Developmental Psychology – The Study of Human Nature

     Developmental psychology is the study of the physical, cognitive (thinking) and social changes that people go through from conception onwards.

Beginning of Developmental Psychology as a Field of Interest:

     Interest in the development of children became popular in the nineteenth century, during the industrialization of Europe and North America. At this time, people’s lives could be divided into periods – childhood and adulthood. As well, schooling became popular. At first, child psychologists looked at issues such as the labor force and studied items such as the acceptable time per day that a child could work without damaging themselves. This sort of data was used to clarify basic questions about human development and how to study it. In the late nineteenth century, child psychology became an institutionalized research and practice.

Core Concern:
      The core concern of child psychologists is the steps of development that children go through. There are three fundamental questions that psychologists ask about the process of development:

1) Continuity: Psychologists are interested in whether development of children is a gradual process of change, or if it is made up of periods of rapid change and the sudden onset of new thoughts and behaviors.
2) Sources of development: Psychologists are interested in what parts of development are influenced by genes and what parts are influenced from the environment within which the child grows up.
3) Individual differences: Psychologists are interested in how people differ and how they come to develop the characteristics that make them unique.

Nature vs. Nurture:
     For years, there has existed a debate about whether nature (biology/genetic make-up) has a predominant role in child development or whether the nurture (the environment in which the child grows up) does. Nature refers to the inherited biological characteristics of an individual, such as their genes. Nurture refers to the influences in the environment that affect a child, such as the social environment of their family and their school. Modern psychologists suggest that we cannot look at these things exclusively. Both nature influences how one perceives the environment and vice versa.

      There are four major ways that psychologists approach child development. These are:

1) The Biological Maturation Framework: According to this framework, the sources of development are biological, coming from things that have been inherited from parents and that exist in the child’s genetic make-up.
2) The Environmental Learning Framework: According to this framework, development occurs and is influenced from outside factors, coming from the child’s environment.
3) The Constructivist Framework: This viewpoint considers both environment and biological influences that are working together in the child’s development.
4) The Cultural-Context framework: This framework sees both the importance of biological and of environmental factors, and also looks at how these interact within a certain culture.

Related Links

Child Psychology
Adolescent Psychology
Problems of Children & Teens