Developmental Psychology

by Rachel Faris and Eric Wuesthoff

*Developmental psychologists study physical, mental, and social changes throughout the life spans
Three major questions involved in developmental psych:

  • Nature v. Nurture
  • Continuity v. Stages
  • Stability v. Change

                                                                 Prenatal Stage

-The first stage in development in humans is prenatal.  The environment of the mother's womb has a major impact on development.
  *The placenta attempts to block harmful toxins from the growing fetus, but some teratogens, such as alcohol, nicotine, and viruses, may slip through and harm the offspring.

Example of charactersitcs of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome


-The next period of development, infancy, is a time of rapid cognitive growth and development, followed by childhood.
   *Jean Piaget formulated a series of stages that described how children develop throughout their lives.  
              1. Sensorimotor stage (birth- age 2)
              2. Preoperational stage (age 2-7)
              3. Concrete Operational stage (age 7-11)
              4. Formal Operational stage (age 12-adulthood)

     *There is a critical period of development during infancy during which babies form attachments with  their parents.  If they do not form secure attachments during this window, they may experience adverse effects later in life.

-During childhood, people learn and develop much of their gender concepts-societal and biological characteristics classifying males and females.
          *Males and females are extremely similar, but their differences are influenced by                   both nature and nurture.


-Adolescence is a period of profound biological and cognitive development and maturation.
      *The frontal lobe is the final part of the brain to develop completely; its growth                      during adolescence allows for the foundation of reasoning and morality.
      *Lawrence Kohlberg concluded that morality develops in stages, while Jonathan             Haidt proposed a social intuitionist theory which asserts that moral feelings precede         reasoning, so moral judgement involves quick "gut" feelings.

-Erik Erikson split life into stages, each with its own psychosocial task that needs resolution.
   *During adolescence, people search for their own sense of self and identity.   

Theories of stages of development in human lifespan


-Throughout adulthood, people continue to undergo physical, cognitive, and social changes.
   *However, change is far more gradual and less discernible; the difference between a 1           and 10 year old is radically different as compared to a 30 and 40 or 30 and 50 year             old.
Later in life, physical changes include:

  • Declining senses (vision, hearing, smell)
  • Reduced muscle strength, reaction time, and stamina
  • Weakened immune system
  • Atrophy of frontal lobe

In addition, cognitive changes may include:

  • Dementia
  • Reduced recall memory
  • Declining fluid intelligence-the ability to reason and process quickly
Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) was the oldest person ever to have their age recorded.

-The happiest and most satisfied adults are those who can love and work, according to     Freud.
 *In general, people commit to loving one person at a time and are generally happier             when married.
  *Those who pursue a career that interests them and have a supportive network around        them are generally happiest in their work.


Key Terms:

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Teratogen
  • Adolescence
  • Social Intuitionist Theory
  • Fluid Intelligence

Key People:

  • Jean Piaget
  • Lawrence Kohlberg
  • Erik Erikson
  • Sigmund Freud

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