Child Development Occurs In Discrete Stages Psychology Essay

This essay will analyse Piaget and Eriksons theory of development, as well as the strength and weaknesses of the theories. It will also outline evidence for and against discrete stages of development.

Piaget developed a four stage theory of cognitive development to describe patterns of growth throughout a lifespan. The first stage of Piaget’s cognitive theory is ‘sensory-motor stage’. During this period, infants discover environment through senses and actions. This helps toddlers to solve problems, such as; pulling a cloth to obtain a toy. Moreover, infants learn that objects continue to exist even without seeing. The second stages of Piaget’s theory include, ‘pre-operational’. Children at this stage have the ability to develop language to describe people, events and feelings. Thus, cognitions of children are more advanced in comparison to sensory motor stage. Hence, children have capabilities of many feats they could not perform earlier. E.g. individuals are able to represent activities and ideas via drawing and pretending play. Third stage of Piaget cognitive theory is ‘concrete operational’. Individuals during this phase have difficulty accepting theoretical concepts. However, children develop the capability to think logically, in comparison to those of sensory motor and preoperational stage. Consequently, during this stage children overcome with characteristics of egocentricism. Furthermore, the fourth stage of Piaget cognitive theory is ‘formal operational’, individual’s progress skills of rational thoughts, systematic planning and deductive reasoning to solve hypothetical problems (McLeod, 2009).

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Like Piaget, Erikson believed that development occurs in series of stages. Thus, Erikson formulated ‘eight ages of man’s theory’ to acknowledge psychological and social changes throughout a life cycle. Each stage poses a unique crisis that individuals must simultaneously resolve to develop a healthy personality. For example, life crisis in first stage of Erikson’s theory includes; learning to ‘trust or mistrust’ others in the form of a maternal figure (Sims, 2012). For example, if a mother is incapable of meeting a child’s needs this result in a sense of insecurity and lack of trust. In addition, life crisis in second stage includes; ‘autonomy versus shame’, individual’s strength are directed towards physical skills. Hence, support of social network leads to a sense of autonomy and self-esteem. Furthermore, individuals in third and fourth stage become curious about themselves and others. Thus, children begin to explore and manipulate objects to develop a sense of mastery and competence. In the fifth stage, young adults seek to develop personal identity through forming relationships with partners and friends. Consequently, unresolved conflicts at this stage lead to identity diffusion and lack of intimacy. Moreover, in seventh stage of Piaget’s cognitive theory adults seek to contribute and bring positive changes into the society. Additionally, life crisis during last stage includes; ‘integrity versus despair’. Elderly makes self-reflections, thus unsuccessful outcomes of this stage may lead to fear of death and feeling of regret (Cherry, 2012).

Piaget’s cognitive theory is based on his children, hence, it is not representative to other individuals of various social economic backgrounds. In support of this, Cole (1990) highlights that children in non-literate societies have delays in mastering Piaget’s experimental tasks. In addition, individual differences are ignored such as, the influence of education and culture; hence, it lacks external validity. Furthermore, Fahrmein (1978) found that children in Nigeria and Hausa did not understand Piaget’s basic task until the age of 11 or later. Moreover, Piaget’s cognitive theory lacks ecological validity; e.g. the three mountain task raises many criticisms as participants lived in areas that had no mountains. Hughes (1975) suggested that children could descanter with realistic tasks using policeman, rather than mountains that they have never experienced before.

In support of Erikson’s theory comes evidence from Bowlby and Freud (Buczynski, 2012) who suggested that early life experiences effects future personality development. Although Erikson is able to account for continuous development of personality throughout an individual’s life, but there is no explanation of how an individual moves from one stage to the next.

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Muuss (1980) show that Piaget and Erikson’s theory perceived development as a series of discrete stages which are associated with age range that individual’s experience. Likewise, Piaget and Erikson encounter development through cycles in which changes in development are rapid. Nevertheless, Globerson (1985) highlights that development is continuous functioning, rather than occurring in different stages. Hence, discontinuity theories of Erikson and Piaget are not valid and reliable as individuals are unable to learn task that require the capacity of later stages, also changes in behaviours are not rapid. For instance, some people spend long periods at a certain stage before moving to the next. In support of this, Flavell (1969) found that children do not show stage specific learning capacity. E.g. some children achieve Piaget’s tasks later then Piaget suggested. Thus according to cole et al. (1989) culture and environmental conditions have been ignored within the theory, hence stages of development are not universal. Similarly, behaviourists accentuates that development is a continuous process in which life experiences and changes in consequences affects individual behaviour and personality. On the other hand, Freud and Bowlby highlight individuals’ proceeds through various stages of development, which are characterized by qualitative changes that comprise learning.

In conclusion, theories have demonstrated that individuals proceeds through a number of stages to develop a healthy personality. However, within the theories individual’s differences are ignored, hence they are not representative. Overall Piaget theories is about cognitive development and Erikson’s theory is based on personality develop. They are both very different theories which consider two aspects within human development.



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