Theories of Social and Emotional Development - 10 Developmental Psychology - STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

Theories of Social and Emotional Development
10 Developmental Psychology
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

Theories of social development look at the influence of others on the development of a person. Others include members of the family and other caregivers, peers, and even culture, which consists of the behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions transmitted from one generation to the next within a group of people who share the same language and environment.

Interactions Between Babies and Parents

Interactions aren’t objective; they involve emotions. Bonding is the creation of a close emotional relationship between the mother (or parents) and baby shortly after birth.


As the mother (or other caregiver) bonds with the infant, through frequent interactions, the infant gradually forms a close emotional relationship with his or her mother (or other caregivers), a process called attachment. A half century ago, developmental psychologists thought that babies became attached to the caregiver who fed them. Harry Harlow’s experimental research with monkeys disproved that belief when he found that baby monkeys separated from their mothers preferred to spend time with and sought comfort from a soft cloth-covered substitute (surrogate) rather than a bare wire substitute with a feeding bottle. More recent research has revealed that human infants become attached to familiar caregivers, usually parents, who not only provide them with nourishment but also a soft, warm, reassuring environment where the baby feels safe and secure.

Secure and Insecure Attachment

Mary Ainsworth studied attachment using a “strange situation” where a mother and baby play in an unfamiliar room, the baby interacts with the mother and an unfamiliar woman, the mother leaves the baby with the other woman briefly, the baby is left alone briefly, and then the mother returns to the room. A majority of babies played happily when their mothers were present, explored their environment, and returned to their mothers periodically, and when their mothers returned after an absence, they were happy to see them and receptive to their contact, displaying secure attachment. The mothers were generally sensitive and responsive to their babies’ needs. On the other hand, some babies showed insecure attachment. When their mothers were present, they avoided or ignored them and were upset when they left but were angry and rejected them when they returned, or they behaved inconsistently. Securely attached babies tend to become socially competent children.


The baby’s temperament, or natural disposition to show a particular mood at a particular intensity for a specific period, affects his or her behavior. Both the infant’s heredity and his or her intrauterine environment affect whether the neonate is easy or difficult. Easy babies are cheerful, relaxed, and follow predictable patterns of eating and sleeping, while difficult babies are irritable, intense, and unpredictable. In general, easy babies tend to become sociable children, and difficult babies tend to become less sociable children. How the primary caregiver responds to the baby affects how the baby will react to an extent. Jerome Kagan showed that shy, inhibited babies can become more relaxed and less fearful with responsive parenting.

Awareness of Self and Others

Becoming aware of ourselves and others is crucial to social development. Self-awareness, consciousness of oneself as a person, and social referencing, observing the behavior of others in social situations to obtain information or guidance, both develop between ages 1 and 2. The “rouge test,” in which a red spot is secretly put on a baby’s nose, then the baby is placed in front of a mirror to see if the baby realizes it is his or her own nose with the red spot, has revealed that self-awareness typically develops at age Image.

Parenting Styles

Diana Baumrind studied how parenting styles affect the emotional growth of children. Authoritarian parents set up strict rules, expect children to follow them, and punish wrongdoing. In contrast, more democratic authoritative parents set limits but explain the reasons for rules with their children and make exceptions when appropriate. Permissive parents tend not to set firm guidelines, if they set any at all. They tend to be more responsive than demanding. Uninvolved parents make few demands, show low responsiveness, and communicate little with their children. While these parents fulfill the children’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their children’s lives. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children. Baumrind and other researchers found that for European and American families, the most self-reliant, socially competent children with the highest self-esteem have warm, authoritative parents. Since these findings come from correlational studies, they do not establish cause and effect.

“So that you don’t get authoritarian and authoritative parenting mixed up, remember authoritarian is like totalitarian (that we learned about in social studies). Both authoritarians and totalitarians exercise complete control and authority over people’s lives.”

—Shereen, AP student

Erikson’s Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development

Parents are not the only people who interact with children; each stage of development requires a new level of social interaction. Starting with kindergarten, frequent peer interactions become more complex and structured and lead to friendships. Peer interactions help children develop social skills such as cooperation, empathy, and self-regulation. Erik Erikson was an influential theorist partly because he examined development across the life span in a social context, rather than just during childhood, recognizing that we continue to grow beyond our teenage years, and our growth is influenced by others. His stage theory of psychosocial development identifies eight stages during which we face an important issue or crisis. How we resolve each crisis shapes our personality and affects our relationships with others see the table 10.2.

Table 10.2 Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development


Stage One: Infants (newborn to 1 year old) face the crisis of trust vs. mistrust. Parents must provide a safe, consistent, and loving environment for children to leave this stage healthily with a strong trust that others care and will always be there for them. Mistrust, based on inconsistent, cold, or abusive situations, prevents children from leaving this stage ready to form lasting and close relationships in the future.

Stage Two: Toddlers (2 years old) face the crisis of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. The nickname “terrible twos” comes from children’s needs to develop self-control and do things for themselves, which can often result in spills, falls, wetting, and other accidents. Children who are encouraged to try new skills develop autonomy, while those who are ridiculed or overprotected may doubt their abilities and feel ashamed of their actions.

Stage Three: Children (3—5 years of age) face the crisis of initiative vs. guilt. Children need to learn to make plans and carry out tasks through play, asking questions, making choices, and using their imaginations to develop initiative. If they are severely criticized, discouraged from asking questions, not permitted to make choices, or prevented from playing, children feel guilty.

Stage Four: School-aged children (6—12 years of age) face the crisis of industry vs. inferiority. Children need to be positively reinforced for productive activities, such as achieving in the classroom, on the sports field, or artistically or musically, in order to develop a healthy self-concept and a sense of industry. If children’s efforts are considered inadequate, feelings of social or mental inferiority in this stage can carry over to a poor self-concept in the future.

Stage Five: The crisis of stage five for adolescents (about 12—20 years of age) is identity vs. role confusion. Answering the question, “Who am I?” is the major task, which involves building a consistent identity, a unified sense of self. During adolescence, peer relationships become much more important. Because family and peer groups often have different values, attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives, adolescents are faced with opportunities and challenges to define themselves. Failure of teens to achieve a sense of identity results in role confusion and uncertainty about who they are and where they are going.

Stage Six: Young adults (about 21—40 years of age) face the crisis of intimacy vs. isolation. Intimacy involves deeply caring about others and sharing meaningful experiences with them, especially a life partner. Without intimacy, people feel alone and uncared for in life; they experience isolation.

Stage Seven: In middle adulthood (about 40—65 years of age), the crisis is generativity vs. stagnation. During this period, adults need to express their caring about the next and future generations by guiding or mentoring others or producing creative work that enriches the lives of others. People who fail to achieve generativity can become stagnant and preoccupied with their own needs and comforts.

Stage Eight: In late adulthood (about age 65 to death), the crisis is integrity vs. despair. Those who look back on their lives with satisfaction that they have lived their lives well develop a sense of wholeness and integrity. Those in despair look back with regrets and disappointment in the lives they’ve led.

Erikson’s theory most accurately describes development in individualistic societies.

Middle Age and Death

Daniel Levinson described a midlife transition period at about age 40, seen by some as a last chance to achieve their goals. People who experience anxiety, instability, and change about themselves, their work, and their relationships during this time have a challenging experience sometimes termed the mid-life crisis.

Death marks the end of life. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s studies of death and dying have focused attention on the end of life, encouraging further studies of death and dying and the growth of the hospice movement that treats terminal patients and their families to alleviate physical and emotional pain. Based on her observations and interviews with hundreds of dying hospital patients, Kübler-Ross concluded that terminally ill patients pass through five stages of coping: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Subsequent research has revealed that not all terminal patients pass through all the stages, nor do they necessarily go through the stages in the order indicated.