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Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how people grow and develop from birth throughout their lives. Developmental psychology originally focused on infants and children, but has expanded to include adult development and aging.

Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how people grow and develop from birth throughout their lives. Developmental psychology originally focused on infants and children, but has expanded to include adult development and aging.

Developmental psychologists try to explain how people’s feelings, behavior and thoughts change throughout life. To this end, they research people from three important dimensions: physical development, cognitive development and social-emotional development.

Within these three dimensions falls a very long list of topics, such as moral understanding, emotional development, identity formation, language acquisition, motor skills, social development, self-image, etc.

The period in a person’s life when the most changes occur is infancy and childhood. A significant part of the theories and ideas within this discipline therefore focus on childhood.

The origins of developmental psychology studies

Empirical research on topics related to human developmental psychology is dominated by psychologists and scientists from North America and Europe. Japanese researchers also made important contributions in the 1980s.

Important and influential developmental psychologists of the 20th century include Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and Urie Bronfenbrenner. The most controversial theory of all is the Sigmund Freud theory of the psychosexual development of humans.

The above researchers based their work largely on the earlier works of Jean Jacques Rousseau from the 18th century. He described three stages of human development: childhood, youth and adolescence.

Erik Erikson developed a widely adopted model of eight stages of psychological development nearly 2 centuries later. He strongly believed that people develop psychologically throughout their lives and that this influences their behavior.

Many researchers study the relationship between a person’s personal characteristics, behavior and environmental factors.

Nature vs. Nurture

An important debate taking place in developmental psychology is the relationship between innateness and environmental influences when it comes to any aspect of human development.

What makes someone the way he or she is? Is that a person’s environment, or is it the genes? This discussion is often conducted using the terms nature versus nurture, or nativism versus empiricism.

Nativism means that something is innate. That means that certain aspects of development are dictated by the genetic characteristics of an individual. Empiricism in this context is concerned with whether certain processes and features of development are acquired as a result of interaction with the environment.

Rarely do researchers take a stance that is for or against either one. Much more often they investigate the link between innate and environmental influences.

Research areas within developmental psychology

The four main research areas within developmental psychology are briefly explained below.

Cognitive development

Research into people’s cognitive development has focused primarily on the ways in which infants and children acquire, develop, and use internal mental capacities throughout their lives. Internal mental capacities include problem solving, language and memory.

Jean Piaget was one of the most influential figures who researched cognitive abilities and learning processes. His theory states that development goes through a number of stages from childhood to adulthood, including a starting point and an end point.

Social and emotional development

Psychologists who research the social development of people are especially interested in how people develop social and emotional competences. For example, they closely study how children make friends and how they deal with feeling emotions.

In addition, identity formation is an important spearhead in this branch of the discipline.

Physical development

The physical development of people includes the physical maturation of the human body until the body reaches maturity. Physical growth is a very regular process, but the pace at which this happens varies greatly from person to person. The stages that a child’s body goes through are called growth spurts.

Research into physical development in developmental psychology mainly focuses on the timing and influence of this physical development on other variables, such as the speed of information processing.

Memory development

Researchers in developmental psychology who focus on memory development are mainly concerned with the way in which human memory develops from childhood. According to the Fuzzy-Trace Theory (FTT), humans have two separate memory processes: verbatim and gist. These processes start at different times in development and develop at different rates.

Retrieval of verbatim traces is characterized by mental reinstatement of the contextual features of a past event, also known as recollective retrieval, whereas gist processes form representations of an event’s semantic features rather than its surface details, also known as nonrecollective retrieval.

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Tips and tricks developmental psychology

The articles tagged developmental psychology deal with various topics related to one of the research areas within this discipline. Do you want to know more about one or more topics? Send an email or leave a comment under one of our articles.

Ken Wilber

August 3rd, 2022

Ken Wilber (Kenneth Earl Wilber II; born January 31, 1949) is an American philosopher and author who writes on developmental psychology, transpersonal psychology, adult development, ecology, philosophy, faith stages, and several other areas of interest. Ken Wilber is the creator…

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Jean Piaget

March 21st, 2022

Jean Piaget (August 9, 1896 – September 16 1980) was a Swiss psychologist who gained fame for developing and publishing a systematic study of the developmental stages of children’s understanding. Jean Piaget is considered the most important figure within developmental…

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