Developmental psychology is the scientific study that involves investigating why and how human beings change over the course of their life (Durkin, 1995). This study covers infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and finally aging. Developmental psychologists strive to bring to light the reasons why feeling, thinking and behavior change as a person goes through the stages of development highlighted above. There are three core dimensions of developmental psychology namely cognitive development, physical development and socio emotional development (Durkin, 1995). The three aspects represent a broader category of topics that include identity formation and development of motor skills. In addition the three facets comprise language acquisition and social adaptation. This paper will examine the human development process in an attempt to lay bare the biological intricates that go on behind the scenes as we grow from one stage to the next.
Keywords: developmental psychology, cognitive development, physical development, socioemotional development
In developmental psychology, the contributions of both nature and nurture are scrutinized and their impact on the human development process determined. Development psychology is an umbrella body of other sub-fields that include child development, ecological psychology, educational psychology, child development, child psychopathology et cetera (Durkin, 1995). Just like other fields in psychology, there are several theories advanced on this topic but this paper will only discuss two.
Theories of developmental psychology
Stages of moral development
The theory of stages of moral development argues that the process of moral development in an individual is influenced by a sense of justice (Kohlberg, 1973). According to this theory, this process does not stop and runs throughout an individual’s lifetime. The theory further posits that there exists three positions of reasoning.
. This kind of reasoning is influenced by either punishment or reward for a specific action. To expatiate further, children always know when what they have done is likely to attract trouble with their parents or guardians. In this case, they will appear troubled. Conventional moral reasoning is associated with late childhood and early adolescence. During this period, a lot of people get in trouble because they have a penchant for challenging authority either at home or school.
Postconventional moral reasoning is the final stage and is associated with maturity. At this point, most people are old enough to understand that rules are there in society not to oppress them but to bring about law and order.
According to Simon and Gagnon (1969), everyone is born with a conscious, preconscious and unconscious level of being. At the first level, an individual is fully aware of his or her fundamental, the mind is fully engaged, and they can easily process information making them accountable for their actions. However at the preconcious level, one may have the information but may not be in a state to w process the information due to inability to present such information for accurate processing. The last stage is the unconscious level where one’s awareness of their surroundings is highly inhibited due to inability to process information. At this stage, an individual is acutely oblivious of his or her mental processes.
Interestingly, this theory opines that there exists a kind of tug between the conscious and unconscious since the conscious is always trying to suppress whatever is contained in the unconscious. As such, this theory is further broken down into three personality structures.
The id is the most primitive personality structure and works by the pleasure principle of seeking pleasure while eschewing pain at all costs (Simon & Gagnon, 1969). Next is the superego that acts as the moral police to the id and keeps the latter in check. Finally, the ego calls a truce between the id and the superego.
A controversial theory by any account, the psychosexual development theory is anchored on five universal stages of development. Each of these stages is defined by a pleasure point that becomes the source of a child’s psychosexual energy (Simon & Gagnon, 1969).
Developmental psychology is not all about psychological change over time but also strives to explain what really goes on behind these changes. Sometimes, a person’s development may be impaired by a variety of factors. In this case, the person’s development doesn’t follow the expected trend that is known and has been observed and documented for so many years.
Autism is a common developmental disorder observed in millions of American children. This neurodevelopmental disorder presents with impaired verbal and non-verbal communication skills and difficulties in interacting with people (Myers & Johnson, 2007). Autistic children have also been observed engrossed in repetitive behavior like packing and unpacking things.
Autism develops differently in different victims. It does not follow a specific pattern although this hypothesis is highly debatable. In fact, in some children, the condition appears much later when they regress after attaining their development milestones. For a child to be considered autistic, the defining symptoms must clearly show in early childhood before the child is three.
The causes of autism vary and include some combination of environmental and genetic factors and sometimes even infections during pregnancy. Drug and alcohol abuse has also been linked with autism. Autism is a debilitating condition that interferes with how a child processes information. What actually happens is that the disorder disrupts the connection between nerve cells and their synapses (Myers & Johnson, 2007).
An autistic child may show very little attention to social stimuli that most parents find worrisome. Moreover, these children have a problem with maintaining eye contact and may even come across as unfriendly because they seldom smile like other kids or even respond to their names when called. Furthermore, a common observation in autistic kids is their inability to communicate via very simple body movements like pointing as is characteristic of an ordinary child.
At about 3-5 years, most children are able to imitate and approach others. They are able to even communicate nonverbally and show a good level of social understanding. However, this is usually not the case with autistic children since the condition affects them socially. They really struggle making friends and engaging their peers. Autistic children at this age hardly respond to emotions and this may make them appear indifferent to others’ feelings.
A lot of autistic children never develop their speech fully into adulthood. In fact, they seldom have enough natural speech ability that is required for effective communication. This can easily result in self esteem issues that further alienates the socially awkward victim. Due to this speech problem, autistic individuals do not easily share experiences as is required in wooing a life partner. For them, dating becomes a nightmare especially if they are fortunate enough to find an understanding partner. What makes autism particularly devastating is the fact that there is no known cure for the condition. A victim can only be assisted to cope via behavioral and early speech intervention. These intervention efforts are targeted at making the child gain some useful life skills including social and communication skills. It is heart wrenching that autism is a severe condition that makes it impossible for most of the affected children to live independently as adults. Thankfully, this has not always been the case as some autistic people have defied all odds and become exceptionally successful in life.
An infant is a child aged between zero to one year. Apparently, developmental psychologists have varied opinions on infant psychology as it is not very clear how much influence external factors have on them at this particular period.
Most infants are born with the five senses already developed to varying levels of completion. Their vision before six months of life is said to be blurry while their hearing is well-developed and they can easily recognize familiar sounds for example mother’s voice (Durkin, 1995). As such, appreciation of smell and recognition of taste is excellent. These attributes are acquired while the baby is still in the womb. The baby also tastes the amniotic fluid laden with nutrients from the mother’s dietary intake. Infants are believed to be born with the amazing ability to tell apart sounds of all human languages (Durkin, 1995). Infants have a critical period of development that is highly dependent on environmental stimulation. This means if an infant is not able to be stimulated enough to develop some systems like social and language at this particular time, it may become difficult to learn later in childhood.
In childhood, children stepping out of infancy start to expand their social circles to now include other people who are not necessarily close family members. Their motor skills also improve tremendously and they are not very much dependant on small play tasks as they can now easily manipulate small objects. Play is the main preoccupation of children.
It is in childhood that most kids acquire the social skills they will require later in life.
During childhood, adults around a child are cautioned to be careful with how they handle and even talk to a child. This is because children are very fragile and being overly critical of their effort or failing to recognize their achievement can easily dent their development (Durkin, 1995). It is also in childhood that kids shed selfishness and begin to get concerned about others. Moreover, they also get to make their first friends independently.
Adolescence is defined as the period of life between the start of puberty and total commitment to adulthood via a social role (Durkin, 1995). During this critical period, a lot of things happen in a person’s life. For instance, it is during this period that people form a personal and even social identity. Simply put, unlike childhood that is generally characterized by a carefree attitude, at this particular period most people put in effort to shape what the society perceives of them.
Adolescents tend to display a sophisticated level of intelligence not seen in childhood. But then again, this period is equally characterized by reckless behavior and even resistance to authority. This happens as a person goes through a self-discovery journey that sees them test limits as they search for an identity towards autonomy.
Adulthood is generally divided into three main sections.
In early adulthood, development is usually targeted at keeping relationships. Most people create lifetime bonds of friendship and even intimacy during this period of their life. This particular stage is very interesting to study because all the previous stages of development clearly begin to manifest here. For instance, people with a poor sense of identity tend to isolate themselves because their self-worth was not properly incubated in adolescence.
Middle adulthood is mostly chaotic for a lot of people as they try to figure their life purpose. Frustrations with life are not uncommon as some people may feel stagnant and even trapped by comparing their lives to their peers’. During middle adulthood, noticeable decline in muscular strength and even hormonal and sexual performance is observed as the body prepares for old age (Durkin, 1995).
Not everyone comes to this stage of development as individuals who choose not to have children obviously skip it. Every parent has their own parenting style that is informed by the need for control and showing affection.
The definition of old age is generally disputed and seems to depend on personal opinion. However, old age can be defined as the age at which a person can no longer make any active contribution to their society.
Old age for most people is a period of reflection as they go through how they lived their lives. It is always the moment of truth because there is nothing a person can now do to change their life. Furthermore, the body slowly starts to shut down in old age as it prepares for that dreaded eventuality—death.
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