Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology, also known as human development, is concerned with various components of human psychology and how they change over time. These aspects of development complement several other areas of psychology, including studies of personality,cognition and social abilities.  It is a scientific study of methodical psychological changes that take place over the course of an individual’s life span.

Upon its conception, the primary concern of developmental psychology is the development of infants and children, but the field has expanded to cover the entire life span, including adolescence, adult development and aging.  The field focuses on change across a vast range of topics such as cognitive development; motor skills; language acquisition; personality, emotional and social development; self-concept and identity formation.

Developmental psychology delves on a wide range of issues such as the degree to which development takes place through the gradual acquisition of knowledge or the extent to which children are born with intrinsic mental faculties versus learning through experience. Experts in the field also try to determine the interaction between personal characteristics and environmental factors and their influence on individual development.

A number of theorists tried to explain human development; among the most prominent theoretical perspectives are those from Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, Albert Bandura‘s Social Learning Theory, Lev Vygotsky‘s Social Contextualism and its successors, including the Cultural Theory of Development of Michael Cole, and the Ecological Systems Theory of Urie Bronfenbrenner. Also worth noting is the information processing framework applied by cognitive psychology.

Other less eminent perspectives that relate to theories of development that continue to provide a basis for further studies include Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development as well B. F. Skinner‘s and John B. Watson‘s behaviorism.  Several other theories provided salient contributions to specific aspects of development. For instance, the stages of moral development as described byLawrence Kohlberg, as well as the Attachment Theory which characterizes the types of interpersonal relationships.

Below is a brief outline of the more prominent theories of development:

Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children. Piaget believed that early cognitive development involves processes based on actions and later advance into changes in mental operations. Piaget enumerated four periods in the development towards completely reversible thought structures. These periods include the following:  the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.  This is based on the premise that that people acquire new behavior through reinforcement or punishment, or through observational learning of the social factors in their immediate environment.  This means that if people observe positive outcomes in the observed behavior, then they are more inclined to imitate and adopt the behavior themselves.

Lev Vygotsky’s Cultural Historical Theory. Vygotsky postulated that children learn via hands-on experience. He also posited that timely intervention by parents when a child is on the verge of learning a new concept could help children learn new tasks. Vygotsky specifically focused on the role of culture in establishing the child’s pattern of development which tends to move from the social to the individual level.

Ecological Systems Theory. Also known as Human Ecology or Development in Context Theory, it details four types of environmental systems, with bi-directional influences within and between the systems. These are Microsystem, Mesosystem, Exosystem, and Macrosystem. Each system contains roles and rules with the potential to shape development.

Stages of Psychosocial Development. This was conceptualized by Erik Erikson and is by far one of the most popular theories of personality. Erikson believed that personality develops through a series of stages: Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Integrity vs. Despair.

Attachment Theory. This was originally developed by John Bowlby, who focused on intimate and emotionally meaningful relationships.  Bowlby described attachment as a strong survival impulse or biological system that evolved to guarantee the survival of the child. This means that a child who is under threat will likely seek caregivers who can create a sense of physical, emotional and psychological safety.

Nature/Nurture. This is an essential issue in developmental psychology and describes the association between innateness and environmental influence in terms of the different aspect of development. This is frequently termed as “nature versus nurture” or nativismversus empiricism. A nativist’s view of development is one that is innate, meaning it is dictated by a person’s genes. From an empiricist perspective, development is acquired through an interaction with the environment.

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