Chapter 2: Theories of Development

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Developmental Theory

A group of ideas, assumptions, and generalizations that interpret and illuminate the thousands of observations that have been made about human growth. In this way, developmental theories provide a framework for explaining the patterns and problems of development.

Grand Theories

Comprehensive theories of psychology, which have traditionally inspired and directed psychologists' thinking about child development. Psychoanalytic theory, behaviorism, and cognitive theory are all grand theories.

Emergent Theories

Theories that bring together information from many disciplines in addition to psychology and that are becoming comprehensive and systematic in their interpretations of development but are not yet established and detailed enough to be considered grand theories.

Psychoanalytic Theory

A grand theory of human development that holds that irrational unconscious drives and motives, often originating in childhood, underlie human behavior.

Behaviorism

A grand theory of human development that studies observable behavior. Behaviorism is also called learning theory because it describes the laws and processes by which behavior is learned.

Conditioning

According to behaviorism, the processes by which responses become linked to particular stimuli and learning takes place. The word conditioning is used to emphasize the importance of repeated practice, as when an athlete gets into physical condition by training for a long time.

Classical Conditioning

The learning process that connects a meaningful stimulus (such as the smell of food to a hungry animal) with a neutral stimulus (such as the sound of a bell) that had no special meaning before conditioning. Also called respondent conditioning.

Operant Conditioning

The learning process b y which a particular action is followed by something desired (which makes the person or animal more likely to repeat the action) or by something unwanted (which makes the action less likely to be repeated). Also called instrumental conditioning.

Reinforcement

A technique for conditioning behavior in which that behavior is followed by something desired, such as food for a hungry animal or a welcoming smile for a lonely person.

Social Learning Theory

An extension of behaviorism that emphasizes the influence that other people have over a person's behavior. Even without specific reinforcement, every individual learns many things via observation and imitation of other people.

Modeling

The central process of social learning, by which a person observes the actions of others and then copies them.

Self-efficacy

In social learning theory, the belief of some people that they are able to change themselves and effectively alter the social context.

Cognitive Theory

A grand theory of human development that focuses on changes in how people think over time. According to this theory, our thoughts shape our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

Cognitive Equilibrium

In cognitive theory, a state of mental balance in which people are not confused because they can use their existing thought processes to understand current experiences and ideas.

Assimilation

An adaptation in which new experiences are reinterpreted to fit into, or assimilated with, old ideas. (Piaget)

Accommodation

An adaptation in which old ideas are restructured to include, or accommodate, new experiences. (Piaget)

Sociocultural Theory

An emergent theory that holds that development results from the dynamic interaction between each person and the surrounding social and cultural forces.

Guided Participation

In sociocultural theory, a technique in which skilled mentors help novices learn not only by providing instruction but also by allowing direct, shared involvement in the activity. Also called apprenticeship in thinking.

Zone of Proximal Development

In sociocultural theory, a metaphorical area, or "zone," surrounding a learner that includes all the skills, knowledge, and concepts that the person is close ("proximal") to acquiring but cannot yet master without help.

Epigenetic Theory

An emergent theory of development that considers both he genetic origins of behavior (within each person and within each species) and the direct, systematic influence that environmental forces have, over time, on genes.

Selective Adaptation

The process by which humans and other organisms gradually adjust to their environment. Specifically, the frequency of a particular genetic trait in a population increases or decreases over generations, depending on whether or not the trait contributes to the survival and reproductive ability of members of that population.

Eclectic Perspective

The approach taken by most developmentalists, in which they apply aspects of each of the various theories of development rather than adhering exclusively to one theory.

Nature

A general term for the traits, capacities, and limitation that each individual inherits genetically from his or her parents at the moment of conception.

Nurture

A general term for all the environmental influences that affect development after an individual is conceived.

Sexual Orientation

A person's impulses and internal direction regarding sexual interest. A person may be oriented to people of the same sex, of the other sex, or of both sexes. Sexual orientation may differ from sexual expression, appearance, identity, or lifestyle.

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