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Developmental Theories’ Comparative Analysis


Studying people’s behavior has been a central focus for various scholars and scientists over the centuries. This has led to the development of various theories that aim at explaining why people behave and develop the way they do. Arguably, a human being’s behavior and development is a lifelong process that involves psychological and social changes, which are experience during the lifespan of an individual. This report shall set out to compare and contrast two developmental theories. To this end, an evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes of each theory shall be provided.

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Attachment theory

John Bowlby is a famous psychologist who specialized in child psychiatry. In his effort to understand the developmental processes of human beings, he worked in conjunction with Mary Ainsworth who also had a keen interest in understanding the behavioral development of human beings (Isaacson & university of Carlifonia, Davis, 2006). Together, they formulated the theory of attachment, which stresses the significance of early-life experiences to the development of a child in later stages. Bowlby believed that personal development is highly influenced by family relationships, while Mary Ainsworth stressed that children need to depend on their parents before they can become independent (Isaacson & University of California, Davis, 2006).

In this theory, John Bowlby asserts that during the infancy stage, a child is wholly dependent on the mother, who plays a vital role in the behavioral development of the child (Van der Horst, 2011). During this stage, the mother acts as the child’s ego and super-ego; guiding him/her through various stages of life until the child matures (Van der Horst, 2011). In this theory, Bowlby advocated for a positive, constant and intimate relationship between the mother and the child (Van der Horst, 2011).

According to the theorist, this results to a child who is productive, influential and functional through his/her adult life. In addition, the theorist proposes that when faced with separation from the parents, a child will at first protest, but eventually prove to be self-reliant and independent. He theorized that in times of mourning or loss of a parent, a child tends to form an attachment with the departed parent. In addition, he asserted that when a child is exposed to various substitutes of the parents at short periods of time, he/she is unable to form stable relationships/attachments.

On a related note, results from a study conducted by Mary Ainsworth showed that sensitive and breastfeeding mothers had infants who rarely cried and comfortably explored their surroundings as long as their mothers were close by. On the contrary, the infants of insensitive mothers cried a lot and showed high levels of insecurity in similar circumstances (Isaacson & university of Carlifonia, Davis, 2006).

Conceptual Developmental Theory

Heinz Werner (1890-1964) was a psychologist and researcher who proposed that a combination of the senses is the main source of human behavior (Valsiner, 2004). He contended that individuals grow into their personality depending on the way they interact with their environment in regard to separation and association ((Valsiner, 2004). For example, the people that a child encounters as he/she goes through the cycle from childhood to adulthood determine the personality that he/she is likely to develop (Valsiner, 2004).

Correspondingly, Bernard Kaplan stated that the development of human behavior is highly affected by the value system adopted by an individual (Lerner, 2002). As such, if one’s values are positive and productive, then he/she has a positive and productive development. Kaplan further reiterated that development of an individual is also affected by the perceptions they hold (Lerner, 2002). This shows that what might be seen as a bad development by one individual might be perceived as a positive outcome by another.

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An Overview of the Two Theories

These two developmental theories agree that human development begins at birth. Similarly, they propose that human contact (presence of adults during childhood) is an important factor during the development of a child. In addition, both theories suggest that a child’s personality is influenced by the experiences he/she encounters during childhood. For example, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s theory of attachment suggests that a child’s ego and super-ego are determined by the dominant parent, who fosters them until a child becomes independent. These two attributes form an integral part of an individual’s personality. Similarly, Heinz Werner and Bernard Kaplan’s theory of conceptual development propose that an individual’s personality is a product of human senses and belief/value system. To a large extent, these factors are influenced by the socialization process.

Despite these similarities, there are notable differences that can be deduced from these theories. For example, the theory of attachment suggests that development is as a result of regular contact with parents. On the other hand, the theory of conceptual development proposes that development is more biological than it is social. In addition, the theory of attachment does not consider the effects of cognitive growth to the development of an individual. As such, it can be assumed that a child’s development is based on attachments, and biological and psychological factors do not factor in. However, the theory of conceptual attachment proposes that cognitive growth, as well as socialization is essential factors during the development of an individual.

From this comparison, the theory of conceptual development is the most logical. This is attributed to the fact that it considers the effects of both the biological (human senses as products of cognitive growth), and social (interactions and rational thinking) influences on human development. While the theory of attachment provides a strong argument in regard to human development, it is not as applicable in real life situations when compared to the conceptual theory of development.


From this paper, two theories of human development have been highlighted. A comparison of the assumptions forwarded by each theory has been provided. As a result, the theory of conceptual development has proven to be the best among the two. This conclusion has been arrived at by evaluating the extent to which each theory can be applied in a multifaceted situation that is characteristic of the world we live in today. While both theories exhibit inadequacies and weaknesses when it comes to explaining human development, there are some assumptions that apply in specific situations. As such, these strengths form a strong foundation from which more research regarding human development can be launched.


Isaacson, K. L., & University of California, Davis. (2006). Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby: The development of attachment theory. California: University of California, Davis. Web.

Lerner, R. M. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development. New York: Routledge. Web.

Valsiner, J. (2004). Heinz Werner and developmental science. New York: Springer. Web.

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Van der Horst, F. (2011). John Bowlby – From Psychoanalysis to Ethology: Unravelling the Roots of Attachment Theory. Boston: John Wiley and Sons. Web.

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