Free Essay: Cognitive Development Theory and Aileen Wuornos

Published: 2019-11-12
Free Essay: Cognitive Development Theory and Aileen Wuornos
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Human development Developmental psychology Cognitive development
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1469 words
13 min read

The real-world scenario I am going to address is the life of Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos was a serial killer convicted for the murder of seven men. She was sexually abused as a child; the experience deterred her ability to forge healthy relationships as an adult. As a child, Wuornos was a ward of the state; the state was financially responsible for taking care of her because of the absence of her parents. Her father committed suicide in prison where he was being held for child molestation charges and her mother abandoned her, leaving her in the hands of her grandparents. Wuornoss grandmother was an alcoholic whereas her grandfather had a violent temper. Wuornoss life has inspired artists to create an opera, books and a good number of documentaries. Wuornoss was also taken as the basis of a 2003 movie titled Monster. I intend to apply Piagets cognitive theory, B.F. Skinners operant conditioning behavioural theory and Eriksons psychosocial theory in addressing the Wuornoss case.

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Piagets cognitive theory can be used to explain Wuornos scenario. Given that she was sexually abused as a teenager, there is a higher chance that she developed a profound loathing for men. Piagets cognitive theory states that children make a construction of the world that they perceive around them and later realize discrepancies between what they thought life was and the reality of the matter. The discrepancies between a childs perception about life and the reality that they discover from the environment are likely to have debilitating effects on the child. There is a possibility that Wuornoss thought that growing up in an abusive family was the order of the day but when it dawned on her that most children are not exposed to sexual abuse, she was negatively affected by the realization. There is a possibility that she started viewing herself as a social misfit. Her perception of herself as a social misfit most definitely made her start exhibiting deviant social behavior. Piagets cognitive theory states that for an individual to develop into a social being, he or she should be able to make a good transition from one life stage to another (Oakley, 2004). Wuornos was unable to make a good transition from childhood to adulthood. Given that she grew up with both of her parents absent, she grew up with her grandparents who did very little to mould her character into a sociable being and she was thrown out of their home as a teenager, there is a high chance that she had a big problem transitioning from a child into an adult. Most teenagers are often given emotional and psychological support by their parents when they are teenagers; this often makes it easy for them to make a transition from childhood to adulthood. Wuornos lacked emotional and psychological support that would have ensured that she made a good transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Given that her grandmother was an alcoholic and her grandfather had a violent temper, it can be interpreted that Wournos lacked a moral and authoritative figure during her teenage life that would have moulded her character and made her a sociable, disciplined and law-abiding citizen. Wuornoss deviant social behavior can be attributed to her failure to make a good transition from childhood to adulthood.

B.F. Skinners operant conditioning behavioral theory can be used to explain Wuornos behavior. Operant conditioning behavioral theory states that behavior changes based on life experiences (Liefooghe & De, 2016). There is a high chance that Wuornos was an obedient, sociable and disciplined child but this changed when her grandfather sexually assaulted her, abandoned by her mother and when she was thrown out of her grandparents home. Skinner asserts that change in a persons behaviour is as a result of the individuals reaction to events that happen in his or her environment. Skinner asserts that reinforcement of events in a persons environment is likely to bolster a persons change in behavior. Given that Wuornos experienced a horrifying childhood, she was sexually assaulted when she was a child, her father committed suicide while in prison, she was abandoned by her mother, she was chased out of their home when she was a teenager and failed to develop stable relationships with people; the above- mentioned factors most likely made her to develop into a socially- deviant human being. Wuornos experienced a reinforcement of negative experiences in her life. According to Skinner, Wuornoss socially-deviant behaviour could be explained by the reinforcement of events that happened in her life. Wuornoss negative life experiences are less likely to make any human being grow up into a sociable, law- abiding and disciplined individual.

Eriksons theory of psychological development can be effectively applied in the Wuornos real world scenario. Eriksons theory of psychological development chronologically describes a span of life stages and the developmental issues associated with the stages. The psychological theory was formulated by Erik Erikson. According to the theory, life can be summed up into eight stages. Erikson avers that personality development in human beings is a predetermined issue and it is build upon by each previous stage that a person goes through. The theory suggests that individuals who successfully go through each of the life stages become well prepared to handle issues they come across in subsequent life stages. Failure for individuals to successfully go through the life stages may result in a crisis in their subsequent life stages. Wuornos had a disturbing childhood that had a profound effect on her subsequent years.

Ericsons theory of psychological development can be used to explain Wuornoss vagabond existence as an adult. Wuornos was a sex worker. Wuornoss failure to have a stable marriage with a wealthy man by the name of Lewis Fell can be explained by the Ericsons theory. Having grown in an unstable family, chances of her building a stable relationship with anybody were slim. Wuornoss marriage to Lewis only lasted for two years. Their marriage crumbled after Wuornos was arrested for involving herself in an altercation with law enforcement officers due to her deviant social- behavior. In subsequent years, Wuornos was also involved in a good number of social deviant behaviors. Wuornoss vagabond existence can be attributed to her failure to go successfully go through Ericsons developmental stages. She never got to know what a normal childhood is and her teenage life experience was chaotic. She was asked by her grandparents to leave their home when she was a teenager. Adolescent is a critical life stage in a life of any individual. At this stage, a person requires emotional and support from the society and more so from parents. A teenager that is not given emotional and psychological support by parents at this stage is most likely to develop into a rebellious and rogue adult. Identity is often a critical stage during development of teenagers. Failure of the society and Wuornos parents to help her develop a good character during her teenage life had deleterious effects on her identity development. As a matter of fact, Wuornos parents were absent during her teenage life. Wuornos was left to be raised by her grandparents who did very little to ensure that her horrific childhood experiences do not affect her future. WuornosS grandmother was said to have overindulged in binge drinking ad her grandfather is said to have been a person with violent tantrums. Such an environment that Wuornos lived in with her grandparents could have done very little to ensure that she does not have a bleak perspective about life. There is even a higher chance that the home environment that Wuornos lived with her grandparents aggravated her bleak perspective of life. Given that Wuornos failed to successfully go through the first psychological stages, she was ill equipped to face her subsequent psychological (Svetina, 2014).

The psychosocial theory states that between year eighteen and fourty years, individuals should develop into intimate beings that have intimate relationships. Individuals who successfully undergo the sixth psychosocial development stage end up with healthy and long term relationships. Individuals who unsuccessfully undergo the sixth psychosocial developmental stage end up feeling lonely and isolated (Svetina, 2014). Wuornos was unable to develop a stable relationship with anybody and that explains her actions. She felt like an outcast due to her negative life experiences. Her decision to become a sex worker can be interpreted to mean that she never developed a healthy relationship with a person of the opposite sex (Wuornos & Berry-Dee, 2004).


Liefooghe, B., & De, H. J. (2016). A functional approach for research on cognitive control: Analysing cognitive control tasks and their effects in terms of operant conditioning. International Journal of Psychology, 51, 1, 28-32.

Oakley, L. (2004). Cognitive development. London: Routledge.

Svetina, M. (2014). Resilience in the context of Erikson's theory of human development. Current Psychology, 33, 2014.Wuornos, A., & Berry-Dee, C. (2004). Monster: Inside the mind of Aileen Wuornos. London: John Blake Pub.

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