Development refers to growth, adaptation, and change that occur over the course of a lifetime. Through the process of development, we have all changed significantly in many different ways. Changes in one’s physical make-up (physical development) may be the most apparent form of development. People also develop in their ability to form and use language (language development) interact with other (social development) and process information and make meaning from experiences (cognitive development). Different theories have been evolved by psychologists which will identify the significance of each development.

Meaning of the term theory

A theory is a statement or a set of statements that try to explain a given phenomenon based on scientific evidence. A theory may be true in a number of situations but there is no evidence to prove that it is always true. Theories are the result of extensive research and their purpose is to guide further research. In other words, a researcher may base his own research on a theory developed by a previous researcher to prove or disapprove the previous findings.

Sub-topic: Cognitive theory according to Jean Piaget

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget is well known for this theory which describes how humans gather and organize information and how this process changes developmentally.

Basic Cognitive Concepts 

Piaget identified four concepts, which he used to explain how and why cognitive development occurs. These include schema, assimilation, accommodation and equilibration.

(1) Schema:

Piaget used the term schema to refer to the cognitive structures by which individuals intellectually adapt to and organize their environment. Piaget suggested that the mind has mental structures or schemata, just as the body has physical structures. Piaget suggested that when an organism encounters stimulation or a new experience, and relies on its structures to assist in that adaptation. Thus, just as the human body is “organized’ into various structures such as the stomach, kidneys etc., which assist in ongoing adaptation, so too does the mind have structures or ways of organized experiences, which facilitate adaptation to the experiences.

(2) Assimilation:

This is a process of integrating new perceptual, motor or conceptual material or experiences into existing schemata. Assimilation refers to connecting new material to existing knowledge. For example, a child may watch a nature film and thus discover new animals to add to existing groups of animals she or he has already stored in memory.

(3) Accommodation:

This refers to the process of creating a new schema.  When the process of assimilation is not possible because there are no schemata into which to fit new data or the characteristics of an existing schema, a new schema will have to be developed in order to adopt to these new and unique experience.


Equilibrium is a state of balance between assimilation and accommodation. Piaget believed that one of  the most effective methods for motivating a child was to set up a state of  cognitive disequilibrium in which the child is thrown into “cognitive conflict” when he expects something to happen in a certain way and it does not.

Piaget’s Stages to Cognitive Development

According to Piaget, cognitive development occurs as the child passes through four dissimilar and qualitatively different stages: the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operation and formal operational stages.

1. The Sensorimotor Period

Piaget’s first stage of intellectual development, in which the child moves from the reflective activities of reaching, grasping and sucking to more highly organized forms of activity. The infant begins to understand that there is a difference between him/herself and the rest of the world and that the sensory experiences received are in fact suggestive of the existence to some form of “objects” or “events” that exist outside of themselves.

This development of object permanence expands the infant’s view of the world beyond that which is immediately and directly experienced. Thus, the infant may begin to search for objects that are out of sight. During the period, the infant develops object permanence, the realization that objects exist even if they are out of sight.

Another milestone of the sensory-motor period is the development of the beginnings of problem-solving ability. While at first this is based largely on trial and error, by the end of the period, approaches to problem solving are planned.

2. The Pre-operational period 

The stage is Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, in which the lack of rational operations forces children to make decisions based on their perceptions. The major development during the pre-operational period is the ability to represent object and events or to use symbolic functions. Between the ages of two and seven, the mental abilities come to develop fully as advances in language development and imagination enable the child to think and play in new ways. In addition to symbolic functions the pre-operational period is characterized by several unique features.


That is, children cannot put themselves in someone else’s perspective. E.g a four year old who can label own right hand and left hand, but cannot identify the right and left hands of a friend. By age six, children exhibit, less egocentrism than at age three.


Another characteristic of pre-operational thought is centration or concentration as only one aspect of an object or activity, usually the aspect that is perceptually dominant. For instance, a child of four or five is presented with two rows of objects in which one row contains nine objects and a second but longer row, contain seven objects. The preoperational child will typically select the longer row as having more objects even though the child knows that nine is more than seven.

3. Inability to reverse operation 

A third feature of pre-operational thought is inability to reverse one’s thinking. Understanding subtraction is a prime example of this feature. Pre-schoolers may have learned that 1+1=2 but cannot comprehend that 2-1=1 or ponder the case of the preoperational child who is presented with two identical glasses, both short and fat in shape. Then water from one of the glasses is poured into a tall thin glass. The child is then asked if the glasses contain the same amount of water. In order to answer correctly, the child would have to be mentally able to reverse the operation of pouring the water from the original short, fat glass into the tall this one. But pre-operational children typically respond that the tall, thin glass contain more water.

The later illustration shown that pre-operational children are not yet ready to engage in conservation or to conceptualize that the quantity or amount of matter stays the same despite changes in an irrelevant dimension.

4. Animism 

A fourth feature of the pre-operational child is animism. An animistic thinker attributed human characteristics to inanimate objects. For instance, consider that preoperational child who is asked the question where do boats go at night”? and responds “to bed” or ponder the drawings of a  pre-operational child, which feature a face drawn on a sun or a moon. Piaget believed that this tendency decreased by age six or seven as the child became more cognizant of his or her own personality.

5. Transductive reasoning 

Finally, the pre-operational child exhibits fifth characteristics known as transductive reasoning. That is, he or she reasons neither deductively nor inductively. Deduction is reasoning from general to specific. If we acknowledge that all men are mortal and Socrates was a man, then Socrates has to be mortal. Inductive reasoning in contrast involves establishing generalization from specific instances. However, according to Piaget, the thinking of pre-operational children is somewhere in between moving from particular without touching on the general.

The Concrete operational Period 

In contrast to pre-operation, the child in concrete operation now engages in logical thought to solve concrete problems. At this stage of development a child’s logic is directed by cognitive activity rather than dominated by immediate experience, as was the case both pre-operational thought.


A child in the concrete operational stage is  able to not only imagine things independent of their immediate experience, but now is capable of using all of the perceptual features of an experience (decenter) in order to derive logical solutions to concrete problems.


Piaget proposed that the most important of these was reversibility. A concrete operational child understands that a model of an airplane, which had formerly been a ball of clay, can be changed back into a ball of clay.


The fact that the child in the concrete operational stage of development is able to decenter and to reverse operational facilities the ability to develop conservation skills. A child is able to solve conservation of number problems around the age six, area and mass problem around seven or eight, and volume problem by eleven or twelve.


Other significant changes in problem-solving ability can be seen in the concrete operational child’s ability to engage in classification. Before the age of seven children typically form classifications of objects along one dimension. That is, children can classify according to colour or shape. Thus, presented with a group of white and black circles, squares and triangles, a child may classify them into two groups that is, all the white and all the black designs together.


Seriation is the ability to mentally arrange a series of elements according to increasing or decreasing size, volume, weight or some other dimensions. A child in the concrete operational stage begin to  employ strategies such  as searching for the smallest stick, then the next etc. to develop the solution or seriation problems.

The Formal operational stage 

With the onset of Piaget’s fourth stage of cognitive development, formal operation, comes the ability to solve abstract problems. The development of formal operation proves the ability to reason and construct logic useful for all classes of problems. During this stage of development, thinking has a number of unique structural properties, those of being hypothetical, analogical and deductive.

Hypothetical reasoning 

Hypothetical reasoning transcends perception and memory and deals with things not in the realm of direct experience. For instance, if a logical argument is prefixed by the statement” suppose coal is white” a concrete operational child will invariably say that is not possible and therefore the question cannot be answered. However, a formal operational child will readily accept the assumptions of the argument and goon to reason about its logic.

Analogical reasoning 

Analogical reasoning in which children can fully explain why an analogy works and how each pair of the analogy is connected to the other, also emerges in formal operations.

Deductive reasoning 

Deductive reasoning is reasoning from generalities to specifics. The type of reasoning contained in a syllogism is deductive reasoning. Consider the child who correctly responds to the following complex if- then statement. If all animals have four legs and if this table has four legs then is this table an animal? The child who correctly responds reason that although both tables and animals have four legs, a table cannot be an animal because it is not a living creature.

Reflective abilities 

In addition to the above described abilities, formal operational thinkers possess a sophisticated set of reflective abilities.  For instance, they are able to systematically generate -all possible solutions to a problem or engage in combinational reasoning.

Sub-topic: Psycho-analytic theory according to Sigmund Freud

Freud in his theory of personality has described that personality consists of three separate but interacting components: the id, the ego and the superego. According to Freud, the dynamic aspects of self refer to the agents through which conflicts arising in the instincts are resolved.

  • The id:-

The primitive part of the personality is id.  It is the raw, unorganized and innate part of personality. It is representative of the unconscious and the storehouse of instinctual desires. The Id is completely amoral part of the personality that exists at birth which contains all of the basic biological drives related to hunger, sex, aggression and irrational impulses. Those drives are fuelled by „Psychic energy‟ which Freud termed as „the libido‟. The id is guided by the pleasure principle, in which the goal is the immediate reduction of tension and the maximization of satisfaction. The pleasure principle can be stated as “if it feels good, do it”.

  • The ego:-

It begins to develop soon after birth. The ego comes from the Latin word for „I‟ which is mostly conscious and is far more rational, logical and cunning than the id. The ego is the „executive‟ of personality. The ego maintains balance between the desire of the id and the realities of the objective, outside world. It is guided by the reality principle. Therefore, the ego satisfied the demands of the id and reduce libido only in ways that will not lead to negative consequences. Sometimes ego decides to deny the id to satisfy its desires because the consequences would be painful.

  • The superego:-

The final part of personality is called the superego. The superego is derived from the Latin word which means „over the self‟. It develops in childhood as the child learns rights and wrongs of society and shown by parents, teachers and other significant individuals. The superego is guided by the moral principle. There are two parts to the superego: the ego ideal and the conscience. The ego ideal is the sum total of all the behaviours which the child has learned about from parents and others of the society. The conscience is another part of the superego that makes people feel pride when they do the right thing and guilt, when they do the wrong thing. The superego works at both conscious and unconscious level.

According to Freud, sex is the life urge or fundamental motive in life. All physical pleasures arising from any of the organs or any of their function are ultimately sexual in nature. A child passes through the following different stages with respect to his or her psycho-sexual development.

The Oral stage (0 – 1.5 years)

According to Freud, the source of pleasure to a child at this stage is the mouth. A child experiences pleasure through sucking and later through biting and chewing. Eg at the beginning, pleasure is received from the mother’s nipple or the bottle. Thereafter the child develops pleasure by putting anything, candy, a stick, his own thump etc. in to his mouth. A child who fails to develop out of this stage becomes fixated and may in later life exhibit certain character traits that indicate fixation with the oral stage e.g. lip licking and thumb sucking.

The anal stage (1.5 – 3 years)

The pleasure zone moves from the mouth to the anus. At this stage, toilet training is the most important activity. Toilet training should not be hurried. Unnecessary pressure to conform may result in fixation, leading to under or over conformity as an adult. Over conformity is seen when an adult is exceptionally clean and orderly. Under conformity is seen in defiance of authority, disorganization, being messy and even destruction of orderly institutions.

The Phallic Stage (3 – 6 years)

At this stage, the growing child becomes increasingly aware of the sexual organs. Phallus means penis. Sexual energy is attached to genitals. Oedipus and Electra complexes arise. In Oedipus complex, the boy starts to have sexual feelings for their mother but due to fear of being castrated by the father they identify with the  father.  On the other hand in Electra complex, the girl has feelings for their father but due to fear of their mother identify with the mother. The process of identification is important because it makes the boy adopt the appropriate sex roles and behaviour. If proper identification does not occur, the result will be poor development of sex roles and lack of conscience. An unresolved fixation in the phallic stage could lead to egoism, low self-esteem, flirtatious and promiscuous females, shyness, worthlessness and men that treat women with contempt.

The Latency stage (6 – 11 years)

During this period, the youngster losses interest in any erogenous zone and concentrates on other activities eg learning skills. All intense emotional involvement for the opposite sex parent are repressed. This period starts from six years in the case of girls and seven to eight years in the case of boys and extends up to the onset of puberty. At this stage, boys and girls prefer to be in the company of their own sex and even neglect or hate members of the opposite sex.

Genital stage (12 –19 years)

At this stage adult heterosexual behaviour develops. Libido is re-awakened and a more mature sexual attachment occurs. Sexual objects are people of the opposite sex, first with adult’s e.g. teachers,  older  idols  and  later  with  peers.  If  confused  identifications,  one cannot  cope  with  aroused  sexual  feelings  at  this  stage.  Also if oral period was not satisfactory, one will not have the foundations for basic love relationships.


Sub-topic: Psycho-social theory according to Eric Erickson

Eriksson believes that human beings face eight major crisis or conflicts in their lives. These form the stages of personality development. Each stage presents one with a crisis, if the crisis is well handled a positive outcome is met, where else if the crisis is not well handled a negative outcome is generated. Resolution of one stage brings the foundation for negotiating challenges of the next stage.

1. Trust vs. Mistrust

The stage occurs at birth to 1 year old. Children must learn how to trust others particularly those who care for their basic needs. It begins at birth and lasts through one year of age. If baby’s needs are met, they learn to trust people and expect life to be pleasant. If these needs are not consistently met, mistrust and anxiety may develop. At this stage, parents are expected to take good care of their children and attend to their needs.

2. Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt

Occurs between ages I to 3 years. At this stage children should be taught the basic ways of taking care of themselves including changing their clothes and feeding themselves. If a child is successful in directing their own behaviour, they learn to be independent. If a child cannot take care of his/her own basic needs and continues to rely on others to take care of him or her, he may feel shameful.

3. Initiative vs Guilt

At this stage, 3 to 5 years, children like to explore and do things on their own. They can learn new concepts introduced in school and are expected to practice those lessons. If children at this stage succeed in taking responsibility, they feel capable and develop initiative. If they fail in taking responsibility, they feel irresponsible, anxious and guilty.+

4. Industry Vs Inferiority

Occurs at 5 to 12 years of age. As children grow, they mature and their level of self-awareness increases. They understand logical reasoning, scientific facts and other matters that are typically taught in schools. At this stage, children are very competitive and they want to do what other children of their age are doing. When children succeed at learning new skills, they develop a sense of industry, a feeling of competence and self-esteem arising from their work and effort. If children fail to develop new ability, they feel incompetent, inadequate, and inferior. Failure makes the child to have negative experiences at home or with peers, an inferiority complex might develop into adolescence and adulthood.

5. Identity vs Role Confusion

12 to 18 years. This takes place during adolescence and an individual is expected to develop his/ her sexual identity. Adolescents are faced with deciding who or what they want to be in terms of occupation, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour patterns. Adolescents who succeed in defining who they are and find a role for themselves develop a strong sense of identity. If one undergoes through this successfully, they develop a strong sense of identity and are able to remain true to their beliefs and values in the face of problems and other peoples perspectives. Adolescents who fail to define their identity become confused and withdrawn, or want to inconspicuously blend in the crowd. Failure to undergo through this successfully leads to development of a weak sense of self and experiences of role confusion. The adolescent will be unsure of their identity and confused about their future.

6. Intimacy vs Isolation

This stage occurs in early adulthood. After development of a sense of self in adolescence, we are ready to share our lives with other people. The task facing those in early adulthood is to be able to share who they are with another person in a close, committed relationship. People who succeed in this task will have intimate relationships. Adults who fail at this task will be isolated from other people and may suffer from loneliness. People who succeed in this task will have intimate relationships. Adults who fail at this task will be isolated from other people and may suffer from loneliness.

7. Generativity vs Stagnation

The challenge is to be creative, productive, and nurturant of the next generation. Adults who succeed in this challenge will be creative, productive, and nurturant, thereby benefiting themselves, their family, community, country, and future generations. Adults who fail will be passive, and self-centred, feel that they have done nothing for the next generation, and feel that the world is no better off for their being alive.

8. Ego-Integrity vs Despair

People who are in their 60’s or older are typically restless. It is important for them to feel a sense of fulfilment knowing that they have done something significant during their younger years. When they look back in their life, they feel content as they believe that they lived their lives to the fullest. Elderly people who succeed in addressing this issue will enjoy life and not fear death. Elderly people who fail will feel that their life is empty and will fear death and they will experience a sense of despair.

Sub-topic: The relevance of theories of human growth and development to social work


Behaviourism Theory (Conditional Approach)

Principles Of Classical Conditioning 

  1. Extinction

It was noted by Pavlov that if the conditioned stimulus (ringing of the bell) is presented alone a number of times without the food, the magnitude of the conditioned response of salivation begins to decrease, and so does the probability of its appearing at all. This process of gradual disappearance of the conditioned response or disconnection of the S. R association is called extinction.

  1. Spontaneous Recovery

It was also discovered by Pavlov that after extinction, then a controlled response is no longer evident. The behaviour after reappears spontaneously but at a reduced intensity. This phenomenon of the reappearance of an apparently extinguished conditioned response (CR) after an interval in which the pairing of conditional stimulus (CS) and unconditional stimulus (CS) has not been repeated is called spontaneous recovery.

  1. Stimulus Generalisation

Responding to the stimulus is such a generalized way was termed as stimulus generalization with reference to a particular stage of learning behaviour in which an individual once conditioned to respond to a specific stimulus is made to respond in the same way in respond to other stimuli of similar nature.

  1. Stimulus Discrimination

Stimulus discrimination is the opposite of stimulus generalization. Here, sharp contrast to responding in a usual fashion the subject learns to react differently in different situation.

Implication of Classical Conditioning 

Our behaviour in the shape of interests, attitudes, habits, same of application or criticism moods and temperament is fashioned through conditioning. The process of conditioning, not only helps in learning what is desirable but also helps in eliminating, avoiding or unlearning of undesirable habits, unhealthy attitudes, superstition, fear and phobia through de-conditioning. An individual who hates a particular person or object may be made to seek pleasure in their company. Another individual who thinks it is a bad sign if a car crosses his path may be made to give up his superstitious belief.

1. Operant Conditioning (Skinner) 

This type of conditioning was first investigated by B.F. Skinner. Skinner studied occurrence of voluntary responses when an organism operates on the environment. He called the Operant. Operant’s are those behaviour or responses, which are emitted by animals and human beings voluntary and are under their control. The term operant is used because the organism operates on the environment; Conditioning of operant behaviour is called operant conditioning.

Skinner experimented with white rats. He kept the rats inside the cage without giving any food for some time. The rat was hungry and was searching for food.

In its random movements running here and there within the cage the rat struck a lever. When the lever was struck food was given to the rat. For the random striking of the lever, food was given as reinforcement. Gradually the rat learnt to strike the lever whenever it became hungry. Now in this process the emitted response namely striking of the lever at random casually is reinforced by food and striking of the lever becomes a usual behaviour i.e. whenever food is required the rat strikes the lever and gets food. The rat operates on the environment casually and this casual operation becomes a usual operation by getting re-inforcement for a casual operation in the beginning.

Operant conditioning is also known as instrumental conditioning as the reinforcement becomes instrument for the casual behaviour becoming usual behaviour. Usual behaviour is the learned behaviour.

Application of operant conditioning in classroom instruction

Reinforcement is effective only when it is something that satisfies the present need of the organism. The rat was hungry; the need for rat was forced and food has acted as an effective reinforcement because it satisfied the need hunger.

In the classroom also to modify the undesirable behaviour of students or to make them learn new behaviour, reinforcement is an effective means. In the classrooms the need of the student may not be satisfaction of hunger, but very often some recognition, praise, reward and such other pleasing things to the students. Encouraging the students by pleasing facial expressions such as smiling or nice words such as good, well said etc. When a student given a correct answer to a question or when he himself attempts to get the correct answer will act as positive reinforcements and such reinforcement will make student came forward to participate in the classroom activate willingly and frequently. Such reinforcements should be given immediately after the desirable behaviour has been exhibited by the students. Then only the students will associate the response with the reinforcement and learning of desirable behaviour becomes effective.

2. Cognitive Theory (Gestalt school of Thought)

Wolfgang Kohler originated a learning theory named insightful learning. Gestalt is a German noun for which there is no English Equivalent. The nearest English translation of Gestalt is Configuration or more simply an” organize d whole”. The basic idea of the theory is that a thing cannot be understood by the study of its constituent parts but only by the study of it as a totality or whole.

In practical term, Gestalt psychology is primarily concerned with the nature of perception. According to it, an individual perceives a thing as a whole while the behaviour and stimulus response theorists define perception so as to make it analogous with the taking of a photograph. They hold that sometime comes prior to meaning and consider these two acts as separate.

Gestalt psychologists tried to interpret learning as a purposive, exploratory and creative enterprise instead of trial and error or a simple stimulus response mechanisms. A learner, while learning, always perceives the situation as a whole and often seeing and evaluating the different relationships takes the proper decision intelligently.

Kohler (1925) used the term insight first of all, to describe the learning of his apes. During the period 1913-1917, he conducted many experiment on chimpanzee in the Canary Islands and embodied his findings in his book (ibid). In one experiment, Kohler put the chimpanzee sultan, inside a cage and a banana was hung from the roof of the cage. A box was placed inside the cage, The Chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by jumping but could not succeed. Suddenly he got an idea and used the box as a jumping platform by the placing it just below the hanging banana.

Though Kohler seemed to see insightful learning in turn of a sudden’ aha’ or a bolt of lightning, it is found to depend upon factors such as


Past experience helps in the insightful solution of problem. A child cannot solve the problem of modern mathematics unless he is well acquainted with its symbolic language.


Insightful solutions depend upon the basic intelligence of the learner. The more intelligent the individual the greater will his insight be.

Learning Situation 

How insightfully an individual will react, depends upon the situation in which he has been placed. Some situations are more conducive to insightful solution from others.

Individual Efforts

Insightful learning has to be pass through the process of trial and error  but this stage does not last long, these initial efforts in the form of a simple trial and error mechanism, open the way for insightful learning.

Reception and Generalisation 

After obtaining an insightful solution of a particular type of problem, the individual tries to implement it in another situation, depending a similar type of solution. The solution found in one situation helps him to react insightfully in other identical situation.

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