What is Developmental Psychology?

The definition of developmental psychology means the branch of psychology that examines in detail the mental and physical development of children and how learning and the family environment, or the lack thereof, affect that development on the individual level. Beyond childhood, the discipline seeks to understand the specific ways the mind changes throughout the lifespan, including emotional, behavioral, and cognitive changes, as well as changes in memory and personality. In this way, developmental psychologists use the study of childhood and adolescence, in particular, to bring together research on social, cognitive, and emotional maturation psychology and disorders. For this reason, developmental psychology positions general and educational psychologies on the continuum of applications within the broader discipline.

Like many other applied branches of psychology, developmental psychologists have worked out various theoretical approaches to studying childhood and lifespan development. These include developmental psychology theories that express development as an ordered procession through a series of stages in which the cultivation of multiple abilities transpires, and continuous theories, in which development occurs uniquely and individually, as learning and change acquired throughout the lifespan builds on past experiences.

Developmental researchers tend to take one of several approaches:

  • Biological — Psychologists cannot study unobservable immeasurable mental processes, so the focus of their research must be on behavior. Behaviors are learned, not in-born; therefore, both behavior and personality can change if the subject is exposed to new experiences that contradict their initial learning experiences.
  • Cognitive — Child development results from a series of mental processes, including decision making, memory, problem-solving, and language, each of which are taught or have a learned component. The processes do not end but grow more elaborate over time, eventually producing an appropriately mature adolescent child.
  • Learning — Behavior is learned and can change based on experiences in the wider world. People are capable of learning new behaviors and abandoning others. Therefore there is utility in a system of rewards and punishments to mold behavior and personality over time.
  • Psychoanalytic — The human mind contains an unconscious aspect in which instinctual evolutionary drives reside. The relationship between the unconscious and the experiences one has before age 5 or 6 determines and cements the personality. It does not fundamentally change after that.
  • Integrative — Perspectives that combine ideas from the other theories; examples include bioecological and sociocultural theories.
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Developmental Psychology Topics

Adolescent Psychology

Learn about the concept of adolescent psychology and the different stages involved. Read about teenage psychology and helpful ways to support adolescent youth.

Child Psychology

Learn about child psychology and development, along with its contexts and influences. Read about its origin, the role of a child psychologist, and current research.

Developmental Stage Theories

Learn all about the theories of human development. Learn about the different theories of development, see what characterizes them, and learn the main arguments against them.

Developmental disabilities

Learn what a developmental disability is. Discover types of developmental disabilities, study diagnostic statistics, and see developmental disabilities examples.

Learning Theory

Discover learning theory in psychology. Understand what learning theory is, identify the types of learning theories, and examine the elements of these theories.

Lifespan Development

Explore lifespan development in psychology. Understand aspects of multidirectional and multidimensional development, as well as the importance of plasticity.

Personality Development

Learn what personality development is in psychology. Learn about how personalities are formed and review theorists and their developmental theories of personality.

Social Development

Learn what social development entails, review Vygotsky's and Piaget's social development models along with other significant models on social development.

Theories of Moral Development

Explore theories on moral development along with examples. Study the stages of morality in Freud's, Piaget's, and Kohlberg's theories of moral development.

Developmental Psychology Resources

Study.com has thousands of resources related to psychology, and many specifically tailored to the study of psychological development. The discipline is open to teachers and students alike, from college courses on development to psychology tutoring and carefully curated curricula for homeschoolers. Future developmental psychologists can find everything they need to succeed regarding developmental psychology topics at their fingertips.

Developmental Psychology Courses

These psychology courses focus on studying lifetime development, from childhood to old age. Students interested in developmental theories will find college-level courses that deal with child psychology, developmental stages, and the psychology of aging and death. In-depth lessons and quizzes will keep students on track as they study the psychology of the maturing human mind.

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Developmental Psychology Homeschool Curriculum

Homeschool teachers interested in learning about developmental psychology to better help their children or looking to get students into the field have many available resources at Study.com. Primarily geared toward high school students, these curricula have everything one needs to teach psychology in a home environment. With a choice between standard high school psychology and an advanced placement option for college-credit, these courses reference everything from the history of the field, to the details of brain science and psychological disorders. With the help of these resources, students interested in psychology will be ready to succeed in related research in a formal college setting.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are three major developmental psychology issues?

    There are three major issues that developmental psychologists address in their research. They are as follows:

    1. The relationship between nature and nurture on childhood development.
    2. The importance of early childhood experiences to further development.
    3. Whether the development is confined to stages in early life, or is continuous into adulthood.
  • What is the main focus of developmental psychology?

    The main focus of developmental psychology is children's physical and mental maturation and the effects of the family and education on this process. The field is also concerned with how development continues over the lifespan, post-childhood.

  • What are the eight stages of development psychology?

    Erik Erikson was a Neo-Freudian psychoanalyst who developed an eight-stage psychosocial development theory over his lifespan. Internal conflicts characterize these stages:

    1. Trust vs. Mistrust (0-12 Months)
    2. Autonomy vs. Shame (12 Months-3 Years)
    3. Initiative vs. Guilt (3-6 Years)
    4. Industry vs. Inferiority (6 Years-Puberty)
    5. Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence)
    6. Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young Adulthood)
    7. Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood)
    8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair (Older Adulthood)