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Freud vs piaget: battle of two theories

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Two brilliant minds, two brilliant theories, brought together in one world of psychology. In one combined universe, we will explore the variations of these two brilliant minds, and their theories on human development as they embark to change and make history.

Sigmund Freud was born as Sigismund Schlomo Freud on May 6, 1856 in Freiberg, Movaria. His death took place on September 3, 1939 from euthanasia. He was then living in London, England (NNDB, 2008). During Sigmund’s life, he was a renowned psychologist, known best for his solving psychological problems by relating them to sexual issues. Sigmund developed a human development theory that consisted of five stages of human development. I will explore deeper into this theory in just a bit. Sigmund set new foundations for the psychology world; his work is still studied to this day.

Jean Piaget was born August 9, 1896 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. His death occurred on September 17, 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland. His cause of death is unknown (NNDB, 2008). Piaget’s work was in the developmental psychology area. Piaget had studied Freud’s work and created his own human development theory based on cognitive growth in fixed stages. Like Freud, Piaget’s work is still followed and studied by psychologists today.

In examining the Freudian view of human development, the focus characterizing human development is one of a primitive and sexual nature. Freud defines the “ id” as part of the mind focused on the primitive self and remains unconscious from the time of birth (Cherry, 2010). This is the source of instinctual impulses as well as the demands of basic primitive needs.

Freud explains that the mind of an infant consists only of the id, driving the basic needs for comfort, food, warmth, et cetera. As a child experiences the demands and constrictions of reality, the ego is developed. The ego develops within the first three years after birth. Freud believed the ego is between consciousness and reality therefore, controlling thought and behavior. The needs of the Id are met by the ego while taking in real life situations. By five years of age, a child develops a superego, otherwise known as a conscience (Psychology 101, 2008). At this stage, values are internalized, and the intricate connection between the id, ego, and superego ensues. The demands of the Id and the superego often conflict, the ego deals with the confliction by operating unconscious defense mechanisms.

Freud believed that in order for a child to continue developing, tension and anxiety must be expelled. This was possible through pleasure of different organs of the body including the mouth, anus, and genitalia leading us into Freud’s five stages.

The first stage (birth to 18 months) is the oral stage, where the focus of pleasure is through chewing, sucking, or biting. If the needs of the first stage are not met, Freud believed that the child could become pessimistic, suspicious, or envious and could later develop habits associated with the mouth such as smoking or overeating (Pacana, 2011).

The second stage or the anal stage (1 -3 years of age) is where a child experiences the concept of control with the bowels, such as toilet training. The terms “ anal-repulsive” and “ anal-retentive” personalities can develop if a child does not properly learn the second stage. Anal-repulsive personality occurs if a parent is too lenient or does not instill society’s rules about bowel movement control. Anal-retentive personality occurs when a parent receives pressure or punishment during toilet training.

Next, there is the third stage known as the phallic stage (4 -5 years of age). This is where a child learns pleasure and discharge of tension through manipulation of the genitals. According to Freud, this stage is the most crucial out of the five stages (Pacana, 2011). A child must learn their feelings and identity with both sexes. Failure to meet this need could lead into narcissism, vanity, and self-absorption.

The fourth stage is known as the latency period (Age 5 – puberty). This is quite

different from stages discussed previously because it does not cause any fixations. During this time, sexuality is sublimated so that social and intellectual skills have the opportunity to develop.

Throughout this time, a delicate and balanced relationship forms between the id,

ego, and superego.

Upon entering the final stage, or genital stage (after puberty), this delicate balance formed through latency is now being disrupted by sexual reawakening and the strong desires of the id versus the restrictions of the ego and superego. Stress and confusion are the results of this imbalance, as often seen in teenagers. Freud believes that an adult personality is determined by the way one resolves conflicts between sources of pleasure at each stage and reality. It was also assumed that over gratification, as well as failure to satisfy an impulse at any stage would result in the person becoming fixated in that period of development (Britannica, n. d.)

The Piagetian theory of human development takes a different approach, but can be paralleled to that of Freud’s. Piaget believed that four stages of sequential cognitive development were the defining periods in which adult personalities are shaped. Compared to Freud’s psychosexual theory, being that the successful advancement or fixation in any stage would result in the defining characteristics of a human adult.

The first period of Piagetian development can be defined as the sensimotor stage (Birth – 2 years old). Understanding of the world is achieved through perceptions and actions. Development of characteristics occurs during this time, and the ability to combine actions is molded.

The second stage is what Piaget called the concrete preoperational sub period (2 – 7 years of age). In this stage, a child learns independently acquired skills, and is able to represent thoughts with images and words. The ability to form mental representations of objects and actions is also acquired during this time and are rarely slowed down by reality.

The third stage of Piagetian development is the concrete operational sub period (7 – 11 years of age). At this point, children are capable of logical thinking and operations. Since logical thinking ensues, imagination is now constrained by reality. This stage can be related to that of Freud’s latency period, where social and intellectual skills are the primary focus of development in this age period, and where the superego or conscious restrains the ego and id. This means that imagination and primitive drives are constrained by the conscious view of reality, and the idea of how to suitably express oneself.

The final and continual stage of Piaget’s development is referred to as the formal

operational stage (from age 11 through adulthood), and the ability to reason logically and abstractly develops. Proceeding this stage, egotism is observed throughout, which can be described as a confined interest in one’s own thoughts, needs, and affairs. During puberty,

the ability to reason logically and abstractly coincides with the predominance of egocentric thought. This results in self-consciousness, feeling invulnerable, taking risks, and low self-esteem. This can be compared to the initial stages of Freud’s genital period, where he describes the cause of these conflicts as a disrupted balance between the id, ego, and superego (Huitt & Hummel, 2003).

Ultimately, the Freudian and Piagetian theory are very different and have different explanations for what is characteristically observed through human growth and development.

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