Module 2: Theories of Development

Module 2: Theories of Development

  • What is a Theory? What Makes Theory Different from a Hypothesis?
  1. Read the following from Live Science on Hypotheses, Hypotheses Testing and Theory.  Note what makes a hypotheses and a theory different. :
  1. You will be asked again to read the above material at the beginning of Chapter 3, so it should be clear that understanding the difference between a theory and a hypothesis is important.
  • How do Developmental Theories Differ?


  1. The two major ways that developmental theories differ are (a) how the theory explains how development occurs, either qualitatively or quantitatively, and (b) which factor has the greater influence on development, either nature or nurture.


  1. Is development qualitative and discontinuous, or quantitative and continuous?


When assessing child development, it is important to note that as a child grows, there are both quantitative and qualitative differences. Quantitative differences in child development refer to the change’s children encounter as they acquire more knowledge and grow physically larger and stronger. An example of quantitative differences would be a child who, after two years, has grown two inches and gained 10 pounds. Growth in height and weight indicates a quantitative difference.


Qualitative differences focus on changes in the way children think, behave, and perceive the world differently as they mature. An example of qualitative differences would be a child that at a young age has difficulty understanding the perspectives of others (otherwise known as egocentrism). Children’s perceptions in thinking change as they get older and evolve into the ability to see things from others’ perspectives. This change in perception represents a qualitative difference.  From:


  1. Is development influenced by nature (genes) or nurture (environment)?


A significant issue in developmental psychology is the relationship between the innateness of an attribute (whether it is part of our nature) and the environmental effects on that attribute (whether it is influenced by our environment, or nurture). This is often referred to as the nature vs. nurture debate, or nativism vs. empiricism.


A nativist (“nature”) account of development would argue that the processes in question are innate and influenced by an organism’s genes. Natural human behavior is seen as the result of already-present biological factors, such as genetic code.

An empiricist (“nurture”) perspective would argue that these processes are acquired through interaction with the environment. Nurtured human behavior is seen as the result of environmental interaction, which can provoke changes in brain structure and chemistry. For example, situations of extreme stress can cause problems like depression.

The nature vs. nurture debate seeks to understand how our personalities and traits are produced by our genetic makeup and biological factors, and how they are shaped by our environment, including our parents, peers, and culture. For instance, why do biological children sometimes act like their parents? Is it because of genetic similarity, or the result of the early childhood environment and what children learn from their parents?


Interaction Of Genes And The Environment

Today, developmental psychologists rarely take such polarized positions (either/or) with regard to most aspects of development; instead, they investigate the relationship between innate and environmental influences (both/and). Developmental psychologists will often use the biopsychosocial model to frame their research: this model states that biological, psychological, and social (socio-economical, socio-environmental, and cultural) factors all play a significant role in human development.


We are all born with specific genetic traits inherited from our parents, such as eye color, height, and certain personality traits. Beyond our basic genotype, however, there is a deep interaction between our genes and our environment: our unique experiences in our environment influence whether and how particular traits are expressed, and at the same time, our genes influence how we interact with our environment (Diamond, 2009; Lobo, 2008). There is a reciprocal interaction between nature and nurture as they both shape who we become, but the debate continues as to the relative contributions of each.

Nature vs. Nurture. Provided by: Boundless. Located at: .  Project: Boundless Psychology. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

2.3 : Theories of Child and Adolescent Development

  1. Sigmund Freud:
  1. Id, Ego, and the Superego: Go to to read about the three parts of personality the id, ego, and superego.
  2. Psychosexual Stages: Go to to read about how children develop according to Freud’s psychosexual stages.
  1. Eric Erikson:
  1. Go to to read about Eric Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development. The Powerpoint slides for this module provide a comparison of Erikson and Freud’s theory.
  1. The following Khan Academy video summarizes both Freud and Ericson.  This video also includes Piaget and Kolhberg, two theorists that we will discuss in detail in later modules, so it might be worth your while to view the entire video.
  2. Go to the Simply Psychology website and read about experimental research designs (please read the entire posting and note the terminology that is associated with experimental research designs):
  1. Go to the SimplyPsychology website and read about independent, dependent, and extraneous variables at:
  2. If you have not completed, 3.1, #4, a, Assignment Part 2, then go back to this section and post your response to Blackboard.

2.4. Learning Theories:

  1. Learning Theories fall under three basic categories (The names in parentheses, below are the theorists most closely associated with the theories). All Learning Theories have one thing in common and that is:
  2. Classical Conditioning
  3. Operant Conditioning
  4. Social Learning Theory
  5. Go to the following website and read about Learning Theory and each sub-category:


2.5. Cognitive Development: Jean Piaget

  1. Since there will be a third of a Module dedicated to the work of Piaget, for now you are only responsible for a basic understanding of Piaget’s work. Go to PowerPoint slides 19 through 22. The pages contain reading material and videos that will introduce you to the basic concepts associated with Piaget’s theory.

2.6. Cognitive Development: Lev Vygotsky

  1. Since a significant portion of a Module 7 dedicated to the work of Vygotsky, for now you are only responsible for a basic understanding of Piaget’s work. Go to PowerPoint slides 23 and 24. If you are having a hard time understanding the concept of scaffolding then supplement the PowerPoint slides with the following YouTube video (pay close attention to how counting is taught to the child).


2.7. Cognitive Development

  1. Like Piaget and Vygotsky, Information Processing is discussed in detail in Module 7, so for now you are only responsible for a basic understanding of the theory. Go to PowerPoint slides 25 and 26 and read the material contained on both slides. If you are having a hard time understanding either the Store’s Model or the Connectionist model then go to the videos found below:
  2. If you need additional help with the Store’s Model and the Connectionist Model then this video is quite useful. While it’s 32 minutes long, it covers not only the basics of both models, but also will provide you with information that you will need to know for Chapter 7. However, at this point you are only responsible for a basic understanding of each model.


2.8. Evolutionary Theory:

  1. Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Theory: Go to the following APA website: and read the following:
  2. Darwin’s Influence on Modern Psychological Science By David M. Buss
  3. Darwinian Psychology: Where the Present Meets the Past By Debra Lieberman and
  4. Conrad Lorez and Imprinting (Ethological Theory): Go to the Simply Psychology page at
  5. Please note that the video on the Powerpoint slide #28 is different from the video contained in the reading at Simply Psychology.
  6. Edward O. Wilson and Sociobiology: Go to the following Wikipedia page and scroll down to “Work” (of course you can also read whatever you like. E.O Wilson happens to be a very interesting individual.
  7. Epigenetics: Got the following “Time” magazine article which will provide you with the basics of epigenetic theory:


2.9.  Bronfenbrenner and Ecological Theory:

  1. Go to “Psychology Notes H.Q” and read the following:


2.10. Thelen and Dynamic Systems Theory:

  1. Go to the “National Center for Biotechnology Information” website and read “Twenty years and going strong: A dynamic systems revolution in motor and cognitive development.”  While the article is somewhat dense, it’s not very long and it will important when we discuss motor development.  Please note that this article falls under a fair use copyright.

2.11 When you are done with all your readings, please go and review the Powerpoint slides for this module.