Developmental Psychology

Core Studies

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  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 07-05-10 14:15

Developmental Psychology

The Developmental Approach to Psychology focuses on the debate about whether out behaviour is innate or learnt. Developmental psychology studies the psychological changes that occur during a person's lifespan (mainly children and adolescents, as most of the changes occur here)

Childhood experiences are seen to be important, as much of what happens to us as children is said to help shape who we are as adults.

This approach looks at:

  • The development of thinking processes, learning and personality development.
  • The life long process of developing.
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Theories of development

  • Psychoanalytic Theories concentrate on the development of emotions and assumes that out behaviour is driven by things we are not aware of (our unconscious mind) as well as things that we are aware of (conscious mind). Freud supports this approach.
  • Cognitive Development Theories concentrate on the development of intelligence and thought e.g samuel and bryant
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Bandura, Ross and Ross


  • Behaviourists try to explain the causes of behaviour by studying only those behaviours that can be directly observed and measured.
  • The study of mental processes (e.g memory, perception) have no place in psychology for behaviourists
  • We are born with a tabula rasa (blank slate) and all of our behaviour is learnt from the environment
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Classical Conditioning

  • Aggression becomes associated with a stimulus
  • If the response is repeated often enough, it will become automatic

For example, if you present food to a dog, the dog will salivate. Therefore, if you ring a bell every time food is presented to a dog, the dog will continue to salivate. If you repeat this a few time, ringing the bell alone without any food will eventually make the dog salivate, even though there is no food there to cause this. Which shows the dog has recognised the bell as a sign for food, and will automatically salivate.

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Operant Conditioning

  • Skinner's work on rats and pigeons shows that behaviour can be learnt through reward and punishment.

Reinforcement - (Reward) increases the behaviour it follows

  • Positive: A pleasent stimulus is presented
  • Negative: An unpleasent stimulus is removed
  • Punishment: Decreases the behaviour it follows

For example, a rat is placed into a cage with a bar on one wall, which when pressed, will release a food pellet into the cage. The rat will then run around the cage, and when it accidentally presses the bar, a food pellet will come out. (Reinforcing stimulus). This means that the rat is now more likely to press the bar again, to gain another pellet.

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Social Learning Theory (SLT)

  • Developed by Bandura & is Learning by observation
  • Observational Learning - If an observed behaviour recieves a reward, or the model holds admired status, then the behaviour is likely to be imitated. This is called 'modelling'.
  • Children may imitate parents, siblings and peers

Four processes of observational learning ;

  • Attention - Actively paying attention
  • Retention - Ability to recall behaviour
  • Reproduction - Ability to reproduce behaviour
  • Motivation - Desire to learn
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Bandura, Ross and Ross. Transmission of aggression through imitation of agressive models (1961)

Aims -

  • To investigate the ideas of Social Learning Theory
  • To see if behaviours learnt by imitation will be repeated
  • To see if children would most likely study same sex models

Hypotheses -

  • Children who observe an aggressive model will reproduce the aggressive acts of the model
  • Observing a non-aggressive model will inhibit less aggressive behaviour
  • Children will imitate same sex models more often than opposite sex models
  • Boys will be more likely to imitate aggressive behaviour than girls
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There were 72 nursery children with an average age of 5 years. 36 of the children were boys and 36 were girls.

There were 3 groups of 24 children, in 3 conditions.

They were put into a matched paired design, which meant that children in each group were matched on their pre-existing levels of aggressiveness rated by their nursery school teacher.

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The three conditions within each group of 24 children were ;

1. Children observed an aggressive model (half were male and half were female)

2.Children observed a non-aggressive model (half were male and half were female)

3. Control Group - Children were not exposed to any models

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Independent Variables :

  • Whether a model is aggressive or not, or if there is no model at all
  • Gender of the child
  • Gender of the Model

Dependent Variable :

  • Behavioural response of the child, which is the amount of aggression shown by the children after they have observed a model
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Procedure : 3 Stages

Stage 1 : Children in aggressive and non aggressive tested alone and taken into room 1. Agressive condition - Model started with tinker toy buy started acting aggressively to bobo doll whilst making aggressive and non aggressive phrases. Non-Aggressive condition - Model assembled the tinker toys and ignored the bobo doll

Stage 2: Following stage 1, all children (including control group) taken individually to room 2 for mild aggression arousal. Which was achieved by showing them attractive toys, then telling them they toys were too special to be played with.

Stage 3: Experimenter takes all children individually into room 3 (containing similar toys to room 1) and discretely worked in the corner

Two observers (inter rater reliability) scored the children's behaviour every 5 seconds, giving 240 observations in total

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  • With an aggressive model --> generally more aggressive behaviour
  • With non-aggressive model/No model --> Fewer aggressive acts
  • Same sex models --> More imitation in boys but not girls
  • Boys --> imitated more physical aggression than girls
  • Girls --> More verbal aggression when model was female
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  • The children learnt by imitation which supports the SLT's modelling theory
  • Children are more likely to imitate a model with whom they identify
  • Learning can occur without reinforcement, but reinforcement may influence the appropriateness of the behaviour at a later stage
  • Observation of adults can 'legitimise' behaviour
  • Children have clear expectations about sex-appropriate behaviour
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  • Fails to answer the question of whether aggression is learnt or innate.
  • If aggression is learnt, we could use this idea to teach children how to channel behaviour constructively
  • Strong implications for effects of media violence on children's behaviour


  • Laboratory experiment - High level of control (e.g matched pairs design)
  • Low ecological validity, children learn from people they know & not strangers and it is unusual for adults to behave aggressively towards dolls
  • Demand Characteristics
  • Observer Bias
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  • No Informed consent from the children
  • May have caused distress to the children
  • They had no right to withdraw
  • May cause long-term damage
  • Were not debriefed after the experiment


  • Only 6 children in each experimental condition
  • All from the same nursery and so may have similar previous experiences
  • Fairly unreliable and difficult to generalise


  • Is the study really measuring aggression or just aggression towards a doll?
  • Bobo dolls are made to be punched and hit anyway
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Data Collection:

  • Quantitative data, as instances of aggression were recorded numerically
  • Makes statistical analysis easier
  • Childrens actions are unclear from just quantitative data, for example two children may exhibit the same number of aggressive acts but be qualitatively different
  • Qualitative data, the comments made by the children were gathered and are useful/insightful as they illustrate the children's experiences and feelings
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