Theories of Development
Lifespandevelopment is an area of study in psychology that explores patternsof growth, change and stability in behavior as it happens through thewhole human lifespan. Scientists who study lifespan of humans areaware of the fact that, neither genetic nor environment can be aloneattributed to the entire human development (Newman& Newman, 2011).Development is a continuous process throughout the human lifespan.Lifespan development is focused on three major areas includingphysical, cognitive and personality and social development (Hendry& Kloep, 2002).There are various theories of lifespan development, with each of themfounded on its own principles and focus on various aspects ofdevelopment. In this essay, bioecological theory and socioculturaltheory of lifespan development will be explored in regard to theircontribution to the understanding of human development. In addition,they will be compared with traditional theories.
Bioecologicalapproach to lifespan development was proposed by psychologist UrieBronfenbrenner in order to address the shortcomings of thetraditional behavioral theories of lifespan development (Thyer,Dulmus, & Sowers, 2012).This theory stipulates that, the behavior of an individual isinfluenced through five levels of the environment. According toBronfenbrenner, human development cannot be understood without regardto how an individual is influenced by each of the five environmentallevels. The levels include:
Themicrosystem is the daily, immediate environment where a child leadshis or her daily life. Caregivers, homes, teachers, friends,neighbors all make the microsystem. Nevertheless, the child is not apassive receiver of the influences of microsystem, but rather helpsactively in constructing it by determining the direct world in whichthey live. At this level, most traditional work in development of achild has been concerned (Steinberg,2010).
Thislevel provides networks between the different elements of themicrosystem. Like links in a chain, mesosystem connects children toparents, learners to teachers, employees to managers or friends tofriends. It recognizes the direct and indirect influences thatconnect individuals to one another. For example the connection thataffects a father who has a stressful day at work and then is shorttempered with his wife at home (Thyer,Dulmus, & Sowers, 2012).
Theexosystem shows the greater influences, surrounding societalinstitutions including the community, schools, worship places, localmedia as well as local authorities. Each of these greater societalinstitutions can have a direct and key influence on personaldevelopment, and each influences how Microsystems and mesosystemswork. For instance, the quality of a school will determine thecognitive development of a child and probably have lifetimeconsequences.
Thisrepresents the greater cultural influences on a person. Themacrosystem consist of the society as a whole, forms of governments,political and religious value systems, and other general,encompassing aspects. For example, the value that a society or agiven culture bestows on family or education influences the values ofthe members of that given society (Wong,2013).Children are part of the broader culture say the western culture,and are thus impacted by their membership in a certain subculturesuch as the African-American subculture.
Thisis the last level according to the bioecological theory, andunderlies the previous systems. It entails the way the passage oftime such as historical happenings including things like earthquakesor bombing attacks like 9/11 attacks and even gradual historicchanges such changes in the number of women working in formalemployment influence child development (Zastrow& Ashman, 2007).
Basically,the bioecological theory emphasizes the interrelations of theinfluences on development, unlike traditional developmental theorieswhich are concerned with one aspect of learning behavior,bioecological theory just like the name suggests recognize biologicalfactors in determining child development (Wong,2013).However, the theory gives inadequate attention to the biologicalfactors in shaping a child, and emphasizes on the environment.Looking at the traditional behavioral development theories, one canestablish their weaknesses in understanding of human development.
Thistheory was proposed by a Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, a Russiandevelopmentalist who considered that, it is not possible tounderstand the full development of a person without considering theculture in which a person is brought up in. this theory emphasizethat cognitive development is possible due to social interactionbetween individuals in the same culture. According to Vygotsky, achild’s understanding of the world is obtained through problemsolving relations with adults and other kids (Shaffer,2009).As children interact through playing and cooperate with others, theylearn what is of importance in their culture/society and at the sametime develop cognitively in their comprehension of the world. Hence,to understand the course of development, it is important to considerwhat is meaningful to individuals of a certain culture. Unliketraditional developmental theories, sociocultural theory highlightthat development is reciprocal relationship between the people in achild’s surrounding and the child. According to this theory, peopleand settings impact the child, who in return impacts the people andthe environment. This pattern continues with children beingrecipients of influence, and at the same time sources of influence(Sigelman& Rider, 2011).For instance, a child brought up with his or her extended familymembers around will develop with a different motion of family life ascompared to a child whose relatives are afar. The relatives as wellare influenced by this settings and this child, based on how oftenand intimate their contact with the child is.
Inthe modern era, sociocultural theory has gained considerablerecognition as compared to other traditional developmental theories.This is due to the general acceptance that culture plays an importantrole in development. A child does not develop in a culture –vacuumenvironment, but rather his or her attention is influenced by societyto a certain direction and a result develop certain skills that areas a result of their cultural settings (Rogoff,2003).Sociocultural theory of human development helps us understand therich and diverse impacts that influence development.
However,this theory fails to acknowledge the role of hereditary factors indevelopment of a child. Its emphasize on culture tends to ignore therole of biological factors in development which is an importantaspect in development. Consequently, Vygotsky does not appreciate therole of an individual in shaping his or her own environment, such asthe one described by humanistic theory. Humanistic theory argues thatevery individual can play a key role in shaping the course of theirown development.
BehavioralTheory of Lifespan Development
Behavioralperspective of human development suggest that the principles tounderstanding human development are observable behavior an externalstimuli in the surrounding, instead of looking at the being atunconscious processes. According to this theory, if one knows thestimuli, one can predict behavior. Therefore in this regardbehavioral theories believe that nurture is more significant todevelopment than nature. Behavioral theories disagree with the viewthat individuals go through a series of phases. They believe thatindividuals are influenced by the environmental stimuli that theyinteract with. Developmental patterns are therefore personal,exhibiting a certain set of environmental stimuli, and behavior isthe outcome of persistent exposure to certain factors in theenvironment (Heckhausen,Wrosch, & Schulz, 2010).
Oneof the behavioral theories of lifespan development is classicalconditioning by John B. Watson. According to this Watson, classicalconditioning happens when an organism learns to react in a givenmanner to neutral stimulus that usually does not evoke that kind ofreaction. In explaining this theory, Watson gave the example of a dogwhich learned to respond to bells in the same manner it reacts whenmeat is presented to it. This behavior was achieved through thepairing of the sound of the bell and meat presentation. Thus the dogends up wagging its tail with excitement and salivating wheneverthere is a sound of a bell, even though there is no meat presented(Lerner,2010).The theory of classical conditioning helps in understanding how humanlearn emotional responses. For example, an individual may be afraidof horses as a result of their past experience with horses, maybebeing injured by a horse (Moran,2013).The individual tends to fear horses, and may react differently whenthey see one. This is due to association of horses with the sufferingthat they may have endured.
Comparingthis view to bioecological perspective of lifespan development, it isclear that the traditional theories of human development such asclassical conditioning as well as operant conditioning are limited inunderstanding of human development. The bioecological approach helpsin bridging the gap in the traditional theories. Basically, thebioecological theory emphasizes the interrelations of the influenceson development. Since the different levels of the environment arerelated to one another, a change in one level of the system impactsother parts of the system (Zastrow& Ashman, 2007).For example, inability of a parent not to provide for the family(which is part of mesosystem) affects the child’s microsystem.
Inaddition the sociocultural theory discussed above places emphasize oncultural influence on development. The extent of sociocultural andbioecological theories in explaining lifespan development arecritical. The traditional theories are only focused on certainaspects as seen on behavioral theories discussed in this paper(Lerner,2013).Operant conditioning for example focuses on reward and punishment asthe mode through which behavior is learned. Behaviorists obviouslyignore the role of the environment, culture, as well as hereditaryfactors in determining behavior.
Othertheories such as the humanistic approach to development are concernedwith the unique qualities of humans, and their influence ondevelopment. It opposes the view by behaviorists, and culturaltheories that, the human behavior is mainly determined by unconsciousprocesses, by learning from the environment or through rationalcognitive processing (Thies& Travers, 2001).This theory affirms that every person have an inherent ability tomake decisions regarding their lives and to control their behavior.
Thebioecological and sociocultural theories of lifespan developmentdiverts from traditional theories mainly by introducing uniquerelationships between nature and nurture. The traditional theoriesare largely concerned on either nature or nurture in explaining humanbehavior (Harms,2010).Nevertheless, all the theories of human development have strongexplanation of human behavior and cannot be ignored in lifespandevelopment. Behavioral, humanistic, cognitive neuroscience views ofdevelopment among other theories are the valid in their sense inunderstanding human development, even though not independentlysufficient. To comprehensively understand human development, theintegration of all the theories including biological, humanistic,behavioral, environmental, socio-cultural and cognitive perspectivesshould be embraced (Fingerman,Cynthia, Jacqui, and Toni, 2011).The role of nature and nurture cannot be undermined under anycircumstances in understanding of human development.
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