Comparison of Three Theories of Development of Self

Among the most read theories of self-development are those of Freud, Piaget, and Mead. They contrast in several ways but also agree in others. This paper intends to review the three theories and how they compare.

Sigmund Freud’s theory emphasizes on the suppressed and the unconscious elements of the mind. Freud’s theory argues that the self comprises of three parts. The id, which is present at birth, represents the biological unconscious nature of the self and is particularly self-centered. The ego is the second part and comprises the person’s efforts to adhere to the demands of the society. The third part of the self is the superego. It is the understanding that all the needs of the self cannot be met. Freud argued that the self is developed through a series of five stages, including the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and lastly, the genital stage. Each of them subsists a progressive development in consciousness of the self, especially in relation to sexual satisfaction (Buskist, Carlson & Martin, 2007).

Mead’s approach to the self argues that the self develops from social involvements and the capability to be spontaneous or reflexive. According to Mead, the self is developed through four steps. The first stage, vital for growth and in which the child lacks the self, and is the preparatory stage which mainly involves mimicking and imitating others without understanding their intentions The second stage is known as the play stage and involves learning and understanding symbols and language. The child also starts to play the roles of others as they associate. The game play stage is the third stage and the child gains the ability to play the roles of several other people in the same situation. The fourth one is the generalized stage and involves the individual’s ability to see themselves as others would see them (Mead, 1972).

Piaget’s theory argues that children change their thinking as they grow through a set of four invariant stages. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage. Children at this point learn to allocate activities to a variety of situations. The second stage, mainly concerned with the masterly symbols and language, is known as the preoperational thought period (Flavell, 1999). The third stage in Piaget’s theory is the concrete operations stage. At this stage, children are able to adopt another person’s point of view and their thought process becomes more logical, organized, and flexible compared to their early childhood period. The final stage according to Piaget’s view is the formal operations stage and any person who attains it is able to think abstractly, logically, and theoretically (Silverton, 1999).

The first similarity is that all three theories are interested in the individual and can be grouped under micro-biology. Secondly, they are interested in the observable social interactions rather than the statistics. Thirdly, all the three, Mead, Piaget, and Freud, agree that maturation is vital for the improvement or creation of the self. Fourthly, they all believe that self-development occurs in stages. All the three theories also agree that complications that occur during a certain stage of development are carried through to adulthood. This implies defects arise from unresolved complications that arose in adulthood (Fulcher, and Scott, 2007).


Buskist, W., Carlson, N. and Martin, N. (2007) Psychology, Third Edition, Harlow: Pearson Education.

Flavell, J. H. (1999). COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT: Children’s knowledge about the mind. Annual Review of Psychology, p. 21(16)

Fulcher, J. and Scott, J. (2007) Sociology, Third Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mead, G. H., (1972). Mind, Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Ed. Charles W. Morris. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Silverton, P. (1999). Jean Piaget’s Theory of Development

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