Human development is understood only in the light of a thorough knowledge and understanding of the complete makeup of man. However, the accumulation of bases and proofs for the evidences in this understanding would not be possible without utilizing scientific methods – in their distinct capacities and limitations – that helped cement psychology’s place in the realm of scientific knowledge. Only when psychology employed scientific methods did it come to be a force to reckon with among many of the pure and applied sciences (Bootzin, 1991).
To start with, this paper follows a logical sequence in exploring the major themes proposed at the outset; i. e. the emergence of the study of human development, the major research methodologies in the discipline and their individual distinctiveness, and the discussion of theories of child development according to Freud, Erikson, Piaget and Vygotsky. There are various general principles in the study of growth and development. To help elucidate the readers in the concepts involved in this paper, the following terminologies are operationally defined.
Other important concepts and principles shall be tackled within their respective discussions. A. Definition of terms Child Psychology – the scientific study of human behavior from its post-natal beginnings up to early adolescence (Microsoft Encarta, 2006). Discipline – in education in general, refers to activity or subject: a subject or field of activity, e. g. an academic subject (Microsoft Encarta, 2006). Development – progressive changes resulting from maturation and experience (Gaerlan et al, 2000).
Developmental psychology – the branch of psychology that deals with the ways that personality, cognitive ability, and behavior change during somebody’s life span, with particular concentration on childhood development (Microsoft Encarta, 2006). Research (Paper) – organized study: methodical investigation into a subject in order to discover facts, to establish or revise a theory, or to develop a plan of action based on the facts discovered (Microsoft Encarta, 2006).
Theory (ies) – a statement of the relations believed to prevail in a comprehensive body of facts; a general principle tentatively accepted (Gaerlan et al, 2000). The following statements of the problem best capture this paper’s arrangement. Of all mammals, human beings are the most immature at birth, requiring the longest period of learning, development, and interaction with others before they are self-sufficient. In general, the more complex the organism’s nervous system is, the longer the time required to reach maturity. In relation to human development, it was not until the 7th A.
D. century that a woman’s contribution to fertilization was recognized. During that era de Graaf, a Dutch physician, suggested that the woman supplied the egg. A few years later, a Dutch spectacle maker, van Leeuwenhoek, reported that “little animals,” or what are now known as sperm cells, were found in the male semen. These, he contended were the male contribution to the new human being (Atkinson, 1993). The founder of modern psychology is usually thought to be Wilhelm Wundt, a German who established the first laboratory of experimental psychology in 1879.
Other historical personalities are more known in what are called the different Schools of thoughts in psychology. Psychology was born in the late 1880s as the science of consciousness. Many psychologists still study consciousness or experience, although more scientifically than earlier psychologists (Atkinson, 1993). Psychology is a relatively young science. People from the earlier periods of history attempted to find the reasons why men behaved the way they did. In the nineteenth century, two theories of the mind competed for support.
One known as faculty psychology was a doctrine of inherited powers. However, the association psychologists held an opposing view: they denied inborn faculties of the mind; instead they limited the mind’s content to ideas that enter by way of senses and then become associated through such principles as similarity, contrast, and contiguity. They explained all mental activity through the association of ideas – a concept principally developed by British philosophers. Today, both faculty and association psychology have modern day counterparts (Atkinson, 1993).
With the advent of scientific methodologies in the 19th century, psychology began to achieve the status of an independent science. From the contributions of Stanley Hall, Cattell and EB Titchener, and others like Skinner, Freud, and Piaget, a number of psychological schools or systems of theories were developed, and opposing viewpoints on the nature and function of psychology continued among psychologists. After 1950, however, there was trend towards a merging of the different viewpoints with a tendency towards eclectism among the psychologists (Atkinson, 1993).
Development does not end once a person reaches physical maturity, but continues throughout life. Developmental psychologists seek to describe and analyze the regularities of human development across the entire life span. It focuses primarily on those aspects of development that make one person similar to another as a species (Atkinson, 1993). Four theories of human development shall be taken into consideration and they are Freud’s Psychosexual stages, Erikson’s Psychosocial stages, Piaget’s Cognitive stages, and Vygotsky’s Sociocultural stages.
A. Psychosexual Stages by Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud (1940-1961) hypothesized that each individual goes through five psychosexual stages. The psychosexual stages are five different developmental periods – oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages – during which the individual seeks pleasure from different areas of the body associated with sexual feelings. Freud emphasized that the child’s first five years are most important to social and personality development.
Freud pointed out that satisfying one of the child’s needs becomes a source of potential conflict between the child, who wants immediate gratification, and the parent, who places restrictions on when, where, and how the child’s needs should be satisfied. Freud’s psychosexual stages are part of his larger psychoanalytic theory in personality. Thus according to him, a child will encounter different kinds of problems in infancy and childhood, which will shape his social and personality development (Atkinson, 1993). B. Psychosocial Stages by Erik Erikson
In addition, according to Erik Erikson, a child will encounter different kinds of problems in infancy and childhood, which will shape one’s social and personality development. A child according to Erikson will encounter a particular psychosocial problem at each stage. If he successfully solves the problem, he will develop a good social trait that will help him solve the next problem. If he is unsuccessful, he will develop a bad social trait that will hinder his or her solving new problems at the next stage. These stages, according to Erikson, are concepts that succinctly capture the distinctiveness of each particular stage (Atkinson, 1993).
Erikson labels his stages accordingly as Trust versus mistrust, Autonomy versus Shame and doubt, Initiative versus guilt, Industry versus inferiority, Identity versus role confusion, Intimacy versus Isolation, Generativity versus stagnation, and Integrity versus despair (Atkinson, 1993). C. Cognitive Stages by Jean Piaget Piaget’s theory of cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains an understanding of his or her world through the interaction and influence of genetic and learning factors.
Jean Piaget, who was both a biologist and psychologist, developed one of the most influential theories of cognitive development. Piaget’s work led to the current view that children are actively involved in their own cognitive development. By active involvement, Piaget meant that children are constantly striving to understand what they encounter, and in such encounters they form their own guesses or hypotheses about how the world works (Atkinson, 1993).
Piaget’s cognitive stages refer to four different stages – sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages – each of which is more advanced than the preceding stage because it involves new reasoning and thinking abilities. Although Piaget believed that all people go through the same four cognitive stages, he acknowledged that they may go through the stages at different rates. Piaget’s hypothesis that cognitive development occurs in stages was one of his unique contributions to developmental psychology (Atkinson, 1993). D. Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory
Vygotsky’s theory is more known by his concept of zone of proximal development. Whereas the three preceding viewpoints focus at the unique facet of an individual’s growth and development, i. e. Freud, mainly on the psychosexual aspect, Erikson, on the psychosocial one, and Piaget, on the cognitive feature on the other hand; Vygotsky had made his mark on the study of human development by looking into how children assimilate the traditions, customs and mores of society and blend these with their interpretation and way of thinking, public or communal dealings and /or interfaces, and insights or degree of awareness in themselves (Thomson, 2005).
According to Ross Thomson on Child Development, Vygotsky’s “Sociocultural theory . . . explains why children growing up in different societies are likely to have significantly different skills. ” (Thomson, 2005). Vygotsky believes differently from other developmental psychologists mainly in the sense that he is not persuaded that children go through stages as others do. Children achieve certain skills and abilities because of the accrued values basically coming from their surroundings; these are from the influences and guidance of adults and others around them or those that comprise their immediate environment.
According to Vygotsky, adults who guide and function as teacher or tutor to these children enable the latter to reach what he termed as zone of proximal development in which a child has abilities or skills that make him/her adept at many human activities although with adult assistance. The chief criticism on the theory however, lies on its disregard of the impact of genetic or organic maturation directing the development and growth of the child separate from the cultural and environmental influences (Thomson, 2005).