Developmental psychology, in a few words, is a scientific approach for social and emotional growth usually practiced with children. The main features of development can be split four groupings, these are behaviour, socialisation, communication and cognition. The approach is to use a systemic method of intervention and healing, taking the individual through developmentally appropriate sequences needed to reach the identified new behaviour. This usually takes place during childhood as the most changes take place in this time.
In other words, many people who study developmental psychology believe that who and what an individual becomes later in life, depends solely on how and where they are developing from birth. They examine the influences of nature and nurture of the process of human development, as well as progressions of alteration in context over the course of the individual’s lifespan. For example, if a person could know the exact breakdown and facts of how to take care of a child, while they are still in the developmental stage, many of these developmental psychologists believe that a lot of problems they now face as adults, would not exist.
The first perspective of developmental psychology that I will be discussing is the biological approach, psychologists state that a child’s development is composed of specific pre-programed stages that can only be undone later in their life span. It is based around thoughts, behaviours and feelings that stem from a physical and biological standpoint. American psychologist Arnold Gesell specialised in the field of child development, however more specifically on how genes and the environment play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s life. Gesell argued against the idea that the development of a child had anything to do with external factors, rather than factors such as the growth of the child’s central nervous system as the main attribution.
The next perspective is cognitive, this specific approach focuses on the mind and more particularly on how it processes information.The theorist Piaget who had also studied the biological approach, had become intrigued with the way a child could think logically. Piaget’s theory differs from others as it centres around children and their learning rather than all age thinkers. Piaget based his theory around the result of biological maturation as well as the individuals environmental experience.
Through his study Jean Piaget had come to the conclusion that children’s intelligence grew through stages, he said there were four stages, the first which typically occurred from birth to about the age of 2 years is called the Sensorimotor stage.
This stage is described as the stage when the individual begins to experience the world, through senses and actions such as looking, touching and or mouthing. This is also the stage when the individual is supposed to experience object permanence, this means the individual who is at the sensorimotor stage begins to understand the existence of objects and the natural or unnatural occurrences in the world. For example, if you were to hide an object from the individual, either putting it on a shelf, obscuring it or hiding it under a pillow, they will be able to see that the object has been hidden but still exists.
Piaget (1963) did a study on this theory that has since been labelled the ‘Blanket and Ball Study’. The study revolves around the concept of object permeance, where Piaget would hide an object under a blanket to see whether or not the individual would realise it is still there, just obscured, or react as if the object had disappeared. Piaget’s results showed that infants from 8 months knew the object was being hidden and were able to create a representation of the object in their mind.
Another part of the sensorimotor stage is ‘stranger anxiety’, this is a type of stress that individual, usually infants, experience when in the presence of individuals that they consider strangers. This is due to their intellectual and emotionally development towards their parents and or primary caregivers. They develop a natural fear to individuals who they do not recognise, this is something that usually goes away on its own.
The next stage I will be discussing usually occurs from the ages of two to the ages of six, this stage is called Preoperational. This is usually the stage when the individual begins representing things through the use of words and images, however the individual still lacks logical thinking and reasoning. This is also the stage when the induvial begins to become more egocentric, the child has the inability to separate between others and themselves. Piaget describes this as the child assuming that the things they feel, see or hear are the exact same as others around them. This is also the stage where language development is supposed to take place.
The next stage takes place between the ages of seven and eleven and is called Concrete Operational, this is when the individual begins to think logically about concrete events, for example such as mathematical transformations, conversations and principles. This is also the stage where they begin grasping concrete analogies and performing arithmetical operations.
The final stage begins at the age of twelve and continues throughout adulthood, that stage is called Formal operational. This stage centres around abstract reasoning, this means the ability to process thoughts and ideas that are complex, this can also include language-based ideas. This can be demonstrated through abstract logic and potential for moral reasoning.
On the other hand, many believe that the idea is that in psychology, mostly including developmental psychology, are still in the age of the cognitive revolution. Which is, or has become, inspired by the “computer metaphor”, focusses on information processing and is searching for universal mental mechanisms. This has since led to a gradual decline and/or neglect some would say, of topics and paradigms, which are not at the heart of the cognitive “revolution”. This includes emotional and motivational processing, bodily processing (now reappearing under embodiment), individual differences and many others.
For example, for almost none of the major concepts of cognitive psychology like attention, memory, perception, action control and so on. You will find anything in a standard individual differences book, in those books it is almost as though like individual differences in those cognitive functions cease to exist. However, they do occur and play a major role later in the diagnostics of neuropsychological and developmental disorders.
Furthermore, cognitive psychologists are not really intrigued or interested by individual differences in their concepts, as they look for universal mechanisms. William Bechtel discusses this in his book on ‘Mechanisms in Cognitive Psychology: what are the operations?’
Individual differences psychologists are not intrigued much in cognitive concepts and this can be due to historic reasons. I personally believe that many psychologists, who define themselves as cognitive development researchers look for universal cognitive mechanisms underlying development, and are only truly interested in individual differences.
Developmental psychology also states that it helps individuals become more self-aware, it answers the question “why am I the way I am”, it can help you understand yourself and others as well as install self-awareness that can help you evolve as a person.
Developmental psychology is seen as such a important and imperative part of a child’s life as children are seen as unconsciously following the same parenting style they grew up in, unless they have that self-awareness installed in them and make conscious decision to be different than their own parents, however some children just don’t reach that awareness.
However, there are researchers that do believe that developmental psychology produces normative divisions among individuals. These divisions are not between “normal” and “abnormal”, but between “good” and “bad”.