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Why is it important to have theories that are biologically based,

environmentally based and emphasizing the interaction between person

and environment?

a) Thoughtfully describe and discuss why it is important to have theories that are
biologically based, theories that are environmentally based, and theories that
emphasize the interaction between person and environment. How does having these
various perspectives add to our understanding of human development? b) Upon
reviewing all the theories we have covered this quarter, which one fits best with your
own worldview and why? c) Using the theory you cited as the one that fits best, give
specific examples of how it can be related to everyday experiences (either personal
ones that you have had or have observed.)

Theories of Human Development give us points of reference to explain

what we observe and how we understand the human process. They can help us
find sources of behavior and trends, and account for the path that individuals
follow, whether these can be called paths of growth or lack of progress. All
theories have something valuable to help in our understanding of human
development; they are most useful in combination than they are alone. I consider
some might be more useful than others in certain aspects, but none of them
would be an all-encompassing one that would help us take a holistic view. Even
those considered to cover the biological and environmental sides in human
processes lack the explanation that others provide in a step-by-step process.
We first come to the world with certain unique basic or predetermined
features, based on our genetic, evolutionary legacy. This includes our necessary
and adaptive psychological and “physical structures, cognitive functions, and
sensory capacities that allow [us] to find a mate, reproduce, and rear [our] young
to reproductive age” (Newman & Newman p. 16.) For instance, we can see men
and women with different features and patterns of behavior, which we now know
come from a biological basis even before birth. From ancient times, human
evolution has been exhibited certain evolutionary features that have become
more and more complex. Generation after generation our brains, our bones, our
genes, have been changing, and with these changes our biology is dictating our
limits and potentials. Our traits can only be propagated and reproduced if we
survive. In order to survive, we have to adjust to our environment and this in turn
implies that these biological features have been selected for future
reproductions. If we consider the biological basis then this follows that these

features are universal since they are part of the evolutionary process moving
forward in due course.
But our environment changes our biological set too. Every event we
experience has an effect on our biological setup: our neural connections are
reinforced; our body is shaped by our activities and by what we eat; our thinking
changes with what we learn from our experiences and the quality of our
relationships. We must take into account the genetic heredity and the way we
grow up with our caregivers because they are our first sources providing the
foundations for maturation. Our biological inheritance is not the whole story. This
background is only partial and it is blended with how we interact in our
surroundings. With all of the biological foundation we have when we come to this
world, we cannot deny that we are highly influenced day after day, by the
environment in which we live. Some examples are the way in which we reacted
and learned to adjust to our surroundings – our parents and family, our peers,
and institutions in which we interact and make relationships, all of these are
realities that we must consider while growing up. In addition, in order for our
biological potential to develop normally, each individual needs to have the
necessary environmental input. As the authors of our textbook emphasize,
“Environmental factors produce differences in individual thought and behavior;
they shape expectations, which, in turn, shape individual goals and actions”
(Newman & Newman p. 122) Nevertheless, none of this by itself can be the sole
cause-determining factor in our behavior and do not help us explain our human
development in its totality. This is insufficient to explain all the features involved
in our makeup.
While we cannot remain blind to the biological aspect of our human
makeup, we cannot deny that environmental aspects play a great part. The
question remains how much each of these is taking place in each of us. What
percentage of our biological makeup and what percentage of our environmental
makeup take place in our behavior? It is important that we emphasize the
interaction between person and environment because they both take part in our
human composition. Our biology can affect our social behavior, and our
environment can affect our biological structure.
As the Dynamic Systems Theory suggests, the whole is more than the sum
o its parts. Just as we can say that any individual is composed of everything

related to the self concept: personality and behavior, biology, cognition, the
person’s environment, motives, etc., in the same way, society is more than the
sum of its people, their relationships, their environments, their collective
personalities and behaviors, their belief systems, their history, their trends and
legacies. Within each “organism”, it is hard to separate any part from the whole
because any one of those parts are said to be only a piece of the organism – a
combination of its totality. We experience our environment in one way, but
depending on our development and the new environments we encounter
throughout our lives, we look back at our previous experiences, see them with a
different perspective, and understand them differently. In my view each of these
theories has something valuable and, again, I cannot separate or assign all of the
values to just one of them. I would prefer to use them in combination. The
feature of change, of inconstancy, is something that all these theories share, and
from there we can take what we need from other theories when one of them does
not fit with the developmental purpose in turn.
Evolutionary Theory provides us with a view of our motivation and mental
processes that have survived for generations and remind us of our adaptable
features that may be perfected. From this theory, I value the attachment theory,
which is a useful tool to learn about relationships and continuity in behavior.
Psychosexual Theory reminds us that we have inherent drives with which
we have to deal all of our lives and we have to learn self-control. From this
theory, we learn the study of conscious, preconscious, and unconscious
behaviors, and what each of these features tells us about ourselves. This is one
example in which to realize we are much more than we can perceive tangibly. We
have internal motives and insights of which we are not always aware. Our mind
works, and our internal organs work automatically. This is important to take into
account when we have to consider that we are more than a bunch of organs
working in tune, or when we are tempted to see our ecological background as the
most relevant learning and the basic cause of behavior. Additionally, even with
all of its flaws, it was important that the Psychosexual Theory emerged from a
medical basis and triggered further study of the human being. Just as it is in any
other area in the human process so it is in science, we can only build upon that
what has been built already. Every piece in our psychological or behavioral

development does its part to help us see further into more advanced ways of
learning and thinking and behaving.
Cognitive Developmental Theory is a strong means for the study of the
child’s cognition, and the value of taking into account that we are prone to
develop in some type of phases that are maturational. Even if precisely Piaget’s
ideas of stages have been criticized, I would say we could salvage from the
theory how we are predetermined to mature cognitively in a certain evolutionary
process if we are given appropriate ways to develop this potential.
Learning Theories, as compared with the Cognitive Development Theory I
think much can be done from the perspective of Learning Theories. If we cannot
do much to change most of our biological background from the time of
conception and up to the point of our current existence, we can still do much in
this area to cause change in our environment and in turn influence part of our
biological makeup. With learning, we modify the way we act and think, and this
opens bridges for further learning and possibilities of thinking. This process helps
us mature and further modify our neurological paths and our brain over and over
with experience. In this way of studying human development, I would like to point
out the importance of considering the combination from the perspective of nature
and nurture together. We cannot think in black or white terms only, but we have
to see the shadows in between. Each is important and we seem to lose
perspective every time we fail to account for the wider panorama. When we
narrow our focus, our understanding becomes limited and thus incomplete. So, if
there is something we can change and open our perspective in our social
surroundings and behaviors, it starts with learning; that is why this theory is
highly relevant to understand and further our human development.
Social Role Theory is important in providing us with the social changes we
experience as the most social beings on earth. It helps explain part of our identity
and our ability to combine “multiple roles” (p. 182). Similarly, Life Course Theory
is useful in giving us an expanded view of the “larger social environment” and
the “historical contexts” in our development (p. 204). This helps us consider the
intergenerational baggage and ancient legacy of a particular point in history. It
also gives us some view on important transitions in our lives.
Another valuable tool to understand human development is Psychosocial
Theory by Erikson. From an individual perspective, the psychosocial stages of

development are a good measurement tool for understanding human needs and
processes we go through. They give us focus and anchor points of reference for
our different mindsets and maturational development.
Cognitive Social-Historical Theory is also a practical tool with the zone of
proximal development. Again, this puts in place the analogy of the building
blocks, areas in which we can make learning levels more reachable. This is not
only useful for individuals, but for whole organizations and societies. This is an
ongoing “opportunity for learning and development”, it is also very adaptable to
different “instructional strategies, tasks, and cultural values and contexts for
learning” (p. 265).
Finally, Dynamic Systems Theory is very comprehensive and adds
awareness and inclusiveness to the various biological and socio-cultural
processes. This theory even accounts for new changes emerging from the
dynamic interaction of these changes and in their attempt to equilibrate in an
organized manner, which Lewis called self-organization (p. 280).
From my view, these particular tools work together and are valuable in helping
me understand human development. They are all valuable, but most importantly,
each of them has at least something particular to offer which would be missing if
we were to stick to only one of them.
Taken separately, none of these theories would suffice to fit in my own
worldview. They need to complement each other in order to account for the
different areas in our human development. We need to understand our biological
evolution, the origins of our mental processes, and the development of cognition;
we also need to account for our social roles and other relationships, and we have
to consider this in our position in history, in our particular culture, and all this
integrated in the interactive work when we consider their complexity.
With the Evolutionary Theory, I can understand that human individuals are
born with certain predispositions that are influenced by the environment in which
we live. For example, our ancestors developed critical ways of adaptation to the
environment in which they lived at their time. Eons of years of natural selection
had to pass by for this to take place. Thus, the human species evolved. By this
means, the current features of our human makeup were selected. Similarly,
mental processes were evolving, which helped us to change our mindsets and
information processes to find solutions, thus adaptation could take place. These

basic features allowed us to survive. An example of this adaptation is the quality
of our attachment in relationships. The way in which some street children
perceive this strange world and the new relationships they had in their earliest
years explain how ready they are to interact socially in a way that is
characteristic of humans. Many times, they had no stable support and
attachment to their parents, and they are not able to form relationships strong
enough. Unfortunately, this pattern is many times repeated with children of their
With the Psychosexual Theory, I can now understand certain inner drives I felt
when I was younger and less given to rationalize. Sometimes we do not know
why we behave in some way or another in a particular event. For example,
through Psychosexual Theory, I was able to extend and understand unconscious
behavior by scrutinizing the background of another person in a counseling
session. I learned that his feelings of anger or even aggressiveness towards a
family member had an ancient projection of his fear resulting from his parent’s
abandonment in childhood. Then, he could understand where his anger came
from, and he was able to derive from different pieces of knowledge in order to
understand his different behaviors at play in the whole context – the previous
while being a child and an adult.
In Cognitive Developmental Theory, we might need to discard exact age
groups and recognize how much this measurement is limited to school children
and the specific ways of testing cognition. However, many of the abilities in
thinking can be taken as points of reference to measure the development of mind
maturation. To understand that a child is behind in comparison with other
children of his/her age, we can take as a reference Piaget’s Stages of
Development, which would help me identify why a 2-3 year old child is
consistently behind in school and lagging in speech maturation, when most
children are already making important progress in that area. With the use of
Learning Theories, I could help the same child to improve his/her speech by
stimulating practice and reinforcing this behavior every time the child tries to
speak. I can also understand this behavior in a historical context; Life Course
Theory would be useful here. Notwithstanding, if I realize that this particular child
is growing up in California’s Silicon Valley, and that his parents share certain
features of Asperger’s Syndrome, I might be on the right track to suspect that the

speech problems in this child are coming from some identifiable symptoms of
Asperger’s Syndrome or autism, (“Autism Link to ‘geek Genes’”). And if I see the
trend of children with autism has been in steadily growing from five cases per
10,000 in the 1960’s and 1970’s, to one in 110 in 2009 children as reported by
U.S. Centers for Disease Control for autism ("Autism Statistics, Characteristics
and Causes"). This fact would tell me that there are also some social trends
involved, which reminds me that the child is an individual living in society and
that the particular environment in time and place is relevant.
This seems to be the case of a close relative, who shows most of the features
related to Asperger’s Syndrome, and this theory has helped me understand these
facts when considered in combination. Yet, it might help this child overcome
some of his symptoms by using the zone of proximal development of the
Cognitive Social-Historical Theory. This can be possible by understanding his
limitations and helping him make some steps towards solving his speech problem
– little by little and steadily. It would depend on how many of the symptoms this
child is able to solve in order to continue normally in his developmental tasks of
the Psychosocial Stages of Development, and to successfully relate to his society
by taking societal roles (considering the Social Role Theory) that will give him
satisfaction and a feeling of successful integration in society. At this particular
stage in his life, the level of involvement of his parents is critical. As Dynamic
Systems Theory proposes, human development is complex and it is constructed
through “active, goal-oriented efforts of the actor in conjunction with the
supportive structure of the physical and social contexts” (p. 282). Whether his
parents take advantage of the networks of social support, follow closely the
direction of his progress, consider the stability of the family, the availability of
specialized services, and the effects that he and the cases of other children have
accomplished over time in their environmental context – all of these will work
interactively for the outcome.
In brief, “a person's environment is, in part, an expression of the person…
the environment is integrated into the person and guides action” (Newman &
Newman p. 208). In other words, the whole is not only much more than the sum
of its parts, it is an organism in itself composed of other organisms, all of which
work together in the formation of each individual.


"Autism Link to 'geek Genes'" BBC News World Edition | Health. Ed. BBC News. 14
Aug. 2002. Web. 05 Dec. 2010.
"Autism Statistics, Characteristics and Causes." Child Behavior Help, ADHD in Children,
Autism Treatments. Autism Society of America, 20 Nov. 2009. Web. 05 Dec.
2010. <>.
Newman, Barbara M., and Philip R. Newman. Theories of Human Development. New
Jersey: Psychology Press, 2009. Print.