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Supporting Theories

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Various developmental theorists explain how the person develops as a psychosocial, cognitive, interpersonal, and moral reasoning human being. The nurse must be familiar with these theories in order to be able to plan developmentally appropriate care.

Erik Erikson has built his theory of psychosocial development based on Freud'spsychosexual theory. He emphasizes the development of a healthy, as opposed to a pathologic, personality. He identifies eight stages, each with a positive and a negative outcome. Successful mastery of each stage is built upon completion of the previous one. Erikson recognized that in periods of extreme stress, an individual may regress to a previous stage that was mastered earlier. He uses biologic concepts of critical periods to describe conflicts or core problems the individual must strive to master.

Jean Piaget describes a process of cognitive development that allows individuals to make adaptations to the environment that increase the probability of survival and established equilibrium with the environment. He believes that there are four major stages in the development of logical thought and that all individuals proceed through the stages in the same continuous, orderly process, but not necessarily at the same rate.

Harry Stack Sullivan developed a theory on interpersonal development, also based on Freudian theory. He contends that the individual develops a self-concept through interpersonal relationships and social approval/disapproval. Through repeated interactions, the individual acquires a set of behaviors that produce a feeling of security and avoid anxiety. Sullivan recognizes that environment plays a role in development, but does not recognize a biological aspect of development.

William Perry's theory of moral reasoning postulates that most knowledge and all values are "contextual and relativistic." Everything is a matter of personal opinion, except science. Commitment is necessary even when there is uncertainty. Resources include current authorities and various viewpoints help an individual identify his/her own views. Once developed, an individual must be confident when stating these views and when dealing with his/her personal views.

Approved, Faculty Organization:
Revised: 8/15/03
Approved, Faculty Organization: 10/17/03

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