Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

7
Theories of Development: An Overview

In the previous chapters we saw the interrelation between philosophical issues and the core conceptual issues of developmental psychology. We saw also the interrelations among various conceptual issues. In turn, as we now go on to a consideration of the various general theoretical orientations in the discipline, we shall see how these core conceptual issues are necessarily interrelated with theories of development. Just as certain philosophies of science provide an underpinning for the core conceptual issues of development, the core conceptual issues of development provide an underpinning for theories of development.

In developmental psychology several different types of theories (or approaches) have been advanced about the conceptualization of psychological development. As we will see, three of these are stage theory, the differential approach, and the ipsative approach. A fourth major theoretical approach to development, one involving theoretical and empirical behaviorism, will be dealt with separately in Chapter 11. Here we shall consider the similarities and differences among the stage, differential, and ipsative points of view. In developmental psychology, considerably more conceptual analysis and discussion has been associated with the developmental stage-theory approach than with either the differential or the ipsative approaches. Thus we shall need to spend more time in this chapter introducing the former approach than the latter two. In addition, we shall begin by focusing on the former approach; that is, we shall discuss first the developmental stage approach.


THE DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE-THEORY APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT

The stage approach to developmental theory may also be termed simply the developmental approach or the classical approach, perhaps because it was systematized first historically. Accordingly, we will use the terms stage theory, classical theory, and classical developmental theory interchangeably.

Although, as we shall see in Chapter 8, various theorists who have used this approach have considered different aspects of development (e.g., the development of cognition, morality, and personality), all classical developmental theories have specific, common characteristics. All of these theories hold that all people pass through a series of qualitatively different levels (stages) of organization and that the ordering of these stages is invariant.

To a developmental stage theorist there are universal stages of development. If people develop, they will pass through all these stages, and they will do so in a fixed order. Moreover, the ordering of the stages is held to be invariant; this means that people cannot skip stages or reorder them. Let us use

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