Psychology as a science is made up of different branches that specialize in different areas of the human mind, including developmental psychology . This psychological branch tries to explain the development of the human mind over time; studies its changes, similarities, constants and variations that affect the behavior of an individual.
Making broad statements about developmental psychology can be difficult, since it is made up of several disciplines that focus on the same goal. These disciplines, however, are often quite diverse and can appear quite different from each other in all respects except their shared purpose.
History of developmental psychology
Developmental psychology as a discipline emerged shortly after the emergence of experimental psychology in the late 19th century. His antecedents were different from those that led to the founding of experimental psychology. In its early days, developmental psychology was primarily concerned with the development of children and adolescents, but later, adult development and aging began to acquire greater relevance for this discipline.
Developmental psychology began as a correlational science, focusing on observation, but not experimentation, therefore it differed from traditional experimental psychology.
From a philosophical point of view , the philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were considered the starting point for later Western discussions of human development. Locke, the father of modern learning theory, regarded the child as a blank slate which would be written on the basis of experience; while Rousseau, defended a vision that emphasized in the natural development of the child based on an innate plane. This second author was one of the first to argue that human development was distributed in stages.
After Charles Darwin postulated his theory of evolution in 1859, Western developmental psychologists, both European and American, began to see human development differently. Furthermore, Darwin’s emphasis on individual differences and adaptation became extremely important elements of developmental psychology.
Among the contextual forces that contributed to the rise of developmental psychology, the child study movement was the most important. This movement, led by G. Stanley Hall, took place at the end of the 19th century. It focused on the well-being of children and collaborated to achieve the approval of laws that regulated child labor and compulsory education.
Hall linked modern psychology with the child study movement, in order to achieve a scientific understanding of the child. This approach appealed to many groups and disciplines, particularly educators.
The father of education John Dewey also wrote about psychological development. In contrast to many of his American contemporaries, his theory had a contextual emphasis that has sometimes been compared to that of Vygotsky – a Russian educator and psychologist, creator of the sociocultural theory of cognitive development.
In 1930 psychoanalytic approaches began to take over in general academic psychology, and their influence profoundly impacted developmental psychology. After the theory of psychosexual development proposed by Freud, Erik Erikson postulated his theory of psychosocial development in 1959; which, although it was one of the most widespread and accepted theories of developmental psychology, did not have as much impact as the theory proposed by the father of psychoanalysis did .
It was the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget who argued that children learn and create their knowledge through experience. His theory became the centerpiece of American developmental psychology, reaching its greatest role in the 1970s. The theory of cognitive development was not only essential for most psychologists, it was also an essential tool for all educators.
Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development
Freud affirmed in his writings that human development was divided into a series of stages linked to sexuality, which he called psychosexual phases. For him, sexual energy (libido) was the basis of all behavior; All tension, pain or conflict that an individual presented was due to the repression of the libido, on the contrary, all pleasant feelings were linked to their discharge.
The father of psychoanalysis referred to five phases that make up psychosexual development: oral, anal, phallic, latency period, and puberty. Each of these phases occurs at a certain moment in life; but if a phase is not satisfactorily overcome and some conflicts are not resolved in their determined phase, what Freud called “fixation” will occur. This mechanism is in charge of determining which unresolved phase it will return to -through the regression mechanism- and, until the conflict that caused the fixation is not resolved, the subject will remain stagnant in that phase.
Phases of psychosexual development
The theory of psychosexual development is composed of five stages, which are divided into three phases and two periods.
Oral phase: this occurs from birth to 18 months of age. The baby begins to know the world through his senses, but during this period the source of libido discharge occurs through the mouth. The sucking reflex that takes place in this phase is essential for survival, as it is what allows the baby to feed and discover its surroundings through the sense of taste.
Anal phase: ranges from 18 to 36 months of age. This phase focuses on toilet training. It is the time when toilet training occurs and the child begins to put off diapers. If this stage occurs satisfactorily, without conflicts in between, the child will be able to control his sphincters and will go on to the next stage without any fixation; on the contrary, if some traumatic event or conflict interferes in this stage, the child will create a fixation, and in later stages a regression towards this phase may appear.
Phallic phase: occurs from 3 to 6 years. During this stage the child begins to form his personality and is dominated by the I of the personality , causing the Id – part of the personality that is present from birth – to release its energy in a controlled way. In this phase the focus of libido is the genitals.
Latency period: occurs from 6 to 12 years. In this period the personality is strengthened and the sexual energy is not focused on any erogenous zone, therefore, in this period no fixation is generated.
Puberty: begins at 12 years of age and ends at approximately 18. It is the first phase of adolescence, the passage from childhood to adulthood and the beginning of genital sexuality. In this period, the libido returns to focus its energy on the genitals, but unlike the previous phases, it now focuses on finding sexual pleasure.
Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development
Years after the First World War, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was teaching at a school in Paris. There, he became involved in scoring some of the earliest intelligence tests performed on children, noting that these tended to provide similar reasoning for his wrong answers. Intrigued by this, Piaget returned to Switzerland and studied intellectual development in children.
Piaget was one of the most prominent figures in developmental psychology. He is credited with being the first to elaborate a theory of the stages of cognitive development and the first to argue that all humans develop through a similar path, progressing through defined stages. For the author, each stage presents particular characteristics and psychosocial objectives that must be met in order to advance to the next stage.
Practically all human beings are born with the same possibilities – except for those who suffer from congenital conditions – but it is the particular situations of each individual that end up conditioning their cognitive development.
According to Piaget, children learn by building knowledge through experience. For this, children are born with a basic mental structure, which provides the basis for future learning and knowledge. As new experiences occur and new information is presented, new patterns are developed, old patterns being changed or modified.
Piaget’s ideas about schematics were fueled by his extensive training in biology. He considered the schemes as mental organizations capable of controlling behavior and adaptation to the environment. As it grows and matures, the schemes become more complex.
Thanks to the process of cognitive development , the child develops knowledge and intelligence, which helps him to reason and think independently. For the father of genetic epistemology, cognitive development was seen as a progressive reorganization of mental processes. This reorganization is formed according to biological maturation and environmental experience.
Stages of Piaget’s evolutionary development
Sensory motor period: It covers from birth to 24 months of age. In this stage the baby begins to know the world around him through the senses and movement, and intentional behavior begins to develop.
Pre-operative period: this takes place from 24 months and ends around 7 years. During this period the child develops his capacity for representational thinking, using symbols with which he tries to represent the reality of his environment. Around the age of 4, he begins to handle numerical concepts and increases his capacity for both linguistic and representative expression.
Specific operative period: occurs from 7 to 12 years, during the school period. At this stage the child begins to use mental operations and logical thinking to reason.
Formal operative period: occurs from 12 years onwards. On the way to adolescence, the pre-adolescent begins to organize mental operations into a more complex system of logic, and abstract thinking begins to function.
Sociocultural theory of Lev Vygotsky
Lev Vygotsky was another great researcher who made great contributions to developmental psychology. He believed that cognitive development was influenced by the environment and that adults had the responsibility to intervene, share knowledge and help the development of children. However, rather than a directly didactic approach, it favored adults only intervening in development during critical stages known as zones of proximal development – when the child approaches progression from one stage of development to the next.
Unlike Piaget, who relied on individual development, Vygotsky asserted that the prevailing culture into which an individual is born has a profound effect on the individual’s values and therefore on his development. Likewise, he continued affirming that culture itself has the responsibility to play in personal development.
Culture is the main determining factor for the construction of knowledge . The child learns through a cultural lens, interacting with others, following rules, and developing skills shaped by culture.
According to Vygotsky, through social activities the child learns to incorporate symbols or cultural tools of expression such as: language, writing, counting, drawing, etc. According to this author, the child is born with mental abilities such as perception, memory and attention; but thanks to the interaction with the environment – peer partners and adults – these abilities are transformed into higher mental functions.
The author of the sociocultural theory of cognitive development proposed two types of mental functions: lower and higher.
The lower mental functions are those innate, which are present from the moment of birth, such as: memory, attention and perception. After the information that has been previously received, processed and stored by the lower mental functions, it is used, combined, reformatted and manipulated through higher order cognitive processes.
Higher mental functions are those that are acquired and developed through social interaction. These functions are culturally influenced and mediated. They involve reasoning, decision making, problem solving, and logical thinking, as well as academic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.
Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.