Developmental Psychology

As you grow, your ideas of yourself, the world, and everything around you changes quite a bit. You might have also noticed how many people relate to terms like teenage angst, childhood shyness, etc. These ideas are explored through the lens of developmental psychology.

What is Developmental Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, developmental psychology studies human growth and changes across the lifespan, including physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality, and emotional growth. It is a fairly recent field, with most of the research in this field only having been conducted since the start of the 20th century. However, there was some understanding of the significance of childhood prior to this time. According to the historian Philippe Aries (1962), the notion that childhood is a significantly important period in one's life is probably not more than a few hundred years old.

Charles Darwin was a pioneer in keeping a detailed baby biography, which he published in "A biographical sketch of an infant." This went beyond simple observations of his son's behavior and included potential explanations. In 1891, Stanley Hall recorded "the contents of children's minds" in his book "Notes on the Study of Infants" by asking children many questions, marking the beginning of officially studying development in children. In recent years, researchers have started to acknowledge the importance of studying development at various stages, and a focus shift has occurred to study adulthood.

Benefits of Developmental Psychology

The main advantage of developmental psychology is that it helps define what is normal. Most people want to think of themselves as being normal, average, or reasonably typical of people in general, so when one learns that someone has completely different opinions or feelings from them, one can be astonished. Data from developmental psychology have shown the spectrum of actions, ideas, and emotions typical of every given group at any given time.

For instance, thumb-sucking, tantrums, nightmares, and nail-biting are considered normal behaviors at the early childhood stage. A fairly high proportion of children show these patterns at similar ages. After establishing the cultural standards for development, the effect of specific events on an individual can be studied. For example, these situations can be compared to examine the effects of various family arrangements (such as the nuclear family, single-parent families, and extended families) on a child's development. Hence, it leads to a better understanding of the factors that promote the best possible psychological development and well-being.

However, the idea of normal development is context-dependent. The normal development of first-world countries and third-world countries might vary drastically. Several factors, like culture, socio-economic status, etc., contribute to one's development, so developmental psychology cannot be studied independently from the context. This makes conducting research in developmental psychology quite an extensive process.

Methods to Study Developmental Psychology

Major methods are−

Cross-sectional Research

Cross-sectional research involves beginning with a sample representative of the population as a whole. For example, if one wanted to study the effects of aging on learning through a cross-sectional research design, one would invite people of different age groups, like groups of 10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-, and 70-year-olds. The participants would be selected so that education, socioeconomic status, and health would be matched across the age groups.

These groups would then be tested, and the results would be compared across ages. However, in some cross-sectional studies, it is rather difficult to tear apart and conclusively say if the results are due to age or generational differences. For example, suppose one conducted a cross-sectional study on opinions about the internet, while baby boomers might complain about it. In that case, Gen Z might not be able to imagine a life without it.

Longitudinal Research

Beginning with a set of participants who may be similar in age and background, a longitudinal study includes taking numerous measurements of the participants over an extended period. One advantage of this kind of research is the ability to track subjects across time and compare them to themselves when they were younger. If the effects of aging on learning were studied longitudinally, the same participants could be tested for regularly learning for a long time, such as since they turned 10; the participants could be tested for their learning every ten years. This method is, however, very expensive, and subjects can drop out over time.

Cross-sequential Research

Combining elements of the first two methods—starting with a cross-sectional sample and tracking them through time—is what cross-sequential research entails. This approach is ideal for examining factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic class, and ethnicity. However, there are also the negative effects of high expenses and attrition.

Various Schools of Thought

Developmental psychology theorists have some debates that remain at the center of the studies conducted in the field.

Continuity vs. Discontinuity

Children change, but are these changes gradual or sudden? Normative evolution is often seen as a continuous and cumulative process. The continuity idea states that change occurs gradually. Children not only get bigger but also learn more sophisticated speaking, acting, and thinking methods. Development occurs more swiftly and in a sequence of different, age-specific life phases known as "stages," according to the discontinuity theory. Different behaviors emerge as a result of these stages. The "stages" in life that youngsters go through, including the sensorimotor stage, are widely mentioned. Because these phases of life are marked by obvious changes in either physical or psychological functioning, they are known as "developmental stages." Discontinuity theorists believe everyone undergoes the stages of development in the same order, but the rate varies.

Nature vs. Nurture

The term "Nature" pertains to biological development and inheritance processes. Everyone has a particular type of heredity (DNA), which guides us through many developmental changes at around the same time throughout our lives. The concept of "nurture" refers to how a person's environment shapes them and how they gain knowledge from their experiences. Developmental psychology aims to understand the relative significance of genetics and environment and how these two components interact. Two common techniques to research and contrast these concepts are twin studies and adoption studies.

Stability vs. Change

Characteristics of the personality present from birth are said to be stable over time. Contrarily, change theorists assert that familial relationships, educational chances, and acculturation change people's personalities.


Developmental psychology is an important and broad field of study that allows for understanding various factors contributing to growth, well-being, etc. The field is quite recent; however, it has undergone many stages. The child study movement, psychoanalytic theory, learning theory, evolutionary theory, the development of intelligence measures (such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale), genetic studies, twin studies, research using longitudinal and cross-sectional designs, professional organizations, and academic journals are just a few examples of the many currents of thought and investigation that have influenced or shaped the field's direction over the years.

Updated on: 05-Apr-2023


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