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Developmental Psychology

Developmental Psychology


Developmental Psychology Defined


Developmental psychology is the study of the psychological changes that take place through a person’s lifetime as they age.  The discipline probably grew from a merger of two areas of study.  One is child psychology, which focuses to a great degree on the sweeping psychological changes associated with rapid childhood growth and the turbulence of adolescence.  The other is the patterns of psychological change experienced by the senior population.  Developmental psychology is the study of mental and emotional development – and change- throughout life’s entire continuum.


The Areas of Research in Developmental Psychology


The discipline examines change across a broad range of topics including: motor skills and other psycho-physiological processes, problem solving abilities, conceptual understanding, acquisition of language, moral understanding, and identity formation.

It is related to cognitive psychology in the sense that one of the research areas may be the change in mental problem solving procedures through different stages of life.  Developmental psychology remains very much a child-oriented field, in part because so much human psychological growth occurs at a young age. 


There is the perennial debate of nature vs. nurture – what traits are innate, and which are learned behaviors?  All psychologists are predisposed to define human behavior by sets of characteristics, each neatly defined within the field of study.  That is why entire structural theories for psychological behavior can be introduced: they begin with an assumption and build a set of characteristics or, in the case of developmental psychology, phases that define the human psyche. 


In developmental psychology, research is conducted on issues such as the psychological difference between children and adults – are a child’s mental capacities qualitatively different, or do they simply lack the experience that adults draw upon? 

Some professionals in the field theorize that development occurs through the gradual accumulation of knowledge. 


Others hold that the process is guided by shifts from one stage of thinking to another.  And there is ongoing debate over the impact of social context on psychological development.  There can be little doubt as to the validity of this concept through adulthood.  The recognition of post traumatic stress syndrome in war veterans and victims makes it clear that social context can have devastating consequences, as can grinding poverty in times of peace.


The Study and Practice of Developmental Psychology


Developmental psychologists hold doctorates in psychology.  The area of specialization begins at the master’s level and continues through the doctoral program.  Course specialization and thesis work can orient towards the developmental facets of psychology.  Clinical work during the doctoral program often is conducted by working with children or adolescents.  Increasingly, developmental psychologists who wish to have a clinical practice as well as engage in research will turn to working with the elderly.  That is a quickly growing segment of our population and there are increasing concentrations of them in assisted living homes and other, similar eldercare facilities.


This sort of therapeutic practice makes developmental psychology similar in function to applied psychology, which is a general counseling function.  Developmental psychology, however, works within a framework of human change over time that has been researched, defined to some extent, and can therefore be predictable when symptoms of accepted behavioral abnormalities occur.
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