Topics on Human Growth and Development

Human growth and development research falls into several categories.
Human growth and development research falls into several categories. (Image: Kathy Quirk-Syvertsen/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Within the subject of human growth and development, the words “growth” and “development” have very different meanings. Growth is a physical increase in size, mostly occurring in childhood. Development indicates an increasing level of adeptness in skills, which continues throughout life. The two processes, while independent of one another, are interrelated.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development refers to the development of information processing and includes problem solving, decision making and development of language. Cognitive development continues from early childhood through adulthood. Around 1950, Robert Havighurst developed an influential theory, which presented six stages of cognitive development: infancy and early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood and later maturity. Psychologist Jean Piaget looked at cognitive development a bit differently, splitting it into four developmental stages: sensorimotor from birth until age 2, pre-operational from ages 2 to 7, concrete operations from ages 7 to 11 and formal operations beyond the age of 11.

Psychosocial Development

Psychosocial development has to do with development of the personality and of social skills and attitudes. This realm of development lasts from infancy through adulthood. Psychologist Erik Erikson analyzed these stages in his psychosocial development theory and maintained that psychosocial development occurs in eight stages throughout life. At each stage, the human confronts and masters various challenges. The stages represented in Erikson's theory are as follows: trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus role confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation and integrity versus despair.

Psychosexual Development

Sigmund Freud first introduced his psychosexual development theory around the turn of the 20th century. This theory proposed that human beings have sexual appetites that are instinctual and present from birth. While the theory is controversial, it was the first theory to be considered in the modern age of psychotherapy. Freud's theory maintains that the development of libido takes place through a series of stages, with each stage represented by its own erogenous zone: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Freud maintained that anxiety experienced regarding any of these phases would persist as neurosis into adulthood.

Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg adapted his theory of stages of moral development from Piaget's earlier work. This theory states that moral reasoning and resultant ethical behavior is learned in six distinct stages: punishment and obedience orientation, in which a child learns the outward consequences for “right” and “wrong” behavior; instrumental-relativist orientation, in which the concept of “right” is internalized; interpersonal concordance, in which authority is respected; law and order orientation, in which the individual feels a obligation to maintain social order; social contract orientation, in which a person learns it is wrong to violate the rights of others; and universal ethics orientation, in which the person comes to understand human rights and personal conscience.

Faith Development

Professor James Fowler developed his stages of faith theory, which moves from infancy through adulthood in stages that begin with undifferentiated faith in earliest childhood and continue with stages including intuitive-projective, mythical-literal, synthetic-conventional, individuative, conjunctive, and finally the universalizing faith stage.

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