Developmental psychology refers to a scientific approach that looks at how behavior, feelings, and thinking change throughout a person's lifespan. The theories of developmental psychology enhance an understanding of changes and consistencies that people experience in various stages of growth and development (Overton, 2010). The main theoretical areas underlying developmental psychology are cognitive, emotional, social, and biological processes. Three main assumptions, according to Dixon (2001), guide the study of developmental changes. First, the current developmental perspectives are linked to past conditions. Secondly, the research methods used in developmental psychology ought to direct attention to changes that occur in an individual's life. Thirdly, the critical developmental changes do not happen at a specific point but throughout the lifespan. An understanding of how developmental psychology is applied enables psychologists to design best strategies to foster development at different stages. Therefore, the study of developmental psychology is essential because it enhances an understanding of how humans mature, lean, and adapt to changes in their surroundings.
Historical Origins of Developmental Psychology
Western psychologists introduced concepts of developmental psychology after the industrial revolution when there was a high demand for an educated workforce (Baltes, Reese, & Lipsitt, 2014). This situation necessitated psychologists to design theoretical models and scientific approaches that divided the human's lifespan into several phases. Consequently, it let to the construction of theories that recognized childhood as a district phase of development in a person's lifespan. Psychologists were initially interested in studying the mind of children as a strategy to enhance the effectiveness of education and learning processes (Baltes et al., 2014).
The most recent area of study in developmental psychology is changes that occur during childhood. This area has attracted the attention of many psychologists, primarily because of advances in medical science, which has prolonged lives (Baltes et al., 2014). Charles Darwin paved ways for more research in developmental psychology after conducting the first systematic study of psychological domains that change and those that remain constant in a person's lifespan. In 1877, for instance, Charles Darwin studied critical developmental changes in his infant son and published a short paper based on scientific observations (Baltes et al., 2014).
However, developmental psychology emerged as a specific, distinct discipline in the late 1880s, after the work of Wilhelm Preyer, a renowned German psychologist (Baltes et al., 2014). Three key figures are credited for their contributions to this field through extensive theories detailing human development. These psychologists are John Bowlby (1907-1990), Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), and Jean Piaget (1896-1980) (Baltes et al., 2014). Indeed, these three theorists continue to influence much of the current research in areas of developmental psychology.
Developmental psychology initially involved the study of changes in living organisms right from conception to the end of life (Overton, 2010). Currently, this area has increasingly evolved to scientific research of systematic intra-individual changes that occur in one's life (Overton, 2010). The study of processes and systems underlying changes that occur in human life is of great importance. Psychologists study several categories of changes and developments, including ontogenesis, embryogenesis, orthogenesis, and pathogenesis (Overton, 2010).
Several age-related areas of research exist across a person's lifespan. These aspects are adulthood, adolescence, childhood, toddlerhood, and infancy. Lifespan developmental scientists explore different domains within and across age-related areas. These dimensions are cognitive, biological, motivational, social, and personality domains of individual development. The field of developmental psychology also focuses on contextual ecological systems that influence a person's development, including neighborhoods, homes, and family (Overton, 2010).
Nonetheless, this field recognizes that not all the changes in a person's life are necessarily developmental. There are five main defining features of developmental changes. First, it involves an organization of processes. Secondly, they should occur in a sequence. Thirdly, they are irreversible. Fourth, such changes have a direction, and, finally, they are characterized by epigenesis. These features guide psychologists in the differentiating between the traditional variational and transformational changes.
The type-token distinction of transformation and variational dimensions requires a proper understanding of the place that the changes take place. The distinction between perception and content also enhances an understanding of the place for variational and transformational change. Examples of universal psychological processes (types) are thinking, consciousness, motivation, affect, language, memory, and perception. These elements, according to Overton (2010), are the characteristics of human species as a whole. Psychological processes that involve the expression of a particular process (tokens) revolve around percept, emotion, memory, concept, and thought.
Transformational changes concern the maintenance, acquisition, or retention of universal processes. Variational changes, on the other hand, primarily involve specific expressions. Developmental psychology theories reinforce research and trajectories of language, communication skills, and cognitive development. The principles of developmental psychology have been applied to optimize child development in areas related to behavior, attention, cognitive, motor, and language skills (Sharma, 2014).
Developmental psychology enhances an understanding of critical changes that occur from infancy to adulthood. Theories of developmental psychology reinforce the scientific study of pivotal factors that influence growth and development at infancy, adolescence, toddlerhood, early adulthood, and late adulthood. The principles underlying developmental psychology have been applied to enhance children's cognitive skills, language, and motor skills.
Baltes, P. B., Reese, H. W., & Lipsitt, L. P. (2014). Life-Span Developmental
Psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 31(1), 65-110. doi:10.1146/annurev.ps.31.020180.000433
Dixon, R. A. (2001). Developmental Psychology. International Encyclopedia of the Social &
Behavioral Sciences, 22(1), 3607-3612. Retrieved 9 December 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/01642-9/url/
Overton, W. F. (2010). The handbook of life-span development. New York, NY: Springer
Publishing Company. Retrieved 9 December 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314046174/url/
Sharma, K. C. (2014). Fundamentals of developmental psychology. New York, NY: Elsevier Inc.
Retrieved 9 December 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2014.04.009/url/
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