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This essay is going to explore three main psychological developmental theories focusing on their main concepts, their similarities and their points of divergence. The essay will also show the relationship between the cognitive, physical and the emotional development in ensuring that the person is whole. This essay is based on the fact that human behavior and particularly, the growth processes are a complex and multi-faceted process that will not be comprehended by viewing it from a single theoretical perspective. Thus the essay is going to seek to holistically understand the growth processes of children and adolescents and by doing this determine how they can be aided to be better and well adjusted adults in the future.

The Psychoanalytic Theory

The psychoanalytic theory was founded by Sigmund Freud in the year 1890. While working as a neurologist Freud discovered that some of his patients had pathologies that were not physiological in origin. He then got into study and came up with the findings that some of the patients illnesses were primarily caused unconscious motivations. The original Psychoanalysis theory founded by Freud has however undergone extensive refinement by many of his followers but it is Erik Erikson's work on Psychosocial stages of development that have been most prominent.

He found that all human beings have thoughts and emotions that are in conflict and are not compatible with each other. The unfavorable emotions are repressed into the unconscious but they still manage to affect the person's day to day activities. Freud thus believed that in order to cure pathologies that were psychological in nature it was important to uncover the repressed memories and deal with them in the presence. According to Patterson (2004), these repressed memories originated to as far as unfavorable events that may have occurred in a person's early childhood. Thus basing on this knowledge Freud came up with the concept of Psychic Determinism. This states that everything that a person does has a specific origin and disputes the idea that some things just happen for no particular reason or are merely accidents.

The theory is of the view that it is not an accident when you call people by names that are not theirs or have slips of the tongue. Patterson (2004), views that these simple acts represent the subconscious mental or emotional conflicts and to resolve them one needs to unearth the very root of the conflict. According to Freud the defense mechanism are the tools that the human mind utilizes in its effort to repress some painful experiences in order to protect itself. Freud states that some experiences are too painful to be experienced in the conscious thus making it necessary for there to be defense mechanisms. But even then the repressed events and material have effects on the person's behavior and are best unearthed and experienced in the present. Therefore in psychoanalysis the early childhood experiences are very important in determining a person's behavior and their level of adjustment later in life.

Another important concept of the psychoanalytic theory is the tenet of Stages of Personality Development. According to Sigmund Freud every human being goes through five psychosexual stages of development. The first one is the oral stage which starts from birth to about 18 months at which level the child derives pleasure by stimulation of the mouth which is the child's erogenous zone. This is achieved by suckling and putting fingers and other objects in the mouth. The second stage is the anal stage which is between 18 months and three years and the erogenous zone is the anal area and child finds pleasure managing to go to the bathroom. The third stage is called the phallic stage and it occurs between three and six years and the primary activity here is the development of specific gender and sexual roles. Boys go through the Oedipus complex whereby they experience sexual attraction towards their mothers and girls go through Electra complex which has them being sexually attracted to their fathers.

In this stage also boys experience Castration anxiety where a boy is scared that his father might castrate him should he find about the feelings he has toward his mother. The girl on the other hand experiences Penis Envy after realizing that unlike her brothers or father she does not have a penis. In the fourth stage, which is the Latency stage lasting between six and twelve years, there is no sexual component instead the person is learning other non-sexual skills in life specifically crating relationships with persons of the same gender. The fifth and last stage is called genital stage and as the name suggest the erogenous zone here is the genitals. This stage that start from twelve years all through adulthood has the teenagers having sexual attraction towards persons of the opposite sex. In this stage the person's sexual organs are fully developed and the endeavor is to form successful intimate relationships with partners of opposite sex.

According to Freudian psychoanalysis, sexuality and sexual instincts development is inherent in determining the development of the whole person that is why the stages of development have an enduring sexual component.  However Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages are more practical and have a social component as opposed to Freud's sexual one. The stages which are also eight in number stretch from birth to old age and not adolescence as is the case is Sigmund Freud's version. According to the theories the successful passage of these stages is essential in development of the child into a mature person. If a child is not able to successfully pass through any of these stages he or she will get fixated and will have problems navigating the stages that follow.

Another major concept of Psychoanalysis theory is that of the three components of the personality. The first one is the Id which is present at birth and is irrational in nature. The Id is pleasure seeking at all cost and it demands instant satisfaction. The second component is the Ego and it is the practical part of the personality. It helps the person to make important choices and decisions in life. The Ego acts as mediator and a balance of the demands of the Id and those of the third component called the Superego. The Superego is the moral component of one's personality. It is irrational in nature and seeks to maintain moral perfection. The behavior of a person is therefore is determined by the level of development of these components as well as their relationship with each other. A person with an Id that is stronger than the other components will have likelihood to seek pleasure in maladjusted like addictive habits and other self destructive ways. A person with a strong superego on the other hand will tend to be overly strict and they could end up as perfectionist.

The Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory was developed by the psychologist Albert Bandura in the year 1977. It focuses on the patterns of behavior the individual learns while relating with the environment. The emphasis is on reciprocal interaction between behavior and environment. Humans are neither driven entirely by internal forces nor are they passive reactors to external stimulation. The type of behavior people exhibit partly determines the reward or punishment they receive and then in turn influences his or her behavior.

Patterns of behavior can be acquired through direct experiences or by observing the behavior of others. Some responses may be successful while others may produce unfavorable responses. Through this process of differential reinforcement the person eventually selects the successful behavior and discards the others.

Social Learning Theory departs from strict behaviorism position by stressing the importance of cognitive processes. Humans can think and represent situations symbolically thus they can foresee the probable consequences of their actions and alter their behaviors accordingly. Action is by large extent governed by anticipated consequence.

Social Learning Theory also stresses the importance of vicarious learning or learning by observation. The theory posits that many patterns of behavior are learned by watching the behavior of others and observing its consequences for them. Emotions can also be learned vicariously by watching the emotional responses of others as they undergo pleasant and unpleasant experiences. For example a boy who watches siblings painful expression on a dentist's chair will most likely express fear on his first dental appointment.

The theory also emphasizes the importance of self-regulatory processes. A specific behavior produces an external outcome as well as a self evaluative reaction. People set their own standards of conduct or performance and respond to their behavior in self-satisfied or self-critical ways depending on how the behavior relate to their standards. Self reproach is an important influence in motivating people to adhere to social standards of conduct in the face of opposing factors. For instance a person may be tempted to engage in a socially unacceptable activity like drug peddling. Chances of getting caught are slim and the financial gain is substantial but the anticipation of personal feelings of guilt and self contempt prevent the individual from doing so.

The cognitive theories

The Cognitive theories try to understand human nature by understanding their thought processes. The main assumption of these theories is that human beings are not passive reactors to the environment but instead they engage in thought processes which then inform their actions. The main tenet of the cognitive theory is that people rational beings and that the choices they make are the ones that make most sense to them. The theories therefore differ from behaviorist in the sense that the human being is not merely a subject of causes and effects instead he actively makes choices and decisions after considering all the factors availed to him by the environment and other sources. However the latest trend has been towards the merging of The Behavioral and the Cognitive theory to form the cognitive behavioral theory and the main proponents of this school of thought are the psychologists Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck among other. Ellis, who is the founder of the Ration Emotive Behavioral Therapy states that human beings are not affected merely by events taking place in the environment but what really affects them is their beliefs and the meaning of the events to them. It is therefore true that people perceive different events in different and unique ways.

The most prolific of the cognitive theorists however was Jean Piaget who proposed that cognitive development takes place in four specific stages that are applicable to all the children. Piaget's cognitive theory is of the view that knowledge and cognition are described in terms of symbols that he called schemas and as the person develops new schemes develop which are connected with existing ones to form concrete cognitive structures.

Development according to Piaget takes place as children interact their social and physical surrounding. There are two processes through which all human being interact with their environment. The first one is accommodation where by a person either alters a schema that is already in place or creates a new schema to accommodate a new occurrence or experience. The second one is called assimilation and this is where a person interacts with a new experience in a way that is compatible with the scheme already in place. Santrock (2008) thus states that development occurs when children are met with new events that sometimes not consistent with any of the existing scheme whereby they engage in mental reorganization and get to understand what was previously not understood.

The main concept of Piaget's theory of cognitive development is the four stage of development. The first is the Sensorimotor Stage which is starts at the child's birth up about two years of age. In this stage the child are only aware of the things that are in their immediate presence. This means that if a person gets out of the sight of the child then the person ceases to exist. The second stage is the Preoperational stage which lasts from two years to around seven years and the main event here is language development. At this stage children form more schemes which make it possible for them to   describe people and events. Though able to think logically their capacity is much lower than that of an adult. The concrete operational stage which is the third stage starts from the age of seven up to about twelve years of age. In this stage children are more developed logically as compared to the previous stage but even then they can only apply their logical thinking in things that are concrete and observable. In the four stage called formal operational stretching from twelve years all through adulthood, children think in abstract and hypothetical ways and unlike earlier stages thinking in this stages is not limited to the observable phenomena.


Both the cognitive theory and the Social Learning theory concur that a person does not passively respond to stimulus from the environment as suggested by the behaviorist theories but instead they take an active role by engaging in thinking and making choices that make the most sense to them.

Both the psychoanalytic theory and Piaget's Cognitive Development theory hold that the development of a child takes specific stages that are universal in all people despite their cultures or orientation. The Psychoanalytic theory has Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stages of development and Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development while the Cognitive theory has Piaget's stages of cognitive development.

The three theories are in agreement on the role of the mind in determining behavior. According to the Psychoanalytic theory the three components of the mind that is the Id, Ego, and The Superego interact to determine a person's behavior while in the Cognitive and The Social Learning Theory a person actively engages in thought and that way evaluates the events in his or her environment and then makes an informed choice.


The psychoanalytic theory is insistent that the repressed memories in early childhood will affect a person's behavior and adjustment later in life. The Cognitive theory and The Social learning however disagree with this notion and the two theories are of the view that behavior is learnt as a person interacts with his or her social environment and their mental processes.

The concept of Vicarious learning or learning through observation in The Social Learning theory also draws it apart from the other two theories. The Social Learning Theory is of the view that a person can learn or adopt a behavior by watching other people or by watching their reaction towards a stimulus. This differs with the other two theories which hold the view that a child's learning follows particular systematic stages.

Whereas Freudian Psychoanalysis holds that that Psychic powers and sexual instincts are a major determinant of a person's behavior both in childhood and adulthood, in The Social Learning Theory and The Cognitive Theory a person's behavior and development take place due to the person's mental processes ad their interaction with the environment.

The Importance of understanding the development of children and adolescents

Due to the complexity involved in a person's growth and development it is inherent that parents and teachers and other care givers take time to understand the development processes from a holistic point of view. Understanding the development of a normal child and adult help the teachers, parents and guardians to evaluate the development of the children under them and determine the developmental areas that may need special attention in order to aid a child to achieve their potential. Understanding the stages of development also helps the teachers and care givers to identify children who have special needs and cater to them and help them catch up with others or refer them to special facilities where their potential will be better realized.

Understanding specific aspects of growth like the Psychosocial and the Psychosexual stages of growth proposed by Erikson and Freud respectively helps the parents to focus on the age specific needs of the children and even the adolescents under them so as to ensure they progress through the stages smoothly because a fixation in one stage would affect all the other stages that follow and hinder the person from achieving their potential later in life.

Cognitive, Physical, and Emotional development

Physical development involves the maturation of various body organs over the course of time. It also includes neurological development and development of the person's motor abilities. Cognitive development on the other hand is concerned with a person's ability to reason better over time. It is reflected in a child's speech, memory and ability to pick up skills taught to him or her by parents, teachers and other caregivers. Emotional development has to do with the child's feelings toward events and people in his or her environment and his or her ability to form social relationships.

Whereas the three areas of development mentioned above are distinctive from each other, they also correlate with each other and lack of one of the three will affect the others in a major way. The physical development of the brain for example will enhance the person's cognitive development and enable him or her to relate with the social environment better thus improving his or her emotional development. Another correlation is the physical growth of a person's body size and the effect it may have on the person's confidence thus affecting his relations with his or her peer and this may in turn hinder or enhance their concentration directly impacting on their uptake of new information and eventually affect their cognitive development. Ormrod (2004), states that a school going boy's body size as compared to his peers affects his self confidence whereby if he is smaller he will tend to withdraw and if he is bigger than the rest or at level he will feel more confident in his relationship with the rest.


This essay sought to holistically understand the growth processes of children and adolescents and by doing this determine how they can be aided to be better and well adjusted adults in the future. To do this the essay has explored three major psychological developmental theories namely Psychoanalytic, Cognitive and The Social Learning Theory. The essay touched on the main concepts of the theories, their similarities and their differences. In addition to this the essay discussed how the three aspect of development, that is physical, cognitive and emotional, relate with each other. Lastly the essay explained the importance of understanding the development of a normal child and an adult.

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