Since the birth, an individual has started to absorb and retain important information coming from the environment, people, and events. In addition to mind and personality formation, a person begins to develop physically. It is impossible to predict how a particular individual will grow and mature. As a complex process, human development has its own specifics. Therefore, developmental psychology is one of the most important themes in the field. The current paper seeks to examine it in line with research, and theories developed by eminent psychologists that significantly contributed to the field.
Developmental psychology is a field of psychology that studies human psychological changes as a person matures. It also provides a methodological base and extensive knowledge. Opinions among theorists differ due to various approaches to the solution of such controversial issues as the object, factors, and nature. At the beginning of the twentieth century, American psychologists developed the social learning theory and behaviourism, where they thoroughly examined human behaviour (Jackson 2006). The specialists were concerned with external, observable, and measurable behaviours without referring to internal physiological mechanisms. Thus, behaviourism is the science of human behaviour.
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Psychoanalysis is a direction of psychology based on the theories of eminent neurologist Sigmund Freud, who adhered to the deterministic view of human nature and believed that internal biological drives motivate a person. The sociocultural approach developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner highlights the need to study people’s behaviour in real life conditions, family environment, and the social and historical context (Sigelman & Rider 2015). The model of environmental systems developed by the researcher examines the development of the child, the influence of the medium on him/her and vice versa. The way a person affects the environment is also important.
Carl Rogers had a great influence on pedagogy and psychotherapy. According to his theory, positive and healthy impulses that become active since the birth are the core of thr human character (Jackson 2011). Rogers was concerned with the way people could realize their inner potential. He revealed that the highest personal growth could be reached only if a person is positively treated by others. This theory has had a significant impact on counselling and the development of educational methods based on the respect for the uniqueness of each child and is aimed at the humanization of interpersonal relationships.
John Watson and Ivan Pavlov developed the behavioural theory with focus on conditioned reflexes (Sapp 2009). The concept formulated by English physician and researcher John Locke is the philosophical basis of this theory. He examined the child’s mind deeply and argued that the external environment influences person’s behaviour, thoughts, and feelings.
In his studies, Abraham Maslow pays particular attention to the human’s innate need for self-actualization implying the full development of own potential. Social learning theorist Albert Bandura stated that in everyday life, people are aware of the consequences of their actions and the ones of others, and, therefore, they adjust their behaviour accordingly (Sapp 2009). He created the social cognitive theory. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist, who examined intellectual formation as a pivotal point of mental development, on which other psychological processes depend.
Erickson acknowledged the biological and sexual origin of motivational systems and personal qualities, focusing on the structural model of personality developed by Freud. However, his theory of personality development is called psychosocial, since its core is the growth of human competence during the interaction with the social environment. Erikson believed that personality grows as a result of social conflicts during interaction and development (Sapp 2009). The key concept of Erikson’s theory is the acquisition of ego-identity, occurring in various cultures in different ways. In his studies, Paul Baltes pays particular attention to human development over the whole life taking into account not only age-related changes, but also broader cultural and historical factors (Sapp 2009). In his theory, American psychologist Edward Thorndike examined different behaviours. He believed that actions lead to a positive result and success if they are supported and replicated.
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Burrhus Frederic Skinner insisted that through scientific methods, one could recognize person’s behaviour since the environment determines it. He asserted that the most important thing is a spontaneous action, for which there is no initial stimulus (Harris 2008). Depending on the consequences, a definite trend of behaviour will develop in the future. Reinforcement enhances one’s reaction and increases the likelihood of its occurrence.
Psychological research is based on the formation of psyche exploring the mechanisms and driving forces of this process by analysing different approaches towards understanding the nature, functions of mentality formation, as well as a change in communication and cognition. It focuses on the impact of communication, education, various cultures and social conditions, dynamics of the formation of the psyche at different ages and levels of mental development (Sigelman & Rider 2015). Methods of developmental psychology used in genetic research, including observation, tests, and experiments are closely related to the methods of general psychology, but have their own specifics due to development and mental processes (Harris 2008). In reality, developmental psychology cannot use self-observation, which has for long been the leading psychological method. Moreover, this subfield has begun to study the human psyche objectively. In this case, the application of methods used in paediatric research and the examination of animals and humans are also useful. Monitoring is the main aspect of developmental psychology. However, tests, analysis of creative activity patterns, stories, and experiments are also crucial.
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To conclude, developmental psychology is a branch of general psychology that studies the development of the human psyche throughout the human life. It examines the psyche and the human body in all age periods and at all stages, taking into account the biological, anthropological, sociological and psychological factors. Development psychology covers person’s life as a continuous process of personality changes. This subfield allows tracking patterns of psychological development of an individual and helps to overcome crises and find the way for further progress.
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