Why the first 7 years matter
Theories of development provide a framework for thinking about human growth and learning. But why do we study development? What can we learn from these psychological theories? If you have ever wondered about what motivates human thought and behaviour, understanding these theories can provide useful insight into individuals and society.
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Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (1935) explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world. He disagreed with the idea that intelligence was a fixed trait, and regarded cognitive development as a process which occurs due to biological maturation and interaction with the environment.
Jean Piaget’s take on learning, viewed as a modification in the state of knowledge, coherently integrates itself in the group of piagetian research on the subject of intelligence development.
The work of Lev Vygotsky (1934) has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development over the past several decades, particularly of what has become known as Social Development Theory.
Vygotsky’s theories stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning.”
Erikson was a stage theorist who took Freud’s controversial theory of psychosexual development and modified it as a psychosocial theory, as he rejected the central importance of the sexual drive in favour of the progressive emergence of identity. Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order, and builds upon each previous stage. This is called the epigenetic principle.
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The American psychologist Jerome S. Bruner, strongly influenced by the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygostky, further developed and applied his ideas in the field of education. Bruner declared that Vygotsky has convinced him about the impossibility of understanding the concept of human development in any other way than as a process of assistance, of collaboration between child and adult, where the adult is taking up the role of a sociocultural mediator. Due to its distinct features, we consider the theory to be a sociocultural constructivist one.
During the 1970′, at Geneva, a new perspective on cognitive development has begun to emerge. The self-defined school of socio-genetical psychology advanced theories that represented a challenge addressed to the spirit of genetical epistemology.
Willem Doise, Gabriel Mugny and Jean Claude Deschamp, to name but a few of the representatives, declare that social interactions constitute the privileged setting which gives birth to the intellectual acquisitions of the child. There is a direct cause and effect link between social interaction and individual cognitive development.
Sigmund Freud is regarded as the father of psychodynamic theories, the founder of psychoanalysis and the creator of psychosexual stages theory of human development.
Regardless of the acceptance or disapproval of his ideas about human development, his influence over psychology was enormous. During a puritan era he managed to construct a theory of unconscious motivation, of human sexuality and instinctual aggression.