What are the characteristics of developmental psychology

Developmental psychology

Area overview | Prof. Dr. Gudrun Schwarzer, Prof. Dr. Sabine Walper

The field of developmental psychology deals with the description and explanation of intra-individual changes in human experience and behavior over the entire life span, from prenatal development to death. The general goal is a comprehensive recording and critical consideration of various phenomena and areas in order to be able to provide a broad base of findings for a better understanding and, if necessary, for the optimization of various intra-individual changes in human experience and behavior over the life span. With regard to the positioning of developmental psychology in the overall field of psychology, there is a close interaction with various aspects of general psychology (in the context of e.g. perception, language, cognition or emotion), social psychology (in the area of Groups, friendships or social behavior), educational psychology (e.g. with regard to the design of age-appropriate educational offers and learning environments), differential psychology (e.g. with regard to intelligence and creativity processes) and developmental psychopathology (e.g. in context various developmental impairments or disorders).

Developmental Psychology Theories and Significant Mechanisms of Change

Theories, development models and change mechanisms relate to central approaches in developmental psychology. The main question is which processes and principles - such as B. maturation, learning and also the question of the interaction and covariation of genome and environment - can be assumed as the basis for changes in human experience and behavior in the course of ontogenesis. Essentially, the following approaches are distinguished: Approaches based on maturation theory are based on the assumption that changes take place endogenously and according to genetically (genetically) determined patterns, which ultimately also cause the development of a person's psychological functions through the development of biological structures. Psychoanalytic (psychosexual and psychosocial) approaches assume that people go through a series of stages (development phases, stages) in which they experience age- or development-graded psychosocial or psychosexual conflicts (e.g. between their biological drives and the social expectations; conflict) that act as a pacemaker for development. Learning theory approaches primarily consider the importance of the environment and emphasize the importance of reinforcement as a central element of behavior control. Here, a distinction can be made between traditional behavioral approaches and social-cognitive learning theories (e.g. observational learning), which include social, cognitive and motivational aspects include. Constructivist approaches emphasize that humans actively develop their environment, perceive and interpret it in a certain way, change it if necessary, and thus actively construct an image or model of the world. Sociocultural and ecological approaches primarily emphasize the role of direct and indirect development environments and view development as the result of experiences in social roles, relationships and interactions in different contexts. Action-theoretic approaches assume that development is promoted by certain tasks or activities and takes place through the setting of goals, through deliberate actions and through the experience associated with them. Information processing approaches assume the processes of perception and thought and the individual processing steps as central to human development.

Ontogenetic changes in central functional areas and behavioral characteristics

In the context of ontogenetic changes, central developments in various functional areas are described and explained as comprehensively as possible, taking various influencing factors into account. The following can be cited as central areas: Sensory development and perception development refer to the age-related changes in sensory systems (senses, receptors, sensory organs, neural correlates) with the associated perceptual abilities in various areas (including auditory, visual, haptic, intersensory) . Motor development deals with age-related changes in motor systems, i.e. all forms of body movements, but also motility (mobility). Cognitive development describes the age-related change in thinking as an expression of higher mental processes such as reasoning, problem solving and developing a “theory of mind”. Emotional development refers to the age-related change in the experience, processing and expression of one's own emotional states as well as changes in the recognition and interpretation of the emotions of others. The development of motivation includes age-related changes in motives such as the competence motive, the autonomy motive and the motive for social inclusion as well as the change in the implementation of such motives. Language development refers to the age-related change in the prosodic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical-semantic and pragmatic system. The development of identity and self-concept refers to the change in perceptions, convictions or cognitive and affective attitudes towards oneself. The development of attachment, relationship and social behavior includes the age-related change in the ability to enter into positive, relatively long-term relationships in the context of communication and cooperation with other people, as well as the development of pro- or anti-social behavioral tendencies.

Age-specific peculiarities in the different phases of the life span

For developmental psychology it is also of interest to describe and explain age-specific characteristics of experience and behavior in the various phases of life. In doing so, inter alia. In focus: The prenatal phase (as the period from fertilization of the egg cell to birth, includes the germinal, embryonic and fetal phase). Here it is considered which physical and psychological developments already take place before the birth of the child and to what extent relevant influencing factors can be identified. Infancy (as the age range from birth to the end of the first year of life). Of particular interest here is how the child's ability to regulate changes, how the structure of the world is opened up through perception and first motor and social actions, and which cornerstones are laid for further development in various functional areas. Childhood (as a phase from birth to adolescence - after infancy again subdivided into toddler age, early childhood, middle childhood and late childhood). Diverse developments in all functional areas can be observed in childhood. In addition to the developmental “milestones” shown by most children, the focus is also on individual development processes. Another important aspect are the first normative transitions (= central life events occurring for most people in a certain culture, which in a certain way mark the transition from one phase of life to the next). The transitions in childhood include - at least in western industrial nations - entry into an early childhood care program such as B. kindergarten and school entry. Adolescence (as a phase of life between childhood and adulthood). The focus here is on how adolescents break free from their child-like dependencies and grow into adult behaviors and roles. In addition to coping with psychosexual changes (development of puberty, acceptance of the changing body) and psychosocial developments (gaining autonomy in relation to parents, intensifying friendships and peer relationships, romantic development or establishing first partnerships), professional orientation is a central developmental task of adolescence. Adulthood (as an age segment from the age of 18 or 19 - it can be further subdivided into early, middle and advanced adulthood). Here i. d. In addition to moving out of the parental home, gaining a foothold in professional contexts and differentiating one's own professional role, the focus is primarily on building a stable partnership and starting a family. Age (as an age range from approx. 65 years - in gerontology a distinction is also made between a third age and a fourth age or very old age). In old age, the main focus is on entering retirement, dealing with one's own changing temporal, physical and psychological resources as well as dealing with the loss of relatives and one's own death.

Other central aspects of developmental psychology

Furthermore, differential developmental aspects are of great importance: For a long time now, only overarching age-specific characteristics and generalizable ontogenetic changes in central functional areas in different phases of life are no longer of developmental psychological interest. Differential developmental aspects in the sense of interindividual differences in developmental processes as well as the question of the stability or variability of developmental processes are increasingly coming into the focus of developmental psychological research activities. Of particular interest are the questions as to which different processes can be observed and which individual and contextual factors (such as gender, social origin, relationship experiences) contribute to differences in development processes. In the context of developmental stability and changes, determinants and influencing factors at various levels are of central interest. On a personal level, this includes, on the one hand, genetic and physical characteristics such as health or (brain) organic characteristics. On the other hand, individual characteristics are more of a psychological level - such as B. individual temperament, perceptual, motor and cognitive requirements or problem-solving behavior - of central importance. Finally, the last level is formed by various factors that can be assigned to the area of ​​socialization and the social environment, such as attachment figures, family, peers, institutional environments or cultural circumstances. Answering questions in developmental psychology is dependent on suitable research methods (in the area of ​​questions, data collection, designs and evaluation methods), which are constantly being further developed in order to answer developmental psychological research questions as comprehensively as possible and taking into account area-specific features (age of the test subjects, mapping of processes) to be able to answer.

References and in-depth literature

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