Developmental Psychology

Psychoanalytic theory

  • Development in stages, so discontinuous, determined by biological drives - shaped by experience in the environment and interaction between id, ego and superego.
  • Best known as a form of therapy - psychotherapy.
  • Behaviour is based in the unconscious - unconscious conflicts between the id, ego and superego cause abnormal behaviour. 
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Erikson - Psychosocial development

  • Eight stages of psychosocial development; based on Freud but more emphasis on social and cultural aspects.
  • Continuing development across lifespan rather than based on childhood experience.
  • Each stage sees new challenges to be confrtoned and mastered.
  • Successful completion of each stage required for normal development.
  • One of the main elements of this theory is the development of identity; ego identity is the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction.
  • Ego identity is constantly changing due to new experiences and information we acquire in our daily interactions with others.
  • A sense of competence motivates behaviours and actions, each stage in Erikson's theory is concerned with being competent in an area of life - if handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery.
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Piaget: Constructivist

  • The child has an active role in development.
  • Constructs schema to understand world through adaptation and trial and error testing of hypotheses.
  • Four main stages of development (sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, formal operational).
  • Discontinuous; a qualitatively different way of thinking at each stage.
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Bronfenbrenner (1977)

  • Ecological systems - social context can change development.
  • Microsystem - immediate family/peers
  • Mesosystem - Connections between immediate environment factors
  • Exosystem - External but related environment.
  • Chronosystem - Changes over time
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Stages of pre-natal development

Prenatal development

  • Zygote (germinal stage): 
  • Has all genetic infor from mother and father (the genotype). Rapid cell division; each half containing the same genetic material.
  • Blastocyst - a bulging sphere travels down the fallopian tube, which becomes embedded in the uterine wall and becomes dependent on the mother.
  • At the end of wk 2, the embryonic stage begins.
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Cell division

  • Cell division: Each cell always contains full and identical complement of genetic material 
  • Cell migration: New cells move to different locations of the embryo.
  • Cell differentiation: Stem cells begin to specialise.
  • Apoptosis: Selective death of some cells.
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Cell division

  • Cell division: Each cell always contains full and identical complement of genetic material 
  • Cell migration: New cells move to different locations of the embryo.
  • Cell differentiation: Stem cells begin to specialise.
  • Apoptosis: Selective death of some cells.
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Embryonic stage

  • This takes places from the 3rd week until the end of the 8th week.
  • Most important physiological structures have become distinct and now recognizeable as a tiny baby.
  • 2 million percent increase in size during this stage.
  • Support system includes the amniotic sac (contains watery fluid which acts as a buffer to jolting and temp change and minimizes effects of gravity); placenta (semi-permeable membrane; nutrients waste in and out; limited defences against toxins/infections); and the umbilical cord (Blood vessels between embryo and placenta. No blood exchange. Filters nutrients).
  • Inner mass differentiates into three layers; endoderm (inner organs like lungs and liver); mesoderm (muscles and skeleton) and ectoderm (nervous system, neural tube, skin).
  • Especially rapid development and differentiation; particularly vulnerable to environmental factors.
  • 4th week sees the head develop and buds that form the arms and legs appear.
  • CEPHALOCAUDAL (development from the head down)
  • PROXIMAL-DISTAL (development from the inner core out)
  • Most spontaneous abortions occur at this stage
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Foetus; Beginning of 9th week until birth

  • The development of muscles and the central nervous system occur.
  • By the end of the 3rd month, all body parts are present.
  • By the end of 4 months, mothers can feel movement.
  • At 5 months, reflexes such as swallowing and sucking develop.
  • Eyes open at 6 months.
  • 22-26 weeks of viability; physical systems sufficiently advanced, survival of premature birth.
  • Respiratory system continues to develop into the 9th month.
  • Neurons continually increase largely between 10-20 weeks
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Brain development and pre-natal abilities

Brain development

  • Neurogenesis - Rapid production of neurons from week 3 to week 16.1/2 of brain weight at week 8 is brain.
  • Neuronal migration - At week 4, neurons travel to different parts of the brain and nervous system to form structures in the brain.
  • Synaptogenesis - Huge increase in the number of potential connections amongst neurons
  • Myelination - Coating of neurons and neural membrane and greatly increases weight of brain and signal transmissions.
  • Synapse pruning - Continues after birth in response to learning and experience.

Pre-natal abilities

  • Touch; earliest by 8-9 weeks, moves if touched in the mouth.
  • Taste and smell: Responses shown in the ultrasound images when different substances are introduced.
  • Hearing - Begins with startle reflex then starts to orient, pref for certain sounds (i.e. the mothers voice)
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Risks in prenatal environment

  • Teratogens; environmental agents that may cause developmental deviations - Alcohol, drugs, maternal stress, air pollutants, radiation etc.
  • Severity of effects depends upon timings - first two weeks no environmental impact; next 6 weeks most sensitive period during rapid development - structural abnormalities
  • As development only slows minor defects.
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Infant perception: Neonate brain function

  • A functioning brain and nervous system - capable of organised sensation, perception, attention memory and learning
  • Voluntary responses as well as reflex movements.
  • Some coordination for reacting to the world in an organised way. 
  • Provides a vital springboad for further development
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Infant vision

  • Object constancy; early ability to recognize an object stays the same size despite its distance from the observer. 
  • Colour vision, limited and blurry but develops quickly. 
  • Depth perception; binocular depth perception not until 3 months
  • Fearful of the 'visual cliff' by about 5-6 months.
  • Colour vision - green, yellow and red if objects are large enough.
  • Visual acuity; blurry but adaquate - limited stimulation means the lens muscles need practice.
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Natural preferences

  • Patterns rather than plain
  • Horizontal rather than vertical stripes
  • Moving rather than stationary stimuli
  • Curved lines to straight
  • High contrast to low contrast
  • Face-like stimuli to non-face stimuli
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Head control/moving around/Fine/Gross motor skills

  • At birth; infants can turn the heads from side to side whilst laying on their backs
  •  2-3 months they can lift their heads while lying on their stomachs
  • 4mths infants can keep heads erect while being helf or supported in a sitting position
  • At 6-8months, infants become capable of self-locomotion.
  • Gross motor skills - emerge directly from reflexes; physical movements involving large body movements and large muscle groups such as walking and jumping.Involves the movement of the entire body.
  • Fine motor skills - Progress rapidly and older children become more dexterious because these movements use small muscle groups.
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Pre-cursors to language development


  • Caregiver ensures interactions 'fit together'; behaviour contingent upon child's behaviour, infants first experience of relatedness.


  • Conversation-like behaviour controlled by adults; followed by proto-dialogue, no lang but clear turn-taking.
  • Crying, babbling, cooing, nodding and waving.
  • Pointing - joint attention behaviour, first intentional communication by infants.
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Speech production

Cooing and babbling

  • 4months: Experiment with volume and position of tongue, vocal play
  • 6 months: Canonical babble, syllables of a consonant and vowel, daaa, baaa
  • 8 months: Duplicated babble, da-da,ba-ba
  • 10 months: Variegated babble. da-ba, da-de
  • 12 months: Spurt in vocabulaary of understood words 
  • Word production may start from 10mths to 2 years
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Innate ability: Chomsky

  • Universal - all cultures have language.
  • Common features such as nouns and verbs
  • Similar sequence of acquistion in all societies.
  • 'Poverty of input'; ability to produce previously unheard sentence.
  • 'Language Aquisition Device': Mechanism to learn any language.
  • Exposure produces basic rules of grammar
  • Innate ability to hear and use language
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Brain lateralisation

  • Broca's area: Speech production
  • Wernicke's area: Language comprehension
  • Critical period hypothesis: Plasticity allows early comprehension for damage
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Sensorimotor stage: Piaget

  • 0-1 months: Reflex/spontaneous actions; sucking and looking.
  • 1-4 months: Primary circular reactions - repeated reflex actions, focus on self.
  • 4-10 months: Secondary circular reactions - more focus on objects, making things happen.
  • 10-12 months: Co-ordinated secondary circular reactions - Combining schemas to assimilate information.
  • 12-18 months: Tertiary circular reactions - more mobility sees trial and error learning begin.
  • 18-24 months: Internal representations - ability to hold mental representations, deffered imitations, concept of object permenance
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Social development: Parenting (Maccoby)

  • Direct influence - teaching and discipline.
  • Indirect - model for attitudes and behaviour.
  • Maccoby and Martin '83 - two parental elements:
  • Parental responsiveness: Extent to which parents are supportive and attuned to individual needs of child.
  • Parental demandingness - Expectations of integration into family requiring confrontation and discipline; psychological control, intrusion into psychological and emotional development.
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Parenting styles: Baumrind '91

Authoritarian style

  • Demanding; high standards and expectations; low nurturance. 
  • Children obedient, not happy.

Permissive/indulgent style

  • Little control but nurturing
  • Children lack self-control, not happy

Authoratative style

  • Guidance and compromise
  • Children successful, articulate and happy


  • Non-responsive, demanding. Children perform poorly in all areas.
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Consistent set of behavioural tendencies

  • Stability - consistent relative levels of behaviour.
  • Continuity - consistent underlying traits over time.

Dimensions - broad catagories

  • Emotional responses - general mood
  • Attentional orientation - how easily distracted
  • Motor activity - intensity and frequency
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Thomas and Chess '77: 3 types of temperament

  • Easy - Adaptable, positive, normal sleeping/eating.
  • Difficult - Irritable irregular patterns
  • Slow to warm up - Low activity, withdrawn from stimulation, slowly adapt, mild reactions
  • Buss and Plomin '84: Suggest evidence for genetic influence based on twin studies.
  • Kagan '03 and Schwartz '03: Evidence that biology dictates levels of inhibition in children
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Adolescent thinking

  • Egocentrism - Distorted perceptions of how others judge them. Intense consideration of self/school/parents
  • Invincibility - Perception of own uniqueness; belief that they won't become addicted/harmed.
  • Imaginary audience - Belief that others are as intensely interested in them as they are themselves.
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Marcia- '80: Identity status

  • Diffusion (confusion): Not yet started to consider serious issues; least mature. Continues throughout much of higher education.
  • Foreclosure: Formed commitments without serious considerations. Close relationship with parents and reflect their social expectations and parental beliefs.
  • Moratorium ('crisis') stage: Consdering alternatives to form a commitment; distant parental relationships, likely to change academic plans.
  • Achievement of identity - resolved crisis and consolidated identity; accept/reject parental goals, maintain but not bound to adopted morals and attitudes.
  • Meilman '79 - only 50% of 24yr olds achieve identity.
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Cattell '63 and cognitive change with age

Cattell '63

  • Crystallised intelligence - Accumulated knowledge. Vocabulary and analogy tests. Increases with age. 
  • Fluid intelligence - Quick reasoning ability; solving of novel logic problems. Decreases with age.
  • No real cognitive growth in old age and degeneration influenced by lifestyle

Cognitive change

  • Memory recognition, recall deadlines. 
  • Poor memory for meaningless information but little effect if meaningful.
  • Cross-sectional studies of intelligence show declining ability (but different eras)
  • BUT Shimamura '95 - little effect on intellectually active people.
  • Longitudinal studies - stable or increasing intelligence (based on the most healthy)
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Disengagement theory

  • Similar to the evolutionary theory - natural order.
  • ******* and Henry '61 - mutually beneficial to individual and society. E.g. old person leaves job, leaves one open for a younger citizen. 
  • Havighurst et al '68 - Those choosing to disengage report happier and less lonely than young adults.
  • BUT there is little evidence of disengagement - Durkin '95, voluntary charity work/ Conley '84, stable adult personality - sociable when young, then likely to remain so
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Activity theory

  • Langer and Rodin '76 - longer life and well-being when activity encouraged.
  • Yaguchi '87 - physically active in old age, better morale and life satisfaction. 
  • Enforced retirement requires provision of alternative activities/roles
  • Well-being also depends on social financial security, close relationships and coping strategies
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Retirement model - Atchley '85

1) Pre-retirement: Saving and dreaming

2) Honeymoon - Enjoyment of free time

3) Disenchantment - Depression and boredom 

4) Reorientation - Re-evaluation of priorities

5) Stability phase with routine and purpose

6) Terminal phase, inability to work or be independent.

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