I spent some time reading over a few blogs about personal development and the different practices and motivations for the same. It was interesting to also read about the many different theories and crazy thoughts that some people have about how we develop. Of course, how we develop and ‘personal development’ are two completely different things. In the field of psychology, however, we study both.
As we first started to research human behavior, psychologists started to understand that a person continues to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally throughout their entire life. The study of these developments falls under the discipline of developmental psychology. Most people understand psychology as only being the study of a person’s psychological make-up but the field of psychology covers every aspect of a person, from conception to the grave.
Developmental psychology is the study of age-related changes that occur in behavior and mental processes. It sounds very technical but basically, it’s the study of how we change as we age, physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. It’s also the study of occupational development, which is how we develop in our work and work environments.
We are all a product of our developmental history, which includes our biological inheritance, our individual environmental and social situation, and the complex, intertwined, and interactive nature of all of these things put together. Basically, our genes, our households, and our society are all mixed to create the person that we were, are, and will become.
Many psychologists of the past studied personality development more than anything else; Piaget found that children learn from the use of their senses and that intelligence is fluid, Freud proposed stages of psychosexual development, Skinner saw developments as an ever-increasing series of reinforcement histories, and Maslow, with his hierarchy of needs, saw an ever-present motivation to move to higher and higher levels of performance and self-understanding. As I further discuss development, I will discuss Piaget, Freud, Skinner, and Maslow’s development theories. But as we continued to study the human behavior, developmental psychologists started to look at more than just personality. Topics such as cognitive, moral, emotional, and physical development were explored and documented by dozens of highly-influential people within the last century. Psychologists started to view age and age-related changes as they effect babies, children, adults, and older adults.
The developmental movement within psychology gave credence to these and many other topics of study. From the development of the fetus to the complex and emotional issues of death and dying, life span development continues to inspire both pure and applied research that attempts to better understand the processes and outcomes of individuals as they age.
Of course, human development occurs in a particular social and cultural context. While this does account for some of the variability among people, the study of how individuals respond to the social forces around them has produced hundreds of creative and fascinating experiments, and has shed light on the question of how and why we behave as we do in different situations. Some of the most ingenious, controversial, and fascinating studies ever explored within psychology emerged in the specialty of social psychology. Landmark work by social psychologists involved topics such as interpersonal attraction, bystander intervention, crowding, conformity to rules, obedience to authority, and attitude change and persuasion, to name only a few. These studies also highlighted the ethical responsibilities of psychologists for safe, fair, and humane treatment of their human subjects.
In the following posts, I will discuss the most taught theories about how we develop throughout our lives, along with my own thoughts about those theories. We will also talk about people who have influenced the study of developmental psychology, who we may not subscribe to anymore, but who had interesting and pertinent ideas about development that we still use today.
Childhood & Adolescent Development