Essay on Developmental and Social psychology?

Table of contents

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Development Psychology

This essay will explain how the cognitive development theory and psychoanalytic theory explain personality. There are a variety of different research methods that are used when conducting psychological research, yet it remains arguable which method has proven the best. Still, the two main types that are frequently being used are cross-sectional research and longitudinal research. Cross-sectional research involves analysing different groups of people from different ages and then reaching a conclusion. Longitudinal research involves studying the same group of people over a long period of time so that changes made over time can be properly analysed. Arguably, longitudinal research appears to be the most applicable method in gathering data on development psychology as the changes in individual personalities can be monitored appropriately.


Development psychology is a scientific study which provides an explanation as to why changes occur within human beings. Whilst development psychology was previously aimed at children, it now looks at the behavioural changes of adults so that a better understanding of individual development can be made. Aristotle used the word ‘psyche’ to describe the structure (sole) of the human body and thus believed that the psyche “controlled reproduction, movement and perception” (Honderich, 1995, p. 727). He believed that observation was the essence of life and that in order to understand anything; individuals first had to observe, listen and then think about it. Aristotle’s notion was thus an extension of Plato’s work who had previously asserted that the human mind has all the knowledge it needs. He believed that the mind had three different parts (Tripartite Mind) and that in order to achieve a healthy mind; each part was to be balanced equally (Stocks, 1915, p. 207). Over-reliance upon any of the parts is what he believes leads to the expression of personality (Shuttleworth, 2010, p. 1).


The nature/nurture debate is based upon the notion that individual behaviour is the result of either being inherited (nature) or acquired (nurture). However, whilst it is clear that characteristics such as hair, eye and skin colour have all been inherited, it is less clear whether an individual’s personality has been. McLeod (2007, p. 1) believes that “psychological characteristics and behavioral differences that emerge through infancy and childhood are the result of learning.” Therefore, he believes that personality depends upon how an individual has been brought up. Tomasic (2006, p. 202), on the other hand, believes that personality is both inherited and acquired: “personality is caused/influenced by the environment; personality is inherent in our genetic make-up; personality is a mix of both genetic and environmental influences.” Arguably, it is clear that the latter is more reflective of individual personalities in today’s society since changes within a person’s behaviour frequently occur. In effect, it seems as though an individual is born within a certain personality which changes over time as a result of environmental influences. Not all agree with this, however, and instead argue that children are born with a blank personality which is formed through social interaction.

This was recognised by John Locke who made it clear that all men are equal by nature and that “the bulk of the observed variation among individuals was due to environment” (Loehlin, 1982, p. 119). Jean-Jacques Rousseau supported the views of Locke although she believed that all children are innocent and good and that they simply become corrupted by society and all that is wrong within it (Lam et al, 2011, p. 5). Whilst this is similar to Locke’s views, he believed that children are manipulated into a form that is acceptable by society (Lam et al, 2011, p. 5). Therefore, whilst both views are similar, they differ in their perceptions of the new born child. The Minnesota Twin study which was conducted by Thomas J. Bouchard and began in 1979, however, demonstrated that identical twins separated at birth had remarkably similar personalities despite the fact that they had different upbringings (Bouchard et al, 1990, p. 223). In effect, this suggests that individual personalities are actually inherited, although certain traits can still be acquired. It is doubtful that this resolves the nature/nurture debate, nonetheless, since it has been said that “naturally, the researchers paid special attention to their similarities and may have come to mythologize the twins relationship.” Accordingly, the Minnesota study cannot be relied upon and it seems as though personality is actually a mix of both nature and nurture.

Psychoanalytical Theory

Sigmund Freud believes that individual personalities are created by the unconscious mind and that “human beings are driven by powerful biological urges that must be satisfied (Shaffer, 1996, p. 39). These urges are known as Eros which is the life instinct and Thanatos which is the death instinct. Eros ensure that activities are conducted which help to sustain life such as breathing and eating, whilst Thanatos is the aggressive instinct which promotes destruction such as fighting and murder. Nevertheless, the kind of urges in which Freud refers to are those which are undesirable and selfish since he argues that “human beings have basic sexual and aggressive instincts which must be served; yet society dictates that many of these needs are undesirable and must be restrained” (Shaffer, 1996, p. 39). Therefore, whilst all children are born with certain instincts, it is evident that these can be managed appropriately by their parents who help to shape their personality traits. Essentially, the first few years of a child’s life thereby “play a major role in shaping their conduct and character” (Shaffer, 1996, p. 39).

According to Freud, there are three different components of an individual’s personality which are the id, the ego and the superego. The id is the only component that is present at birth and helps to satisfy natural inborn instincts. The ego is the conscious component of the personality which reflects a child’s ability to learn and the superego component is the final component which is developed from the moral values and standards of a child’s parents. This latter component is thus the most important element of personality as it enables individuals to act in a sociably acceptable way by restraining the id’s undesirable impulses. Nevertheless, although Freud believes that sex is the most important stages of development, not all agree that young children are actually sexual beings and instead believe that Freud’s studies are inaccurate. Thus, Freud based most of his findings on a small number of emotionally disturbed adults (Crews, 1996, p. 63) which cannot be relied upon.

Cognitive Theory

Cognitive theories relate to the development of an individual’s thought process which helps us to understand and adapt to society. The cognitive process is thus considered to be the “processes or faculties by which knowledge is acquired and manipulated.” (Bjorklund, 2011, p. 3). Cognitive behaviour is therefore a reflection of the developing mind and is unobservable. Jean Piaget is one of the main cognitive theorists who helped to shape the way people think about children and made it clear that all human beings develop their personalities through their own cognitive abilities. Accordingly, Piaget believed that intelligence was a basic life function and that “all intellectual activity is undertaken with one goal in mind: to produce a balanced, or harmonious relationship between one’s thought processes and the environment” (Kipp and Shaffer, 2012, p. 202). In effect, this theory demonstrates that children’s personalities develop from challenges which are not immediately understood. Hence, Piaget believed that imbalances exist between children’s modes of thinking and environment events which “prompt them to make mental adjustments that enable them to cope with puzzling new experiences and thereby restore cognitive equilibrium” (Kipp and Shaffer, 2012, p. 202). Cognitive theorists thereby argue that children simply adapt to the environment through their own cognitive abilities which ultimately shapes their personality.


Overall, there are clearly different views as to how an individual’s personality is shaped and although many argue that it is inherited, others disagree and believe that it is acquired from societal influences. Arguably, after reviewing both the cognitive development theory and the psychoanalytic theory it seems as though personality is in fact a mix of both nature and nurture. This is because, although children do have some traits that are inherited and exist within the unconscious mind, an individual’s thought process does actually develop from adaption. Accordingly, children are thus prompted to make mental adjustments that enable them to cope with puzzling experiences which widely influences their own personality.

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Social Psychology


Social influence happens when an individual’s behaviour is affected by external factors such as conformity, compliance and obedience, bystander intervention, social loathing and social facilitating. Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerald (1955, p. 629) thus made it clear that social influence is the result of two psychological needs; informational social influence and normative social influence which are the need to be right and the need to be liked. Arguably, social influence thereby refers to the effect in which individuals have upon one another and can happen intentionally or unintentionally as a result of the way in which the person who has been influenced perceives themselves (Changing Minds, 2002, p. 1).

Concepts of Social Influence

Conformity, compliance and obedience are the three main areas of social influence and often occur simultaneously. This is because, “those that conform tend to be obedient and compliant” (Constable et al, 2002, p. 1). Nevertheless, whilst conformity refers to the changes an individual makes so that they can be more like others, compliance relates to the changes an individual makes as a result of being asked. Furthermore, obedience refers to the process of obeying an order that has been made and often means that the individual has no choice but to make the changes unlike the former two social influences where the individual does have a choice. Coercion is the strongest form of social influences, nonetheless, since this forces and individual to change their behaviour even though they are reluctant to do so. Coercion is thereby the least common form of social influence since real feelings may not actually be changed. Hence, where social influence occurs voluntarily, it is evident that the individual will have made the changes themselves and therefore changes the way they feel about a particular situation.

This was recognised by Rashotte who pointed out that; “social influence is the process by which individuals make real changes to their feelings and behaviours as a result of interaction with others who are perceived to be similar, desirable or expert.” In effect, Rashotte (1999, p. 4426) does not believe that social influences also consists of compliance and obedience because of the fact that individuals do not have a choice but to make the changes required from them. Because of this, it is unlikely that the feelings of an individual will actually be changed if they have been forced to make the transformation. It is questionable whether these views are accurate, nonetheless, since it has been put by Perloff (2012, p. 18); “social influence – coercion and persuasion – exerts powerful, not always positive, effects on human behaviour.” Therefore, even if the social influence has resulted involuntary, this does not indicate that social influence has not taken place. Instead, a more powerful form of change has been exerted which has had a significant impact upon human behaviour.

Social facilitating is the process whereby individuals improve their behaviours when other people are watching. Therefore, whenever a person is undertaking a task, it is likely that they will do better at that task if other people are watching as they will alter their behaviour so that they can impress the onlookers. This is a mild but common form of social influence and illustrates that people can be affected by the mere presence of others. This can, however, be real, imagined or implied and was first recognised by Norman Triplett in 1898 when he conducted a study on the speed record of cyclists. It was concluded by Triplett that the speed of cyclists was faster when racing against each other than it was when racing against time alone (McLeod, 2011, p. 1). Social facilitating does depend on the individual concerned, nonetheless, because the behaviour will not always be improved and in some cases, the quality of the individuals performance may be impaired (Aiello, 2001, p. 163).

Social loafing is similar to social facilitation, yet whilst social facilitation tends to improve an individual’s performance, social loafing tends to slow someone down and prevents them from working as hard. Nevertheless, social loafing does not occur when being watched by others but when working in a group with others since it is felt that many individuals work harder when they are alone than when they are in a group. This is also known as the free-rider theory which means that “self interested individuals lack incentives to contribute voluntarily to the provision of public goods, or to reveal their true valuations of such goods” (Asch and Gigliotti, 1991, p. 33). An example of social loathing was provided in a study conducted on individuals involved in a tug-of-war game. Here, it was found that “people playing tug-of-war while blindfolded pulled harder if they thought they were competing alone. When they thought others were on their team, they made less of an effort” (Coon and Mitterer, 2008, p. 541).

Perspectives and Methods of Research

It is evident that social influence arises because of a number of different influential factors and the only way this can be identified is by undertaking a number of different activities involving humans. This enables a determination to be made as to whether the true feelings of the individuals involved have been influenced. Nevertheless, because of the complex nature scientific studies have, it is questionable whether the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of human beings can be accurately measured through empirical methods of investigation. This is because, it has been argued by Thomas Kuhn (1970, p. 4) that empirical methods of investigation are “influenced by prior beliefs and experiences.” Essentially, it could therefore be said that the studies conducted would have produced different results if they were undertaken by a different scientist.


Overall, there are a number of different concepts of social influence which appear to have been proven by empirical methods of investigation. These include conformity, compliance and obedience, bystander intervention, social loathing and social facilitating and can occur voluntary or involuntary. Social influence thus arises as a result of two human needs which are the need to be right and the need to be liked and happen depending upon the ways in which the individual perceives themselves. In proving these different concepts, a number of scientific studies have been carried out which all aim to demonstrate how social influence affects the changes of human behaviour. Nevertheless, although these methods have proven workable in explaining human behaviour, the accuracy of these methods has been questioned. This is because; it is believed that different outcomes would be produced if a different person conducted the studies since past experiences and current knowledge are said to widely influence the tests that are being performed. Despite this, it is evident that changes to human behaviour frequently arise which is largely the result of the changes that are being made within society whether they are intentional or unintentional.


Aiello, J. R. (2001). Social Facilitation from Triplett to Electronic. Group Dynamics, Theory, Research and Practice. 5(3).

Asch, P. and Gigliotti, G. A. (1991). The Free-Rider Paradox: Theory, Evidence and Teaching. The Journal of Economic Education, 22(1).

Bjorklund, D. F. (2011). Children’s Thinking. Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc. 5th Edition.

Bouchard, T. J. Lykken, D. T. McGue, M. Segal, N. L. and Tellegen, A. (1990). Sources of Human Psychological Differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. Science New Series, 250(4978).

Changing Minds. (2002). Social Influence. Retrieved 27 December, 2012, from

Constable, S. Schuler, Z. Klaber, L. and Rakauskas, M. (1999). Conformity, Compliance and Obedience. Retrieved 27 December, 2012, from

Coon, D. and Mitterer, J. O. (2008). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behaviour with Concept Maps and Reviews, Cengage Learning.

Crews, F. (1996). The Verdict on Freud. Psychological Science, 7(63).

Deutsche, M. and Gerard, H. B. (1955). A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influences upon Individual Judgement. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 51(629).

Honderich, T. (1995). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press.

Kipp, K. and Shaffer, D. (2012). Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. Wadsworth Publishing Co. 9th Edition.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago University Press. 2nd Edition.

Lam, V. O’Donnell, V. L. Gillibrand, R. (2011). Development Psychology. Prentice Hall. 1st Edition.

Loehlin, J. C. (1982). John Locke and Behaviour Genetics. Behaviour Genetics, 13(1).

McLeod, S. (2007). in Psychology. Retrieved 27 December, 2012, from

McLeod, S. (2011). Social Facilitation. Retrieved 27 December, 2012, from

Perloff, R. M. (2012). The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the Twenty-First Century. Taylor & Francis. 4th Edition.

Rashotte, L. (1999). Social Influence. Retrieved 27 December, 2012, from

Shaffer, D. R. (2009). Social and Personality Development. Cengage Learning, 6th Edition.

Stocks, J. L. (1915). Plato and the Tripartite Soul. Mind: A Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy, 24(94).

Shuttleworth, M. (2010). Aristotle’s Psychology. Retrieved 26 December, 2012, from

Tomasic, T. (2006). Personality: Nature vs. Nurture or Something in BetweenRetrieved 27 December, 2012, from

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