Types of Psychological Theories


What is Theory?

Theories represent concepts or ideas that can be tested. Scientists can test theories through empirical research and gather evidence that supports or refutes them.” 

In science, theory is more than just speculation. Theories are based on hypotheses supported by evidence. A theory is a fact-based framework for explaining phenomena. 

Purpose of a Psychology Theory

In psychology, theories provide a model that helps to understand human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Throughout the history of psychology, several theories have been proposed to explain and predict various aspects of human behavior.  

A psychological theory has two key components:

  • It must describe a behavior.
  • It must make predictions about future behaviors..

Each theory has helped advance our knowledge of the human mind and behavior. Some theories, such as classical conditioning, are still well-accepted today. Others, such as Freud’s theory, have not worked so well, leading to newer theories that better explain human development. It has been largely replaced. 

Different Types of Psychological Theories

Many psychology theories exist, but most can be categorized as one of four key types.

  • Developmental Theories
  • Grand Theories
  • Mini-Theories
  • Emergent Theories

Developmental Theories

Developmental theory provides a framework for thinking about human growth, development, and learning. Understanding these theories can provide valuable insights about individuals and societies if you’ve ever wondered what motivates human thought and behavior.
Developmental theory provides guidelines and concepts that describe and explain human development. Some developmental theories, such as Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, focus on the emergence of particular qualities. Other developmental theories focus on growth throughout life, such as Ericsson’s theory of psychosocial development.  

Grand Theories

Grand theories are ideas often proposed by great thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Eric Erikson, and Jean Piaget. Major developmental theories include psychoanalytic theory, learning theory, and cognitive theory. These theories attempt to explain much of human behavior but are often considered outdated and incomplete in the light of modern research. , but we also consider more minor theories and recent research. 


Mini-theory describes minor, particular aspects of development. Mini-theories can explain relatively narrow behaviors, such as self-esteem formation and early childhood socialization. We do not attempt to describe or explain behavior and growth.  

Emergent Theories

Emergent theories have emerged relatively recently and are often formed by systematically combining mini-theories. These theories are based on research and ideas from various fields but are less comprehensive or far-reaching than grand theories. The sociocultural theory proposed by Lev Vygotsky is an excellent example of emergent development theory. 

Examples of Psychology Theories

  • Behavioral Theories
  • Cognitive Theories
  • Humanistic Theories
  • Personality Theories
  • Social Psychology Theories

Behavioral Theories

Behavioral psychology also called behaviorism. Behavioral theory is a learning theory based on the idea that all actions is acquired through conditioning, according to John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner’s behavioral theory dominated his psychology in the first half of the 20th century. Today, therapists still use behavioral techniques to help clients learn new skills and behaviors.  

Cognitive Theories

Cognitive theories in psychology focus on internal states such as motivation, problem-solving, decision-making, thinking, and attention. Such theories attempt to explain various mental processes, such as how the mind processes information.  

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic psychology theory gained popularity in the 1950s. While earlier theories often focused on abnormal behavior and psychological problems, humanist theories emphasized the fundamental good of humans instead. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.  

Personality Theories

Personality psychology concerns thinking, feeling, and behavioral patterns that make a person unique. Some of the best-known theories in psychology deal with personality traits, such as the trait theory of personality, the “big five” theory of personality, and Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.  

Social Psychology Theories

Social psychology focuses on helping us understand and explain social behavior. These theories generally focus on specific social phenomena, including group behavior, prosocial behavior, social influence, love, etc. 

Why Theories Matter

In a psychology course, you may wonder how important it is to educate yourself on various psychological theories, especially those considered inaccurate or outdated. All provide valuable information about the history of psychology, advances in thinking on specific topics, and a deeper understanding of current theories. 

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