Those favoring an Organismic Worldview recognize both efficient and material causes as important but place even more emphasis on what they see as formal and final causes. Formal causes reflect the organizational quality of all living systems, while final causes reflect organicists' belief that human development is a directional process. To use an analogy, when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to form water, a substance is created with properties radically different than either of its two constituents. At room temperature, hydrogen and oxygen each exists as a gas but water exists asa liquid. Water is very good for putting out fires, while oxygen and hydrogen actually have the opposite effect. As such, the emerging properties of water are radically different from the properties of the individual elements of which it is comprised. In the same way, organicists argue that humans are each more than the sum of their parts and that humans are actively involved in their own construction.
Two of the major theoretical traditions within the Organismic Worldview are the psychoanalytic models associated with the work of Sigmund Freud (18561939) and Erik Erikson (1902-1994), and the cognitive developmental model associated with the work of Jean Piaget (1896-1980).
Freud's Psychoanalytic Model
Freud's work, although highly controversial both then and now, is important because it helps highlight the importance of the early bonds between a parent and a child and helps show how experiences early in life may influence subsequent life experiences.
It is ironic that Freud's theory, one of the most controversial theories of child development, is based not on a careful examination of children but rather on clinical interviews he conducted with adult patients in the course of his psychiatric practice in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. Freud, the clinician, believed that his adult patients' problems stemmed from their early childhood experiences, and as a result his approach to therapy was to help them regress to those early experiences so that the traumatic nature of the experiences could be uncovered and therefore resolved.
Freud saw activity during the first year of life, what he called the oral stage, centered on the mouth and the process of learning to take in, both in the biological and psychological sense, those things that initially are external to the infant. Because this taking in or incorporating is pleasurable to the child, Freud saw those associated with the process, most notable the mother and the father, as also acquiring positive value in the eyes of the infant. To Freud, a psychic force, the id, regulated these early efforts on the part of the infant. The id exists in the infant's subconscious and has the sole purpose of reducing tension and increasing gratification.
By age two or three, during the anal stage, the focus of activity shifts from the oral region to the anal region, with issues of retention and elimination, again, at both the biological and psychological levels, becoming paramount. Because the child is now being asked to learn to balance power and control, a second psychic force, the ego, emerges as a regulatory mechanism. Unlike the id, the ego resides partly in consciousness and partly in unconsciousness and as such serves to help the child become socialized; that is, it helps the child recognize that she must respond to considerations other than her own immediate gratification.
The preschool years witness the phallic stage and a further shift in focus to the genitalia and issues of sex role identification. Freud sees this process as one of conflict for the child because the child initially sees the same-sex parent as a competitor for the affections of the opposite-sex parent rather than as a mentor and role model. Successful resolution of the conflict comes about through the emergence of a third psychic force, the superego. The superego resides entirely in the child's consciousness and is, in essence, the child's conscience. It is the superego that helps the child recognize the legitimacy of society's social expectations for the child.
Middle childhood brings a respite to the child, a time Freud called the latency stage. According to Freud, from age five to thirteen children's efforts are directed at establishing same-sex friendships, strengthening ties with parents, and meeting the social and intellectual demands imposed by school and society.
The adolescent years witness the emergence of the genital stage. Again the focus is on the genitalia but it has shifted from parent-child issues to issues of establishing intimacy with a same-age peer. How successful the adolescent and young adult is in establishing adult sexual relationships is, to Freud, largely a function of how successfully earlier stages were resolved.
Erikson's Psychoanalytic Model
Erikson's revision of Freud's theory reflected his belief in the interpersonal nature of human development. Erikson offered a sequence of eight developmental stages—or as he called them, psychosocial tasks—that must be successfully accomplished for a person to become fully developed. Erikson's first psychosocial task involves developing a basic sense of trust and is seen as the major developmental milestone for the infant. Developing a basic sense of trust comes about through the interactions with the infant's primary caregivers. The more predictable and appropriate the interactions, the more easily a sense of trust is established.
Erikson's remaining seven psychosocial tasks then follow in sequence, each associated with a particular period of the lifespan. Toddlers are expected to use their sense of trust to venture forth and establish a basic sense of autonomy. The preschooler, in turn is asked to develop a sense of initiative. By middle childhood, this sense of initiative is now expected to more fully develop into a sense of industry. One characteristic of Erikson's work that is well illustrated in these first four stages is their nested nature. For successful completion, each requires resolution at all previous levels. No resolution halts development; partial resolution restricts further development.
By adolescence, individuals are asked to form a sense of identity, which is seen as forming the foundation for the establishment of a sense of intimacy, the defining event of the early years of adulthood. Intimacy typically leads to some form of permanent bond, which in turn often leads to parenthood and the opportunity to develop a sense of generativity, or concern for the next generation. Finally, toward the end of life, one is asked to form a sense of ego integrity, to accept the life you have led as the life you have led.
Piaget's Cognitive Development Model
Unlike Erikson who focused on interpersonal relationships, Piaget focused on children's cognitive development, in particular on the cognitive structures or mechanisms that are available to individuals of different ages to help them make meaning out of their everyday experiences. Piaget saw this effort to make meaning as reflecting a desire to maintain an equilibrium or balance between the individual and his context. New experiences create a degree of disequilibrium, which the individual tries to adapt to either by drawing on previous experiences to make sense of the new one (a process Piaget referred to as assimilation) or by making the necessary cognitive changes to adapt to the new situation (a process of accommodation). This continual process of assimilation and accommodation leads to the changes in the individual's cognitive organization that were of interest to Piaget.
Piaget saw this developmental process as occurring in a sequence of four periods or stages. The first, the sensory-motor period, typically occurs during the first two years or so of life. It is marked by Piaget's observation that infants are initially unable to act or behave on the basis of their mental representations (literally, re-presentations) of their experiences but rather act on the basis of their sensory and motor impressions of these experiences. To Piaget's infant, what something means is based on whatever sensory or motor interactions the infant is able to have with the object, person, or experience.
Gradually over the second and third years of life, young children begin to acquire the ability to act, in a very elementary fashion, on their mental representations of objects, people, and events. This preopera-tional period, which typically lasts until ages five to seven, is characterized by the child's growing use of language, the increasing ability to engage in pretend play and imitation, and a growing ability to understand simple functional relationships. These young children, however, still have difficulty in appreciating the fact that others do not see things from the same perspective as they do (what Piaget referred to as egocentric thought), and they are still relatively easily fooled by how things appear to be rather than how they must be.
As children enter middle childhood around age five to age seven, they move into the period of concrete operational thought. They are now no longer easily fooled by their perceptions because they have the cognitive skills necessary to have their logic ''correct'' their perception. Concrete operational children demonstrate the cognitive skills necessary to arrange, organize, and classify information; use the types of logical operations necessary for the understanding of mathematical and scientific operations; and modify their comments to reflect the perspective of the listener.
Beginning in adolescence and continuing throughout the adult years, formal operational adults are potentially able to apply logic to all situations— hypothetical or real. Piaget saw this ability to have ''thought take flight'' as a partial explanation for the expansiveness of adolescent behavior and even for the difficulty adolescents and young adults have in initially settling into productive adults lives.
Was this article helpful?