Decoding Human Development: A Deep Dive into 3 Theories


There is no single theory that would explain the psychological and physical development of humans that all scholars would agree on. As a result, there is a plethora of theories that approach the topic from various aspects. Each perspective will have a significant impact on how various important events in the life of a person at a particular stage will be viewed. This paper will examine a hypothetical situation when two children, one aged 3-7, and the other aged 12-15, are going through a medical procedure. Three theories will be used for the purposes of this assignment: Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, and Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

The first theory that will be used is the one developed by Erik Erikson.  According to his classification, the first child aged 3-7 is likely to experience a stage where the major virtue is the purpose and psychosocial crisis focuses on initiative versus guilt (Jenkins, Buboltz, Schwartz & Johnson, 2005). The second child aged 12-15 will be at a different stage, where the major virtue is fidelity and the primary crisis is identity versus role confusion (Sokol, 2009). So, the first child will perceive going through a medical procedure as something that is connected to his or her perceived guilt and will seek the support of the family. Contrary to that, the second child will relate his or her medical condition with his or her identity and will seek the support of peers and, possibly, use a role model to cope with the crisis. This theory may be particularly useful since it sheds light on the nature of the crisis that the children face, outlines the source where they want to receive support from, and identified their main goal.

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The second theory that will be used to examine the situation in question is Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Once again, the two children will represent two different stages of development. The younger one will be experiencing preoperational stage. The latter is characterized by increased role of egocentrism and the inability to reason logically, at least not with the solid logic that considers long-lasting consequences (Piaget, 2000). Contrary to that, the older child will have already developed to the formal operational stage. At this stage, a child will be able to develop abstract concepts. So, the first child will be dissatisfied with the fact that the medical condition prevents one from enjoying life while the second child will focus on the possible root causes of it and whether what he or she is currently going helps one deal with it. This theory is quite useful since it shows the dramatic different between the perception of the situation: in the first case, it is seen as a something that is targeted against the child specifically, while in the second case it understood as an objective phenomenon. This will shape the approach of the practitioner accordingly.

The third theory is Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. The younger child will experience Punishment and Obedience stage. So, the key point to mention here is that the child will guide the value of an action based on whether it brings punishment or not (“KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT”, n.d.). On the other hand, the older child will experience the stage that focuses on interpersonal concordance. The major idea is that a child will act in a way that would facilitate acceptance. Therefore, the first child will try to do everything that would result in less punishment or minimization of pain/discomfort associated with the procedure. Contrary to that, the second child will be most focused on the reaction of other people, trying to take actions that would generate approval. For example, refrain from talking about the pain or discomfort, knowing that he or she will be praised for this kind of behavior. The theory in question is rather effective in explaining how the two children may decisions about their behavior under those conditions. As a result, a practitioner will be able to understand their motives.

After the perspectives of all theories mentioned above were presented, it becomes obvious that the one developed by Erik Erikson may be the most helpful. There are several reasons to that. First of all, it provides a broad perspective on the issues, showing how a child understand the situation in question by focuses on the major conflict that one is currently experiencing. Secondly, it names the major virtue that is thought to be guiding the development of a child at a particular stage. Finally, this theory also states the source where the child is expecting to receive support from. This is extremely useful to a practitioner.

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  1. Jenkins, S. M., Buboltz, W. C., Schwartz, J. P., & Johnson, P. (2005). Differentiation of self and psychosocial development. Contemporary Family Therapy, 27(2), 251-261.
  2. KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from %20Development.htm
  3. Piaget, J. (2000). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Childhood cognitive development: The essential readings, 33-47.
  4. Sokol, J. T. (2009). Identity development throughout the lifetime: An examination of Eriksonian theory. Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1(2), 14-12
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