Theories of Human Development

Course No. 197
Professor Malcolm W. Watson, Ph.D.
Brandeis University
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Course No. 197
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Course Overview

Have you ever wondered where the terms "terrible twos'' and "identity crisis" come from? Did you know that the notion that children are different from adults, and require special care, is only about 200 years old?

Did you know we can trace most of our modern ideas about children to just two renowned thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries? These are just a few of the fascinating aspects of the field of "human development": the science that studies how we learn and develop psychologically, from birth to the end of life. To a large extent, the study of human development is the study of child development, because the most significant changes take place from infancy through adolescence. This very young science not only enables us to understand children and help them develop optimally, but also gives us profound insights into who we are as adults.

In Theories of Human Development, Professor Malcolm W. Watson introduces you to the six theories that have had perhaps the greatest influence on this field. You will meet the people who formulated each theory, become familiar with their philosophical backgrounds and the historical contexts in which they worked, and study the specific processes of human development that each theory describes.

Along the way, you will evaluate the strength and weaknesses of each theory. How do these six great theories complement or contradict one another? What do they tell us, as a whole, about human development?

Six Theories of How We Become Who We Are

The six major theories have had a pervasive impact on the way we, both scientists and the general public, see ourselves. They are:

Sigmund Freud's Psychodynamic Theory. The lectures discuss this theory, the earliest of the six, including such concepts as the Oedipus Complex and Freud's five stages of psycho-sexual development. Although now widely disputed, Freudian thinking is deeply imbedded in our culture and constantly influences our view of human nature.

Erik Erikson's Psycho-Social Theory. This is the theory that gave rise to the term "identity crisis." Erikson was the first to propose that the "stages" of human development spanned our entire lives, not just childhood. His ideas heavily influenced the study of personality development, especially in adolescence and adulthood.

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth's Integrated Attachment Theory.This was the first theory to focus primarily on the formation of parent-child relationships. It explains the connection between relationships that occur early in our lives and those that happen later, including romantic ones. Attachment theory has generated thousands of scientific studies, and has led to changes in many childcare policies, such as those allowing parents to stay with their children in hospitals.

Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory. This theory modified traditional learning theory developed by such behaviorists as B. F. Skinner, which was based on stimulus-response relationships. It considered learning to be no different among infants, children, adults, or even animals. Bandura's approach is influential in such areas as the effect of media violence on children, and the treatment of problem behaviors and disorders.

Jean Piaget's Cognitive-Developmental Theory. Piaget's influence created a revolution in human development theory. He proposed the existence of four major stages, or "periods," during which children and adolescents master the ability to use symbols and to reason in abstract ways. This has been the most influential of the six major theories. In the 1970s and 1980s, it completely dominated the study of child development.

Lev Vygotsky's Cognitive-Mediation Theory. Alone among the major theorists, Vygotsky believed that learning came first, and caused development. He theorized that learning is a social process in which teachers, adults, and other children form supportive "scaffolding" on which each child can gradually master new skills. Vygotsky's views have had a large impact on educators.

Early Theorists: Locke, Rousseau, and even Darwin

To give you the best understanding of these theories, this course also explores the general history of the study of child development. It touches on the work of other important researchers, such as John Watson of Johns Hopkins University, who developed behaviorism, and Arnold Gesell of Yale, from whose work sprang such well-worn phrases as "just going through a stage" and "the terrible twos."

Professor Watson also discusses the era of observational research on children, which marked the beginnings of child study as a true science. This period was pioneered by scientists who began publishing detailed accounts of the development of their own children. These early "baby biographers" included Alfred Binet, who first developed intelligence testing in France, and even Charles Darwin.

You may be struck not only by how much we have learned about child development, but also by how much our attitudes toward children have changed. Until the beginning of the 19th century, there was no interest in child study and, in fact, no concern for children. Such factors as poverty and high infant mortality created an atmosphere in which children were barely tolerated, or used for labor.

In Paris in 1750, 33 percent of all newborns were left in foundling homes or on doorsteps; most died. In England, boys and girls as young as four were often sent to work in mines.

You will see how attitudes toward children gradually improved, due mostly to the efforts of physicians and religious leaders. And you will appreciate the tremendous contribution that two renowned philosophers, John Locke (1632–1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), have made to the field of child development. Their ideas about children—whether they are inherently good or bad, or whether they actively shape their environments or passively react to stimuli—still form much of the basis of our modern theories.

The lessons of this course are not simply about learning, behavior, and relationships in youth, but at any age. Taken as a whole, they provide our best answers to the questions of human nature—how we learn, adapt, and become who we are at every stage in life.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction—The Value of Theories
    This lecture introduces the major objectives of the course. It allows students to assess where they stand on major issues regarding human development. The lecture then discusses the value of scientific theories for understanding development, and the criteria for judging whether a theory is valuable. x
  • 2
    The Early History of Child Study
    Prior to and during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America, people often showed a lack of humane concern for children. This translated into an absence of systematic study of child development. Concern for, and evaluation of, children resulted in part from the influence of a few physicians and religious leaders. x
  • 3
    Two Worldviews—Locke vs. Rousseau
    Two major philosophers, both concerned with humane child rearing and education, changed the prevailing perception of children. John Locke espoused the "mechanistic" worldview: children are neutral ("blank slates") and function like machines. Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed the "organismic" worldview: children are good, and function like organisms. x
  • 4
    Later History—Becoming Scientific
    This lecture traces the application of scientific method and theory to the study of human development. The first scientists to study children functioned like naturalists, simply observing and describing children's development. x
  • 5
    Freud's Psychodynamic Theory
    Freud's psychodynamic theory caused a revolution in thinking about human development. We discuss his history, theory, and his reliance on such concepts as psychic energy. x
  • 6
    How We Gain Contact with Reality—The Ego
    Our discussion of Freud's theory continues by focusing on the nonadaptive nature of the unconscious id, the development of the ego and its accompanying secondary process thinking, and the subsequent development of the superego. x
  • 7
    Freud's Psycho-Sexual Stages
    This final lecture on Freud discusses his concept of erogenous zones, the five psychosexual stages—oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital—and the fixations that may occur during each, and the Oedipus complex and its resolution. x
  • 8
    Erikson's Psycho-Social Theory
    We first discuss neo-Freudian revisions in Freud's theory. We then discuss Erikson's history, including his experience with his own identity crisis, and describe how his stages of development are based on the need to develop mastery and personal identity through a series of crises in one's life cycle. x
  • 9
    Erikson's Early Stages
    The first four stages of Erikson's theory provide the foundation of development for the child: developing trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, and industry versus inferiority. x
  • 10
    Identity and Intimacy
    Erikson was the first to propose two pivotal stages of development after childhood. During adolescence, Stage 5 is a crisis of developing identity versus role confusion. Stage 6, in young adulthood, is a crisis of developing intimacy versus isolation. The lecture concludes with differences between women and men in developing identity and intimacy. x
  • 11
    Erikson's Later Stages—Adult Development
    Erikson's last two stages occur in adulthood and old age. Stage 7 is a crisis of developing generativity versus stagnation, and Stage 8 is a crisis of developing ego integrity versus despair. The last stage connects all the issues with which a person has already dealt. x
  • 12
    Bowlby and Ainsworth's Attachment Theory
    This lecture introduces attachment theory by describing the personal histories and research of its creators. We continue with a "secure base," for which the theory was famous, and an attachment system for the adaptation of the species. x
  • 13
    How Nature Ensures That Attachment Will Occur
    Bowlby rejected Freudian psychodynamic theory as inadequate to explain attachment. He turned instead to ethology theory, and its concept of innate releasing mechanisms. We discuss the allure of babyish features and their role in attachment, and attachment in the first year of life. x
  • 14
    Development of Secure and Insecure Attachments
    This lecture describes the normal development of a secure attachment, and Ainsworth's "strange situation" task—the most popular assessment for secure attachment. We examine insecure attachments: what they are, how they may predict several psychopathological problems in development, and causes. x
  • 15
    Early Attachments and Adult Relationships
    Our discussion concludes with relations between early attachment and later relationships. Bowlby developed the "internal working model" of a child's attachment, which provides constant security, and influences subsequent attachments. Early attachments influence adult romantic relationships. x
  • 16
    Bandura's Social Learning Theory
    A fourth major theory, Albert Bandura's social learning theory, added a cognitive focus to learning theory. It showed how the influence of what one expects to happen is more important than what does happen. This focus led to the concept of "vicarious reinforcement." x
  • 17
    Bandura's Self-Efficacy Theory
    Bandura extended the cognitive focus of his theory by arguing that a person's development of self-efficacy (or belief that one can have an effect on one's environment) determines the tasks one attempts and the skills one develops. x
  • 18
    Piaget's Cognitive-Developmental Theory
    This lecture introduces the most important theorist in the field of child development, Jean Piaget. It describes Piaget's history and his attempt to combine naturalist biology and philosophy to create a field called genetic epistemology (how we come to know what we know). x
  • 19
    Piaget's Early Stages
    Piaget's sequence of four major stages describes how we progress from infant to adult intelligence. Symbol use emerges by the end of infancy, the sensory-motor period. Preschoolers master symbolic skills in the pre-operational period. x
  • 20
    Concrete Operations
    The discussion of Piaget's theory continues by focusing on what preschoolers can and can't do, and how the five-to-seven year shift is a pivotal transition to Piaget's third stage, the concrete-operational period. x
  • 21
    Piaget's Last Stage
    This lecture begins with a description of Piaget's Stage 4, the formal-operational period. This is a time of "idealistic" thinking. We consider examples of formal-operational logic, abstraction, and hypothetical thinking. x
  • 22
    Vygotsky's Cognitive-Mediation Theory
    Lev Vygotsky was practically unknown to Western thinkers until recently, but his theoretical influence on development and education is constantly increasing. As a Russian theorist he believed that Marxism could provide a foundation for a better theory of psychological development. x
  • 23
    Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development
    Vygotsky argued that a person's level of development is not a specific point but a range or zone. This "zone of proximal development" shifts over time. We examine examples of "scaffolding," an important notion in education. x
  • 24
    Conclusions—Our Nature and Development
    This concluding lecture uses the allegory of blind men describing an elephant to illustrate how different theories might give a partial or even false understanding of human nature and development. We discuss ways to integrate the major theories, using the example of gender role development. We end with a reprise: Where does the student now stand regarding major issues of human development? x

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Your professor

Malcolm W. Watson

About Your Professor

Malcolm W. Watson, Ph.D.
Brandeis University
Dr. Malcolm W. Watson is George and Frances Levin Professor of Psychology at Brandeis University, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his B.A. in psychology from the University of Utah and pursued his graduate education in developmental psychology at the University of Denver, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Watson was the recipient of the first Michael Laban Walzer Award for Excellence in Teaching at...
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Theories of Human Development is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 43.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Hidden Gem Professor Watson’s course on human development has so far garnered only 42 reviews, not including this one, over 11 years. Most of them in the first year and subsequently there were gaps of two years where no one at all had bothered to write a review. No doubt the title of the course does not raise much excitement, as do, for example, courses on Alexander the Great or the American Civil War; and to be fair I mostly bought this course because it was very cheap, so I suppose it makes sense that there are not many reviews. Prior to taking this course, I really knew almost nothing about the six theories of human development discussed by Dr. Watson. Indeed I had not even heard of a couple of the theorists and almost none of the theory names. I was quite surprised to learn the depth of research and consequent theoretical development in the area of human development. Although in many cases it appears to be really hard to test the theories and most especially to disprove one or another or even subsets of a particular theory. Still, I found the subject matter to be compelling. After all we have all developed, likely in differing ways and having these ideas presented, allowed me to reflect on how and others developed and changed over the years. Fascinating! The heart of the course are the lectures that describe the development of each theory, the personalities behind each theorist and a critical analysis of each theory. Professor Watson precedes these lectures with some introductory ones, that detail some pre-scientific approaches to child development. I particularly found lecture three on Locke v Rousseau’s world views fascinating. Although I was quite familiar with the ideas of both, it had never occurred to me to contrast the two specifically. The course is laid out largely on a chronological timeline, beginning with Freud’s perspective and following how each new theory flows from the prior ones. Except for the last theorist, Vygotsky whose writings were mostly unknown in the West until they were translated from the Russian. Professor Watson is a sound presenter, sprinkling his lectures with personal observations and stories, each of which is well-chosen to illustrate a point he is making. Very effective. Likely very few will read this review, but for those who do, this course is well worth the few dollars it costs, especially if on sale. I took the course on audio and did not miss the visuals.
Date published: 2019-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinaitng and well done My wife is a psychotherapist, so over the years I have heard extensively reference to most of the names and theories discussed in this course. These included Freud (obviously), Erikson, Bowlby, and Piaget. The only ones that were totally new to me were Bandura and Vygotsky – and professor Watson explains quite in depth why Vygotsky is only lately becoming well-known. I had quite a superficial acquaintance with many of these theories. After having heard the course I feel that I have a good understanding what these theories are about, how general each of them is, and which aspects of development each tries to cover. For me, the content was fascinating; not least because I finally got a better understanding of what she was talking about with her colleagues all of these years. I totally enjoyed Professor Watson’s presentation of the course. He seemed so patient and unrushed, and yet substantial material was covered. His manner is very structured, but his tone is quite casual and the lectures almost feel conversational at times. Particularly, I enjoyed the first few lectures in which he took a very wide perspective of the history of the way people viewed human development in many eras and in many cultures, some taking a predominantly religious view while others contemplating the subject from a philosophical perspective. Overall this has been a fascinating and well presented course.
Date published: 2018-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful bought copy for 2 other people because I found it so interesting & useful!!
Date published: 2017-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great synopsis I have listened to this course many times and get something from it each time
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Insightful look into human nature I'm on a personal quest to better understand my self and was not disappointed! I suppose we could say this course is an introduction to developmental psychology. It is literally full of insightful ideas and models about human nature and development and I found it really interesting all along. The ideas are organized into "theories", put into their historical context, developed and critiqued. I found it intriguing to think about which of these ideas might have influenced my parents' parenting style. I also found some of the ideas were quite uplifting.
Date published: 2016-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Start I have purchased several courses relating to the study ( or courses associating their contents) of human behavior. These courses have my interest in trying understand myself as well as my involvement with others. This course I would definitely reserve to be your START prior to any other subject related purchase. It has focus me to the understanding of two major concepts about human development, Locke and Rousseau, as a child. Both concepts are still applied and integrated with other approaches today and are recognized as Worldviews to human behavior that start in our child development. Most other make reference to human development as adults. This course will educate you on human development beginning within child development before one becomes an adult.
Date published: 2015-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review and overview (CD review) My cousin recently had twins and my wife is their godmother. I got this course to refresh my college studies in human development, particularly with regard to children. The professor handled this extremely well, reviewing literature I remembered studying years back as well as some more recent studies and theorists I did not know at all. I especially appreciated his balance between academic and personal styles of presentation. He was casual without being too much so, which made listening and comprehension easy for me. I was glad to hear his conclusions that included some of his personal opinion, specifically that no one theorist has everything right, and that the best approach is usually some combination of more than one perspective. I find this true in most fields. The only negative I found may have had absolutely nothing to do with the professor, the material or the delivery. In several lectures there was a hissing noise that sounded like interference or microphone battery issues to me, though my wife thought it sounded like papers rustling. Since we had the CD version we could not see if the latter was the case, it could have been anything from recording issues to duplication to something coming into contact with the mike. This was a minor annoyance that was a distraction but in no way interfered with the ability to hear and understand the delivery. I was a bit surprised as this did not rise to the usual high standards I have come to expect from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2013-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Theories of Human Developent I recently completed a summer course in Lifespan Development at Sonoma State University and purchased this course to expand on an retain what I had learned. This course is really excellent. I've learned more, and been refreshed. The instructor is easy to listen to. I recommend this a a great course for parents as well as grandparents.
Date published: 2013-10-30
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