Definition and nature of developmental psychology



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Developmental Psychology



DEFINITION AND NATURE OF DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY

Developmental Psychology is one of the sub-fields of Psychology. It is an ontogenetic study of human organism from conception to death. Developmental Psychology seeks understanding and controls the basic processes and dynamics underlying human behavior at the various stages of life. Its investigations encompass the growth and maturation of the individual organism, its cognitive and emotional powers, as well as its personality structure.

Developmental Psychology, as a science of growth, deals with all the processes contributing to becoming an infant, a child, an adolescent, and a mature adult.

According to Hurlock, "Developmental Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies intraindividual changes and interindividual changes within these intraindividual changes. Its task is not only description but also explication of age-related changes in behavior in terms of antecedent consequent relationship."

Some developmental psychologists study developmental changes covering the life span from conception to death. Others cover only a segment of the life span, childhood or old age.

Developmental Psychology is a scientific discipline that attempts: (i) to devise methods for studying organisms as they evolve over time (ii) to collect facts about individuals of different ages, backgrounds and personalities and (iii) to construct a theoretical frame work that can account for the observed behaviors as well as for the changes occurring throughout the life cycle.



Aspects of Development

There are four aspects of development which are closely intertwined. Each aspect of development affects the other. • Physical development

-Intellectual development

-Personality development

-Social development

We will now discuss each of these in brief.



  1. Physical development. Physical development consists of changes in the body, brain, sensory capacities and motor skills. They exert major influences on both intellect and personality. For example, much of an infant's knowledge comes from the senses and from motor activity. A child who has a hearing loss is at risk of delayed language development. In late adulthood, physical changes in the brain as in Alzheimer's disease which has been estimated to affect about 10 percent of people over the age of 65 (Evans et aL 1989) can result in intellectual and personality deterioration.

  2. Intellectual development. Changes in mental abilities such as learning, memory, reasoning, thinking and language are aspects of intellectual development. These changes are closely related to both motor and emotional development. A baby's growing memory, for example, is related to separation anxiety, the fear that the mother will not return once she has gone away. If children could not remember the past and anticipate the future, they could not worry about the mother's absence.

  3. Memory also affects babies’ physical actions. For example, a one year old boy who remembers being scolded for knocking down his sister's block tower may refrain from doing it again.

  4. Personally and Social development. Personality and social development affect with the cognitive aspects and the physical aspects of functioning. For example, anxiety about taking a test can impair performance; and social support from friends helps people cope with the negative effects of stress on their physical and mental health.

Principles of Development

Development follows certain principles. These principles are:



    1. Development is similar for all: All children follow a similar pattern of development, with one stage leading to next.

For instance, they baby stands before he walks, or draws a circle before a square.

    1. Development Proceeds at Different Rates: Even though all individuals follow much the same pattern of development, the rate of development varies form individual to individual. Because rate of development differ, all children of the same age do not reach the same point of physical or mental development. Nor do all individuals decline physically or mentally at the same rate. In the same individual, different physical and mental traits develop at different ages. Different rates of decline have likewise been observed for different physical and mental traits.

    2. Development is continuous: From the moment of conception to the time of death, changes re taking place within the individual, sometimes slowly. As a result, what happens at one stage of development varies over and influences the following stages. Unhealthy attitudes developed in childhood, for example, have been found to be at the root of much of the unhappiness and poor adjustment during middle and old age.

    3. Development Proceeds from General to Specific Responses: In mental as well as motor responses, general activity always precedes specific activity. For example, the baby waves his arms in general movements before he is capable of a specific a response as reaching. Studies of speech have revealed that the young child learns general words before he learns to call each toy by its name.

    4. All Individuals are Different: Although all individuals follow a definite and predictable pattern of development each individual has his own distinct style of doing so. Some develop in a smooth, gradual, step by-step fashion, while others move in spurts. Some show wide swings, while others show only slight ones. Individual differences are due partly to differences in hereditary endowment and partly to environmental influences. There are fewer differences in physical structure than in intellectual differences. Difference in special aptitudes seems to be the most mark of all.

    5. Direction of Physical Development: Physical development follows two laws:

    1. Cephalocaudal Principle. This means that improvements in structure as well as in control of different areas of the body come first in the head region, then in the trunk, and last, in the leg region. No only do the structures in the head region develop sooner than those in the leg region, but not or control comes first in the upper areas of the body and last in the lower areas.

    2. Proximodistal Principle. According to this principle, development proceeds from near to far-outward, from the central axis of the body toward the extremities. Head and trunk develop before the limbs. Arms develop before the fingers. Functionally, the baby can move his hands as unit before he can control the movement of his fingers.

    1. Each Stage has characteristic Traits: Our life span is divided into a number of stages, namely, parental stage, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Each of these stages is characterized by certain problems of adjustment.

    2. Development comes from Maturation and learnin:. Physical traits are developed in two ways, partly from intrinsic maturing of these traits and partly from exercise and experience of the individual. Development through intrinsic maturity is known as Maturation and development through one's experience and exercise is termed Learning.

    3. Development follows a Familiar and Predictable Pattern: There is a particular pattern of development for each species, animal or human. Development follows a regular genetic sequence during the prenatal period, in progressive stages. Similarly, the postnatal period also witnesses an organized development, although facts develop more quickly than memory for abstract or theoretical thinking. Cases of incompatibility in the rate of development of different physical and mental traits, lead to problems in adjustment. If the intellectual development exceeds or outpaces the physical, emotional or social development the child will be out of step, with his contemporaries or even other children.

    4. The global of all development is self-realization: In general, the overall goal or objective of individual development is self-realization which is defined as the motive to achieve one's potential. It is difficult to define what maturity is. A person who has attained physical maturity may still want in intellectual maturity with a still longer way to go to reach social or emotional maturity. Further, the level of maturity for one person may not be applicable to the other. Each person is endowed with certain growth potentials which can be developed to maximum level for that individual, given a favorable environment.

Arnold Gessel has identified the following important principles of development.

    1. The Cephalo-caudal Principle. In general, structures in and around the head area develop first, and structures in and around the tail area develop last.

    2. The Proximodistal Principle. In general, the brain and nervous system and the internal organs develop earlier than the extremities and the physiological systems associated with them.

    3. The Differentiation Principle. In general, the development of a new organ or subsystem begins with its growth as a relatively undifferentiated mass which nevertheless is identifiable as a separate part of the organism, and then, once this mass has grown, it differentiates into finer and more interrelated subparts.

    4. The Bilateral Principle. Humans have bilaterally organized bodies, with many parts appearing in pairs, one on each side. During development, each number of a given pair of parts appears at about the same time and develops at about the same rate as the corresponding member of the pair.

Definition of Growth and Development

The terms growth and development are often synonymously used in daily language but not so in Psychology. Before we begin our discussion, therefore, we would carefully note the meanings of the terms "growth" and "development". The term "growth" refers more to the physical growth- growth from the fertilized egg at time of conception to the fully grown body of the adult, that is, growth means increases in the size of the various parts of the body. The term "development" refers to the progressive changes that take place with time in the behavior of the organism and which lead to maturity. Through separate, growth and development are simultaneous processes. They are also inter depended in the same that stunning of growth may often, though not always, result in deficits of development and vice-versa.



Distinction between Growth and Development

The two main pints of difference between growth and development are as follows:



  1. Growth denotes the structural and physical changes within the body of the individual right from the moment of conception to the adult period. Development refers to growth and the scope of physical and mental progress a person is capable of achieving.

  2. Growth denotes quantitative changes, it shows an increase in the size and structure of the body and organs. Development refers to changes which are qualitative and directional. The changes are improvement and move forward rather than backward.

Along with the concept of growth and development, we must also understand the meanings of two other concepts which play an important role in human development. The first one is maturation and the second one is learning.

Periods of the Span

Human development progresses through a series of various stages. The entire life span of human begins can be divided into eight periods. The divisions of the life span in these eight periods are somewhat arbitrary especially in adulthood. We will discuss these eight stages or periods in brief.



1. Pre-natal Period. It ranges from birth to conception. During this stage, the following important developments take place:

  1. Basic body structure and organs form

  2. Physical growth is most rapid in this period of the life span.

  3. Vulnerability to environmental influences is great.



2. Infancy and Toddler hood. This stage ranges from birth to the age of three. The following important developments characterize this stage of development: (i) The new-born is dependent and competent

  1. All sense operate at birth

  2. Physical growth and development of motor skills are rapid.

  3. Ability to learn and remember is present, even in early weeks of life.

  4. Attachments to parents and other form toward en of first year.

  5. Self-awareness develops in second year. (vii) Comprehension and speech develop rapidly (viii) Interest in other children increases.



3. Early Childhood. This period of development ranges from 3 to 6 years of life. The following important developments take place during this period:

  1. Family is still the focus of life, although other children become more important.

  2. Strength and line and gross motor skills improve.

  3. Independence, self-control, and self-care, increase.

  4. Play, creativity and imagination become more elaborate.

  5. Cognitive development leads to many 'Illogical' ideas about the world.

  6. Behavior is largely eccentric, but understanding of other people's perspective grows.



4. Middle Childhood. This period ranges from 5 years to 12 years. The following important changes take place during this period:

  1. Peers assume central importance

  2. Children begin to think logically, although largely concretely.

  3. Egocentrism dimities.

  4. Memory and language skills increase

  5. Cognitive gains improve the ability to benefit from formal schooling. (vi) Self-concept develops, affecting self-esteem (vii) Physical growth slows.

(viii) Strength and athletic skills improve

5. Adolescence. The period extends from the age of 12 to puberty to around 20 years. The following major developments take place during this period.

  1. Physical changes are rapid and profound

  2. Reproductive maturity is attained

  3. Search for identity becomes central

  4. Ability to think abstractly and use scientific reasoning develops. (v) Adolescent egocentrism persists in some behaviors. (vi) Peer groups help to develop and test self-concept (vii) Relationships with parents are generally good.



6. Young adulthood. This is period that ranges from 20 to 40 years. The following major developments take place during this period.

  1. Decisions are made about intimate relationships

  2. Most people marry; most become parents

  3. Physical heath peaks, then declines slightly

  4. Career choices are made

  5. Sense of identity continues to develops (vi) Intellectual abilities assume new complexity.



7. Middle age. This period ranges from the age of 40 years to 65 years. The following important developments take place during this period.

  1. Search for meaning in life assumes central importance.

  2. Some deterioration of physical health, stamina, and prowess takes place.

  3. Women experience menopause

  4. Wisdom and practical problem-solving skills are high; ability to solve novel problems declines. (v) Double responsibilities of caring for children and elderly parents may cause stress (vi) Time orientation changes to "time left to live".

  1. Launching of children typically empty nest.

  2. Typically, women become more assertive, men more expressive.

  3. For some, career success and earning powers peak; for others "burn-out" occurs.

  4. For a minority, there is a mid-life "crisis".



8. Late Adulthood. This is period ranging from 65 years of age and over. The following important changes take place during this period:

(i) Most people hearty and active, although heath and physical abilities decline somewhat.

(ii)Most people are mentally alert. Although intelligence and memory deteriorate somewhat, most people find ways compensate.


  1. Slowing of reaction time affects many aspects of functioning.

  2. Need to cope with losses in many areas (loss of one's own faculties, loss of loved once).

  3. Retirement from work force creates more leisure time by many reduce economic circumstances.

  4. Need arises to find purposes in life to face impending death.



Research Methods in the Study of Human Development

There are, broadly speaking, two methods of research in the study of human development. There are as follows:

I. None-experimental methods


  1. Case study method

  2. Naturalistic observation

  3. Laboratory observation

  4. Interview

  5. Co relational studies

II. Experimental methods

Non-Experimental Methods

1. Case Study Method. Case studies are studies of a single case or individual. Much of the data for psychoanalytical theories comes from case studies- careful notes and interpretations of what patients have said under psychoanalysis.

Our earliest sources of information about infants' development are case studies- careful notes and interpretation of what patients have said under psychoanalysis.

Our earliest sources of information about infants' development are case studies called baby biographies, journals in which parents recorded children's day by-day development. The first that we know about was begun in 1601; one of the most famous was Charles Darwin’s about his son; and perhaps the most influential were those of Jean Piaget, whose theories about how children learn drew extensively on observations of his own three children.

An important more recent case study is the poignant story of "Genie". Case studies offer useful, in-depth information, giving a rich description of an individual. But these studies have shortcomings.



  1. Case study does not tell us about the exact cause-effect relationship.

  2. Furthermore case studies do not explain behavior, and if they try to Case study can also be affected by "observer bias". That is, the recorder may emphasize some aspects of a person's development and minimize others. While case studies may tell a great deal about individuals, then, it is questionable how well the information applies to people in general.



2. Naturalistic Observation. In naturalistic observation, researchers observe and record people's behavior in real-life settings. (Like pre-schools or nursing homes). They do not manipulate the environment or later behavior. To gain normative information, researchers observe people; record data about their development at various ages; and derive aver- age ages, or norms, for growth and for the appearance of various skills and behaviors.

One type of naturalistic observation is time sampling, a technique used to determine how often a particular behavior (like aggression, babbling or crying) occurs during a given period of time. The method of naturalistic observation is of great use, especially in those cases where normal human aspects of children's behavior cannot be studies in laboratory settings. They have to be studied as and when the behavior occurs. In such cases, naturalistic observation methods are the best method.

Observations studies have a number of drawbacks.

(i) Observation studies cannot explain or determine cause and effect.

(ii)The very presence of the observer can alter the behavior being observed.



  1. Laboratory Observation. Mere the researchers observe and record behavior in settings that have been designed to place all the subjects in the same basic situation and to yield information on the subjects’ behavior in this experimental situation.

Laboratory' observation has the greatest advantage of telling us about the exact cause and effect relationship. It is one of the most scientific and reliable type of observation. However its greatest disadvantages are as follows:

    1. Problem of generalizabiIity. It is difficult to generalize with high degree of accuracy, the finding obtained in laboratory settings to everyday life settings.

    2. Occurrence of demand characteristics and experimenter bias.

    3. Many important aspects of human behavior cannot be studied in laboratory setup due to ethical and moral reasons.



  1. Interview. In an interview, researches ask questions about people's attitudes or opinions or some other aspect of their lives. By interviewing a large number of people, investigators get a picture of what people say they believe or do or have done.

A problem with interview is that the memory and accuracy of the interviews may be faulty. Some subjects forget when and how certain evens actually took place. Others distort their replies to make them more acceptable to the questioners or to themselves. Finally, the wording of a question can influence how people answer it.

5. Co Relational Studies. Co relational means relationship between two variables. One method of studying how two variables are related is to determine the correlationship between them. Let us explain this with the help of an example.

Suppose that we want to determine the relationship between two factors; for example, between a parent’s intelligence and a child's language ability. By carefully measuring both the factors (which are called variables, because they very among members of a group or can be varied for purposes of an experiment) we might find that higher a parent's scores on intelligence test, the larger a child's vocabulary is at a given age. If so, we have found a positive correlation between the parent's intelligence and child's vocabulary.

Correlational studies show the direction and magnitude of a relationship between variables. That is, they can tell us whether two variables are related positively (that is, both increase together and decrease together) or negatively (as one increases, the other decreases), and to what degree. Correlation are reported as numbers ranging from - 1.00 (perfect negative, or inverse, or direct, relationship) to +1.0 ( a perfect positive, or direct, relationship). The higher the number whether + or -), the stronger the relationship (either positive or negative). A con-elation of zero shows that there is not relationship between the two variables. Knowing the correlation (or relationship) between variables. Knowing the correlation (or relationship (or relationship) between variables allows researchers to make predictions about development.

However, Correlational studies do not give any information about cause and effect. A strong positive correlation does not tell us they, say, a parent" intelligence level causes the size of a child's vocabulary. A child's large vocabulary might have resulted from a third factor; a shared favorable environment that helped the parents to do well on intelligence test and encouraged the child to develop a large vocabulary.



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