Theories of Human Development


Authored by Jayant Row in Science 
Published on 05-10-2009

Human development is the scientific assessment of the psychological development that occurs in human beings over the course of their life span. As a science this was initially intended to study the development of infants and children, but has subsequently encompassed the growth of the child to the adolescent, adult and geriatric stage of development. This study includes the development of motor skills, problem solving, ethics and morals, acquisition of language and communication skills and the formation of the person’s identity.

The development is either stage wise where the body development plays a big role, or knowledge based where learned skills and experiences have the major impact.

According to Piaget, a French speaking Swiss born theorist, children, learnt by building on the knowledge that they gained from experience. He therefore suggested that the adult’s role in child development should be in providing the materials for allowing the child to construct such experiences. He would ask the children to reflect on their actions and point out the contradictions in their explanations. His theory listed the different stages of development of the human being.

The Vygotsky theory of human development agreed with the Piaget theory in its basic premise on how children built their knowledge but suggested that adults must supervise the learning of a new task, and that it builds on the knowledge that the children already have. According to Vygotsky culture plays a big role in human development and this social context is what governs the individuals approach to problems.

The Ecological Systems theory of human development postulates that all development is governed by four systems. These are the Microsystem governed by the family or classroom, Mesosystem which is the interaction of the family and educational systems, Exosystem which are external systems that influence human development, and the Macrosystem which is the social and cultural influences present. Each system has rules and norms that shape development, and all these systems are nested within each other to finally decide the process of development. This theory has vastly influenced psychologists and other social scientists have approached the problems and development of humans’ right from childhood to adulthood and beyond.

The attachment theory of human development focuses on relationships and their closeness. Attachment is a system that the infant first develops for its own survival, and children will always move towards emotional and physical safety immaterial of the relationship they have with the care giver.

Human development scientists have always questioned the relationship between development that is a part of the natural process and the development that is as a result of the environment in which the human is placed. One side of the argument is that the human develops as per the genes that are a part of his body, while the other argues that the environmental influences that the person goes through finally decides the way a person will develop. Language skills are generally acquired by the environment that the person is exposed to. He then carries these skills learned to the development of other skills that he acquires by social interactions and absorbing the knowledge that he gains through this interaction.


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