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Social Development Theories in Human Growth and Development

  • 0:07 Childhood Social Development
  • 0:46 Psychoanaltic Theory
  • 2:07 Social Learning Theory
  • 3:35 Attachement Theory
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a psychotherapist in private practice with an MA in counseling and a Board Certification in Christian Counseling. She is also a freelance writer on mental health topics and spirituality.

There are various theories on the social development of children. In this lesson, we will follow Sally as she meets with different psychologists, learning and differentiating between three of the most popular theories: psychoanalytic, social learning and attachment.

Childhood Social Development Theories

How does a child develop socially? How do children learn to interact with others, and what is the process that gets them there? In order to answer these questions, researchers and psychologists have examined children and come up with various theories through the years. Today we will focus on three of the most well known theories of childhood social development: psychoanalytic theory, social learning theory and attachment theory.

Let's meet Sally. Sally is curious about developmental theories and has set out to learn about them by meeting with three different psychologists, each of whom subscribe to a different theory about how we develop.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Today, Sally is going to a psychologist who follows psychoanalytic theory. When the session begins, he holds up blots of ink and asks what she sees in them. He does this in order to bring forth her unconscious feelings or desires. He does not ask about her feelings or desires, because he believes that she is not aware of them. This theory was developed by Sigmund Freud and states that what really drives us are urges and needs beneath our conscious awareness, specifically urges and needs that come from childhood.

The therapist explains to Sally that during childhood, she developed through a series of psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. If a stage was not successfully completed, Sally would be fixated on that stage in a way that would negatively affect her present personality and interactions with others. He said, for example, that her feeling of being uptight around others was a sign that she was stuck in the anal stage.

Today, many researchers do not subscribe to psychoanalytic theory because it is difficult to test for accuracy. After all, how can we be sure to know what is going on in the unconscious? This theory also differs from other developmental theories in its belief of psychosexual stages and their lasting impact on the individual.

Social Learning Theory

Next up, we have a psychologist who subscribes to social learning theory, founded by Albert Bandura. When Sally asks what the theory is about, the psychologist shows her a video. 'This is six year old Lisa,' he says. 'Watch as she participates in an experiment.'

As the video begins, Lisa is watching a woman interact with a doll through a window. She is throwing the doll, yelling and hitting it. Afterward, Lisa is invited to play with the doll by herself. She throws it and kicks it, yelling at it as the woman did. 'This is the famous Bobo doll experiment,' says the psychologist. 'It displays the tendency for children to learn behavior by watching it.'

That, then, is the premise of social learning theory: we act a certain way by having first observed it. Then we interact with others based on what we have learned. When our actions are encouraged or reinforced by others, we are inclined to repeat that behavior, practicing it until it becomes habitual. Social development, therefore, arises simply from watching those around us and imitating them.

Sally is noticing that this theory is different from psychoanalytic theory, because it does not take the unconscious into account. It also doesn't lean on emotions or stages of development. Instead, its focus is on behavior and how that comes about. The theory is therefore easier to notice and measure, as seen from the Bobo doll experiment.

Attachment Theory

Finally, Sally is going to the third psychologist, who subscribes to attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. The psychologist wastes no time before she asks Sally about her childhood. 'What was your relationship like with your mother and father?,' she asks. 'Did you run to them for help? Did you know they would be there for you? How did you feel if they left?' The majority of questions asked by the psychologist involve Sally's interactions with her parents as a young child.

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