Introduction to Developmental Psychology

Human development is the scientific study of the process of change and stability throughout a human’s life. Developmental psychology aims to understand how, when and why this change or stability occurs. The main domains of development in this branch of psychology include: cognitive, physical and psychosocial development. All of the above domains are often intertwined. The main goals of this field are description, explanation, prediction and modification of behavior. Developmental psychologists’ study various aspects of development throughout an individual’s life span like: influences on development, language, motor skills, identity formation, self-esteem and self-concept, relationships etc.

The earliest account of the field comes from Darwin in 1877. He published his notes accounting his son Doddy’s sensory, cognitive and emotional development. From Darwin’s work stemmed several “baby biographies” that documented development. By the end of 19th century, the study of development became fairly mainstream. However, developmental psychology as a field itself emerged in the year 1882 by Wilhelm Preyer, who published his daughter’s development in his book “The mind of a child”. Other proponents and pioneers of this field include: Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Freud, Erikson, Bronfenbrenner and Baltes.

In this field one may come across several theories and approaches to development like Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of psychosexual development, Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory, social learning or social cognitive learning theory by Albert Bandura, Jean Piaget’s cognitive stage theory, Neo-Piagetian theories, Information processing approach, social cognitive neuroscience approach, evolutionary or sociobiological approach, Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory and Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory.

Developmental psychologists’ study bodily growth, change, nutrition, sleep, illnesses, disorders, treatment, thinking, cognition, memory, language, literacy, creativity, intelligence, culture, self-concept, self-esteem, emotion, gender, play, parental influence, parenting styles, aggression, sibling relationships, relationship with peers, school, abuse, maltreatment, neglect, moral reasoning, bullying, family atmosphere, substance abuse, sexual behavior, sexuality, gender identity, personality changes, temperament etc. and how all of the above influence/change/affect development throughout various phases of the human life span.

A developmental psychologist may have to deal with various disorders like ADHD, leaning disorders, language disorders, speech disorders, intellectual disorders, autism spectrum disorder, conduct disorder, developmental issues caused due to brain trauma, and developmental issues caused due to genetics like Fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, Rett syndrome etc.,

Do you want to pursue developmental psychology?

It is typically required to have an undergraduate degree in psychology followed by a masters and a doctoral degree specialized in developmental psychology. The field is growing in scope. One can work in various settings like academics, schools, clinics and other health care facilities and government agencies in this field. This field offers extensive scope for research and education. A developmental psychologist can also work in clinics or other health care facilities to asses, evaluate and treat various developmental disorders. They can also work in centers for the elderly to assist older individuals with their developmental problems.

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Written by Maanasa Balaji

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