Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

8
Stage Theories of Development

In this chapter we shall consider three of the most prominent stage theories of psychological development: those of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Freud. In addition, Anna Freud's ( 1969) extension of her father's theory ( Freud 1949) will also be considered. Although these theories deal with different aspects of the developing person, they have certain similarities. Whether talking about the development of cognition ( Piaget), of moral reasoning ( Kohlberg), or about psychosexual development ( Freud), these theorists all hold that all people who develop pass through the stages specified in the theory in an invariant sequence. These stages represent universal sequences of development -- that is, qualitatively different developmental levels through which all people must pass in the same order if they develop. As we pointed out in Chapter 7, the essential ways in which people are thought to differ, from a classical stage point of view, are in the final level of development they reach (how far they eventually develop) and in the amount of time it takes them to move from one stage to the next (how fast they develop).

The stage theories we shall consider in this chapter are also similar in that they take definite stands on the major conceptual issues we have considered in earlier chapters. Thus these stage theories take a more or less interactionist viewpoint on the nature-nurture controversy. Similarly, they make specific statements about the continuity and the discontinuity of behavioral development. Because of their essential commitment to an organismic point of view in regard to the nature-nurture controversy, stage theorists specify that development is in part characterized by qualitatively different phenomena across ontogeny. One portion of development is distinct from another because of the emergence of qualitatively different attributes arising out of the interaction between the organism's characteristics and the features of its experience. Hence the term stage is used to denote this ontogenetic qualitative distinctiveness.

However, we shall see that stage theorists also maintain that there are continuous elements in development. Thus, consistent with the organismic notions advanced by Heinz Werner ( 1957), the stage theorists considered in this chapter more or less explicitly view development as a dialectical process, an organismic synthesis of the discontinuous and continuous variables affecting development. In sum, then, while we shall see that Piaget, Kohlberg, and Freud are often talking about different aspects of the developing person, they are also doing so within the context of some markedly similar views about the nature of psychological development.

I should reemphasize here a point made earlier in regard to my purposes in reviewing the theories of development discussed in this chapter, as well as in other chapters of this book. My goal is not to present an in-depth description of each theory. This could not readily be accomplished within the confines of one chapter, since there are literally dozens of books devoted to each theory alone; moreover, to learn what a particular theorist says it is best to read his or her own

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