Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Developmental psychology examines human developmental change and continuity from conception to death. The field began with a focus on children, expanded coverage to adolescent development, and later came to include the adulthood period, in the end covering the entire life span.
Early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, as well as French philosophers from the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries such as René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, planted the seed for nativism, which holds that human ideas and behaviors are innate and that development evolves through maturation. Seventeenth century philosopher John Locke laid the foundation for behaviorism with his concept of tabula rasa, that life experience impresses its marks into a newborn’s “blank slate.” Naturalist Charles Darwin and physiologist William Preyer published their baby biographies in 1877 and 1882, respectively, signifying the beginning of modern child psychology. G. Stanley Hall, the father of developmental psychology, brought both theory and methodology to new levels with the publication of Adolescence (1904) and Senescence (1922).
The American Psychological Association (APA) established its first nineteen divisions before World War II, among which was Division 7: Developmental Psychology. In December, 1945, Division 20: Division on Maturity and Old Age was added to the list (renamed Division of Adult...
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Issues and Assumptions (Psychology and Mental Health)
When studying what changes occur and why, developmental psychologists are traditionally concerned with the following issues: whether the developmental changes are continuous (gradual) or discontinuous (later stages being qualitatively different from earlier stages), whether the cause for change is genetic (nature/ heredity) or environmental (nurture), whether people develop along the same path through the same stages (universality) in the same order (invariability) or the development is unique and specific to each individual, and whether the person plays an active or a passive role. Developmental psychologists agree on the following assumptions regarding human development:
•Development is a lifelong process—development goes on beyond childhood; earlier events bear consequences in later developments.
•Development involves both gains and losses at all ages—it is not all gains in formative years and all losses in older years.
•Plasticity (capacity to select, change, and reorganize to adjust or adapt to events or life conditions) remains throughout life—learning, adaptation, and reorganization are possible at all ages.
•Development is embedded in historical, cultural, and social contexts—development does not occur in a vacuum.
•Development is multidimensional, multidirectional, and multicausal—development occurs in different areas (biological, psychological, cognitive,...
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Major Developmental Theories (Psychology and Mental Health)
Developmental theories can be categorized according to the worldviews that they reflect. The selection of nondevelopmental theories by developmental psychologists to explain development also reflects their worldviews. Learning theories (such as John B. Watson’s classical conditioning and B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning) represent the mechanistic worldview, which sees the world as objective and predictable. Behavioral changes can be determined by situational antecedents and reinforcement or punishment following the responses. The developing person is rather passive, like a machine responding to external stimulation and getting molded by the environment. Changes are continuous, and developmental paths and outcomes may differ, contingent on the specific environment, action, and consequence. Information-processing and computational models using the computer metaphor and neural-network model to study cognitive development also belong to this category.
Many stage theories in developmental psychology reflect the organismic view, which believes in inherent organization, activity, and purposefulness. These theories hold that development goes through an invariable and universal sequence of stages, with later stages built on the outcomes of earlier stages. All stages are believed to be qualitatively different from one another. The person is seen as actively construing the reality through organization and functions...
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Research (Psychology and Mental Health)
To study developmental changes, three variables are particularly relevant: age, cohort, and time of measurement. Age is the chronological age of the person, cohort refers to a group of people who were born in a certain year or in a specific period (such as a generation), and time of measurement means the time when data are collected. Brief descriptions of three categories of developmental designs follow.Cross-Sectional Designs
A cross-sectional design involves at least two age groups measured once: for example, two groups of twenty-year-olds and fifty-year-olds measured in 1990. Researchers want to learn about age differences, but age and cohort are confounded so that researchers are not able to know whether the differences observed are caused by people’s different ages or their exposure to different historical events since they were born in different years.Longitudinal Designs
A longitudinal design involves one group of people (a particular cohort) measured repeatedly over time: for example, one group of people aged fifteen interviewed in 1990 and then in 2000. There are three variations. Trend or time-lag designs involve people of the same age, but data collecting occurs in different years (for example, collecting data from graduating seniors every year to study the trends or changes in seniors’ characteristics). Cohort longitudinal designs involve collecting data in different years from different samples selected...
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Changes and Prospects (Psychology and Mental Health)
The world has changed. People are living longer, and globalization is taking place. Cultural influences are crossing territorial boundaries, and workplaces are becoming diversified. Advancements in technology have created new modes of interaction and also made possible new ways of conducting research and analyzing data. Responding to these drastic changes, psychology is undergoing paradigmatic shifts from dichotomous to interactionist and to complex, dynamic, multilevel contextualist paradigms. A subdiscipline in psychology, developmental psychology has also exhibited this trend.
Extended life expectancy has made it necessary to study adulthood, especially middle and late adulthood. The life-span approach to developmental psychology requires building new theories for adult development and aging, developing new instruments appropriate for adults, and establishing norm references for adults. Research methods, both quantitative and qualitative, must address developmental questions (such as sequential designs and life interviews) and multilevel processes (such as changes in relationship units in structure and over time). Developmental psychologists must work with scientists in other disciplines such as sociology, gerontology, neuroscience, cultural psychology, and behavioral genetics. Through such endeavors, developmental psychology will benefit from mutual stimulation with developmental science and applied developmental...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Bornstein, Marc H., and Michael E. Lamb. Developmental Science: An Advanced Textbook. 5th ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005. Describes the history of developmental science, major positions and principles, theories, and applications.
Geary, David C. “Evolutionary Developmental Psychology: Current Status and Future Directions.” Developmental Review 26 (2006): 113-119. Examines developmental psychology as a multidisciplinary field, with the evolutionary theory brought in, and discusses difficulties with multiple-level analysis and issues interesting to developmental scientists.
Miller, Joan G. “Essential Role of Culture in Developmental Psychology.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development 109 (2005): 33-41. Discusses the essential role of culture in theory building and research methods in developmental psychology.
Miller, Patricia H. Theories of Developmental Psychology. New York: Worth, 2002. Reviews major developmental theories.
Pillemer, David B., and Harold W. Sheldon. Developmental Psychology and Social Change. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Offers a sociohistorical perspective on the evolution of developmental psychology and examines how historical events, societal changes, and social policies have shaped the field’s scope, focus, and research.
Plomin, Robert. Development, Genetics, and...
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Developmental Psychology (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
A field of psychology which examines how human behavior changes as a person matures through focusing on biological, emotional, physical, cognitive, and social changes that are age-related, sequential, and long-lasting.
Developmental psychologists study how characteristics and behaviors first appear and how and when they change. They study the relationships between different types of development, such as cognitive and social, as well as individual variations in development, both normal and deviant. Initially, developmental psychology focused on childhood but was subsequently expanded to cover changes that occur over the entire life span, from the intrauterine environment through childhood, adolescence, middle age, and maturity. Three processes that play a central role in development are growth, maturation, and learning. Growth refers to physical changes that are quantitative, such as increases in height or weight. Maturation involves anatomical, neurophysiological, and chemical transformations that change the way a person functions (such as a woman's passage into or out of childbearing age). Learning involves relatively long-term changes in behavior or performance acquired through observation, experience, or training.
One of the oldest questions in developmental psychology involves the nature-nurture...
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