The 6 Main Theories in Education and Development Psychology

Home Assignment Answers The 6 Main Theories in Education and Development Psychology

Psychology is an interesting discipline that brings a multitude of knowledge to the field of applied psychology and for that reason, to get to understand it and not get lost in the way, we are going to describe the six main theories about development.

To explain the data that we have today, some may have been somewhat obsolete. However, it is no less true that his exposure and understanding is fundamental to explain the advances that have taken place in the psychology of development during the last decades. These six theories about development that we are going to talk about from an evolutionary perspective are Gestalt, psychoanalysis, behaviourism, cognitive psychology, Piaget and Vygotsky.


The psychology of Gestalt

The psychology of Gestalt was one of the first scientific currents that emerged in psychology. Today his knowledge has been assimilated, however, his approach in the study of perception was undoubtedly revolutionary. In addition, although the psychologists assigned to it are less known in the study of development, the truth is that they also stood out in this field.

Two profiles of people to explain the difference between male and female brain

The Gestalt defends that, to know, we use a series of structures. Structures that would have a physical basis and impose their qualities in what concerns our development. On the other hand, we could define them as complex totalities, product in turn of the decomposition of complex units. Complex? Let's see if we can explain it a little better.

What the Gestalt comes to tell us about development is that it is based on structures of biological origin that we are learning to use as we grow. Therefore, there would be no "development" in the aspect of genesis and evolutionary stages, only the progressive discovery of the capacities of the brain. Now, current research shows that this is not true and there really is genesis and evolution in cognitive processes.

Related Article: The Developmental Approach in Psychology


Psychoanalysis is a current with a very clear father:  Sigmund Freud. This approach emphasizes unconscious impulses and their effects on our behaviour. Although this branch did not have an unscientific method and its postulates lack the principle of parsimony, it is no less true that it has had a great impact on the study of development and that its theories supposed a revolution with respect to the conception one had of childhood and adolescence from psychology.

Regarding the development, it considers that this happens because the child needs to satisfy a series of needs in each evolutionary stage. Therefore, it classifies the development in a series of stages according to how the satisfaction of that series of needs is established. Psychoanalysis has also placed great emphasis on the importance of sexuality in all stages of our development, including the first.


It was born in response to the scant scientific attitude of psychoanalysis. It is extremely positivist, everything that cannot be measured directly, for them, is outside the study of psychology. Therefore, they only studied the relationship between the perceived stimuli and the manifest behaviour that they triggered, ignoring any intermediate variable that cannot be measured.

For behaviourists, development is only understood by the different types of learning that are considered in this framework. The child is born with a series of unconditioned and innate responses, which through experience is associated with other stimuli. Through very simple processes, it generates a multitude of complex behaviours. The problem with this theory of development is that it may be wrong to be too reductionist.

Cognitive psychology

It arises as a reaction to behaviourism and is concerned with studying the internal processes that can mediate between a certain stimulus and a certain behaviour. This is where the computational and connectionist perspectives of the human brain are born. Today, cognitive psychology is the perspective with the most support, especially in Europe.

Regarding the study of development, cognitive psychology suggests that the subject is an information producer who constructs internal representations of what the world is like. His position approaches Piaget and Vygotsky due to this constructivist principle. However, by defining processes as associative, he moves away from them to get closer to behaviourism.

Jean Piaget

Piaget is one of the great references in the theories about development. He is considered one of the fathers of constructivism. Part of the idea that the child builds his world and how to build it will be based on the problems that arise. His theory about development focuses on the formation of knowledge.

Through his constructivist perspective, he elaborated a theory that divided development into a series of stages. These stages are universal and all subjects would pass through them at similar ages.

Lev Vygotsky

Another of the great references in theories about development. Like Piaget, he proposed development from a constructivist perspective. However, despite agreeing on the perspective, they focused on different points: while Piaget focused on how the individual interacted with his environment, Vygotsky focused on the cultural and social effects that influenced development.

For Vygotsky, development was inseparable from the social environment, since culture and society transmit the forms of behaviour and organization of knowledge. Of course, it is not a process of copying and pasting, the child builds his reality through what society tells him. This theoretical postulate is known as socio-constructivism.

It is an interesting paradigm with many possibilities. Although many people consider Vygotsky's thought opposed to Piaget's, in reality, these can easily be reconciled. But, for that, we have to take a broader perspective that acts from different levels and ways of investigating.

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