Pioneers in Human Development Theory: Freud, Piaget & Jung

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  • 0:07 Freud & Development Theory
  • 1:49 Jung's Stages of Life
  • 4:04 Piaget & Cognitive Development
  • 7:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

What were the first theories on childhood development? Here, we will look at Freud's theory that started it all and examine Jung and Piaget's theories that followed thereafter.

Freud and the Start of Development Theory

Welcome to the early 1900s and the beginning of the serious study of psychology. Sigmund Freud is pioneering this study of human behavior and examining how counseling can be used to analyze and change people. His theory is called psychoanalytic theory, and it states that emotional problems are caused by unconscious issues from childhood. It explains that as children grow, they go through a series of psychosexual stages, or a progressive unfolding of biological instincts and desires.

For example, let's say Maria is a year old. According to Freud, she would be going through the oral stage, which means she would be focused on satisfying oral instincts, like sucking or biting. That would be why she puts toys in her mouth all the time. When Maria is 3 years old, Freud would assume she is going through the anal stage. This means she has shifted her gratification from the mouth to the anus and develops an interest in resisting or using the bathroom. Freud believed that even into later childhood, Maria would be guided by an unconscious desire for her father, called an Elektra complex.

As you can see, Freud believed we are primarily motivated by biological drives and instincts. He saw development as the upward movement through these natural tendencies.

Freud is not the only psychologist, however, who explained human development. There are psychologists who followed him, two that we will delve into here, who had their own ideas on the ways children develop. Rather than focusing on biological instincts, Carl Jung and Jean Piaget focused on the development of higher functioning abilities, like the emotions and mind.

Jung's Stages of Life

Psychologist Carl Jung was actually a younger colleague and friend of Freud's when psychoanalytic theory was prominent. The more he studied the theory and spoke with Freud, however, the more he began disagreeing with him. Jung saw psychoanalytic theory as too focused on sexuality or natural instincts and not enough on free choice or emotional development.

Jung began offering another way of understanding human development that became known as the Stages of Life. These stages outline the inner development people undergo through time. They include: childhood, youth, middle life, and old age. Here is George to illustrate.

George is five years old, which means he is in the childhood phase, which lasts from birth to puberty. Since his birth and through the next several years, his ego, or his conscious awareness, will be growing. This means he will become more and more aware of his own thoughts, feelings, memories, and perceptions. He knows he wants to eat ice cream after dinner, and he knows he doesn't like his baby sister when she cries.

Years later, he is 15 years old and now going through the youth stage. In fact, he will be going through this stage until he is around 35 or 40. At the start of this time, his sexuality is developing, and when he is 19, he leaves home in an attempt to find more independence. As he ages during this stage, he begins raising a family while his awareness is deepening, and he is realizing the carefree days of childhood are over.

When George is 50, he begins considering more seriously the fact that he will not live forever. He is now going through the middle life phase, which takes place from 40-60. He is challenged to not cling to the youth he so misses. He is becoming more introspective and seeks meaning in his life.

Skipping again several years, George is now 75. The old age stage is taking place and will be for the rest of his life. It means that his consciousness is reduced but also that he has the chance to think of death from Jung's perspective: as the goal of life and a new beginning. Therefore, George is able to have feelings of hope.

Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

Jean Piaget came along a few decades after Jung. After studying Freud's theory, he also decided that its belief that biology is the determining factor in development was misaligned. Like Jung, Jean Piaget believed that human development had more to do with higher level functioning than merely one's sexual nature or automatic instincts. He developed cognitive development theory, a theory that has become the cornerstone in understanding childhood mental development.

Here we have a group of children to demonstrate the stages.

Sensorimotor (1-2 years)

Piaget believed that when a child is a year old, he or she is exploring and getting to know the world through the use of their senses. Baby Micah, for example, loves to suck on the ear of her teddy bear. She also loves to touch her mother's arm and grab the different cloths in her crib.

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