Comparing Contemporary Approaches

Developmental theories provide a set of guiding principles that describe, predict, and explain development. Some developmental theories focus on the formation of a particular quality, such as Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Other theories focus on growth that happens throughout the lifespan, such as Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. It would be natural to wonder which of the perspectives provides the most accurate account of human development, but clearly, each perspective is based on its specific premises and focuses on different aspects of development. Many developmentalists use an eclectic approach, drawing on several perspectives at the same time because the same developmental phenomenon can be looked at from several perspectives. In Table 3.10.1, we will review major contemporary approaches that you learned about in this chapter and compare their perspectives on some of the key issues in developmental psychology.

Table 3.10.1. Comparison of major contemporary approaches in development

Theory Major ideas Continuous or discontinuous development? One course of development or many? More influenced by nature or nurture? Major Theorist(s) 
Psychodynamic Approach Behavior is motivated by inner forces, memories, and conflicts, influenced by unconscious mind and early childhood experiences. Discontinuous; there are distinct stages of development One course; stages are universal for everyone Both; natural impulses &  early childhood/ sociocultural experiences Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson
Behavioral Approach Learning by the association of a response with a stimulus; a person comes to respond in a particular way through conditioning Continuous; learning is ongoing without distinct stages Many courses; learned behaviors vary by person Mostly nurture; behavior is conditioned Ivan Pavlov, John Watson, B.F. Skinner, Albert Bandura
Cognitive Approach People gradually acquire, construct, and use knowledge and information, influencing behavior and development. Both; stage theories like Piaget are discontinuous & information processing is continuous One course; stages are universal for everyone Both; natural maturation combined with experiences that grow skills Jean Piaget, Richard Atkinson, Richard Shiffrin
Humanistic Approach Individual’s inherent drive towards self-actualization & contend that people have a natural capacity to make decisions about their lives and control their own behavior. Continuous; development is ongoing and multidirectional depending on environmental circumstances Mostly one course; Maslow’s hierarchy is universally applied, but self-actualization is individualized Mostly nurture; development is influenced by environmental circumstances and social interactions Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow
Contextual or Sociocultural Approach Development occurs within a social context as part of a cultural system. Both, but mostly continuous as an individual learns and progresses Many courses; there are variations between individuals and cultures Both; development is influenced by biological preparation and social experiences Lev Vygotsky, Uri Brofenbrenner
Biological Approach Physiological functions, like the central nervous system and hormones, affect behavior and development. Continuous; constant changes to the body affect changes in development Both; there are universal milestones for growth, but variations due to environment Both; nature provides a foundation for development and nurture supports or inhibits changes
Evolutionary psychology Approach Identify behavior that is a result of our genetic inheritance from our ancestors. Continuous; current behaviors have been shaped over multiple generations based on successful survival and reproduction Both; behavioral genetics show similarities across the species, but our unique family history also plays a role in development Both; our genetic history and biological impulses interact with life experiences to produce individual development and development across the history and future of the species Charles Darwin, David Buss, Konrad Lorenz, Robert Sapolsky
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