Theorist vs. Theorist

Photo Credit: Team 2 Developmental

Photo Credit: Team 2 Developmental

By Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi 

Piaget vs. Skinner

          As mentioned in week five’s discussion on known theorists, there are distinctive, ideological viewpoints that makes each psychologist fascinating and well-respected. Jean Piaget centralized his research and educational experience on children’s social and cognitive development, in which he believed should be formalized prior to instilling learning methodologies within the psyche. His main stance on social and cognitive development was that one’s intellectual mindset was not a sedentary characteristic; instead, intellectuality is based on a child’s cognitive comprehension, which is influenced through “biological maturation” and adaption to social and economic surroundings (McLeod, 2018). Piaget was considered the first psychologist to focus strictly of cognitive progression. 

          B. F. Skinner focused on classical conditioning (i.e. operant conditioning) to study children’s behavior and progression. He centralized his study on positive and negative reinforcement, which provokes rewards and punishment through learned behavior. Skinner believed operant conditioning examines a distinctive correlation between behavior and consequence (1938). His perception of learning capabilities is best learned through observation rather than conducting psychological experimental research studies. 

          The primary difference between Piaget and Skinner is there differences in children’s development. Piaget believed children should learn through a natural process and Skinner highly trusted the reinforcement ideology. Skinner (1977) did not consider himself a “cognitive psychologist,” which makes his philosophies significantly different from Piaget’s. Furthermore, Piaget stated children use their sensorimotor skills to understand their surroundings without the assistance of educators and parents. However, Skinner believed children need guidance from authoritative figures through reinforcement (Moledina, 2013). Finally, Piaget found that social development is a very important part of children’s development and growth, increasing their willingness to want to learn. On the contrary, Skinner was adamant that children can teach themselves and curiosity is not a necessary factor in intellectual progression. 

Bandura’s View

            Albert Bandura is similar to Skinner’s ideological viewpoints, in the terms of social theory in classical and operant conditioning. His philosophies are based on the following: 

-      Understanding processes between stimuli and responses 

-      Behavior is learning through observation (McLeod, 2016). 

          His views are correlated to Skinner’s, as learning is predicated on observational learning processes, which is how children develop and expand their intellectual psyche. Bandura’s also emulates Skinner’s view on positive and negative reinforcement through rewards and punishment. One viewpoint that is interesting and not emphasized in Skinner’s theoretical framework is Bandura believed children consider the repercussions of other people’s actions. 

Piaget and Bandura on Children Development

          Piaget’s focused on children’s social and cognitive development and believe certain elements should be established through specific stages based on social views. Additionally, he believed children’s language is developed through thought processes to enhance learning abilities. His theories were heavily based on cognitive development and how children maneuver throughout their environments. Essentially, children are born with fundamental elements of the psyche and intellectual enhancement is based on continued learning methodologies.     

          Bandura concentrated on observational experimentation as a learning mechanism in children’s progression. He believed children observe everything around them in different perspectives, which is predicated on the Bobo doll experiments. In the 1960s, Bandura conducted a series of observational learning experiment, known as the Bobo doll experiments, which aimed to examine social behaviors through imitation (McLeod, 2014). While Piaget’s theory is consistent with cognitive and social development, Bandura’s philosophical perspective correlated to Skinners based on classical conditioning through observation and reinforcement. 

Zone of Proximal Development

            Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development was establishment to examine the learning potential of children (Shabani, 2010). He believed the ZPD had a greater potential than other achievement tests because it directly showed an individual’s learning abilities through problem-solving and authoritative guidance, in which those can provide feedback and ways of improvement to enhance learning capabilities. Vygotsky defined ZPD as the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (1978, p. 86). A student who receives assistance from adults, when in the phase of ZPD, will increase his or her confidence and motivation needed to complete work. 

Oedipal Crisis

            Known as the Oedipus complex, the Oedipal crisis is a term coined by Sigmund Freud to discuss the psychosexual stages of development with children’s yearning for the opposite sex (i.e. parent, sibling, friend, etc.). According to Freud’s theoretical paradigm, a boy feels the need to compete with his father for his mother’s attention while a girl feels the reverse effect (competes with mother for father’s devotion). In other words, children of the opposite sex compete with their parents for the other’s attentionThe complex is based on how the child of the opposite sex has sexual desires toward his/her parent. Based on Freud’s perspective, children’s sexual desires toward their parents are unconscionable through repression (Rubin, 2012). 

            A major criticism of Freud’s theory of the oedipal crisis was emphatically opinionated by Austrian-British psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein. She believed there were critical issues that Freud annotated in the oral and anal stages of psychosexual development (i.e. a boy experience sexual desires towards his mother when his libido vitality transfers from anal to genital area – the daughter’s lack of a penis is mother’s blame) and heavily focused on the beginning stages on the mother-child relationship (1975). Additionally, there was controversy because of Freud’s personal experiences with his parents compared to empirical studies seemed to influence his thoughts on the oedipal crisis during its inception. The opposition believed Freud’s perspective of females were vague and did not present sufficient information to understand their desires in his theories. It was not until later in his career that he provided more analysis on female psychosexual development. Also, since there was insufficient information on females, Freud’s theory that girls had the same psychosexual development experiences as boys was proven to be a continued controversial issue.  However, there was much controversy that children, at this stage, are too young to understand such feelings and emotions about their parents (i.e. prepubescent). 


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Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi