Developmental Psychology: What is it and why is it important?

Developmental Psychology: What is it and why is it important?

Developmental Psychology is a discipline within the field of Psychology that is dedicated to the study and understanding of how we transform and learn throughout life. This is a very complex subject, but very useful for teachers and pedagogues.

The changes and transformations we make throughout our lives allow us to find a balance between the “self” and the environment. Although these changes are most noticeable in periods of rapid transition (changes in life stage: childhood, adolescence, and aging), throughout life we ​​make adaptations and small changes that are worth studying.

Human Development Psychology is the science that studies these changes (or lack thereof). Child Development Psychology is a specific area that focuses on the changes that occur during the first stages of our lives.

What is Human Development Psychology?

Human Development Psychology is the science that studies the changes that individuals undergo throughout their lives, understanding which variables (internal and external) lead to these behavioral changes.

Its premise is that all individuals go through phases in their lives, and these are marked by periods of rapid transition (moments in which major transformations are observed).

In addition to being an extremely important discipline for psychologists, it is very useful for other professionals, especially pedagogues, teachers, and mental health specialists.

By understanding how the development process works at different stages of an individual’s life, these professionals can act to change the behaviors of students, patients, and clients.

Thus, Developmental Psychology has the following objectives:

  • Recognize the origin of certain behaviors and conduct (cognitive, affective, social, or psychomotor)
  • Identify the mechanisms that give rise to responses and patterns of behavior
  • Delimit development phases, understanding the characteristics common to each phase
  • Apply this knowledge to help children, adolescents, adults, and elderly people change behaviors that are harmful to their well-being

Difference between Developmental Psychology and Learning Psychology

Although terms are often used as synonyms, Developmental and Learning Psychology are, in fact, opposites, as demonstrated by Jean Piaget (one of the great names in Human Development Psychology), in his work “Development and learning ”.

Developmental Psychology refers to knowledge, that is, the process of spontaneous change that leads to the maturation, not only of the body but also of the nervous system and the mind.

In this sense, we can say that a person only reaches the peak of development in adulthood.

Learning takes place throughout life and is caused by external, non-spontaneous situations and experiences. Thus, as Piaget states, learning is provoked.

Factors that influence Human Development

Four main factors have a direct influence on Human Development:

  1. Heredity – the genes that an individual has, passed on by their parents, influence their development. However, they may or may not manifest themselves, depending on the experiences of the individual and the environment in which they grow up and live.
  2. Physical growth – Adolescents and adults, reaching physical maturity, can carry out other activities that they were unable to do as children.
  3. Neurophysiological maturation – This maturation concerns the ability to learn and master new knowledge throughout life, such as walking, for example.
  4. Environment – ​​External stimuli also influence development. The environment encompasses the place where you live (close family) and the people you live with (distant family, teachers, friends, school/work colleagues).
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What are the most important Theories and Theorists in Developmental Psychology?

Developmental Psychology

The process of human development has always aroused great curiosity, even among the oldest civilizations. It’s intriguing how we have a different view of a particular subject when we are at various stages of life. Understanding why we change the way we look at a situation/subject is fascinating and, therefore, theories about behavioral changes were developed from an early age.

Contemporary Developmental Psychology brings together knowledge and information from different schools of thought, integrating vast content on the construction of learning and knowledge.

Among the most important schools of thought in Developmental Psychology we find:

Gestalt

This school refers to the Psychology of Form, arguing that development occurs throughout life, as the individual learns to use innate biological structures. Thus, according to this school, development refers to the discovery of brain capacity, which is done little by little.

Small gestures/responses that appear superficial can give clues about the feelings that are latent in the subject. Thus, Shape Psychology can make an important contribution to mental health.

Although it is recognized that Gestalt is one of the most important schools of Developmental Psychology, this theory is no longer used in the scientific community, as it has been discovered that it is possible to expand learning capacity.

Psychoanalytic Theory (Sigmund Freud)

Freud is, to this day, one of the most followed theorists in the field of Psychology. It was this scientist who broke the paradigm of rationality and demonstrated that most of our brain activity concerned our unconscious ( id ) and was therefore highly influenced by emotional and affective factors.

Thus, our ego (superficial part of the brain, responsible for interactions between the subject and the environment) and superego (controls the impulses sent by the id and the ego‘s intentions ) are not predominant in our brain activity (you can read more about the subject in the work “The ego and the id ”, by Freud).

This discovery brought a new view on human development. According to psychoanalysis, this occurs in the individual’s search for satisfaction, which is highly driven by libido from birth.

According to the theory of psychoanalysis, at each stage of human development, the subject focuses on a part of the body, as well as on behaviors/actions that give greater pleasure.

For example, in the oral phase, babies have their libido concentrated in the mouth. For this reason, eating, and using teethers and pacifiers leaves little ones very satisfied.

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According to Sigmund Freud, humans go through five phases of psychosexual development, which are:

  1. Oral phase – From birth to the first year
  2. Anal phase – From the first year to three years
  3. Phallic phase – From three to five years old
  4. Latency period – From five years of age until puberty
  5. Genital phase – Experienced during puberty and adulthood

Each of these phases has a very strong influence on personality development and characterizes important behavioral changes.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism is a theory and research method in psychology that aims to examine human behavior (also that of animals) with emphasis on objective facts (concerning reactions and stimuli).

According to Behaviorism, behavioral changes occur as a result of environmental changes. He argues that it is a change in the environment that will generate a change in the individual’s behavior.

Currently, we can say that the great contribution made by this theory was the discovery that we can change behavioral patterns.

Cognitive Theory – Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygostsy, one of the most representative names in cognitive theory, brought a completely different view of human development. This considers people as largely responsible for constructing their own reality/internal representation of the world.

Vygotsy places the individual’s interaction with the environment and historical time as a builder of knowledge.

Child Development Psychology (Jean Piaget)

Jean Piaget was, without a doubt, one of the most influential theorists in Developmental Psychology. He focused his research work on the processes behind the evolution of the structure of thought.

This theorist emphasized the study of human behavior in the first stages of life, which led him to establish four stages of cognitive development:

  • Sensorimotor – Period from birth to approximately two years of age. At this stage, babies improve their movements and begin to include objects in their sucking routine. Here they develop differentiation between their body and the outside world.
  • Pre-Operative – Period from the age of two to seven years, marked by the beginning of speech. Although they still have an egocentric vision, they begin to transmit their emotions and thoughts. Your knowledge is built by experiences, as well as by objects known so far.
  • Concrete Operative – Period from the age of seven to eleven/twelve years of age. The child begins to build logical structures. Furthermore, this stage is marked by a decrease in egocentrism, which will allow the child to perform teamwork and collaborate with others.
  • Formal Operation – Period that begins with adolescence. You are now able to reflect, deduce, and think about different hypotheses. Your reasoning ability also increases, allowing you to analyze complex topics.

Stages of Psychosocial Development (Erik Erikson and Joan Erikson)

Erik Erikson and his wife and collaborator, Joan Erikson, defined eight stages of psychosocial development from childhood to adulthood.

Each of the phases is marked by an existential challenge or dilemma. With each successful resolution, positive virtues are rooted. However, failure to resolve can lead to a reinforcement of negative perceptions of oneself or the world.

Trust/Distrust

This phase occurs in childhood and, during this period, the child learns to have hope (if they successfully overcome the challenge/dilemma) and trust that there are people always by their side who support them.

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Autonomy/Shame and Doubt

This stage occurs in early childhood when the child becomes more independent. When the existential challenge/dilemma is successful, the child learns the positive virtue of “will”.

At this stage, when the child is very repressed and controlled, it reinforces the feeling of inadequacy, which can lead to low self-esteem and doubt about their abilities.

Initiative/Guilt

This stage is marked by the child’s curiosity and interactions with other children. Here, the objective is for the child to achieve the virtue of a sense of purpose. When a child feels a lot of guilt, it can lead to difficult and slow interactions with the world and other children.

Industry (competence) / Inferiority

This phase is experienced at the beginning of the school period. It is at this stage that the child must learn the virtue “competence”. Children seek approval from others and try to understand the value of their actions.

When this phase is not successful, the child gains a feeling of inferiority, which can remain with him throughout his life.

Identity/Role Confusion

This stage takes place in adolescence and the objective is to achieve the virtue “fidelity”. Adolescents begin to understand their place in the world/society, especially about their gender roles.

Intimacy/Isolation

It is during this stage that young people acquire the virtue “love”. The young person begins to share their life with another person, involving intimacy and emotional closeness. When young people do not have this experience at this stage, it can lead to a reinforced feeling of isolation.

Generativity / Stagnation

This stage marks the beginning of adulthood and the objective is for the individual to acquire the virtue of “care”. It is at this stage that stability is found and a family is built. Furthermore, it is at this stage that we become actively involved in society/community.

Ego Integrity / Despair

This phase occurs with aging when we look back and consider failures and successes. When an individual has his life sorted out, he acquires “wisdom”.

It is at this stage, too, that the successful individual at this stage finds acceptance of death without fear or remorse.

How can Human Development Psychology help?

By knowing the phases and reasons that exist for an individual to have inappropriate or harmful behaviors, Human Development Psychology can help individuals understand why they act the way they do and have tools capable of changing these behaviors.

To this end, this discipline is based on four pillars, which are interconnected:

  • Physical-motor – refers to the development of the body and mind
  • Intellectual – concerns cognitive ability
  • Affective-emotional – refers to the ability to live and integrate emotions and experiences, leading to the construction and development of feelings
  • Social – concerns the postures and behaviors carried out in experiences in society

Teaching and mental health professionals benefit greatly from studying Human Development Psychology in depth. However, anyone can take advantage of this acquired knowledge, as it allows them to live in society more easily, understand people better, improve their coexistence, as well as help to raise and educate their children.

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