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Developmental Psychology

Also known as human development, is the scientific study of systematic psychological changes that occur in human beings over the course of their life span. Originally concerned with infants and children the field has expanded to include adolescence, adult development, and the entire life span. This field examines change across a broad range of topics including motor skills and other psycho-physiological processes; cognitive development involving areas such as problem solving , moral understanding and conceptual understanding; language acquisition social, personality, and emotional development; and self-concept and identity formation.

The study of age-related changes in behavior from birth to death. Developmental psychologists attempt to determine the causes of such changes. Developmental psychology includes issues such as the extent to which development occurs through the gradual accumulation of knowledge versus stage-like development, or the extent to which children are born with innate mental structures versus learning through experience. Many researchers are interested in the interaction between personal characteristics, the individual’s behavior, and environmental factors including social context and their impact on development.

Goals of developmental psychology Developmental psychologists study the changes that occur as development proceeds. They examine both the changes themselves, and what causes them. Thus, developmental psychology has two main goals. The first is to describe the behavior at each point in the person’s development—such as determining the age that babies begin to walk, the social skills of four year olds, and so forth.

The second is to identify the causal factors involved in producing changes in behavior—such as the importance of genetic or biological factors, the role of various experiences, and the influence of peers, parents, and others.

History of Developmental Psychology The scientific study of children began in the late nineteenth century, and blossomed in the early twentieth century as pioneering psychologists sought to uncover the secrets of human behavior by studying its development. Developmental psychology made an early appearance in a more literary form, however.

William Shakespeare had his melancholy character, Jacques (in As You Like It), articulate the seven ages of man which included three stages of childhood and four of adulthood. Three early scholars, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Charles Darwin proposed theories of human behavior that are the “direct ancestors of the three major theoretical traditions of developmental psychology today. Locke, a British empiricist adhered to a strict environmentalist position, that the mind of the newborn as a blank slate on which knowledge is written through experience and learning.

Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher who spent much of his life in France, proposed a nativistic model in his famous novel Emile, in which development occurs according to innate processes progressing through three stages: infancy, childhood and adolescence. Finally, the work of Darwin, the British biologist famous for his theory of evolution led others to suggest that development proceeds through evolutionary recapitulation, with many human behaviors having their origins in successful adaptations in the past as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. G. Stanley Hall called the father of developmental psychology, is credited with conducting the first systematic studies of children. These involved questionnaires, which unfortunately were not structured in a way as to produce useful data. He was also unsuccessful in research that attempted to show that the child’s development recapitulates the evolution of the species. His major contributions to the field are that he taught the first courses in child development, several of his students becoming leading researchers in the field, and he established scientific journals for the publication of child development research.


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