Many of the concepts of psychology can be used to better understand how we develop through life. As we age, our nature and nurture impacts who we are, our parents’ behavior impacts our future actions, and our morality develops as we go through different life stages.
To begin with, much of our understanding of the world begins with what we observe in our childhoods. For instance, gender identity plays a large role in one’s development through perceived gender roles, which are a set of expected behaviors for male or females. Over time, children develop gender schemas, which are concepts that help children make sense of the world by categorizing characteristics. In doing so, children notice behaviors and appearances associated with men and women, which ultimately affects how they act.
In addition, the social learning theory states that we learn social behavior by observing and imitating and by being rewarded or punished. This is important in our understanding of gender and development, such as in scenerios where a young boy is praised for not crying or a girl is discouraged from playing sports. By understanding the effects of our environment on gender idendity, it is clear that both nature and nurture play a role.
Additionally, parenting styles greatly affect children as they develop into adults. Such parenting styles include authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Authoritarian parents impose rules and expect obedience, and oftentimes children are more likely to rebel when the figure is removed. Then, permissive parents submit to a child’s desires, make few demands, and use little punishment, causing children to perform well in tasks that interest them but tend to be immature and aggressive. Lastly, authoritative parents are both demanding and responsible, allowing children to have high self reliance, social competence, self-esteem, and low aggression. By recognizing our parents’ parenting style, we can identify why we may have certain traits over others due to how we were raised. At the same time, cognitive development has a large role in how children develop from infancy to adulthood.
According to Piaget’s theories on childhood cognitive development, from birth to 2 years, children are in the sensorimotor stage. During this stage, children demonstrate reflexes and lack the understanding of object permanence, which means that something continues existing even when you cannot see it. Also, during this stage, children have stranger anxiety, until they later develop basic trust. After the sensorimotor stage, children undergo the preoperational stage, which lasts from 2 years to 6/7 years, in which children learn to use language but do not fully comprehend the neural operations of concrete logic. This includes egocentrism, pretend play, and lacking the concept of conservation. Understanding this stage of development will help parents trying to get their child to do something, such as eating. For instance, since children lack the concept of conservation, they perceive pieces that are more spaced out as being more pieces, even if it is the same amount. As a result, parents could avoid cutting food that their child does not like into smaller pieces that are spaced out, so the child thinks there is less food that they have to eat.
After the preoperationational stage comes the concrete operational stage, from 6/7 to 11 years, in which children gain the mental operations that enable them to think logically about concrete events. Following this is the formal operational stage from 12 to adulthood when people are capable of thinking logically about abstract concepts and develop mature moral reasoning.
Moving on from cognitive development, Erik Erikson’s theory of conflict stages describe the major conflicts that each person experiences through different stages of life. For instance, between the ages of 0 and 1, the major conflict we face is basic trust versus mistrust. This idea explains stranger anxiety which peaks at 13 months and then subsides with basic trust development. During this stage, infants develop attachment, which is a survival impulse that keeps infants close to their caregivers for warmth/softness. The two types of attachment are secure (meaning that the child is distressed when the caregiver leaves and seeks comfort when they return) and insecure (meaning that the child can be ambivalent or avoidant).
Over time, one enters adolescence from ages 12-19. During this time, the major conflict is identity versus confusion. The major task of adolescents is to solidify one’s sense of self, which is often accomplished through trying out different “selves” in different situations. Then, in early adulthood, the major conflict is intimacy vs. isolation, which is when people develop relationships and love. Next, in adulthood (from 26-64 years), the major conflict is generativity versus stagnation, which refers to both marriage and work. For instance, generativity, which is being productive and supporting future generations, can refer to one’s work satisfaction. All of these stages describe what is the most challenging aspect of life as one ages. As a teenager, peer pressure, social acceptance, and finding one’s identity are in the forefront of their brains. In contrast, adults with stable jobs and families have different priorities and concerns, demonstrating development through life.
Another concept that applies to change through life stages is the development of morality. According to Kohlberg’s stages of moral thinking, as we age our morality undergoes changes with greater moral reasoning overtime. Firstly, up to age 9, we experience preconventional morality, which means that one follows the rules to avoid punishment or gain a reward. This means that children at this age tend to make decisions according to incentives, such as some kind of reward, or in fear of punishment. Furthermore, in early adolescence most people have conventional morality, meaning that they follow the rules because it benefits society and allows people to get along. Finally, in post-conventional morality, which occurs in later adolescence/early adulthood, people realize that sometimes rules need to be set aside to pursue higher principles. Overtime, with greater experiences, relationships, and challenges, our morality develops to understand the nuances of our choices and how they affect ourselves and others.
Overall, understanding the psychological reasoning behind the development of identity, cognition, and morality helps us make sense of nature and nurture, as well as how we change throughout life.