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Theories of Psychology

mind, mental, brain, psychology, developmental theories, inductive, deductive, human nature, freud

Theories of psychology

Developmental Theories
A developmental theory is that which focus on change over time. Developmental theories consider non-developmental theoretical concepts such as Id, Mental representation Attention also. But they differ from non-developmental theories by emphasizing changes over time in these concepts.

This concern with change presents developmental theories with three tasks
1. to describe changes within one or several areas of behaviour
• a developmental theory describes changes over time in one or several areas of behaviour or psychological activity such as thought, language, social behaviour or perception. For example, a theory might describe changes in the rules of grammar underlying language in the first few years of life. Although developmental theories tend to stress changes over months or years an adequate theory must ultimately describe changes over seconds, minutes and days.

2. to describe changes in the relations among several areas of behaviour.
• A second task for a theory of development is to describe changes over time in the relations among behaviours or aspect of psychological activity within one area of development and ideally, among several areas of development. It tries to deal with simultaneous changes in thought, personality and perception that we observe. Developmental theorists are specialized generalists in that they are knowledgeable about many areas of psychology but they specialize in the developmental approach to studying these content areas. In the case of the object concept described above, a theory might describe how the concept relates to children’s developing memory system and their social relationship with one particular object, their mother. A theory would outline the temporal relations among these areas of development.
3. to explain the course of development that has been described
• Even if a theory provides full description of development, it has not accounted for the transitions from point to point during development. Thus a third task for developmental theory is to explain the course of development that the other two tasks describe. In fact, the sequence and the concurrences identified in the first two tasks often suggest particular explanations. If skill B always appears shortly after the development of skill A, a psychologist may hypothesize that A causes B. With respect to the third task, a developmental theory offers a set of general principles or rules for change. These principles specify necessary and sufficient antecedents for each change and identify variables that modify or modulate the rate or nature of each change. For example Freud proposed that the biological based drives “move” from the oral to anal area and that the degree of the child’s accompanying anxiety depends somewhat on the parents’ child rearing practices. In addition, principles of change hypothesize a set of processes for producing the change. These processes have been as diverse as dynamic equillibration in Piaget’s theory, Physical maturation in Freudian and Ethological theory, and strengthening of a response by reinforcement in learning theory.

Contributions of Developmental Theories
1. It organizes and gives meaning to facts of development:
a. A theory gives meaning to facts, provides a framework for facts, assigns more importance to some facts than others and integrates existing facts.
2. It guides further research:
a. It is a heuristic devise, a tool to guide observation and to generate new information. A theory’s abstract statements predict that certain empirical statements should be true. These empirical statements then must be tested. In addition to organizing and giving meaning to a variety of previous research findings, this theory has led investigators to examine the roles of attention and structure of objects and events in perceptual development.
b. This theory stimulated developmental psychologists to search for innate social behaviours that have contributed to the adaptation of the species to the environment. Theories not only stimulate new observations, but in some cases, also cause us to reexamine familiar behaviour and pay more attention to variables we have slighted. Piaget certainly was not the first person to watch babies play. But, he suggested a new way of looking at this behaviour. The actions themselves are creating thought according to Piaget.

There are four modes of theory construction.
1. The Model
A model is a framework, structure or system that has been developed in one field and is then applied to another usually less well-developed field. The model stands for or represents something other than itself. It serves as an analogy or a metaphor to guide research and thinking. Examples are the early image of the nervous system as a telephone switch board or the eye as a camera and the later notion of an instinct as a hydraulic system. More recently, thinking has been linked to an equilibration system (Piaget) or a computer (information processing approach).
In current usage the term model has been used in another way that should not be confused with the use of the term here. Model sometimes replaces theory and connotes an undertaking that is more specific and limited than a general theory.
2. Deductive Theory
The earlier description of a formal theory refers to the deductive type of theory. A deductive theory is a logically organized set of propositions stated in a formal way. These propositions include basic assumptions and definitions from which are deduced further propositions. There is a two way relation between data and theory in that theoretical propositions are continually tested and the results in turn modify the theory. Deductive theories are attractive because they are elegant and spell out all assumptions and implications of these assumptions. Deductive theories are vulnerable simply because they cannot hide anything.
3. Functional theory
Most present day theory constructions fall into this category. It is much more informal and modest than deductive theory. Its propositions are closely related to data and are often restricted to a particular experimental problem. There is a continual rapid interplay between theory and data. General statements or hypotheses are suggested by a set of research findings. These general statements and their implications are then tested by further research; the general statements are then modified and the process continues.
For example, one might choose smiling infancy as an experimental problem. A first hypothesis might be that recognition of an object causes smiling. Research, however, may show that this hypothesis is true only for certain ages and particular types of situations and the hypothesis is continually refined through modification and further testing.

4. Inductive Theory
An inductive theory consists of descriptive statements that summarise sets of data. Little inference is involved. An inductive theorist is someone who demands “just the facts”. A one-way relation holds between data and theory- data lead to theory. Inductive theorists argue that collecting facts unbiased by interpretation eventually leads to statements that tie the data together. The best current example of inductive theory is Skinners operant conditioning theory.

These four modes of theory construction demonstrate that theories can generate research either by analogy as in the model or by deduction as in deductive and functional theories. Data in turn generate theories by induction, test the deductions of specific models that are derived from theories and ultimately modify theories except in the case of general models. Empirical observation can never completely prove that a theory is true because future observations could provide disconfirming evidence.
The history of science shows that there may be a considerable lag between the gathering of data and the production of a theory. Data may not immediately suggest a particular theory. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published more than twenty years after his voyage on the ‘HMS Beagle’. It took Kepler over thirty years to produce the three laws of planetary motion.
The four types of theories vary in how far the empirical observations are from the theoretical statements. Functional and inductive theories are closer to the data than deductive theories or models. For example, a learning theorist might refer to ‘stimulus’, ‘response’, and ‘punishment’- terms that are very close to observable objects or events. At the other extreme Freud’s ‘unconscious’ or Piaget’s ‘equilibration process’ bears at the best, an uncertain and distant relationship to observable behaviour. The distance between theory and behaviour is of considerable importance for two reasons.
1. The greater this distance, the more difficult it is to either support or weaken the theory. Much of scientific progress comes from showing that particular theories are wrong and correcting them. If a theory is so far from possible data that it can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed (even in future), it is of little value for science.
2. The farther the distance between data and theory, the greater will be the number of theories that can be produced to explain the same set of facts. Sometimes theories are retained for long periods because their central claims are so far from possible observations that they cannot be tested and refuted.

There are four main critical issues in developmental psychology
1. What is the basic nature of humans?
2. Is development qualitative or quantitative?
3. How do nature and nurture contribute to development?
4. What is it that develops?

Basic Human Nature
There have been three basic worldviews of great relevance to the study of psychology. (Overton, 1984; Reese, 1991)- the mechanistic, the organismic and the contextual.

In the mechanistic view, the world is like a machine composed of parts that operate in time and space. Mechanistic view has its roots in Newtonian physics. It is also related to the empiricist philosophy of Locke (1632-1704) and Hume (1711-1776) which pictures the humans as inherently at rest – a passive robot motivated by external sources.

The organismic world view is modeled on living systems such as plants and animals rather than machines. This image derives from Leibniz (1646-1716) who believed that substance is in a continuous transition from one state to another as it produces these states out of itself in unceasing succession (Cassirer, 1951). Leibniz pictured the world as composed of organized wholes that are inherently and spontaneously active and self- regulating. This organization is necessary or natural, given the nature of the organism. Rather than looking for antecedent causes as the mechanistic worldview has done, the organismic view considers inherent properties and goals. The human by nature is an active organized whole and is constantly changing, not randomly, but in a particular direction. Development, then, is inherent in humans.

According to the Contextual worldview, a behaviour has meaning (and can be explained) only in terms of its social historical context. The pragmatist philosophers such as William James and George Herbert Mead provide the philosophical inspiration.

We need developmental theories. They help us describe and explain developmental changes by organizing and giving meaning to facts and by guiding further research.

MAIN DEVELOPMENTAL THEORIES (relating to personality)

Piaget - Cognitive Stage Theory is widely known as theory of cognitive development.

Freud – Psycho Analytic Theory
(These two theories are known as giant theories of developmental psychology)

Erikson – Theory of Psycho Social Development also known as Stage Theory

Alfred Bandura – Social Learning Theory now called Social Cognitive Theory

Information Processing Theory

Ethological Theory

Gibson’s Perceptual Developmental Theory

Vygotsky’s Theory and the Contextualists
Published: 2006-09-12
Author: Benoy Jacob

About the author or the publisher
Senior Copy Editor,
 Selecting and editing stories for “MSN India” (
 Reviewing content for Windows XP - Malayalam Language Interface Pack, its tutorials and newsletters

Sub-Editor, Malayala Manorama with the additional responsibility of ISO certifications coordinator at Manorama for seven years.

Published translations
Short Stories Of Anton Chekhov
Our Father - spiritual contemplations of Cardinal Simonis, Netherlands

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