What Is Development Psychology?

Wondering about child development
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Before you begin your study of development, it is important to understand exactly what we mean when we say the word 'development.'  What does development involve?  What are the effects of development?  Learn the answers to these questions and more.

What Is Development?

Development describes the growth of humans throughout the lifespan, from conception to death. The scientific study of human development seeks to understand and explain how and why people change throughout life.

This includes all aspects of human growth, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social, perceptual, and personality development.

The scientific study of development is important not only to psychology, but also to sociology, education, and health care. Development does not just involve the biological and physical aspects of growth, but also the cognitive and social aspects associated with development throughout life.

The study of human development is important in a number of subjects, including biology, anthropology, sociology, education, history, and psychology. Most important, however, are the practical applications of studying human development. By better understanding how and why people change and grow, we can then apply this knowledge to helping people live up to their full potential.

What is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental psychology is the branch of psychology that studies how people grow and change over the course of a lifetime.

Before you begin a more in-depth study of this subject, you need to understand exactly what 'development' means.

Developmental psychologists do not just study the physical changes that occur as people grow; they also look at the social, emotional, and cognitive development that occurs throughout life.

How is Development Studied?

Developmental psychologists employ different methods and techniques to study human development. Researchers utilize the scientific method to systematically gather and analyze information from which conclusions can be drawn. The steps involved in the scientific method are designed to promote objectivity and limit bias.

The Scientific Method

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Formulate a hypothesis.
  3. Test the hypothesis.
  4. Draw conclusions.
  5. Publish the findings.

You can learn more about the scientific methods as well as the research methods used by developmental psychologists in the following resources:

What are the Major Questions in Developmental Psychology?

There have been a number of important debates and issues throughout the history of developmental psychology.

Some of the major questions posed by psychologists and researchers are centered on the relative contributions of genetics versus environment, the process through which development occurs, and the overall importance of early experiences versus that of later events.

The classic issue in child development research is the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate. Does genetic inheritance play a larger role in influencing development and behavior, or does the environment have a stronger effect? Today, most psychologists recognize that both elements play an essential role, but the debate continues over many developmental questions about topics ranging from academic aptitude to sexual orientation.

Key Developmental Terms to Know

  1. Accommodation
  2. Acquisition
  3. Adaptation
  4. Assimilation
  5. Anal Stage
  6. Concrete Operational Stage
  7. Formal Operational Stage
  8. Genital Stage
  9. Oral Stage
  10. Phallic Stage
  11. Preoperational Stage
  12. Schema
  13. Sensorimotor Stage

Developmental Psychology Study Questions

As you delve deeper into the study of development, you will learn about different theories and concepts. The following questions can help guide your study of some of the major developmental theories.

1. What are some of the essential things we can learn from the study of developmental psychology?

2. What are the major differences between Sigmund Freud’s theory of development and Erik Erikson’s theory?

3. How can classical conditioning and operant conditioning be used to describe and explain development?

4. According to Erik Erikson, what major conflict do adolescents face?

5. What are the four major stages of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development?

Developmental Psychology Quizzes:

Test your knowledge of what you have learned about developmental psychology in these quizzes.

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