What are the Theories of Human Development?

What are the Theories of Human Development? The theories of human development are various psychological approaches that try to explain the development of man according to his behavioral and personality characteristics. They are also called psychological theories of development.

No theory of development is broad enough to explain all the aspects involved in the constitution of the human being. Some give more importance to the internal factors of the individual and others consider that the environment and society are determining factors in the development of the human being.

In the light of this new millennium, most psychologists admit that both currents of thought have their share of truth, since all these factors are important in the development of personality.

Different psychological theories of human development

The various theories that attempt to explain the development of man are divided into two approaches:

-The psychodynamic, which studies the development of personality, where theorists such as Freud and Erickson meet

-The cognitive approach, which studies the development of thought, where the theories of Piaget and Colbert, among others, are circumscribed.

Next we will make a brief explanation of some of these theories.

Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud, one of the fathers of modern psychology.

Freud’s research was confined to the observation of children 0-5 years and their interaction with parents and with other children.

These observations determined common patterns, especially with regard to impulses oriented towards sexual energy – also called libido -, which led him to conclude that biological instincts in those early years are innate and determining in the development of personality.

These impulses are innate and change at each stage. The child will seek to satisfy those instinctive needs of each moment; not satisfying them, could create in the adult certain fixations or changes in personality.

According to this theory, pleasure focuses successively on various organs:

-The mouth (oral stage), which is the earliest

-The anus (anal stage), between 2 and 3 years old, where children control their sphincters

-Genitals (phallic stage) between 4 and 5 years old, where the libido focuses on the genitals and the child begins to obtain pleasure by masturbating. According to Freud, it is a stage in which you want to possess the parent of the opposite s3x and eliminate the other, what is known as the Oedipus complex or Electra.

-Then comes the latency stage, between 6 and 12 years old. At this stage, psychic forces develop that inhibit the sexual drive and redirect it towards other more culturally accepted activities.

Freud called it a period of sexual calm, which then becomes active again after the age of 13, where the psychosexual maturity that will define the subject in his adulthood begins.

Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory is one of the most widely accepted in psychology, and its central statement is actually a reinterpretation of Freudian theory, with greater emphasis on social than sexual aspects as important factors in human development.

Erikson, like his colleague Freud, also proposes consecutive phases to explain personality development but stresses that social problems are more important than those related to the satisfaction of biological instincts.

Erikson also contradicts Freud in the aspect of the duration of the development of the personality, since he affirms that this continues throughout the life of the individual and is not limited only to the first years of childhood.

The stages of development, according to this scholar, are eight, in each of which the individual faces a crisis that has two possible solutions: a positive and a negative.

The effectiveness with which these crises are resolved will depend on the development and ability to solve problems in future life.

These stages are:

1-Trust-mistrust (0-1 year)

2-Autonomy-shame (2-3 years)

3-Initiative-fault (4-5 years)

4-Productivity-inferiority (6-11 years)

5-Identity-role confusion (12-18 years)

6-Privacy-isolation (young adult)

7-Creativity-stagnation (middle age)

8-Integrity-despair (old age)

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Jean piaget

Piaget stressed the importance of biological maturation in the thought process. He maintained that the organism adapts to the environment through biological mechanisms, as its intellectual growth occurs.

Read Also: Arnold Gesell’s Maturation Theory: All You Need to Know

The acquisition of cognitive abilities is thus the responsibility both of the child’s level of maturity and of his learning experiences.

Piaget explained that man adapts to his experience (assimilation) and then organizes the content of those experiences (accommodation).

The stages of cognitive development according to Piaget are the following:

1-Sensory-motor (0-2 years): where children divide the world between what they can suck and what they cannot. They begin to organize their experiences by assigning them categories and schemas, which are the first step in intentional behaviour and problem-solving.

2-Pre-operational (2-7 years): action-oriented, their thinking is linked to physical and perceptual experience; their ability to remember and anticipate grows and they begin to use symbols to represent the external world. They are able to focus on something that catches their attention, ignoring everything else.

3-Concrete operations (7-11 years): they acquire the flexibility of thought and ability to correct and redo it. They learn to see the problem from different angles.

4-Formal operations (11-14 years): develop the ability to understand abstract logic. They can differentiate the probable from the impossible in a hypothesis; they anticipate, plan, understand metaphors, construct theories and try to find meaning in their lives.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

The relevance of this theory is that Kohlberg introduces a novel aspect in the study, such as morals, and considers it an important part of the child’s cognitive development.

This development divides them into three levels, and each of them subdivides them into two stages in which moral judgments are acquired. This happens gradually and in a certain order, namely:

  1. Pre-conventional morality (0-9 years)
    1. Orientation towards obedience and punishment
    2. Individualism and exchange
  2. Conventional morality (9-adolescence)
    1. Agreement and conformity (good interpersonal relationships)
    2. Social agreement and conflict (maintaining social order)
  3. Post-conventional morality
    1. Social contract and individual rights
    2. Universal principles of ethics

Kohlberg dismisses the theories of Freud, Erikson and Piaget, concluding that these stages do not occur due to the genetic maturation of the individual, nor due to social experience or the teaching of new ways of thinking -although all this collaborates-, but they emerge of the individual’s own mental processes about moral problems.


  1. Theories of human development. Recovered from portalacademico.cch.unam.mx
  2. Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development. Recovered from scoop.it
  3. Theories of human development. Recovered from psicopsi.com
  4. Personality theories. Recovered from elalmanaque.com
  5. Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development. Recovered from psicologiaymente.net
  6. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. Recovered from cepvi.com

Different psychological theories of human development

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