Human Development Theories


Human development involves the psychological, emotional, and biological changes that occur in human beings during their lifespan (Shute & Slee, 2015). During their growth and development, human beings encounter various changes in their way of life, which are influenced by their internal factors and factors based on their setting and circumstances (Hershberg, Hilliard, Lerner, & Johnson, 2015).

Various scholars have come up with theories to explain this phenomenon. These theories seek to explain human development and the changes that occur to them. This paper will focus on two theories: Erikson’s psychological theory and Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory. It will briefly describe each theory and compare and contrast them.

Erikson’s Psychological Theory

Erikson’s psychological theory was introduced in the 1950s by a psychologist called Erik Erikson. The theory was founded on the basics of Freud’s theory, highlighting stages of development in children up to adulthood (Miller, Vandome, & John, 2011). The theory included factors that model children’s psychological growth at each stage. As individuals grow, the stages come and go based on new decisions for the individuals to make and turning points in each major human development stage from childhood through adulthood. Two opposing psychological forces characterise each stage (Çelik & Ergün, 2016).

One is a positive or syntonic tendency, and the other is negative or dystonic. The positive force leads the individual to obtain virtue, while the negative one leads them to obtain vice or compromised development (Marcia & Josselson, 2013). Virtue helps the individual in the following stage. The childhood stages are stages one to four while the adolescence stage is the fifth one then the stages of adulthood are six to eight, as discussed below;

Stage 1 is called the infancy stage, defined by trust versus mistrust tendencies. The virtue yielded in this stage is hope, while the vice is withdrawal. Stage 2, also called the early childhood stage, is characterized by autonomy versus shame/doubt. The virtue here is will, while the mal-development is a compulsion. The play age period’s third stage is occasioned by initiative versus guilt. The virtue of this stage is the purpose, while the vice is inhibition. Stage 4 of this theory is also called the school-age period, whose tendencies are industry versus inferiority. The individual comes out of this stage with either competence or inertia.

Stage 5 is adolescence and is defined by identity or identity confusion. This stage yields fidelity or repudiation. Stage 6 is young adulthood and is defined by intimacy and isolation. The virtue from this stage is love, while the vice is isolation. Stage seven is the adulthood period, whose forces are generation versus stagnation. It yields care or rejection.  The last stage is the old age stage, characterized by integrity versus despair. The virtue is wisdom, while the vice is disdain (Chavez, 2016).

The Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory

This theory was formulated by an American psychologist called Urie Bronfenbrenner.  It explains how children’s inherent features and their natural environment influence their growth and development (Killam & Degges-White, 2017). This theory has its emphasis on studying children in various ecological systems to understand their process of development. These ecological systems include the basic family environment, the larger school environment, and the expansive ecology, the larger society and culture.  Each of these environments greatly influences each other and affects how the children grow and develop (Ettekal & Mahoney, 2017).

This theory outlines five contexts of development due to such external factors discussed above, from the most influential level to the broadest one. The first level of influence is the microsystem level, which is the child’s immediate environment. This environment may comprise home, school, peer group, and the child’s surrounding community (Eriksson, Ghazinour, & Hammarstrom, 2018). The second level is the mesosystem which involves social connections. This presents the influence of the interactions between different environments on the child. This could be the connections between home and school or peer groups and family members.

The third level of influence is the exosystem which represents the indirect ecosystem. This is the influence of environments that do not interact with the child directly but influence their development. For example, the parent’s workplace may sometimes determine how they treat their children. The fourth level is the Macrosystem which encompasses social and cultural values. This is the general community’s way of living.  The cultural, social, and economic factors affect how a child is developed. The chronosystem is the last level of the environment that affects children’s growth and development, which involves changes over time.  As time passes, societies change, and new beliefs and values are gained while others fade.

Similarities between Erikson’s Psychological and Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theories

These theories have several similarities despite having been formulated by different scholars in different historical times. One of the similarities between the two theories is that they aim to explain human development and growth. This helps explain different behaviours that different people have in different stages during their lifespans. Secondly, the two theories explain human development using various stages. Erickson’s theory outlines eight stages of development, while Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory outlines five distinct stages.

Differences between Erikson’s Psychological and Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theories

Equally, these two theories have been proven by different studies that have differences. Firstly, Erikson’s theory focuses on the influence of one’s internal psycho-social factors in its development. He explains the internal circumstances that shape human growth, while Bronfenbrenner emphasizes the influence of the external environment on a child’s growth. He focuses on the effects of the settings in which one is placed during their growth and development (Christensen, 2016).

Secondly, Erikson gives the possible outcomes of an individual’s growth at the eight stages that they undergo in their lifespan. Bronfenbrenner, on the other hand, leaves the outcomes to one’s judgment. He only explains what circumstances that could influence the development of an individual.


Human growth and development is a very important topic that everyone needs to be interested in. It helps in understanding how people behave and act and consequently helps in improving human interaction through understanding each other’s contexts. The above-mentioned theories and many others help us understand this development from different perspectives of the scholars who researched and came up with explanations.

Understanding human development helps one appreciate their differences with other people and consequently solve challenges of misunderstanding that tend to happen to people at different stages of their lives. In conclusion, the contrast between the theories that explain these changes does not mean that they are conflicting but appreciates the various points of view that one can use to understand human development phenomena.


Çelik, B., & Ergün, E. (2016). An Integrated Approach of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory and Adlerian Counseling. International Journal of Human Behavioral Science Volume: 2, Issue: 1, 21-26.

Chavez, R. (2016). Psychosocial Development Factors Associated with Occupational and Vocational Identity Between Infancy and Adolescence. Adolescent Res Rev (2016) 1, 307–327.


Eriksson, M., Ghazinour, M., & Hammarstrom, A. (2018). Different uses of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory in public mental health research: what is their value for guiding public mental health policy and practice? Soc Theory Health (2018) 16, 414–433.

Ettekal, A. V., & Mahoney, J. L. (2017). Ecological Systems Theory. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Hershberg, R. M., Hilliard, L. J., Lerner, R. M., & Johnson, S. K. (2015). Concepts and Theories in Human Development. Medford, MA, USA: Elsevier Ltd.

Killam, W. K., & Degges-White, S. (2017). College Student Development: Applying Theory to Practice on the Diverse Campus. New York City: Springer Publishing Company.

Marcia, J., & Josselson, R. (2013). Eriksonian Personality Research and Its Implications for Psychotherapy. Journal of Personality, 1-13.

Miller, F. P., Vandome, A. F., & John, M. (2011). Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Publishing.

Shute, R. H., & Slee, P. T. (2015). Child Development: Theories and Critical Perspectives. 27 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 2FA: Routledge.