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Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology is interested in discovering the psychological processes of development. The three core studies in this section all focus on how children develop. It is worth noting that developmental psychologists also study adulthood too.

Samuel and Bryant's (1984) study is an example of a experiment which attempted to criticise Jean Piaget's cognitive developmental approach to child development. Piaget's influential approach to child development is also called the structuralist approach.

Piaget argued that younger children do not have the capabilities to think in the same way as older children. And that children have to go through a process of cognitive development in order to achieve the abilities of an older child or adult. Piaget believed that there are a number of stages that all children go through in the same order. Piaget is therefore arguing that these stages are innate.

Bandura takes a very different approach to developmental psychology. In his study of aggression, Bandura (1961) demonstrated that children learn development from role models. Bandura's approach is an extension of behavioural theories which emphasise the way we learn behaviour from others, our environment, experiences and so on. Bandura was particularly interested in the way children learn new behaviours through observing and imitating role models.

Whereas Piaget was mainly interested in cognitive development and Bandura behavioural development, Freud (1909) was interested in emotional development. Freud's psychodynamic approach argued that a child's early experiences will shape its personality in later life. He believed that all children pass through a number of psycho-sexual stages as they develop. Freud's study of Little Hans provides a detailed account of a young boy coming to terms with his emotional conflicts.

A main assumption therefore of the developmental approach is that cognitive, emotional and behavioural development is an ongoing process and that such changes result from an interaction of nature and nurture.

A strength of the developmental approach is that many studies in this area are longitudinal which means that they do get to investigate changes and how these changes are influenced. Freud? study was a case study carried out over 2 years enabling the emotional development of a young boy to be investigated in great detail. Samuel and Bryant selected a sample of children aged from 5 years to 8.5 years old which again allowed the researchers to investigate developmental changes in the children. Furthermore the developmental approach enables psychologists to investigate different areas of development such as cognitive in the Samuel and Bryant study and emotional development in Freud?s study of Little Hans. However there is a tendency for developmental psychology to neglect adult development. None of the three core studies in this area take a life span approach. For example, it would be interesting to discover if adults are influenced by role models to the same extent as children.

Another strength of the developmental approach is that it can provide useful information about how we can better understand how children learn and deal with emotional difficulties and therefore improve the lives of children. For example, the findings of the Samuel and Bryant study could be used to identify and help children with cognitive developmental difficulties and Bandura?s findings have massive implications about how adults should act in the presence of children. Furthermore Freud?s psychodynamic approach has provided therapies mainly through talking cures that have enabled individuals to cope with earlier traumatic experiences.

A problem with the developmental approach is a tendency to generalise findings from often very limited samples. The developmental approach often looks for general patterns of development based on non representative samples. Freud, for example argued that all children experience psychosexual stages based on case studies such as the one carried out on little Hans and his own introspections. Samuel and Bryant generalised their findings about cognitive development from children in one town in the UK which ignores cultural differences relating to how children may learn in other parts of the world. However, many studies such as the one carried out by Bandura have been replicated in other cultures again showing the importance of role models on shaping children?s behaviour.

A further limitation with the developmental approach is the validity of measuring children?s behaviour and thoughts. We can therefore question if psychologists are actually measuring what they are attempting to measure especially as children may have qualitatively different thoughts to adults. For example, Bandura?s study could be criticised for interpreting the children?s behaviour towards the Bobo doll as aggression. Perhaps the children interpreted their own behaviour as play. Similarly we can question Freud?s interpretation of Hans? behaviour as the case study is really Freud's interpretations of Hans' father's interpretation of his son's own phobia. Again this seriously reduces the validity of the study. However, the study by Samuel and Bryant could be seen as a more valid measurement of cognitive development as they were using tests that children in pre-schools and schools would be familiar with and such conservation tasks on a number of different materials are recognised ways of measuring the cognitive development of children.