Child Development: An Examination of Three Theories Essay Sample

Child Development: An Examination of Three Theories Pages
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There are a lot of theories regarding child development. Three of these theories are Bioecological Theory, Social-Cognitive Theory and Information-Processing Theory. This paper will discuss these theories by comparing and contrasting them. The first theory is the Bioecological Theory developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner. This theory is based on the nature vs. nurture idea. Bronfenbrenner believed development of a child was determined by the relationships among the environment or environmental systems around them. Within this environment there are five distinct systems which are related to a child’s relationship with the school environment, family environment and their recreational environment which includes church and sports leagues. These systems include the microsystem, the mesosytem, the exosystem, the macrosystem and the chronosystem. It is within these systems that a child develops as all five of these systems work simultaneously with the other. All of these systems change over time and a change in one system can and will often affect the other systems. How a child develops is based on the environment within these systems and what they are subjected to within them.

“For Bronfenbrenner, development is a complex interaction of the changing child within a changing ecological context.”(Mossler, 2011). The Social Cognitive Theory was introduced by Albert Bandura. Bandura showed us that the social environment and cognition have interactive roles in behavior and learning among children. He further proposed with this theory that children learn simply by observing both the environment and the people around them. “…suggestions by gesture and action first serve to guide us in learning…” (Boodin, 1914). Like Bronfenbrenner he developed stages or steps within his theory to demonstrate the interaction of his principles and cognition (thinking). The four steps are attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. The child must first learn to pay attention and then remember or retain what they have learned. When they can master these first two steps they will move on to reproduction where they will copy the behavior. Then the final step in which they will be motivated to engage in the behavior. This is can be achieved Bandura believed, through reinforcement or punishment.

Finally the Information Processing Theory also known as Cognitive Information Processing was introduced by Claude Shannon. In this theory he viewed cognitive development much like that of a computer. This concept was compared to a computer because of the way both humans and computers will take in, store and process information. This theory focuses on the three stages of memory (sensory, short-term memory and long-term memory). It takes a look at how these stages of memory retrieve and then transfer the information as it attempts to store and then later recall it. As children learn or develop they become better at this process because they can better interpret and store the information into their memories.

“As children learn more steps, their thinking ability becomes more complex.”(Mossler, 2011). Because these three theories focus on cognitive development they are instrumental in and are often used in the mental health treatment of children and/or adolescents. The Bioecological theory is used as a premise when working with children who have developed a mental illness due to a damaging or emotionally hurtful environment. Bronfenbrenner believed the family should act as a filter for these children and buffer them against the harmful things of the world. Bronfenbrenner believed if you can fix the environment for the child relying on his five systems then they can live a normal life without the mental issues. It is believed by many that this theory is much more consistent with the facts and helps to explain better the many factors dealing with mental disorders among children and adolescents than the medical models.

Social-Cognitive Theory is used as a direct model when dealing with children and adolescent mental issues. This perspective helps researchers and mental health providers to estimate prevalence rates for mental disorders in children and adolescents as they develop both socially and cognitively. The study focuses on children in the context of their social environments. These environments include their family, peers and cultural surroundings. When studied a mental health professional can determine which area or environment is causing the most harm to the mental health of the child/adolescent and work on improving the mental state of the child/adolescent within that environment. Lastly with Information Processing Theory the mental health professional will use this theory in dealing with the age of the child/adolescent and their mental capacity at the time the disorder emerges. Supporters of this theory believe this is an important aspect when dealing with disorders because their memory development is what is taken into consideration and how they are dealing with things within their age capacity and at that particular stage of development.

For instance, a young child throwing a temper tantrum can be dealt with in such a way as to think about what their memory of this particular action has gained them in the past. If their stored memories of this action are telling them this action is rewarding, they will repeat this because they have no other memory. An older child is expected to be able to recognize and have stored alternative ways in dealing with a stressful situation. If there is no memory stored a mental health professional will utilize the steps or processes of the Information Processing Theory to help the child/adolescent develop this concept and store it to memory. With the inclusion of these three theories among others, into the mental health care field one can see the similarities of these theories. All three of these theories deal with the environment of a child, the learning process by which the child was exposed, the development of the cognitive ability of the child and by the social development of the child. All three theories believe the environment plays an important part in the cognitive development of children. They each believe it has an impact on how the child learns and develops. They all agree when there is a disruption of the process such as the child being subjected to mental or physical neglect or abuse the child can grow to be developmentally challenged or develop a mental illness as a result. What may be harder to determine is the differences in these three theories.

The outcome of each would seem to be the same. Each theory is based on cognitive development and the relationship the environment has on that development. What we may need to look at is how these three theories seem to think this development is attained. With Brofenbrenner’s theory of Bioecological development, he believed a child goes through five distinct systems and learns their cognitive ability within each system while being exposed to the environment which makes up that system. Since he believed each one of these systems happens simultaneously with the others we can deduce he believed a child stores their memories and experiences as they develop to use at a later time when dealing with their growth. On the other hand Bandura believed a child’s social environment was the most important in their cognitive growth.

He believed this was a part of their environment,  but most influence came from the people around them to include family and peers. He believed a child’s ability to develop cognitively depended on what they observed within their environment and not just by the environment alone. Lastly when we take a look at the Information Processing theory we can see there are differences among this theory and the other two. One distinct difference is this theory proposes that rather than observing others and developing in that manner, children can take in all that is around them and store it in their memories for use at a later time. This theory although it is concerned with the environment a child is in, it is mostly focused on what the child stores to memory than what the impacts of the environment are on the child. In conclusion, these three theories are still thought of as leading theories today when discussing the development of children.


Boodin, John E. (1914). Cognition and Social Interpretation. American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 20, No. 2 (Sep., 1914), pp. 181-219. Retrieved February 17, 2012 From JSTOR.

Eddy, Elizabeth M. (1981). The Ecology of Human Development by Urie Bronfenbrenner. American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 83, No. 3 (Sep., 1981), p. 643. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from JSTOR.

Klein, Lisa G. (1993). Children and Families in the Social Environment by James Garbarino. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), p. 251. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from JSTOR.

Mossler, R.A. (2011). Child and adolescent development. Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Nowell, April. (2010). Working Memory and the Speed of Life. Current Anthropology, Vol. 51, No. S1, Working Memory: Beyond Language and Symbolism (June 2010), pp. S121-S133. Retrieved February 18, 2012 from JSTOR.

Thomas, W. I. (1905). The Province of Social Psychology. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Jan., 1905), pp. 445-455. Retrieved February 19, 2012 from JSTOR.

Wynn Thomas & Coolidge, Frederick L. (2010). Beyond Symbolisim and Language: An Introduction to Supplement 1, Working Memory. Current Anthropology, Vol. 51, No. S1, Working Memory: Beyond Language and Symbolism (June 2010), pp. S5-S16. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from JSTOR.

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