Stages of Human Development: Bowlby and Maslow

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This report will explore some of the stages and strands of human development across lifespan, focusing mainly on early years.  It will touch upon theories including Bowlby’s attachment theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in relation to the case study.

The writer will look at three stages of human development, and focus on one strand for each stage. Infancy is perhaps the most important stage of a person’s developmental life. Not only do babies grow physically at a rapid rate, their mental and emotional state also develops much more rapidly than adults. Infant and child development is often split into stages: physical, social, cognitive, emotional and language development. (Jan P. Piek, 2006) In order to achieve these stages to their highest standard, it is important that all of the baby’s needs are met entirely. As birth rates dwindle, it is more often found that the first baby a parent holds will be their own. Therefore, the importance of understanding the stages of development and what a baby needs to achieve them is vital.

 Following infant development, childhood development begins. This is from the age of two years old to around twelve years old. This is when the child’s personality takes shape, and from their own surroundings and backgrounds, they develop their own identity. Mental changes occur from the age of 2, such as handedness (the nature of preferring to use one hand over the other). Starting school and nursery allows the child to explore a whole new world of social interaction. This means the child learns a whole host of new skills and interests within themselves.  Although age two to twelve is a large part of the child’s life, developmental changes often happen very quickly.

Adolescence is the next developmental stage across lifespan. From the ages of around thirteen to eighteen, we are considered adolescents. It is the period of one’s life where we transition from childhood to adulthood. Aside from maturing physically and sexually, teenagers develop a larger range of responsibilities, such as becoming financially independent. Although adolescents are generally described as egocentric, they are able to understand and provide the process of abstract reasoning and become involved in adult relationships and roles. (Bjorklund & Blasi, 2010).  Around this time in a persons life, it is very common for peer pressures to occur, the individual feeling obligated to take part in high risk behaviours such as the misuse of alcohol and drugs.

One of the strands the writer has chosen to describe relating to infancy is physical development. Development within babies encompasses a wide variety of changes, from reflexes, sensory abilities to physical growth. When an infant is born, the body has all the muscle fibres required within a human body, although they are smaller than they will eventually be at full growth. Babies’ muscles are mostly made up of water but contain high quantities of fat. The lungs grow quickly between the ages of zero to two, becoming more efficient as they grow, allowing them to develop a stronger stamina for activity. Also from the ages of zero to two, development of motor skills can be divided into local motor skills, non-local motor skills and manipulative skills. These motor skills are used to test various motor milestones. The physical development of babies is highly dependent on the care provided by adults. Babies need the correct quantities of food, medical care and appropriate stimulus. The main structures of a baby’s brain at birth show that the mid braid and the medulla are the most developed parts and are connected to the spinal cords. These regulate vital functions of a baby such as heartbeat and respiration. The least developed part of a new-born is the cortex, which is mainly known to perception, body movement, thinking and language which continuously grows with the child. (Bee & Boyd, 2003)

Social development in children between six to twelve are seen to form friendships through play and physical interaction, which is then developed in later stages by the concept of trust. Relationships with their peers become more stable and many children to begin to develop long-term relationships, they are becoming more independent but remain attached to their parents. However, parents at this stage will begin to see their children developing their capacity for self-regulation and therefore able to supervise their own behaviour, at least sometimes. The important aspects of a child developing self-regulation can be dependent on the parent’s ability self regulate. The interaction between siblings is seen as less important than that of parents or peers. Another important factor for socialisation of children within this age group is their perception of social status. Theorists suggest three main groups, popular, rejected and neglected. Where children are within these groups, usually involves factors outwith their control. (Fordham & Stevenson-Hinde, 1999) Some theorists see the forming of relationships as important as it can shape their ability to develop peer relationships in the future. Children of this age group will begin to develop their understanding of family roles and processes and relationships within families.

Theorists suggest that adolescents have two main growth spurts in their brain (cerebral cortex becomes thicker), which enables cognitive processes and ability to develop, including the ability to think more abstractly. This part of the brain can also allow people to consider their own strengths and weaknesses.   The second growth spurt occurs at the approximate age of seventeen and involves the frontal lobes. This area of the brain controls logic and planning increasing again the ability for cognitive functions shown in the way that teenagers and young adults problem solve and process thoughts. (Glenda Beamon Crawford, 2007)  There are some theorists such as Keating who endeavour through research to discover if critical thinking of adolescents is a learned skill or part of brain function. According to Keating (1988) “there was no persuasive evidence of fundamental constraints on the ability of adolescents to engage in critical thinking.”

Developments in neuroscience have provided a clearer understanding of brain development and for the purpose of this assignment the writer will pay particularly attention to the development of zero to two year olds.  Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, It is a branch of biology that focuses on the workings of the human brain. When looking at neuroscience, there are many differing views and opinions from countless theorists and scientists, with a very common argument when it comes to the development of infants and children is Nature vs Nurture. The “Nature” argument derives from the idea of “inborn biases”, such as the ability to snuggle, to cry and a few days after birth the ability to smile is prevalent in most babies.  Some babies seem easier to soothe when upset than others. This could be from either the ability of the parents or the inborn bias of the child. Children are born with their own way to respond to certain situations, without the influence of other people. On the other side is the “Nurture” argument, which is the theory that a child’s development depends on their environment, upbringing and standard of living. However some theorists suggest these both work together. Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk created a way of understanding how children cope when their primary environment is a stressful one. She explains the release of cortisol within our bodies when we are in a stressful situation. This chemical helps us cope with immediate stress, allowing us to flee the situation. When a child’s cortisol levels are imbalanced, due to their erratic living environment, they are unable to concentrate in situations where, as adults, we expect them to. (Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, 2013). When comparing recent theorists ideas, such as Zeedyk, to older understandings of infantile neuroscience such as Jean Piaget’s cognitive theory, stark differences occur. Piaget identified four strict developmental stages, which he suggested every child fits into: the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage nd the formal operational stage. (John Grace, 2006)  This is unusual, as present theorist, like Zeedyk, try to avoid using a strict set of stages because the understanding that every child works differently is much wider than before.

Neuroscience aims to understand how groups of neurons interact to generate behaviour.  Studies of the brain are completed through various methods, one of which is MRI scans. As stated previously, neuroscience has taught us that babies are born with fully developed Mid-brain and medulla which are connected to the spinal chord and are regulating basic functioning. The most infantile part of the brain is the cerebral cortex, the brain is made up of two main cells which are both fully developed at birth and are neuron and glial, further development will be the creation of synapsis, the connection between neurons. The first two years of brain development is seen as exceptionally important for later cognitive development, for example, if a baby is not nurtured properly, is fed a poor diet or is not stimulated regularly in their early months, the brain will not develop to its highest capability, particularly in the brains stage of plasticity (development). (Bjorklund & Blasi, 2010)

From the case study, the writer has chosen to look at two theories that could be used to help structure and assess Craig’s needs in an effective way. The writer has chosen to use Maslow’s hierarchy of need in the first instance to create a clearer picture of assessed need. Maslow’s theory was that in order to meet our highest of needs, our lower deficiency needs must be met first. This relates to Craig’s situation, as he is homeless and so a lot of his basic needs are not met. For instance, he may be hungry, thirsty, and sleepless and he may not even know when he can next go to the toilet. Without these deficiency needs being met, according to Maslow, Craig would be unable to move onto his safety needs. This could perhaps be why Craig abuses alcohol and drugs, using them as a coping mechanism. Without meeting his deficiency needs, his safety needs do not seem as important, Craig may feel no particular drive to keep himself safe from harm. Without feeling safe, his love and belongingness needs cannot be met. This could explain his promiscuous sex life, as his life is not stable or predictable. This then leads on to Craig’s self esteem. As his deficiency needs are very poor, Craig could find it hard to think highly of himself. His confidence in himself is most likely non-existent and deep rooted. In order to tackle this situation, Craig would first need somewhere to live and sleep in order to feel safe and secure. This would cover his most basic needs, like sleep and knowing where to go to the toilet. If he were accommodated in a homeless unit, he would be provided with food and drink. Also, along with having a sheltered unit to sleep in, Craig may feel a lot safer. This would give Craig a huge base to build up from in order to focus on bettering his future. (Rosalind Charlesworth, 2014)

Another theoretical approach that relates to Craig’s situation is Albert Bandura’s behaviourist approach. This is the social learning theory, which is built on the idea that the way we act as adults, is based on our observation of our parents from our early years. We are what we learn. Bandura conducted an experiment called the “Bobo doll experiment”. Bandura collected a group of children from age’s three to six and had them watch their parents aggressively attack a doll. They then allowed the children to go into the room with the doll alone, and observed if they imitated their parent’s actions. Most of the children behaved in the same way, if not more extreme after watching the way their parents behaved towards the doll. This related to Craig’s situation, as from an early age, he observed his mother and father abusing substances. Later in life, he imitates this behaviour, as it is stated he is alcohol and drug dependent. However, this is not certain, as many people who have had these experiences do not turn to drugs an alcohol by way of imitating behaviours. Craig may be using these substances as some sort of coping mechanism, rather than straightforward imitation. (Colette G., Sean M., 2012)

Both of these theories are alike in the sense that they mention elements such as motivation, observational learning and socialisation which both theorists describe as important in order for the individual to develop to their full potential. However, I believe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs relates more to Craig’s situation as it is clear, some, if not all, of his deficiency are unfulfilled.

Starting from the beginning, Craig was severely abused as a young child. His parents not only physically abused Craig, but also sexually and emotionally. It is widely known that when a child is abused, they very often experience mental health issues at the time and also later in life, such as depression, anxiety and dissociation. This could explain some of Craig’s behaviours. You could link Craig’s alcohol and drug misuse to his childhood, where he frequently witnessed his mother and father abusing substances. This could have effectively engrained a notion in Craig’s brain, from an early age, that drugs and alcohol were the norm, or seen as coping strategies when problems were evident. With his parents being intoxicated a lot of his childhood, Craig may have missed a lot of school. His education may also have been affected if he could not concentrate during class due to being highly alert at all times, in a state of fight or flight.. This shows that it would be extremely difficult for Craig to ever sit quietly in an education setting and  without the proper education, Craig would find it very difficult to find a job. Without a job, Craig would have very little income, leaving him with only one choice, to live on the streets. Having no money for food, drugs or alcohol, Craig could have resulted in stealing to sustain these things. This would explain his minor criminal offences. Being sexually abused by his parents as a child may be the reason Craig, when older, became sexually promiscuous. . Without being given the opportunity to make simple choices as a child, such as what he wanted for dinner or a sweetie from the shop, when choosing the right partner, Craig may not know what is best for him, as in self regulation as discussed earlier.  All of these factors combined would seriously affect Craig’s resilience and well being as his self-worth could deteriorate rapidly.

To conclude, lifespan development is descriptive as development covers a lifetime. Theorists, researches and scientists endeavour to understand and make sense of the human condition. This entails research into behaviour and the structure and functions of the brain. No research to date is completely conclusive but continues to develop as new discoveries and a greater understanding of the human condition grows.



  • Keating.D.F, 1988, Adolescents Ability to Engage in Critical Thinking, Orientarial Institute for studies in education.
  • Bee.H, Boyd.J, 2003, Lifespan Development, Boston, USA.
  • Jan P. Piek, 2006, Infant Motor Development, Human Kinetics, Australia
  • Glenda Beamon Crawford, 2007, Brain-Based Teaching With Adolescent Learning in Mind, Corwin Press, California, USA.
  • David F. Bjorklund, Carlos Hernández Blasi, 2010, Child and Adolescent Development, Cengage Learning.
  • Colette Gray, Sean MacBlain, 2012, Learning Theories in Childhood, SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, 2013 Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears, Connected Baby, USA.
  • Rosalind Charlesworth, 2014, Understanding Child Development, Cengage Learning.  



  • Fordham.K, Stevenson-Hide.J. 1999,Shyness, Friendship Quality, and Adjustment During Middle Childhood, Journal of child psychology and psychiatry and allied disciplines.

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