Chapter 10: Development

Part One: Genetic Influences

Part Two: Infancy

Part Three: Childhood

Part Four: Adolescence, Adulthood and Aging

Part Five: Death and Dying


Overview of Chapter 10: Development

Developmental psychology was once almost the same thing as child psychology, but not any more. Developmental psychologists now study the entire process of development, from the genetic process right through to the act of dying. Lifespan developmental psychology is now the normal focus of a developmental psychology course. Not only children but also adolescents, adults, and old people all go through developmental changes that are documented and studied by researchers.

Infancy received a burst of attention in the 1970s and 1980s. The classic view of the human infant as a tabula rasa or blank slate gave way to the view of infants as talented information processors with special skills, abilities, and communication lines to parents and caretakers.

In the field of childhood development, a focus on the theories of Swiss scientist Jean Piaget (in the 1970s) developed into a more broadly based attack on the problem of cognitive development : how the mind develops.

Adolescence is supposed to be stormy and full of turmoil, according to one stereotype. However, research shows most adolescents are not rebellious and many have values quite close to those of their parents. We will explore this and other findings pertaining to teenagers and young adults.

Adulthood and aging are increasingly the focus of academic psychologists. Some observers attribute this to the relatively high numbers of baby boomers, children born after World War II, who are now aging.

The study of death and dying, or thanatology, is a relatively new scientific area. Before the publication of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's landmark books on death and dying, in the late 1960s, the topic was virtually ignored by psychologists. Now the process of dying, the rights of dying people to a dignified death, and even afterlife experiences are all areas of lively debate and inquiry.

When studying developmental psychology (as indeed with all psychology) one often gets the feeling, "That art thou." The object of our study is humans being, so to speak. The miracle of development is not just something we see in little children; it is something we continue to undergo every day. Modern psychologists agree with a point first articulated by Carl Jung about 90 years ago: development is a lifelong process.

How this chapter is organized

We will adopt a straightforward chronological organization, moving through the lifespan. We start with conception and genetics, then we consider infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and finally death and dying.

Related topics in other chapters

Brain development is mentioned in Chapter 2 (The Human Nervous System). Bouchard's work with identical twins reared apart is described in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories). That chapter also describes several personality theories (notably those of Adler and Horney) that emphasize formative influences of early childhood. Developmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder are the focus of a section in the Abnormal Psychology chapter (Chapter 12). Changes in sexual behavior through the lifespan are discussed in Chapter 16 (Sex, Friendship, and Love).


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