Developmental Psychology: A global and inclusive definition

Developmental Psychology: A global and inclusive definition

The developmental psychology It is the psychological discipline that aims to study the change in behavior that takes place in the human being in relation to age, due to the influence of factors related to inheritance, the environment and the interaction between them.

Developmental Psychology: A global and inclusive definition

Next, we will go on to develop the definition proposed above, to further specify its main elements.

The psychology of development as a discipline

In the developmental psychology There are different types of studies aimed at covering the basic objectives of the discipline.

  • On the one hand, describe the behavior of individuals at each stage of development
  • For the other, identify the causes and processes that produce changes in behavior during life

Besides, the developmental psychology It aims to apply the theoretical knowledge it accumulates. Depending on these objectives, there are several types of studies:

Descriptive studies

A first type are the descriptive ones, whose purpose is discover and describe the changes that occur in individuals in relation to age. They are normative studies based on the observation or measurement of a certain variable, attribute or psychological characteristic and its representation along some temporal parameter.

Explanatory studies

A second type is explanatory studies, which are oriented towards search for cause-effect relationships between the different variables or factors involved in the development process.

In this case, they are not limited to describing the development process, but also trying to identify the causes for which such changes occur.

Intervention studies

Finally, there are intervention studies, whose objective is the application of the knowledge acquired for the improvement of the individual. Normally these are preventive intervention studies.

Thus, studies on the early stimulation Also, on the adequacy of the contents of the curricula to the psychological characteristics of the students; on the effects of certain habits of the mother on the development of the child, on the improvement of intelligence, etc.

Developmental psychology as a study of "change"

A second term to specify is that of "change". The following points can be made about the change.

First, the developmental psychology He has been interested in two fundamental aspects of change:

  • On the one hand, study the common and universal aspects of human development. That is, those who experience all people predictably at some time (e.g., start crawling)
  • For the other, the study of individual differences that occur between people (eg, the fact that some children crawl and others do not)

In the history of the discipline there are theoretical orientations that are more interested in universal changes (eg, psychoanalysis, ethology). While there are others that advocate primarily for the study of individual differences (eg, behaviorism).

Second, developmental psychology also analyzes both quantitative changes (eg, number of words the child understands), and qualitative ones (eg, changes in the semantic organization of words).

Again there are theoretical perspectives that address qualitative change (eg, Piagetian theory), while others consider that the object of study should be quantitative changes (eg, behaviorism).

Development and behavior

Another term to delimit is that of "behavior." With it reference is made both to internal and external behavior. That is, both observable behavior, and implicit mental processes.

In short, the developmental psychology He is interested in all the phenomena studied by the various areas of psychology. That is, those encompassed by the term conductused in its broadest sense, including muscle movements, motivation, effective aspects, thinking, etc.

However, there are some behaviors that do not fall directly into the field of developmental psychology. Behaviors that show changes consistent with age only in individuals who are subject to specific experiences, or other responses acquired through directed instruction, differential reinforcement or individual exercise, would not be classified as evolutionary.

Nor are considered within the field of Developmental Psychology those behaviors that represent dimensions more related to individual differences, and whose appearance is sporadic or discontinuous, than with the evolutionary directional change. It would be the case of variables such as aggression, attention seeking and others.

Age and evolutionary development

Age is not considered by itself as the cause of the change, but is attributed an indicator status. In the first descriptive studies of the history of the discipline, the relationship of the observed behaviors with age was considered so important that when the authors worked with descriptive data of this science, the term age was sufficient to categorize the results as evolutionary.

However, when the studies are explanatory in nature, the importance of age goes to second term. Age is not a "causative" variable, but a dimension along which causative variables act in the proper sense. In fact, the variable age itself is not an explanatory reason for anything.

Obtaining age-dependent results is only a first stage of evolutionary research. Then we must deepen, not by correlational studies but experimental, in the environmental, organic variables, etc., which are the authentic engines of evolutionary change and that determine that behaviors change with age.

Developmental psychology and hereditary and environmental factors

Regarding the last part of the definition, reference was made to the influence on the development of "hereditary, environmental factors and their interaction in development", we must return to the ideas related to the inheritance-environment controversy.

Although in the beginning of the discipline, exclusive positions in front of environmentalists were maintained against environmentalists, currently all researchers assume an interactionist stance.

So, It is assumed that both behavior and human development are influenced by genetic (inheritance) and environmental factors. Therefore, it is important to know the qualitative contribution of each factor and, above all, the explanatory mechanisms of the interactions between inheritance and environment in the different psychological processes.


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  • Maturana, H. R., & García, J. L. (2013). Inheritance and environment.From biology to psychology, 54-59.
  • Papalia, D. E., Olds, S. W., Feldman, R. D., & Lozano, E. W. M. (1998).Developmental psychology (Vol. 11). McGraw-Hill