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What Is Developmental Psychology


What Is Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology tries to understand how people change over time. People come fully assembled but not fully operational. We are not prepackaged as a completely formed being. We develop strength and skills. We gain an understand of the world around us and our place within that context.

Developmental psychology is how people change through their lifespans. It tracks human progress from birth to death.

What is developmental psychology? Here is a video introduction (and transcript) to this subspecialty of psychology.

Developmental Psychology Video

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Transcript

Development means change, and psychology is the scientific study of people. So developmental psychology is the study of how people change.

Lifespan development is the subset of psychology that tries to understand how people change over time. People come fully assembled at birth but not fully operational. We are not prepackaged as a completely formed being. It takes a couple of months for our color vision systems to stabilize. It takes even longer to gain an understanding of the world around us and our place within that context.

We think of development as acquiring skills and abilities but it isn’t limited to positive change. Bones can break, muscles weaken, and diseases spread. As we age, our eyes get worse, our gait is less stable and our internal temperature systems become less responsive. We develop osteoporosis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Development can be rapid or slow. Your hair grows about a half a millimeter a day, you change taste buds every couple of weeks, and about once a month you get new skin cells to replace some of the old ones. You are composed of multiple systems, and each is on their own developmental schedule.

Changes across the lifespan are so abundant and complex, researchers usually restrict their study to a practicably topic or to a particular period of time. Topical researchers select a specific process or faculty. They might follow the rise, maintenance and fall of cognition across the lifespan but they stay with a single topic. They might track the entire lifespan of language, perception or reproductive processes. They might focus on something as specific as fine-gross motor skills or something as broad a sense of self.

The other way to conserve energy is to specialize in a specific period of time. Studying children is still popular but with people living longer, more attention is being given to maintaining the health of the elderly. Advances in brain imagery have increased the studying the rapid brain growth period.

Although researchers often focus on a particular topic or age group, developmental psychology has become very interdisciplinary. It relies on genetics, chemistry, biology, learning, neurology and mathematical modeling. Combining information from multiple sciences helps provide a more coherent explanation for developmental change.

Like all sciences, developmental psychology has a strong preference for controlled experiments. So most studies are conducted in laboratory settings. They use random assignment to treatment conditions, clear operational definitions and control groups.

But developmental psychology’s interdisciplinary approach also allows it to embrace a wider range of research methodologies. It would be unethical to randomly assign children to parents or socio-economic levels, so it is not uncommon to use correlational studies, surveys, ethnographies and naturalistic observations.

Humans are complex beings, so it is not surprising that we must be seen within our biological, environment and social contexts. These contexts impact our decisions and change our personal experiences. And in return, our environment is impacted by our choices and behaviors.

To understand developmental psychology better, I’m trying to create a fictional character we can trace over his lifespan. If you’d like to help decide what challenges our fictional friend Dave should face, come to DevelopmentalDave.com and give your input. It’s still under construction but it probably always will be. So come on ahead.

For more information, check out:

  • Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developmental_psychology)
  • What Do Babies Think? (http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think?language=en)
  • Genetics (http://biologicalpsych.com/biological-psych-genetics/)

 

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