950,1959,1980b,1982,Erikson,Erikson & Kivnick,1986: Evans,1969). Erik Erikson (1902- ), Erikson shared most of Freud’s basic assumptions but differed from him on several key points, by his own comprehensive theory of development he believed that there were three major aspects to development, that they are centered, not only on body parts but on each person’s relationship to the social enviroment.these according to Erikson were, Somatic: Physical strengths and weaknesses, personal: Life history and current development stages, Social: Cultural, historical and social forces.

Piaget did not follow Freud or Erikson theories he believed in the natural processes, the theories Piaget believed are that life begins with a small repertoire of simple sensory or motor schemas such as looking, tasting touching, hearing and reaching The sensorimotor stage went from birth to two years of age where the child’s intellectual development was largely non-verbal, but is trying to co-ordinate movements with information from the senses. The preoperational stage from two years to seven years is that the child is intuitive but unable to see other people’s views, the child’s ego is the center of its world. The concrete operational stage is from seven years to eleven years this is when the child masters the concept of conversation, time, space and number,(Coon pg. 100). The formal operations stage eleven years and up Thinking is based on more abstract principals,and hypothetical possibilities. The older the adolescent they are more capable of inductive and deductive reasoning. From these theories Piaget concluded that you need cognitive thinking to develop not Freuds motive force.

Maslow’s theories were developed to disprove that Freud and Eriksons theories were wrong by humans using motive force and somatic theories. Maslow

believing them to be negative , looked at another perspective theory to Freud , Erikson and Piaget. He was interested in the development of motives and needs, which he divided into two subsets, deficiency motives and being motives. Deficiency motives involve drives to maintain physical or emotional homeostasis, such as the drive to get enough to eat and drink, the sexual drive to obtain sufficient love or respect from others, (Bee pg. 34).

Maslow also believing humans to be independent and fundamentally motivated. To achieve maximum potential to grow and develop. capabilities. (Maslow 1970 pg. 401). Maslow (1968, 1970a,1970b, 1971), used the term self-actualization to describe this ultimate goal in life, (Bee pg. 33). Maslow extended his study to a population of college students. Selecting students who would fit his definition of self-actualizers, these students showed no signs of maladjustment and were making effective use of their talents.


The differences between psychoanalytical, cognitive thinking and humanistic behaviour are describing humans as individuals of a collection of hidden impulses that need to be expressed. Cognitive theorists see the human as a thinker, organizing and adapting experiences so they make sense. The Humanist theorist focus on what the person may become rather than where they are at the present time. From the theories discussed in this paper, it is clear that how complex human development is. No one theory successfully describes human growth and development in all of it complexity.

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