Psychodynamic Theories

Arguably, the oldest developmental theoretical formulation in use is the psychodynamic model, which gave rise to the work of Erik Erikson (19021994), Carl Jung (1875-1961), and, as its seminal example, the theory of Sigmund Freud. Freud's theory holds that all human behavior is energized by dynamic forces, many of which are consciously inaccessible to the individ ual. There are three parts to the personality in Freud's formulation: the id, which emerges first and consists of basic, primal drives; the ego, which finds realistic ways to gratify the desires of the id; and the superego, the individual's moral conscience, which develops from the ego. A primary energizing force for development is the libido, a psychosexual energy that invests itself in different aspects of life during the course of development. In the firstyear of life (Freud's oral stage), the libido is invested in gratification through oral behavior, including chewing and sucking. Between one and three years of age (the anal stage), the libido is invested in the anus, and the primary source of gratification has to do with toilet training. From three to six years, the libido becomes invested in the genitals; it is during this phallic stage that the child begins to achieve sexual identity. At about six years of age, the child enters latency, a period of relative psychosexual quiet, until the age of twelve years, when the genital stage emerges and normal sexual love becomes possible.

Freud's theory is a discontinuous theory, emphasizing stage-by-stage development. The theory also relies mainly on nature, as opposed to nurture; the various stages are held to occur across societies and with little reference to individual experience. The theory holds that children are active in their own development, meeting and resolving the conflicts that occur at each stage.

The success of psychodynamic theory has been questionable. Its parsimony is open to question: There are clearly simpler explanations of children's behavior. The falsifiability of these ideas is also highly questionable because the theories are quite self-contained and difficult to test. Psycho-dynamic theory, however, has proven enormously heuristic—that is, having the property of generating further research and theory. Hundreds of studies have set out to test these ideas, and these studies have significantly contributed to developmental knowledge.

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