Posted: December 30th, 2022

Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists

Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists

Classical and contemporary theories attempt to explain human development in very similar ways. These theories are all respected and have highly supportive evidence that help us understand how development occurs. Aldwin recently stated: “developmental science has been undergoing a remarkable shift from reductionism to a relational developmental perspective” (Aldwin, 2014). By this, she means that the world of psychology is transitioning from a simplification approach to a broader, more well-rounded approach that sees development as stemming from an individual’s interactions with their environment Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.

The social learning theory was first proposed by Albert Bandura and focuses on observation and imitation of behaviors, attitudes, and emotions of others as determining learning and behavior (McLeod, 2016). Bandura believed that behavior was a direct result of observation of others. His famous Bobo Doll Experiment corroborated his theory by proving children’s behavior is influenced by authority figures and is often mimicked despite lack of reasoning. The sociocultural theory proposed by Lev Vygotsky in 1934 aims to answer how human development occurs. Vygotsky believed that a child’s development is determined by “cultural values, beliefs, and problem-solving strategies through collaborative dialogues with more knowledgeable members of society” (McLeod, 2018). Essentially, his theory states cognition is formed through social interactions.

There are some stark differences between these two theories. First, the social learning theory is founded on the idea of observation, where the sociocultural theory is heavily rooted in social interaction, not just observing. Additionally, the social learning theory considers mediational processes. Bandura hypothesized that human behavior isn’t solely based on observation, rather, he believed that humans processed the observation and identified consequences of that behavior (McLeod, 2016). There are also similarities between the two theories. Both theories suggest cognitive development is a product of social experience. Bandura even indicated that his theory wasn’t valid without cognitive processes at play prior to observation and imitation Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.

Vygotsky understood cognitive development not as a result of a single interaction, but as a product of social and cultural context (McLeod, 2018). This gives his theory some ground to stand on, as we can all think of a time in which we experienced a cultural or social event and grew or learned something from it. This further supports his theory and its notion that social learning precedes development. One limitation regarding Vygotsky’s theory is that it doesn’t propose stages of development, which leaves milestones for cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional development open to interpretation. Bandura’s theory has some limitations as well. It takes into account cognitive development through observational learning, but it does not explain the full picture of our range of emotions and thoughts (cognition), nor our control over them (McLeod, 2016). His theory does, however, support socio-emotional development by including that social factor as a source of learned emotions and attitudes. Bandura also outlines four processes involved in observed learning (attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation and reinforcement) that help us see the cognitive and physical developmental processes at work when a child is observing (Ahn et al., 2020).



Ahn, J. N., Hu, D., & Vega, M. (2020). “Do as I do, not as I say”: Using social learning theory to unpack the impact of role models on students’ outcomes in education. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 14(2).

Aldwin, C. M. (2014). Rethinking developmental science. Research in Human Development, 11(4), 247-254. Doi:10.1080/15427609.2014.967045

McLeod, S. A. (2016, Febuary 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology.

McLeod, S. A. (2018, August 05). Lev Vygotsky. Simply Psychology.

Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists

While all major developmental theories attempt to explain the growth of individuals, each theory has a slightly different perspective. Some theories emphasize environmental (nurture) more than biological (nature) influences. Some theories focus on a particular construct (e.g., cognition), while others emphasize the impact of age range in shaping development. Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory emphasizes fixed stages during which the mind’s capacities allow an individual to learn about the world. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, on the other hand, is not stage-based and describes growth as an interaction between the individual and his or her environment Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.

Contemporary theories (e.g., Langer’s theory of mindfulness) typically build upon the foundation generated by earlier theories. Langer’s theory of mindfulness contains similarities to classical theories, such as Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, in that they both agree that development is contextual and the organism is an active “mindful” participant. Langer took Vygotsky’s theory to a new level, focusing specifically on education and the learner. Other contemporary theories include neo-Piagetian cognitive developmental theories, which attempt to address the limitations found within Piaget’s classical theory. Robbie Case, Andreas Demetriou, and Kurt Fischer proposed theories that were extensions of Piaget’s theory. These theorists added concepts that expanded on cognitive functioning within the stages of development. Most developmental psychologists today do not believe that a single perspective or theory can sufficiently explain lifespan development; rather, an eclectic approach accounts for development better.

For this Discussion, you will examine classical and contemporary developmental theories as they relate to current applications in developmental psychology.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review the course text and other Learning Resources related to mid-20th-century theories and recent theoretical perspectives
  • Select two theories from the following list, one from each column (classical, contemporary), that examine the same developmental processes (i.e., cognitive, physical, and/or social-emotional) Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.


Classical Theories Contemporary Theories
  • Psychoanalytic/Psychosexual
  • Psychosocial
  • Behaviorism/Learning
  • Social Learning
  • Cognitive-Developmental
  • Information Processing
  • Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Ethology/Evolutionary Developmental
  • Sociocultural
  • Systems Theory


By Day 4

Post a brief description of the two theories you selected (one classical and one contemporary). Contrast the theories you selected. Specifically, identify important similarities and differences, including an explanation of the strengths and limitations of each theory in explaining developmental processes (i.e., cognitive, physical, and social-emotional). Note: Your descriptions should be in paragraph form, not bullet points. Use your Learning Resources and/or other scholarly sources to support your post. Use proper APA format and citations.

By Day 6

Respond to at least one of your colleagues’ posts and search the Internet and/or the Walden Library and select a current article (within the last 5 years) that is related to the same developmental process (i.e., cognitive, physical, and social-emotional) that your colleague posted. Summarize the article and describe the theory identified within the article.

Return to this Discussion in a few days to read the responses to your initial posting and answer any questions. Note what you have learned and/or any insights that you have gained as a result of your colleagues’ comments Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.


The classical theory that I have chosen for this discussion is the cognitive developmental theory suggested by Piaget. This theory suggests that children will build information and knowledge about the world around them through exploration and manipulation of information (Berk, 2018, pp 17). Dr. Nina Bennett describes this theory as a way for individuals to make sense of the world and environment around us (Laureate Education, 2010). Piaget developed four stages to describe the developmental processes that occur during childhood. These stages include sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational end at adolescence (Berk, 2018, Table 1.3; Laureate Education, 2010). Piaget explains that after these stages are developed, we continue to build on them as we grow through adulthood (Laureate Education, 2010).

The contemporary theory I have decided to use is the information processing theory which states that the mind is a sort of system that codes, organizes, and transforms information (Berk, 2018, pp. 19). In simpler terms, this theory explains how we process information. Dr. Nina Bennett from this week’s video explains it as picturing the brain as a hardware system, that is already prewired, and that the information we add to it allows us to learn and experience and grow (Laureate Education, 2010).

Both of these theories try to explain how humans make sense of their own thoughts and thinking. They both try to understand the way that the human brain uses its environment to learn and grow cognitively (Berk, 2018, pp 17-20). For example, Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory highlights the importance of imagination and creative thinking during the preoperational development stage when children are between the ages of 2 and 7 (Berk, 2018, Table 1.3). According to Lillard et al., (2013), imaginative and creative play can increase the cognitive social, and emotional beliefs and can additionally develop human’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social processes. With imaginative play, children can effectively understand that objects and actions’ supposed meanings can be separated from real-world reality despite physical properties (Lillard et al., 2013). For example, a banana can be used as a telephone. These theories are very cognitive developmental-based and do not focus heavily on other developmental processes such as physical or social-emotional Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.

However, because these theories do not focus on the importance of physical and social-emotional development, they do not completely explain the full understanding of development. Aldwin (2014) explains that development is not an individual process. Social and cultural environments have a huge impact on the growth and development of children (Laureate Education, 2010; Aldwin, 2014). Children learn more when they are interacting with other children who can teach them and help to build on the information they already had (Laureate Education, 2010). The information-processing theory does not account for the importance of imaginative and creative play, which as stated earlier, is a crucial part in development (Berk, 2018, pp. 20). Piaget’s cognitive development theory does not consider that important learning and cognitive transformations occur into adulthood. He also underestimated the full potential of young, preschool level children who have been shown to express the competency of an older child or adolescent based on the familiarity and complexity of a given task (Berk, 2018, pp. 19).


Aldwin, B. M. (2014). Rethinking developmental science. Research in Human Development, 11(4), 247-254.

Berk, L. E. (2018). Development through the lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Laureate Education. (Producer). (2010). Cognitive development theories [Film]. Laureate Education, Inc.

Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., Smith, E. D., & Palmquist, C. M. (2013). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1-34. Discussion: The Contribution of Classical Theorists to Contemporary Developmental Theorists.

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