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Generation Z'S Positive And Negative Attributes And The Impact On Empathy After A Community-Based Learning Experience , Amanda Nicole Moscrip University of North Florida

Generation Z'S Positive And Negative Attributes And The Impact On Empathy After A Community-Based Learning Experience , Amanda Nicole Moscrip

Unf graduate theses and dissertations.

Generation Z, also known as the iGeneration, iGenners, GenZ, and Generation Now, consists of those born in the mid-1990s through the late 2010s. Historical events important for this generation have influenced their perception of safety as well as how they interact with others. As compared to previous generations, technological advances (i.e., Smartphones, social media) changed how GenZ communicates, socializes, and receives information. Unique experiences and attributes influenced Generation Z’s empathy because living through these events and seeing their impact changes how they can understand and take the perspective of others. The relation between three factors was examined across University students …

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Exploring How Student Athletes Balance Athletic, Academic, And Personal Needs Through Learned Needs Theory. , Michael E. Rutledge II Louisiana State University

Exploring How Student Athletes Balance Athletic, Academic, And Personal Needs Through Learned Needs Theory. , Michael E. Rutledge Ii

Journal of research initiatives.

The attempt to balance the requirements of athletic and academic demands prompts extensive research agendas from higher education and athletic stakeholders to examine how extrinsic and socio-environmental factors affect the desired outcomes of student athletes. Reputable motivation literature describes needs as the starting point of motivation and influences behaviors embedded within cultural and systematic structures. Thus, the purpose of this study is to understand how sport participation influences athletic and academic performance through Learned Needs Theory (LNT). This study provides insight to processes of motivation that contribute to knowledge, practical implications, and research that translates to research-based approaches to increase …

The Impact Of Social Media On The Self-Esteem Of Youth 10–17 Years Old: A Review Of The Literature , Jasmine M. Daniels National Louis University

The Impact Of Social Media On The Self-Esteem Of Youth 10–17 Years Old: A Review Of The Literature , Jasmine M. Daniels


The world of technology has expanded quickly and vastly since its inception. The creation of social media sites and applications has changed the ways in which youth interact, connect, and share with one another. As the number of social media sites and applications increases, so does their use by adolescents. During adolescence, youth are undergoing the process of identity development and self-esteem is an important part of this development. During this developmental period, adolescents’ self-esteem is likely to be affected by the feedback they receive online through social media sites. There is limited research available that specifically evaluated the impact …

The Evolution Of Disney Princesses And Their Effect On Body Image, Gender Roles, And The Portrayal Of Love , Rachael Michelle Johnson James Madison University

The Evolution Of Disney Princesses And Their Effect On Body Image, Gender Roles, And The Portrayal Of Love , Rachael Michelle Johnson

Educational specialist, 2009-2019.

The media plays an essential role in determining people’s schemas of the real world, assumptions about cultural ideals, and perceptions surrounding body image, gender roles, and the idealization of love (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2008; Herbozo, Tantleff-Dunn, Gokee-Larose, & Thompson, 2004). Children in particular are vulnerable to these messages due to their high consumption of media and their cognitive development (Agarwal & Dhanasekaran, 2012; Herbozo et al., 2004). Disney is one the most powerful aspects in children’s media and their princess phenomenon plays an essential role in perpetuating stereotypes by having their heroines embody submissiveness, being young and thin, and attracting …

The Developmental Effects On The Daughter Of An Absent Father Throughout Her Lifespan , Carlee Castetter Merrimack College

The Developmental Effects On The Daughter Of An Absent Father Throughout Her Lifespan , Carlee Castetter

Honors senior capstone projects.

Fatherless households are becoming increasingly common throughout the United States. As a result, more and more children are growing up without the support of both parents, and this may be causing developmental consequences. While there has been significant research conducted on the effect of absent fathers on children in general, there has been far less research regarding girls specifically. As discovered in this paper, girls are often impacted differently than boys when it comes to growing up without a father. The current research paper aims to discover just exactly how girls are impacted by this lack of a parent throughout …

Effect Of Parenting Styles On Children's Emotional And Behavioral Problems Among Different Ethnicities Of Muslim Children In The U.S. , Noor A. Rosli Marquette University

Effect Of Parenting Styles On Children's Emotional And Behavioral Problems Among Different Ethnicities Of Muslim Children In The U.S. , Noor A. Rosli

Dissertations (1934 -).

Parenting styles create different social environments in the lives of children within the home. Many studies have investigated the effects of parenting style on children's emotional development and behavior (Liem, Cavell, & Lustig, 2010; Pezzella, 2010; Schaffer, Clark, & Jeglic, 2009; Steward & Bond, 2002; Timpano, Keough, Mahaffey, Schmidt, & Abramowitz, 2010) as well as differences in parenting across cultures (Keels, 2009; Paulussen-Hoogeboom, Stams, Hermanns, Peetsma, &Wittenboer, 2008). Limited research has been conducted on parenting style and religion, however, and especially in Muslim families, and among Muslim American families in particular. There is also a lack of research that focuses …

The Effect Of Social Media On The Physical, Social Emotional, And Cognitive Development Of Adolescents , Aaron Bryant Merrimack College

The Effect Of Social Media On The Physical, Social Emotional, And Cognitive Development Of Adolescents , Aaron Bryant

This paper explores the possible problems that the usage of social media can have on the physical, social emotional, and cognitive development of adolescents. Adolescence is such a crucial and vulnerable stage in development, where teenagers begin to form their own identity and create meaningful relationships, but social media can have a profound effect on areas of their development. Social media offers new opportunities and challenges for adolescents more today as a generation than ever before. Issues regarding body image, academic achievement, and self-esteem and the connection to social media usage is reported. The issue of cyberbullying and its connection …

Parental Influences On Children’S Decisions Making , Karinna Anne Rodriguez University of North Florida

Parental Influences On Children’S Decisions Making , Karinna Anne Rodriguez

There is currently not enough research that focuses on parental influences on children’s development of decision making in early childhood. During early childhood children are primarily situated in the family context and are likely learning about decision making through their interactions with parents. Previous research has suggested children begin to develop complex decisions-making skills in early childhood. Complex decision-making includes the ability to consider the future and social benefits for the self and others. Future-oriented decisions requires the difficult task of deliberating between sacrificing an instant reward for a larger reward in the future, while social-oriented decisions require the consideration …

Using Toys To Support Infant-Toddler Learning And Development , Gabriel Guyton Bank Street College of Education

Using Toys To Support Infant-Toddler Learning And Development , Gabriel Guyton

All faculty and staff papers and presentations.

Being mindful of the basic principles of child development and the role of play, teachers can intentionally select toys to meet young children's unique needs and interests, supporting learning.

The Importance Of Nutrition For Development In Early Childhood , Kaitlyn Sue Suha California State University - San Bernardino

The Importance Of Nutrition For Development In Early Childhood , Kaitlyn Sue Suha

Electronic theses, projects, and dissertations.

Understanding which foods contain the necessary vitamins and nutrients for a child’s health, and which ones are lacking, can decrease the likelihood of children developing nutritional deficiencies and promote their overall developmental health. It is important for parents of young children to have an understanding of nutrition and the effect that poor nutrition can have. this project presented information sessions to parents to educate them further about these important topics through four weekly online workshops. Participants were asked to complete a pre- and post-session survey. Survey results scores indicated that participants reported an increase in knowledge and understanding in regards …

All Articles in Developmental Psychology

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The Non-Standardization Of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: A Call To Action , Gabriel L.S Gomez 2024 Eastern Kentucky University

The Non-Standardization Of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: A Call To Action , Gabriel L.S Gomez

Psychology doctoral specialization projects.

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most diagnosed disorders in adults and children, yet there is no standardized method to assess for ADHD. The similarity of symptoms shared across other disorders (comorbidity) makes the assessment of ADHD a very delicate process. This is not aided by the fact that the assessment of ADHD is not standardized. This allows individuals able to assess for ADHD to give a test or a combination of tests that they find fitting. This in turn brings into question the quality of testing and disagreement in diagnosing across fields. Lastly, ADHD-focused measures typically …

Student-Athlete Mental Health: University Of Montana Case Study , Abigail M. Sherwood 2024 University of Montana

Student-Athlete Mental Health: University Of Montana Case Study , Abigail M. Sherwood

Undergraduate theses, professional papers, and capstone artifacts.

Research suggests that Division I college-student athletes experience higher levels of stress and other behavioral health issues than their non-athlete counterparts, with up to 20% of them suffering from depression (Sudano et al., 2017). Two studies on student athletes’ well-being conducted in 2020, reported that athletes continue to report higher levels of mental health concerns (Johnson, 2022). Since the fall of 2020, rates of mental exhaustion, depression, and anxiety have improved minimally with rates remaining 1.5 to two times higher than reported before the COVID-19 pandemic (Johnson, 2022). Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open in 2021 and Simone Biles …

Predictors Of Canadians’ Psychological Well-Being In Retirement: A Mixed Methods Approach , Jessica Miller 2024 Wilfrid Laurier University

Predictors Of Canadians’ Psychological Well-Being In Retirement: A Mixed Methods Approach , Jessica Miller

Theses and dissertations (comprehensive).

In prior decades, retirement research focused on the negative effects of the life transition—such as negative psychological well-being caused by factors such as difficulties adjusting to retirement, feelings of a role loss, or the financial effects of retirement. However, there is considerable agreement across recent research studies that post-retirement years are marked by positive psychological well-being due to a variety of factors. For example, retirees often spend more time in roles (such as volunteer positions) that provide life satisfaction. The present study uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine factors related to well-being in retirement among individuals living in …

Repeated Treatment With 5-Ht1a And 5-Ht1b Receptor Agonists: Evidence Of Tolerance And Behavioral Sensitization , Jordan Taylor 2023 California State University, San Bernardino

Repeated Treatment With 5-Ht1a And 5-Ht1b Receptor Agonists: Evidence Of Tolerance And Behavioral Sensitization , Jordan Taylor

Serotonin has been found to regulate several cognitive and physiological functions, and its role in depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders has been a focus of research. More specifically, a wealth of research regarding serotonin focuses on serotonergic medications in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and stimulates the 5-HT 1A and 5-HT 1B receptors. Within the last decade, there has been an increase in prescriptions of psychotropic medication for children, however, the efficacy and adverse effects of these drugs have not been evaluated in younger populations. While antidepressants reduce symptoms of depression in adults, they are …

Not All Numbers Were Created Equal: Evidence The Number One Is Unique , Jenna L. Croteau 2023 University of Massachusetts Amherst

Not All Numbers Were Created Equal: Evidence The Number One Is Unique , Jenna L. Croteau

Masters theses.

Universally across modern cultures children acquire the meaning of the words one, two, and three in order. While much research has focused on how children acquire this knowledge and what this knowledge represents, the question of why children learn numbers in order has been comparatively neglected. To address this question , a non-verbal anticipatory looking task was implemented. In this task, 35 14- to 23-month-old infants were assessed on their ability to form implicit category structures for the numbers one, two, and three. We hypothesized that children would be able to form the implicit category structure for the number one …

The Ritual Of Therapeutic Artmaking In Long-Term Care , Melinda Heinz Dr., Elissa Wenthe, Alexis Schramel 2023 Upper Iowa University

The Ritual Of Therapeutic Artmaking In Long-Term Care , Melinda Heinz Dr., Elissa Wenthe, Alexis Schramel

International journal of lifelong learning in art education.

The transition to long-term care settings can be difficult for residents and feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety are not uncommon in these environments. However, participating in therapeutic artmaking rituals creates opportunities for residents to process their feelings, experience states of flow and mindfulness, engage with others, and focus on their own psychological growth. In long-term care, the physical needs of residents are often prioritized, but psychosocial needs also require attention. For this project, therapeutic artmaking rituals were created at a long-term care facility in three levels of care over 12 months. Older adults engaged with clay, paint, raw fiber, …

The Effectiveness Of Computerized Neurofeedback As An Accompanying Or Alternative Therapeutic Intervention For Pharmacological Treatment In Improving Attention And Other Symptoms For Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adhd) , Eqbal Z. Darandari PhD, Nouf F. Alsultan 2023 King Saud University

The Effectiveness Of Computerized Neurofeedback As An Accompanying Or Alternative Therapeutic Intervention For Pharmacological Treatment In Improving Attention And Other Symptoms For Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adhd) , Eqbal Z. Darandari Phd, Nouf F. Alsultan

International journal for research in education.

This study aimed to investigate the effectiveness of a treatment program using computerized neuro-feedback in improving attention for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To achieve the aim of the study, the computerized neurofeedback program was applied to (56) children diagnosed with (ADHD), aged between (7-11) years. They were distributed into four groups: the first group was subjected to combined intervention (neurofeedback & pharmacological treatment), the second group was subjected to (neurofeedback only), while the third group was exposed to the intervention using (pharmacological treatment only), and the fourth group was (not exposed to any intervention). Test of Variables …

Developmental Assets And Community-Based Youth Programs In Colombia, Guatemala, And Honduras , Claire M. de Mezerville-López 2023 International Institute for Restorative Practices

Developmental Assets And Community-Based Youth Programs In Colombia, Guatemala, And Honduras , Claire M. De Mezerville-López

Journal of youth development.

This paper explores the external developmental assets and how they manifest in specific youth programs from Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. An evaluation process was created through a qualitative phenomenological with the youth programs' leadership. To triangulate the data, a survey was developed and piloted with a small sample from three youth programs, one from Honduras, one from Guatemala and one from Colombia, exploring how the staff evaluate items related with the external developmental assets. This survey was created in a way that the results display in the form of a Spiderweb and in a circular way that evokes and relates …

Book Review It Takes An Ecosystem: Understanding The People, Places, And Possibilities Of Learning And Development Across Settings , Denise Montgomery 2023 CultureThrive

Book Review It Takes An Ecosystem: Understanding The People, Places, And Possibilities Of Learning And Development Across Settings , Denise Montgomery

It Takes an Ecosystem: Understanding the People, Places, and Possibilities of Learning and Development Across Settings, edited by Thomas Akiva and Kimberly H. Robinson, is a call to take a holistic and dynamic ecosystem approach to thinking about, designing, developing, and investing in the allied youth fields to more equitably and effectively support young people’s learning and development. Published in 2022, the volume outlines a vision for out-of-school time programs and systems, schools, community-based organizations, and the public sector to move beyond focusing separately on individual systems to a learning and development ecosystem approach that more accurately and inclusively reflects …

Mentoring In Group-Based Adolescent Girl Programs In Low- And Middle-Income Countries: Evidence-Informed Approaches , Miriam Temin, Sarah Blake, Eva Roca 2023 Independent Consultant

Mentoring In Group-Based Adolescent Girl Programs In Low- And Middle-Income Countries: Evidence-Informed Approaches , Miriam Temin, Sarah Blake, Eva Roca

No abstract provided.

Table Of Contents , 2023 Clemson University

Table Of Contents

Supporting Staff Supports Youth Well-Being At Summer Camp , Robert P. Lubeznik-Warner, Nila Rosen 2023 University of Utah

Supporting Staff Supports Youth Well-Being At Summer Camp , Robert P. Lubeznik-Warner, Nila Rosen

Youth well-being is of central importance, now, perhaps more than ever before. In the wake of the covid pandemic, youth need emotional support and connection throughout the academic year and summer months. Camp is a primary method of summer programming in America and thus may be an important conduit for mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health for youth during the summer. Camp staff may be one mechanism for supporting youth well-being; however, relatively little is known about the relationship between camp staff well-being and youth camper well-being. To address this gap, this study used secondary cross-sectional data collected by a …

Trauma-Informed Youth Sport: Identifying Program Characteristics And Challenges To Advance Practice , Kayla Hussey, Lindsey C. Blom, Zenzi Huysmans, Dana Voelker, Matt Moore, Thalia M. Mulvihill 2023 West Virginia University

Trauma-Informed Youth Sport: Identifying Program Characteristics And Challenges To Advance Practice , Kayla Hussey, Lindsey C. Blom, Zenzi Huysmans, Dana Voelker, Matt Moore, Thalia M. Mulvihill

This purpose of this qualitative study was to explore shared characteristics and local challenges of trauma-informed youth sport program design and implementation through the voices of ten program facilitators (e.g., director, trainer; 8 women, 2 men; average age of 36.2 years, SD = 6.03) across four U.S. regions. Within a postpositivist approach and through thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews (average length of 53 minutes), shared characteristics identified by facilitators included promoting a safe and supportive environment, cultivating healthy relationships among adults and peers, and intentional psychological and social skill-building (e.g., attentional cues). Facilitators also explained the importance of understanding the …

Students' Attitudes Towards Animals Influences Youth Development Constructs Based On Interactions With Different Animal Species Prior To College , Allison K. Pachunka 2023 University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Students' Attitudes Towards Animals Influences Youth Development Constructs Based On Interactions With Different Animal Species Prior To College , Allison K. Pachunka

Department of animal science: dissertations, theses, and student research.

Human-animal interactions (HAI) are commonplace in society and play a consequential role in a variety of situations such as companion animal ownership, agriculture, or youth programs such as 4-H or FFA. Interacting with animals has been shown to provide developmental benefits to children. Positive youth development (PYD), measured by the Five Cs Model, is a framework that focuses on fostering youth’s potential through positive activities which has been studied specifically in 4-H. However, this framework has not been applied to other organizations such as the National FFA Organization (FFA) or to other young adults with less formal interactions with animals. …

Embracing Virtual Reality Technology With Black Adolescents To Redress Police Encounters , Danielle M. Olson, Tyler Musgrave, Divya Gumudavelly, Chardee Galan, Sarita Schoenebeck, D. Fox Harrell, Riana E. Anderson 2023 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Embracing Virtual Reality Technology With Black Adolescents To Redress Police Encounters , Danielle M. Olson, Tyler Musgrave, Divya Gumudavelly, Chardee Galan, Sarita Schoenebeck, D. Fox Harrell, Riana E. Anderson

As Black youth face race-related stress from personal and vicarious experiences with police, practices advancing youth’s coping self-efficacy and agency are needed. We describe the pilot of a program supporting Black adolescents in creating virtual narratives detailing encounters and resolutions with police and offer preliminary observations of how this program could facilitate racial coping and emotional support. The program included four weeks consisting of both curriculum-based instruction and hands-on activities, four weeks solely focused on designing and developing students’ projects, and one week devoted to students’ final project presentations and peer feedback. We utilized a participatory design to co-create narratives …

A Transdiagnostic Examination Of Cognitive Heterogeneity In Children And Adolescents With Neurodevelopmental Disorders , Sarah Al-Saoud, Emily S. Nichols, Emma G. Duerden, Loretta Norton 2023 Western University

A Transdiagnostic Examination Of Cognitive Heterogeneity In Children And Adolescents With Neurodevelopmental Disorders , Sarah Al-Saoud, Emily S. Nichols, Emma G. Duerden, Loretta Norton

Western libraries undergraduate research awards (wluras).

Children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) demonstrate extensive cognitive heterogeneity that is not adequately captured by traditional diagnostic systems. Using a transdiagnostic approach, a retrospective cohort study of cognitive functioning was conducted with a large heterogenous sample ( n = 1529) of children and adolescents 7 to 18 years of age with NDDs. Measures of short-term memory, verbal ability, and reasoning were administered to participants with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), comorbid ADHD/ASD, and typically developing (TD) participants using a 12-item web-based neurocognitive testing battery. Unsupervised machine learning techniques were implemented to create a self-organizing map (SOM), …

How Teachers Use Data: Description And Differences Across Prek Through Third Grade , Amanda Witte, Lisa Knoche, Susan Sheridan, Natalie A. Koziol 2023 University of Nebraska-Lincoln

How Teachers Use Data: Description And Differences Across Prek Through Third Grade , Amanda Witte, Lisa Knoche, Susan Sheridan, Natalie A. Koziol

Nebraska center for research on children, youth, families, and schools: faculty publications.

The use of data to inform instruction has been linked to improved student outcomes, early identification of intervention needs, and teacher decision-making and efficacy. Additionally, data are used as a means of accountability within educational settings. However, little is known about data use practices among early grades teachers. The purpose of the current study is to describe the data use of PreK to third grade teachers and to investigate differences in data use and support across grade levels. Participants were 307 early childhood teachers in PreK and early elementary school. Analysis of survey data revealed, overall, most teachers across grade …

Mind, Body And Race: A Look Into How Implicit Biases Influence The Perception Of Emotion , Faiza Ahmad, Adam Anderson, James Dalton Rounds, Christina Chick, Alize Hill 2023 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Mind, Body And Race: A Look Into How Implicit Biases Influence The Perception Of Emotion , Faiza Ahmad, Adam Anderson, James Dalton Rounds, Christina Chick, Alize Hill

Research symposium.

Background: Most research examining the effects of implicit race-based biases in emotion perception has focused on the perception of Black faces as being angry. Limited work has been done examining the perception of “approach” emotions such as fear. Furthermore, most studies have predominantly used White subjects. Our study examined the role of implicit racial biases in shaping the perception of both anger and fear in White, Black and Asian participants.

Methods: 78 participants completed a Go/NoGo task in which they were asked to categorize different race faces as portraying either anger or fear. Participants would be asked to press the …

White Men In White Coats: Children’S Attributions Of Scientific Knowledge Based On Race And Gender , Lillian C. Holm, Mariel R. Cox, Khushboo S. Patel, Judith H. Danovitch 2023 University of Louisville

White Men In White Coats: Children’S Attributions Of Scientific Knowledge Based On Race And Gender , Lillian C. Holm, Mariel R. Cox, Khushboo S. Patel, Judith H. Danovitch

The cardinal edge.

Children use others’ characteristics (e.g., intelligence and niceness) to evaluate how much a person knows (Landrum et al., 2016). However, little is known about how gender and race influence children's perception of adults' scientific knowledge. The current study examined how children ages 5-8 (N = 25; 11 girls, 14 boys) perceive adults’ scientific knowledge. In the first task, children saw 8 different adults of varying race and gender (White man, White woman, Black man, Black woman) and rated their knowledge using a five-point scale. Children then chose one person out of two adults who they thought knew more about a …

The Resilient Families Project @ Wayside’S Hotel Louisville: Strategies For Building Resilience, Mindfulness & Happiness In At-Risk Adults , Lexi N. Frederick, Hannah Parker, Angela Ely, Lora Haynes 2023 University of Louisville

The Resilient Families Project @ Wayside’S Hotel Louisville: Strategies For Building Resilience, Mindfulness & Happiness In At-Risk Adults , Lexi N. Frederick, Hannah Parker, Angela Ely, Lora Haynes

The Resilient Families Project (RFP) provides educational experiences to strengthen evidence-based habits of resilience, mindfulness, and happiness in at-risk individuals. RFP holds programs for adults facing homelessness and women in drug/alcohol recovery who are housed by Wayside Christian Mission in their Emergency Shelter or Hotel Louisville.

RFP programs work to promote healthy attachment relations, a sense of belonging/purpose, and interactive reading, and children’s storybooks serve as the foundation for designing programs. The book “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse'' was reviewed through content analysis to emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as RFP Core Ideas. Thanks …

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Research Examples of Developmental Psychology

Research Examples of Developmental Psychology

When you are studying developmental psychology , you’re studying how people grow and develop, all the way from childbirth to the end of their lifespan. What are examples of developmental psychology? It could be anything within a range of subject matters that are related to human growth. Not just psychological behavior, but anything from thoughts and emotions , cognitive and linguistic development, to decision making and motivation, moral and even physical development like motor skills.

Research examples of developmental psychology

Over the years we’ve come across many examples of research in developmental psychology , often done with various behavioral research tools. Looking for topics for developmental psychology research paper? We’ve put together an overview of research examples in developmental psychology that were published on the Behavioral Research Blog.

Table of contents

  • Infant Stage
  • Adolescent Stage
  • Adult Stage

Examples of developmental psychology: Infant stage

The infant stage is the time from birth until children are (roughly) two years old. A time that has been well studied by researchers, as changes are rapid and these first years in life are considered fundamental in our development.

Early Infant behavior development of hand preference

In learning about objects and their parts, transporting objects to new locations, and sharing objects with others, the hands are essential. Infants discover how to control each hand and how to use the hands together.

There are many reasons to study the development of hand preference in infants, as it can provide clues about motor skills or any developmental disorders. A team of researchers was particularly interested in asymmetric bimanual actions and presented “Unimanual to bimanual: Tracking the development of handedness from 6 to 24 months”.

Read the full post here:  Early Infant behavior development of hand preference

Hands of child and adult

In the Noldus Webinar 'How emotions are made in Baby FaceReader' , we will tell you about emotions, how they are 'made' and how this relates to facial expression analysis in FaceReader with a focus on Baby FaceReader. Curious? Join the webinar on Thursday 21 April 2022!

Observing and analyzing repetitive movements in infants to detect autism

In the first year of life, an infant learns how to use his or her arms, legs, mouth, hands, and fingers by repeating movements over and over again. They discover a wealth of possibilities. However, an increased frequency of repetitive movements has been widely described in neurodevelopmental disorders as well. 

To examine if a specific repertoire of repetitive movements was present in children with autism, researchers used home videos to code the behaviors of the infants.

Continue reading:  Observing and analyzing repetitive movements in infants to detect autism

Gaze behavior in infants

Infant siblings of children with or without ASD participated in a study to determine whether gaze behavior, showed during a test with an unfamiliar examiner, could predict gaze behavior in a more naturalistic context. 

To measure the cognitive functioning of the infants, the Mullen Scales of Early Learning was filled in at each visit by an examiner. Meanwhile, infant gaze to the examiner’s face was recorded. 

Read the full post here:  A closer look at eye contact

Developing social communication and the role of mimicry

Children learn from interacting with others, especially their parents. For example, reproducing the emotions that others express is part of that. Copying facial expressions is one of the great milestones in the social development of a child.

Still, little is known about the mechanisms controlling the early development of emotional mimicry. Therefore, a research team of the University of Amsterdam conducted a study to investigate infant emotional mimicry, parent-infant mutual attention, and parent dispositional affective empathy.

Read more about this study here:  The role of mimicry in the development of social communication  

research paper on psychological development

Download the free White paper to learn more about the software tools available for infant studies.

  • Video observations to capture behaviors
  • Coding behaviors accurately
  • Unobtrusive emotion analysis

Adolescent stage

Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It is a time for rapid cognitive development. When entering adolescence children are going through many changes at the same time: both physical and intellectual, as well as their personality and social skills that are developing. We’ve published several articles about studies into the adolescent stage.

Direct observations help develop effective interventions in adolescence

In a study by a team of researchers from Arizona State University, John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Oregon Research Institute, family and friendship dynamics in adolescence were observed in order to develop more personalized interventions that prevent problem behaviors and adjustment issues.

Continue reading about  effective interventions in adolescence .

Dealing with depression in adolescence

In adolescence, the ability to regulate emotions is heavily challenged by numerous biological, social, and psychological changes. How are adolescents’ emotions socialized by mothers and close friends? A study by a team of researchers from Canada and The Netherlands focused on dealing with depression in adolescence.

Continue reading:  Understanding adolescent emotions

Studying conflict interactions between mothers and adolescents

Adolescence is a developmental phase with many physical, neurodevelopmental, psychological, and social changes. It is common for conflicts to arise between adolescents and their parents. However, severe conflicts can have negative effects on adolescent development. What can parents do to prevent escalating conflicts ? 

research paper on psychological development

This free white paper informs you how on to facilitate a parent-child study and how to set up your experiment.

  • Perform tests in a lab or in-home
  • Collect data with video
  • Design a coding scheme

Read 5 more  examples of research in adolescence here >>

Research examples in developmental psychology research: Adult stage

Adult development encompasses the changes that occur in biological and psychological domains of human life from the end of adolescence until the end of one's life 1 . When studying adult development, many researchers tend to focus on aging and health. 

Some study eating behavior in residential care homes which enables them to take environmental factors into account. Others focus on family relations and communication and try to facilitate and improve contact between parents and children living a distance apart. Some examples of developmental psychology research in the adult stage of life.

How to measure couple communication patterns

Communication between husbands and wives is often discussed on TV, in magazines, and is frequently a topic of discussion amongst friends. Additionally, it is also a popular research theme. Effective husband-wife communication can benefit a relationship. But are there specific behaviors which need enforcing and are they the same for every couple?

Read more:  How to measure couple communication patterns

Measuring flow

Flow is a state in which a person is fully involved in an activity, decreasing self-consciousness and sense of time. This process requires a person to be extremely focused, as well as exactly have the skills to master a task. Several researchers have developed methods of measuring flow.

Find out more:  Measuring flow

research paper on psychological development

Curious what emotions your face shows? Upload a photo here, and our FaceReader software will test it for emotionality.

  • Enter a url or browse for an image
  • Use passport photo like pictures
  • Make sure that the pictures you upload are the best they can be

Do your emotions and moods change as you get older?

Are emotions affected differently for younger than for older people? Researchers used FaceReader to complement self-assessments and objectify mood changes to answer this question . They exposed participants to film segments to induce four basic emotions: anger, disgust, happiness, and sadness.

Behavior and emotions of older adults

It's important to develop user-friendly products and services to assist older people in daily activities and improve their quality of life. Therefore researchers wanted to find out if TV footage could motivate older persons to start being more active? Being active can improve the overall health of a person (65+ but of course also 65-!). 

Read the full blog post on research projects on behavior and emotions of older adults .

Elderly man

On-site observational studies with older persons

In certain cases, observations for your study are best performed on-site. There are many examples of observational studies with older age groups, conducted at home or at a healthcare facility. We've highlighted two examples of on-site observational studies with older persons .

Robots helping people with dementia

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More topics in developmental psychology

Of course there are many more topics in developmental psychology. An overview of the research topics can include:

  • Cognitive development: Piaget's theory, information processing, and language development
  • Social and emotional development: attachment theory, moral development, self-concept and identity formation
  • Physical development: motor skills, sensory development, growth and maturation
  • Perceptual development: visual perception, object permanence, perceptual constancy
  • Personality development: nature vs. nurture debate, temperament, self-esteem and resilience
  • Contextual factors in development: the role of culture, family, peers, media and technology
  • Adolescent development: puberty, identity formation, moral reasoning and decision-making
  • Lifespan development: aging, retirement, end-of-life issues
  • Education and development: learning theories, early childhood education, motivation and engagement in school
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders: ADHD, autism , or dyslexia.

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  • How to study human behavior
  • Learn about people's behavior by observing them
  • Examples of human behavior research
  • Behavioral coding: What and how
  • Five studies showing the power of multi-modal data in behavioral research

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Developmental Psychology Research Paper

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Sample Developmental Psychology Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.


The onset of the twenty-first century heralds a new era for developmental psychologists, whose work is being enriched by new findings from such fields as behavioral and molecular genetics, cognitive science, cultural studies, sociology, epidemiology, history, psychiatry, and pediatrics. At the same time, many of our current questions owe a clear debt to our forebears. These earlier theorists influenced thinking and research in ways that are still evident today, and a review of their contributions reminds us that many questions in our field are recurring ones. Issues that have disappeared and reappeared in slightly different guises at various stages of the field’s history are still part of the contemporary scene. It’s not that developmentalists simply recycle problems, but progress often proceeds to a point and comes to a halt until developments in other fields, new conceptualizations and formulations of a problem, or methodological and design advances reenergize the issue and bring it to a new level of understanding and investigation. By stimulating interest in the historical roots of our discipline, we hope both to sharpen our appreciation of our forebears and to develop a source of hypotheses that may now be ripe for investigation in the current scientific climate.

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We can give only the broadest outline of the history of the field of developmental psychology. There are many complexities that we have had to ignore. We hope that this overview will whet the reader’s appetite for further exploration. Fuller reviews of our historical roots are available in Parke, Ornstein, Rieser, and Zahn-Waxler (1994) and Cairns (1998), and a reprint series of original articles and volumes by earlier theorists is available in Wozniak (1993a, 1993b, 1994, 1995).

We have divided the history of developmental psychology into five time periods—the beginning years of developmental psychology (1880–1914), the period of institutionalization and fragmentation (1915–1940), the era of expansion (1940–1960), the rise of contemporary themes (1960–1985), and the current period (1985 to present). Across these periods, we discuss recurring issues of theory and method to illustrate the ways in which there has been both constancy and change in developmental psychologists’ views of the central issues of the field. We argue that, in many regards, there have been major strides in the subtlety of the distinctions and the sophistication of the measurements and designs brought to bear on developmental questions. At the same time, there is much consistency between the perspectives of our ancestors of a century ago and the views of contemporary developmental theorists.

Another thesis is that the agenda of contemporary developmental psychology has more in common with the field’s agenda from the turn of the century than with the agenda of the middle era (1920–1960). This middle period, with its emphasis on behaviorist and normative development, its focus on experimental child psychology and social learning theory, was a sharp departure from the origins of the field. What Cairns noted two decades ago is still true today: “An overview of the past suggests that today’s investigators are as much determined by history as they are makers of it. The major issues of the present appear to be, in a large measure, the same ones that thoughtful contributors to the science have addressed in the past” (Cairns, 1983, p. 90).

Why are we returning to the concerns of our distant past? One reason is that our forebears were wise in their choice of questions and raised enduring issues. Another reason is that, in the middle period, developmentalists took some detours away from the original goals of the field in their enthusiasm for establishing a separate science on the basis of positivistic principles. The field’s behavioristic focus promoted a proliferation of excellent methods and technological advances but ignored basic questions of biology, consciousness, and cognition. Today, as the beneficiaries of both the early and the middle eras, we are in a position to ask again the old questions and address them in more methodologically sophisticated ways.

Developmental Psychology Research Paper Examples

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The beginning years of the field of development can be characterized in two ways. One way is to describe the figures who first forged the field; the other way is to describe their positions in terms of modern theoretical distinctions.


When the field of child psychology was established as a separate and distinctive field, two sets of influential individuals were involved. One group provided the institutional and organizational support for the new discipline of psychology; the second group provided ideas and methods for the new science of developmental psychology. G. Stanley Hall led the first group; James Mark Baldwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Binet formed the second.

The intellectual figure who anticipated the emergence of the distinctive field of developmental psychology and who influenced the thinking of all these early figures was not a psychologist, however, but the biologist, naturalist, and architect of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin (1809–1882). Darwin provided the intellectual foundation for a science of development by arguing that human development was governed by a set of discoverable natural laws. This central thesis, in combination with Darwin’s own early experimental studies of infants’ emotional and perceptual abilities, paved the way for later scientific analysis of children’s development.

G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924) was a cofounder and first president of the American Psychological Association and the founder of the first professional journal on development,  Pedagogical Seminary . In 1909, Hall, as president of Clark University, invited Sigmund Freud to an international conference involving American and European psychologists and psychoanalysts. This was a landmark meeting; it introduced Freud and his psychoanalytic ideas to an American audience, and those ideas shaped the thinking of developmental scholars in the United States for the next half century. As a theorist and methodologist, Hall made more limited contributions (see Ross, 1972; White, 1992). He did introduce the questionnaire as a way to explore the contents of children’s minds—in fact, between 1894 and 1914 he published 194 questionnaires (White, 1992)—but his nonrandom sampling strategies, his imprecise wording of questions, and his nonstandardized mode of administering the questionnaires made the work more suggestive than definitive. Hall and his contemporaries at the turn of the century had limited knowledge of sampling techniques and issues of generalizability, and they chose samples of convenience; unfortunately, these highly selected samples were of unknown representativeness. Hall is perhaps best known for his recognition that adolescence is a unique period of development with a variety of concomitant shifts in biology, cognition, and social relationships (Hall, 1904).

Hall’s contemporary, James Mark Baldwin (1860–1934), was less of a facilitator but more of a theorist. He held positions at the University of Toronto, where he established the first experimental psychology laboratory in North America, and later at Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. Although he was a talented experimentalist, it was his theoretical work that secured his position in the history of developmental psychology. In his extensive theoretical writings, he articulated a variety of themes, which in retrospect appear surprisingly contemporary (Baldwin, 1894, 1895, 1897). First, he developed a stage theory of development, which was remarkably similar to Piaget’s. As Piaget would later do, Baldwin set out a series of stages of development for mental processes, which were to a substantial extent based on observations of his own children. Even more than Piaget, he recognized the interplay between social and cognitive development and championed the study of the self and the need to examine different units of analysis (individual, dyad, and group). Unfortunately, Baldwin’s contribution was limited because of the short duration of his career, which ended abruptly as the result of a personal scandal. In 1908, he was forced to resign from Johns Hopkins after being caught in a raid on a house of prostitution. He spent the rest of his career in Mexico and Europe, where he continued to write about development as well as world peace. A second reason for his limited influence was his failure to develop empirical paradigms to test his ideas. As is always the case in science, theory without a clear way of evaluating the underlying notion is of limited value to the field. In spite of his lack of data, his ideas are remarkably modern. It is now recognized that “Baldwin stands alongside William James as one of the primary intellectual forces involved in the founding of American psychology as a science” (Cairns, 1994, p. 129).

At the time, however, it was Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) who influenced American developmental psychology. Freud offered both a theory of development based on psychosexual stages and a method of study, psychoanalysis (Freud, 1900, 1905, 1910). Freud taught at the University of Vienna but devoted himself largely to clinical work with neurotic patients and to a prolific writing career. In spite of the fact that he did not treat children, he developed a theory of early development based on the recollections of childhood by his adult clients. In many ways, Freud set the agenda for the next 50 years of developmental psychology by defining content domains (aggression, sex roles, morality) and articulating central themes (the importance of early experience, the formative impact of early family relationships for later developmental outcomes).

Alfred Binet (1857–1911) was the most underappreciated figure of this era (Siegler, 1992). Despite his lack of formal training in psychology, Binet was a prolific contributor with over 200 books, articles, and reviews on a wide range of psychological subjects to his credit. Binet is, of course, best known for his contributions to the assessment of intelligence (Binet & Simon, 1905), but he was much more than the father of IQ testing. He anticipated a number of Piaget’s views, for example, that cognitive development is a constructive process, that its purpose is adaptation to the physical and social worlds, that children assimilate new experiences to existing ways of thinking, and that intelligence pervades all activities. Moreover, he made major contributions to various areas of memory, particularly suggestibility and eyewitness testimony, children’s memory for prose, and the role of memory in mental calculation expertise (Binet, 1894, 1900). Binet designed and conducted a variety of memory experiments. At the same time, he recognized the need to apply convergent methodological approaches to solve psychological problems. “Our psychology is not yet so advanced that we can limit our analyses to information attained in the laboratory” (Binet, quoted in Cairns, 1983). It is interesting that Binet’s demonstrations of the feasibility of an experimentally based science of child development predated Watson’s more famous experiments on conditioning of emotion by nearly 20 years. “Binet was the first to provide convincing evidence for the proposition that a science of human development was possible” (Cairns, 1983, p. 51). For a variety of reasons—primarily, perhaps, his lack of a university position—Binet’s contributions were largely forgotten until recently (Cairns, 1983; Siegler, 1992).


Theories of development may be characterized, most centrally, by whether they posit that development is the consequence of internal (nature) or external (nurture) forces. Overton and Reese (1973) describe this dichotomy as  organismic  versus  mechanistic . The organismic view is characterized by a focus on biological or endogenous accounts of development. It has as its basic metaphor “the organism, the living, organized system presented to experience in multiple forms. . . . In this representation, the whole is organic rather than mechanical in nature” (Reese & Overton, 1970, pp. 132–133). The mechanistic view is characterized by a focus on environmental mechanisms, and development is seen as essentially an externally controlled or driven process. The machine is often used as the metaphor for this developmental model of development. In the early era, Baldwin, Freud, Hall, and Binet all endorsed an organismic approach. As Cairns noted of Baldwin: “His aim was to outline ‘a system of genetic psychology’ that would attempt to achieve a synthesis of the current biological theory of organic adaptation with the doctrine of the infant’s development” (Baldwin, 1895, p. vii, cited by Cairns, 1983, p. 54).

Another way in which theories of development can be described is in terms of their breadth. The scope of the early theories was notably broad. Not only did they include emotions and cognitions, sex and sensation, but a century ago, theorists in the grand tradition assumed that large portions of the developmental landscape could be accounted for in terms of a limited number of general, universal principles. They were not unaware of cross-cultural variation, but they viewed other cultures as living laboratories that could provide opportunities to evaluate the operation of fundamental laws of development. Freud’s use of anthropological data in  Totem & Taboo  (Freud, 1918) was an attempt to describe unconscious motivation in other cultures. This was a prime example of our ancestors’ eagerness to seek confirmation of their theories in other cultures. Their understanding of those cultures, however, was quite limited.

Limited, too, was their understanding of their own culture. Contemporary developmental psychologists recognize that societal conditions in a variety of spheres—medical, education, economic, political, and social—influence both development itself and research and theory about development. They have seen how historical conditions can shape choices of problems and theoretical interpretations. The most celebrated example, of course, is the influence of Victorian Vienna on psychoanalysis (Lerner, 1986). The repressive views concerning sex and sexuality held by European society in the early 1900s quite clearly contributed to the symptoms exhibited by Freud’s patients and the focus on sexual feelings and processes in Freud’s theory. However, Freud himself and the other early theorists showed little awareness of the need to acknowledge the role of societal and historical influences in their theories of development.

As an emerging discipline, not surprisingly, developmental psychology was also an interdisciplinary enterprise. The early theorists looked to philosophy, biology, pedagogy, and sociology for ideas. Hall was particularly influenced by philosophy, religion, education, and evolutionary biology. Baldwin reached out to religion. Freud incorporated anthropology. At the same time, there was a strong push to disassociate the emerging field from its roots—especially its philosophical roots—and to establish the new field as a separate discipline, especially a scientific one. Baldwin’s theories as well as Binet’s experimental demonstrations represented clear departures from the introspectionist approach of the past.

In brief, by 1914, American psychology had become established as an independent discipline, developmental psychology as a separate science was beginning to emerge, and the major themes of development that occupied us for the next century were being defined. In the next phase, the institutionalization of developmental psychology as a distinctive subfield within mainstream psychology began.


Two major themes characterize the next period in the history of developmental psychology. First, this was a period of establishment of major research institutes. Second, it was an era both of extraordinary theoretical and empirical advances in developmental psychology and of multiple voices and raucous cacophony.


Reflecting societal concerns about ways to improve the rearing of children, a number of research institutes were established around the United States, including those at the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, Teachers College at Columbia, Yale, and the University of California, Berkeley. The goals of these new institutes were research, teaching, and dissemination. The programs were modeled after the successful agricultural research stations. As Mrs. Cora Bussey Hillis, an early supporter of these activities, envisioned, “if research could improve corn and hogs, it could improve children” (Sears, 1975, p. 19).

The institutes not only created a professional workforce of child developmentalists but also initiated some of the major longitudinal projects of the century. Some of these projects were highly specialized; others were more general. At Yale, Arnold Gesell (1880–1961) began his intensive studies of children’s motor development, while John Anderson at Minnesota provided detailed descriptions of personality development (Anderson, 1937). At Berkeley, two sets of longitudinal studies began in the late 1920s and early 1930s focusing on a variety of aspects of development—intellectual, social, and motor (see Bayley, 1949; Elder, 1974). Sontag (1944), at the Fels Research Institute, also started a longitudinal study in the 1930s that lasted until the 1970s. The Fels project also used a broadband approach involving assessments of social, emotional, motoric, and physical development. These studies were largely a theoretical and descriptive; they provided important normative guidelines concerning early developmental timetables.


But theory in developmental psychology was not dead. On the contrary, this was an era of fragmentation, and markedly different theoretical approaches to the study of development were all competing for support. In the United States, behaviorism under the leadership of John B. Watson (1878–1958) was a force to be reckoned with, with its strict views that children’s development was the consequence of conditioning by the environment. According to Watson, children learn everything, from skills to fears. All behavior begins as a simple reflex and is conditioned over time. Fears are most easily conditioned through pairing with loud noise; love is created by fondling; even verbal behavior and thinking begin as babbling, then grow in complexity as they are conditioned to objects in the environment. Watson’s (1913, 1924) experimental demonstrations of conditioning, most famously of little Albert, did much to place the newly emerging field of child development on a solid scientific footing.

Meanwhile, other viewpoints were emerging as significant challenges to a behavioral view of development. Most directly in opposition to Watson’s position was Gesell’s maturational approach to development, which suggested that development unfolds in a series of steps, fixed and predetermined in order. Only under extreme conditions, such as famine, war, or poverty, are children thrown off this biologically programmed timetable. According to Gesell, the tendency to grow is the strongest force in life, and the inevitableness and surety of maturation are the most impressive characteristics of early development. “The inborn tendency toward optimum development is so inveterate that [the child] benefits liberally from what is good in our practice, and suffers less than he logically should from our unenlightenment” (Gesell, 1928, p. 360). Gesell’s years of careful observation produced a corpus of work that was not only a highly sophisticated account of motor development but an early version of a dynamic systems view of development (Thelen, 1993).

At the same time, Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was emerging as an influential theorist in Europe and offered a further contrast with prevailing American views. Piaget offered not only a rich description of children’s cognitive progress from infancy to adolescence but the first fully developed theory of stages of cognitive development. In a series of books, Piaget outlined four major stages of cognitive development, the stages of sensorimotor development (0 to 2 years), preoperational development (2 to 6 years), concrete operations (6 to 12 years), and formal operations. Children were observed to pass through these stages in a fixed and sequential order as they moved toward increasingly abstract modes of thought. His theory and empirical demonstrations over the span of more than half a century place him with Freud in the forefront of child development theorists of the twentieth century. Although there have been challenges to his originality with credible claims that much of his theory was anticipated by Baldwin (Cahan, 1984), his uncanny ability to design tasks to test his theoretical propositions secured his scientific reputation.


The marked differences among the three theorists in this period, Watson, Gesell, and Piaget, are brought into perspective by noting their positions on key developmental questions. Their basic positions concerning what causes development were in stark contrast. Watson was the archetypical mechanistic theorist who believed that development occurred from the outside in. He believed that the goal of theory was not to understand behavior but to predict and control it. He viewed learning and conditioning principles as the processes through which these ends were met. In contrast, Gesell was a theorist who was organismic in his viewpoint on the causes of development, championing maturational processes as the key to development. His goal was to provide a systematic account of development, not necessarily to control or predict the direction of development. Piaget balanced the importance of both internal, biological processes of development and external resources to support it. He posited biological adaptational processes as the explanatory mechanism for development, and his theoretical aim was understanding, not prediction or control. Although these three theorists diverged in their assessment of the nature of developmental processes, they did agree that there are universal and historically independent processes that account for development.

The three theorists also differed in their assumptions about the course of development. Piaget was clearly a committed stage theorist who endorsed the concept of discontinuity across development. Watson, on the other hand, viewed development as continuous. Gesell recognized both continuity and discontinuity across development. For Gesell, there are periods of reorganization at different points across development but considerable continuity in terms of underlying processes. Siegler and Crowley’s (1992) microgenetic approach might well have been championed by Gesell, with its recognition that there is an uneven progression across development as new skills and strategies are acquired and integrated in the child’s repertoire.

The big-three theorists of this era also took somewhat different approaches to conducting research. Watson performed laboratory “experiments,” which actually, because of their lack of control, are more accurately referred to as demonstrations. Gesell and Piaget, in contrast, raised systematic observation to a new level. Piaget watched, with much profit, his own infants (Piaget, 1926), while Gesell made a career of cataloging motor movements of other people’s children (Gesell, 1928). Both incorporated subtle structured interventions into their observations—a pile of three red blocks, a matchbox, a screen—to probe with infinite patience the minute changes in abilities evident over the course of a week or a month in a child’s life.

A final way in which the triad of theorists differed was in their view of how—or whether—the principles of developmental psychology should be applied to “real world” issues. Piaget was basically uninterested in applied issues—in spite of an abundance of efforts by others to apply his theory to education settings in the 1960s and 1970s. He called these concerns “the American question.” In contrast, Watson was a strong proponent of applying learning principles to the rearing of children. Through a series of popular books addressed to parents, Watson tried to shape the thinking of a generation of parents. “Parents, whether they know it or not,” he stated with authority, “start intensive training of their children at birth. By 3 years of age, the child’s whole emotional life plan has been laid down. His parents have determined whether he is to grow into a happy person, a whining, complaining neurotic, an overbearing slave driver, or one whose every move in life is controlled by fear.” What was most damaging, according to Watson, was too much “mother love.” Watson’s advice on how to run an efficient, no-nonsense household, in which infants were fed and napped on schedule like efficient little machines, and no time was lost nor bad habits created by hugging and kissing, had a widespread influence on American parents. In spite of his maturationalist leanings, Gesell, too, was a prolific and influential voice in the “advice to parents” movement. Over a period of 40 years, Gesell and his colleagues (Gesell & Ilg, 1946; Gesell, Ilg, & Ames, 1956) offered not only normative guidelines to help parents anticipate the developmental trajectories of their children but also specific advice concerning child-rearing tactics, toys, and tomes for children of different ages (see Clarke-Stewart, 1978, 1998). The outreach efforts of both Watson and Gesell were consistent with the tenor of the time and theAmerican belief that the new developmental science could and should be harnessed to improve the lives of children.

To summarize, this period of our history was best characterized as a battle among theoretical titans. A science of development had clearly been launched, but there was little agreement about the theoretical details.


In the third period of our history, developmental psychology returned to the fold of mainstream psychological thinking, as it had been at the turn of the century. Major strides were achieved by extending the basic tenets of learning theory to the puzzles of development.


Classic learning theory, which dominated American psychology from the 1930s through the 1950s, was creatively combined with Freud’s theory of development to generate a new era of research and theorizing in child psychology. At Yale, several young psychologists, including John Dollard, Neal Miller, Leonard Doob, Robert Sears, and later anthropologist John Whiting, combined forces to fuse Hullian learning concepts with Freudian psychoanalytic theory (e.g., Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939). Their goal was to translate Freud’s propositions into testable form by recasting them in learning-theory terms. Freud had provided the focus of the research on such issues as aggression, sex typing, and dependency; Hull provided the learning mechanisms, such as primary and secondary drives, drive reduction, and stimulus-response associations. In one example of the learning-psychoanalytic fusion, the Yale psychologists proposed that infants’ early attachment to their mother derived from the association of the mother with reduction of the hunger drive through feeding. Mothers, in short, assumed secondary reinforcement value as a result of being paired with hunger reduction for the infant. Decades of effort followed, in which these researchers sought to evaluate the relations between early child-rearing practices and later personality development. Such Freudian-based concerns as the timing of weaning and toilet training and whether the infant was bottle- or breast-fed dominated the scientific activity (Sears, 1944, 1975).

The major paradigm for this era is illustrated by the classic study of child rearing organized by Robert Sears and his colleagues Eleanor Maccoby and Harry Levin (Sears, Maccoby, & Levin, 1957). These investigators interviewed over 300 mothers about their child-rearing practices (weaning, toilet training, discipline) and the child’s behavior (aggression, dependency, sex roles, moral development). Modest relations between child-rearing practices and child outcomes were found in this and related studies (Sears, Rau, & Alpert, 1966; Sears, Whiting, Nowlis, & Sears, 1953; Whiting & Child, 1953), but the enterprise as a theoretical guide was largely unsupported. Not only were the fundamental hypotheses probably incorrect, but the methods themselves came under serious criticism (M. R. Yarrow, Campbell, & Burton, 1964). Critics noted not only that constructs were poorly defined but also that the basic method of using mothers’ recall of their earlier practices was fraught with error. As Robbins (1963) showed, mothers often report child-rearing practices that are more in agreement with current “experts” than they are with their actual practices. Although the enterprise served to bring theoretical rigor to the study of development and move us beyond description to learning-based explanations of development, the theoretical limitations of the Freudian framework were bound to doom their efforts.


Another extension of learning theory that emerged during this era was operant learning theory. This approach was developed by B. F. Skinner (1904–1990) at Harvard University. In contrast to Hullian theory, with its drive-centered focus, Skinner’s theory emphasized contingent reinforcement of behavior as the central learning mechanism. Although Skinner was not a developmental theorist, his thinking had a profound impact on developmental psychology. Such influential developmental researchers as Bijou, Baer, and Gewirtz were all influenced by Skinner (Bijou & Baer, 1961; Gewirtz, 1969). The modern behavior modification approach to the control and shaping of children’s behavior in classrooms, homes, and institutional settings owes a direct debt to Skinner and his theory of operant learning.


Under the guidance of the learning titans of this era, developmentalists once again became a part of mainstream psychology. A mechanistic orientation characterized the theorizing of the period, whether under the guidance of Hullian-influenced Sears or of operant-oriented Skinner. Theorists searched for broad, universal principles of development, with little concern for either culture or secular influences, although Sears did document social-class differences in child-rearing practices in one of his studies (Sears et al., 1957). Neither Sears nor Skinner was a prominent provider of descriptions or prescriptions for parents in the tradition of Watson and Gesell, but they both had an abiding American faith in the potential of developmental science to help children. Skinner’s invention of the baby box and teaching machine and Sears’s hope that his studies of child rearing would provide scientific guidelines for future parents illustrate their commitment to an applied developmental psychology.

In sum, during this era, developmental psychology became recognized as part of mainstream psychology, but it had not yet reached a mature state. In the case of Sears, there was still too much borrowing from the past, and in the case of Skinner, there was not enough recognition of the uniqueness of children that might require distinctive and separate approaches.


In the era from 1960 to 1985, a number of themes rather than a number of theorists guided research and theory in developmental psychology. These themes were the return of a concern about cognition, the discovery of precocity, the redefining of social learning, the refinement of the study of social interaction, and the emergence of an interest in emotion.


Several significant events transformed our thinking about development in this quarter century. The Russians launched Sputnik, and Americans began to worry about their educational system. Coincidentally, there was a rediscovery of Piaget by American psychologists. J. McVicker Hunt (1906– 1991) published his influential treatise,  Intelligence and Experience  (1961), which reintroduced Piagetian thinking to Americans. A few years later, a systematic overview of Piaget’s theory was offered by John Flavell in his book  The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget  (1963). Piaget’s views of nature and nurture as both necessary and interactive quickly became prevalent in developmental psychology. A flurry of empirical work that both supported and challenged Piagetian theory appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. This revitalized interest in cognitive development coincided with the onset of the cognitive revolution (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960) in mainstream psychology, so it is not surprising that cognitive development returned as a major theme of research.


In part the result of Piaget’s early work on infant cognitive and perceptual development and in part the consequence of new experimental techniques for assessing infant visual, auditory, and olfactory capacities (e.g., Fantz, 1963; Lipsitt, 1963), there was a resurgence of interest in documenting infant sensory and perceptual competence. Studies of infants challenged traditional views and ushered in an era of discovering the “competent infant.” In contrast to earlier views of infants as limited, helpless, and incompetent, these new studies revealed an infant who was biologically prepared for social, perceptual, and cognitive encounters with the external environment. Babies were revealed to be capable of visual and auditory discriminations (e.g., color, form, pitch) from a much younger age than earlier theorists had assumed. In turn, this prepared the way for a closer look at biological contributions to early development. A similar set of advances concerning the remarkable capacity of infants to learn was also reported (Lipsitt, 1963; Papousek, 1961; Sameroff, 1970).


On the socialization front, there was a serious challenge to the Freud-Hull approach to social development. Albert Bandura and Richard Walters, in their 1963 volume  Social Learning and Personality Development,  forcefully rejected the assumptions of the previous era. Instead of endorsing a drive-based theory of development, they proposed that observational learning or modeling was the major way that children acquire new behaviors and modify old ones. As subsequently developed by Bandura (1969, 1977), cognitive social learning theory drew much of its theoretical foundation from developments in the new cognitive science, with its insights into attention and memory. Not only were drives and drive reduction unnecessary for learning, according to Bandura, but reinforcement was unnecessary either for the acquisition of new responses or the modification of old responses. Along with new mechanisms for learning, Bandura dismissed the Freudian baggage of the earlier Sears era. Instead, a more eclectic theory of socialization, which drew from sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines, served as a guide. In a series of influential experimental studies, Bandura and his colleagues revitalized the study of social development by reintroducing experimental approaches in studies of the observational learning of aggression (e.g., Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961). Unfortunately, like most learning theory approaches, the focus was more on learning and less on development (see Grusec, 1992).


An area of intense focus in this period was the social interactive processes and the ways in which these face-to-face processes develop into social relationships (Hartup & Rubin, 1986; Hinde, 1979). A prominent issue was the understanding of social interaction patterns among infants, children, and their social partners. Emphasis on the mutual regulation of the partners’ behavior, concern about detailed description, and quantification of the tempo and flow of the interactive interchange clearly separated the current work from its earlier antecedents (Cohn & Tronick, 1987; Field, 1991). In addition, developmental psychologists in this era went beyond studying the process of interaction per se to use interaction as a window into social relationships (Hinde, 1979).

The most influential theory exemplifying this theme was John Bowlby’s (1907–1990) theory of attachment (1969, 1973, 1980). This theory offered a new account of the ways in which infants come to form close relations with their caregivers. Instead of a fusion between the constructs of Hull and Freud, it represented a marriage between ethology and psychoanalysis. Bowlby proposed that attachment has its roots in a set of instinctual infant responses that are important for the protection and survival of the species. The infant responses of crying, smiling, sucking, clinging, and following elicit the parental care and protection that the baby needs and promote contact between the child and the parents. Just as the infant is biologically prepared to respond to the sights, sounds, and nurturance provided by caregivers, parents are biologically prepared to respond to these eliciting behaviors on the part of the infant. As a result of these biologically programmed responses, both parent and infant develop a mutual attachment. From this perspective, attachment is a relationship, not simply a set of behaviors of either the parent or the infant (Sroufe & Fleeson, 1986).

Moreover, in this era, there was an increasing appreciation of the range of characters who play a prominent role in children’s social relationships. The definition of family expanded to include not only the mother–infant dyad but fathers, siblings, and grandparents as well (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982; Lamb, 1975; Tinsley & Parke, 1984).

There was also a growing appreciation of the embeddedness of children and families in a variety of social systems outside the family, including peers, school, and kin-based networks (Bronfenbrenner, 1986, 1989; Cochran & Brassard, 1979), which led to an interest in peer and other relationships outside the family (Asher & Gottman, 1981). This focus on relationships was part of a more general reorientation away from a focus on the individual as the unit of analysis to dyadic and larger units of analysis.


One of the most dramatic shifts during this period was the renewed interest in the development of emotions in infancy. Topics such as social smiling, stranger anxiety, and fear of heights were of interest in the 1960s (Gibson & Walk, 1960), but the motivation for conducting such studies was to use emotions to index something else—usually perceptual or cognitive process (Campos & Barrett, 1985). The timing of the development of emotions and the role of emotions in social interaction were of little interest at that time. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the role of affect became an issue of increasing concern throughout psychology (e.g., Campos, Barrett, Lamb, Goldsmith, & Stenberg, 1983). The developmental origins of both the production and recognition of emotions, as well as the role of emotional expressions in the regulation of social interaction, became central concerns of developmental psychologists, especially infancy researchers.

In light of research by Ekman (Ekman & Friesen, 1978) and Izard (1982), the older assumption that facial response patterns are not specific to discrete emotional states was discounted. Evidence suggested that facial expressions may be, at least in part, governed by genetically encoded programs and universally recognized (Ekman & Friesen, 1978). The recognition that emotional expressions have a role in the regulation of social behavior, another important development in this era, was exemplified in studies of face-to-face interaction of parents and infants (e.g., Brazelton, Koslowski, & Main, 1974; Stern, 1977, 1985; Tronick, 1989).


In this period, from1960 to 1985, we see signs of maturity in the field of developmental psychology. Instead of theories suggesting that development is either exclusively internally driven or entirely environmental in origin, the theories in this period included elements of both. In addition, under the guidance of Bronfenbrenner (1979), a commitment to contextualism was evident. Lerner (1986), a major proponent of this viewpoint, defines this position as follows: A contextual model assumes that there is constant change at all levels of analysis and that each level is embedded within all others. Thus, changes in one promote changes in all. Central to the position is the interaction between the organism and its context (Sameroff, 1975). Ethology, ecological systems theory, and socio-cultural theory are examples of the contextual model.

Explanatory processes, too, were multifaceted in this period and included cognitive, social interactional, and affective processes. The grand claims of earlier eras were less evident, and more limited theories, which explained smaller bands of behavior rather than the full array of development achievements, began to emerge. A glimmer of recognition that theories may not be universally applicable appeared in this period, and interest in cross-cultural work intensified (Greenfield, 1974; Harkness & Super, 1983). The role of historical and secular changes, such as the Great Depression, as influences on development were recognized for the first time (Elder, 1974). There was a return to an interest in applying basic knowledge to practical problems of child rearing and education unseen since the days of Gesell and Watson (e.g., research on the effects of early preschool experience on children’s development by Ramey & Haskins, 1981). There was a shift toward a lifespan view of development, and, consistent with this shift, a reevaluation of the role of critical periods in development. Although considerable evidence to support the critical period hypothesis as it related to infant social development was collected (e.g., Harlow & Harlow, 1962; Sackett, 1968; L. J. Yarrow, 1961), it also became apparent in this period that simple yes-or-no questions about whether early experience played a role in particular domains were inadequate to guide our thinking. Rather, it was important to understand the processes through which experiences exerted their influence on structure and function and when they exerted that influence.


In the current period, several themes characterize research and theory in developmental psychology. These include the rise of interest in the genetic and neurological underpinnings of behavior, interest in the interdependency of cognition and emotion, recognition of the role of culture, and a move toward a mature interdisciplinary developmental science.


Of considerable importance in the current period is the lively interest of developmental psychologists in biology. This interest has been expressed in many ways. One way is the investigation of psychophysiological responses associated with different emotions and different social situations, such as separation of a child from the mother or the entrance of a stranger into the room (Field, 1987). These studies provide additional evidence in support of the specificity-of-emotion hypothesis (i.e., that different emotions may have different elicitors and distinct psychophysiological patterns; Campos et al., 1983).

A second way the current interest in the biological bases of behavior is expressed is through the study of genetics. This return to biology resulted, in part, from advances in the field of behavior genetics, which produced a more sophisticated understanding of the potential role that genetics can play not only in the onset of certain behaviors but in the unfolding of behavior across development (Plomin, DeFries, & McLearn, 1990). This work has generally taken the form of determining the possible genetic origins of certain traits, such as extroversion and introversion, and other aspects of temperament, as well as the age of onset of emotional markers such as smiling and fear of strangers. For example, Plomin and DeFries (1985) found that identical twins exhibit greater concordance than fraternal twins in the time of onset and amount of social smiling. Similarly, identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins in social responsiveness (Plomin, 1986). At the same time, behavior genetic researchers are documenting the clear and necessary role of the environment in this process. Plomin’s (1994) reformulation of genetic questions has led to a call for studies of nonshared-environment effects and represents a good example of how behavior genetics has stimulated new designs for the assessment of both genetic and environmental influences. Rather than returning to an old-fashioned nature-nurture debate, the new behavior genetics is spurring the development of better measures of the environment that will enable us to assess the interactions of nature and nurture in more meaningful ways. Clearly, environmental influences matter; they simply need to be measured better. One of the ironies of recent years is that some of the most compelling evidence that environmental effects are important comes from behavior genetics. At the same time, advances in the measurement and conceptualization of  specific  environmental influences has come largely from the work of socialization scholars interested in parental disciplinary styles and socialization techniques and who generally used between-family than within-family designs (Baumrind, 1973; Radke-Yarrow & Zahn-Waxler, 1984). In fact, the reorientation of research to a nonshared emphasis remains controversial, and there is considerable debate about the implications and interpretation of nonshared effects (Baumrind, 1993; Hoffman, 1991; Scarr, 1993). Recently there has been a rise of interest in the role of molecular genetics in developmental research (Plomin & Rutter, 1998; Reiss, Neiderhiser, Hetherington, & Plomin, 2000) with the goal of identifying how specific genes or clusters of genes are linked with developmental outcomes.

Other ways that developmentalists in the current period focus on the biological bases of behavior is studying hormones and behavior during infancy and adolescence (Gunnar, 1987) and looking for the biological bases for temperament in infancy (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). They also study biological constraints on behavior development; for example, developmental implications of immature sensory systems have been related to the social world of infants (e.g., Aslin, 1998), the implication of immature limb systems have been related to locomotion (Thelen & Ulrich, 1991), and the implications of the immature cortex have been related to infant search behavior (Diamond, 1990, 1991). As these last studies indicate, recent advances in cognitive neuroscience have also begun to influence developmental psychology (Diamond, 1990; Greenough, Black, & Wallace, 1987), and this is another sign of developmental psychologists’ return to biology. Finally, the resurgence of interest in the types of evolutionary approaches to the study of human development represents a return to Darwin’s early efforts to apply evolutionary principles to human development (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000; Hinde, 1991). Although controversial (Hinde, 1991), this theorizing clearly illustrates one of the myriad ways in which psychologists are returning to questions that were raised by our forebears.


As part of the current vigorous study of cognitive development, researchers have returned to issues of consciousness, reflection, intention, motivation, and will (Flavell, 1999). There has been a reemergence of interest in the interplay between conscious and unconscious processes, an indication of a willingness to tackle problems that preoccupied our field’s founders but were set aside for nearly a century. Several investigators (Greenwald, 1992; Kihlstrom, Barnhardt, & Tataryn, 1992) have developed methods that permit examination of the impact of unconscious processes on a variety of cognitive and perceptual processes and allow methodologically defensible excursions into such classic clinical issues as repression and self-deception. These methods could be adapted usefully for developmental studies and would provide interesting approaches to a range of current issues, from eyewitness testimony to early affective memories. In turn, such applications would have important implications for an understanding of effects of early experience and attachment.

There is also a strong interest in the interplay between cognition and emotion, as reflected in the activity surrounding children’s understanding of emotion (Harris, 1989; Saarni, 1999). Most recently, the range of emotions under investigation has expanded to include self-conscious emotions such as shame, guilt, pride, empathy, and envy, topics that were anticipated by Freud and others but were of little interest for many years (Denham, 1998; Eisenberg, 1991; Lewis, 1992).


One of the major shifts in our thinking about development in the current era is our recognition of the central role played by culture. Since the 1980s, more attention has been given to contributions of culture to our theoretical explanations of development (e.g., Gauvain, 2001; Rogoff, 1990). One example is the cross-cultural studies of infant–parent attachment, in which wide disparities were found in the distribution of infants in terms of their attachment classifications. Although the measures show securely attached infant–mother relations in 57% of American samples, the rate drops to 33% in samples tested in northern Germany (Grossman, Grossman, Spangler, Suess, & Unzner, 1985). These and other findings underscore the need to consider cultural influences in our developmental theories.

Similarly, there have been advances, albeit limited, in our understanding of intracultural and socioeconomic differences in the United States (Parke & Buriel, 1998). Although African American children have received the most attention, other groups, including Latino and Asian American children, are beginning to be more commonly included in developmental investigations (McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000; Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992). These variations across ethnic lines represent important opportunities to explore the universality of psychological processes and to provide naturally occurring variations in the relative salience of key determinants of social, emotional, and cognitive development. These studies may provide a better basis for guiding policies, programs, and culturally sensitive interventions on behalf of children. As our culture becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that we begin to make a serious commitment to an exploration of this diversity, both theoretically and through systematic empirical inquiry. The search for a balance between processes that are universal and those that are particular to racial, and ethnic, and socioeconomic groups probably represents one of the greatest challenges of the new century.


The current era represents significant continuity with the prior period and can best be characterized as eclectic in terms of theoretical models, developmental assumptions, and methodological approaches. As is characteristic of a more mature science, methods and models are not perceived as dogmatic dicta but instead are flexible guides to help formulate and answer new questions and address new issues as they arise.

The retreat from grand theory that began in the 1980s has continued, and in its place, a variety of minitheories aimed at limited and specific aspects of development has emerged. However, there is evidence of an attempt to link together these minitheories. The idea of general processes as explanations of development has been given up because we have learned that they are not so general; instead, it is increasingly evident that processes depend on the specifics of the situation, the task, and the subjects’ understanding of the task or situation (Flavell, 1985, 1999; Siegler, 1991). It is now recognized that the domains of childhood—social, emotional, physical, and cognitive—are interdependent and that they overlap and influence each other mutually.

Attention to secular trends and historical contexts has accelerated as the social contexts of children’s lives come under increased scrutiny (Elder, Modell, & Parke, 1994). Shifts in medical practices, employment patterns, and child-care arrangements are all issues of lively debate and vigorous research activity (Clarke-Stewart, 1992a, 1992b; Conger & Elder, 1994). Moreover, researchers are giving serious consideration to the role that shifts in technology (e.g., computers) have on children’s development; part of the puzzle is to determine whether secular trends produce changes in the timing of onset of developmental phenomena or whether developmental processes themselves are significantly altered. Current thinking suggests that certain behavioral characteristics are relatively independent of historical variations, while others are more susceptible to these influences (Horowitz, 1987).

Collaboration between disciplines is increasingly common as the multidetermined nature of development is increasingly appreciated. Not only are sociologists, anthropologists, and historians part of new developmental research teams, but so are neurologists, geneticists, lawyers, and epidemiologists. It is likely that the interesting issues and questions of the new century will arise at the boundaries between disciplines. The dichotomy between applied and basic research is fading rapidly, and child developmentalists are returning in increasingly large numbers to their applied roots. For example, research on mental-health issues among children is prominent, and work on how to improve children’s early development through intervention programs continues to flourish (Coie & Jacobs, 1993).

In terms of developmental assumptions, developmentalists have become less interested in strong forms of discontinuity organized around stage constructs. Rather, there is growing recognition that the course of development may vary markedly even for presumably related concepts. But there is also recognition that the entire issues of qualitative or quantitative change may depend on one’s point of observation. As Siegler indicated, “When viewed from afar, many changes in children’s thinking appear discontinuous; when viewed from close-up, the same changes often appear as part of a continuous, gradual progression” (1991, p. 50).

Researchers in the 1980s and 1990s have taken seriously a life-span developmental perspective (Baltes, 1987). In part, this view emerges from a recognition that the social context provided by caregivers varies as a function of the location of the adults along their own life-course trajectory (Parke, 1988). The earlier view was that variations in parenting behavior were relatively independent of adult development. Evidence of this shift comes from a variety of sources, including studies of the impact of the timing of parenthood and the effects of maternal (and paternal) employment, job satisfaction, and work involvement on children’s development (Parke & Buriel, 1998). In addition, there is a serious return to the study of aging (Baltes, 1987; Salthouse, 1985), especially the study of speed of processing, memory, and intelligence (e.g., Hertzog, 1989) and social behavior (e.g., Brubaker, 1990; Hanson & Carpenter, 1994).

Consistent with the shift toward a life-span view is the reevaluation of the role of critical periods in development. Recent evidence suggests that a modified version of sensitive, if not critical, periods is likely to emerge in contrast to a view of unlimited plasticity across development (Bornstein, 1989). For example, Rieser, Hill, Talor, Bradfield, and Rosen (1992) have demonstrated that adult skill in spatial representation seems to require early perceptual learning experiences that involve self-produced movement. Johnson and Newport (1989) found evidence for a sensitive period in grammatical mastery in acquiring a second language. The question for this century is to discover which aspects of behavior are likely to be altered by environmental events at specific points in development and which aspects remain more plastic and open to influence across wide spans of development.

In terms of units of analysis, researchers have begun to conceptualize the unit of analysis as dyads within the family system, such as the parent–child dyad, the husband–wife dyad, and the sibling dyad (Belsky, 1984; Cowan & McHale, 1996; Parke, 1988). Moreover, units beyond the dyad have been recognized as important as well. Several researchers have recently begun to investigate triads (Hinde & Stevenson Hinde, 1988; Kreppner, 1988) as well as the family as units of analysis (Dickstein et al., 1998).

At present, this shift toward units beyond the individual is evident in cognitive as well as social development and is due, in part, to the revival of interest in Vygotskian theory. Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), a Russian psychologist, championed the view that mental functioning is a kind of action that may be exercised by individuals or by dyads or larger groups (Wertsch, 1991). His view was one in which mind is understood as “extending beyond the skin.” “Mind, cognition and memory . . . are understood not as attributes or properties of individuals but as functions that may be carried out intermentally or intramentally” (Wertsch & Tulviste, 1992, p. 549). Such terms as  socially shared cognition  (Resnick, Levine, & Teasley, 1991),  socially distributed cognition  (Hutchins, 1991), and  collaborative problem solving  (Rogoff, 1990) reflect the increasing awareness that cognition can be a social as well as an individual enterprise.

In terms of methods, variety best describes the contemporary period. In the 1990s, the use of longitudinal designs increased markedly, motivated in part by an increased interest in issues of developmental stability and change. Two types of longitudinal studies are evident. Short-term longitudinal studies, in which a particular issue is traced over a short time period of a few months to a year, are currently popular (Clarke-Stewart, Gruber, & Fitzgerald, 1994; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992). These studies are of value for detecting short-term stability or for tracking development across a time period of assumed rapid change in an emerging developmental process or structure.

Other longitudinal studies have a long-term character and have continued from infancy through childhood and into adolescence. For example, a number of investigators have followed families from infancy to the preadolescent or adolescent years (Sameroff, 1994; Sroufe, 1996). This strategy has permitted a more definitive evaluation of a variety of theoretical issues, especially those concerning the effect of early experience, including the role of sensitive and critical periods on later development. Nonetheless, because of the expense and difficulty of longitudinal research, cross-sectional designs still predominate among developmental investigations. Often researchers will use both strategies, and, in an area that is not yet well developed either theoretically or empirically, cross-sectional studies often precede longitudinal pursuit of an issue. A commitment to multiple design strategies rather than a near-exclusive reliance on a single design is characteristic of the current area.

In terms of experimental designs, a greater openness to multiple strategies is evident. Laboratory-based experimental studies and field-based experimental investigations coexist with nonexperimental observational field studies. Data-collection strategies come in a variety of forms as well. In spite of its less than stellar history, the self-report measure has reentered our methodological repertoire; parent, teacher, and peer reports are now commonly used. Another noteworthy trend reflects in part the openness of researchers to multimethod strategies as opposed to strict adherence to one approach. Observational methods are widely used along with verbal reports. Evidence, not just speculation, may be driving the field to this new openness to a wide range of methods. Some researchers have found that ratings of behavior yield better prediction of later social behavior (Bakeman & Brown, 1980) and later cognitive assessments (Jay & Farran, 1981) than do more microanalytic and more expensive measures of parent–child interaction.

Finally, our sampling methods have come of age. Shifts in awareness of the importance of sampling have led to an increase in use of large representative national samples in developmental research. Although this has typically been the domain of sociologists and survey researchers, in the early 1990s, developmentalists have shown an increased awareness of the potential value of supplementing their usual small-sample strategies with these large-sample approaches. One prominent example is the use of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY) for the examination of developmental issues, including divorce, achievement, and day care (Brooks-Gunn, Phelps, & Elder, 1991). These surveys have several advantages, including a large number of subjects, more representative samples, a multifaceted range of variables, and longitudinal designs. In turn, these characteristics permit testing of more complex models of development that require large numbers of subjects. In addition, these studies allow examination of connections across content-based domains as well as encouraging interdisciplinary cooperation. Finally, they permit testing of the cultural generality of the models.

Newer, more innovative approaches that combine levels of sampling are becoming increasingly common as well. As a supplement to a large-scale survey approach, researchers are selecting subsamples of subjects for more intensive examination of a particular process of interest. For example, Beitel and Parke (1998) conducted a survey of 300 families to assess maternal attitudes toward father involvement in infant care. To supplement this approach, in which a self-report questionnaire was used, a subsample of 40 families was observed in their homes as a way of validating the self-report data. Similarly, Reiss et al. (2000) generated a nationally representative sample of stepfamilies, and in a second stage of their work, they observed these families in interaction tasks in the home. These combined approaches increase the generalizability of findings and, at the same time, allow us to illuminate basic social processes.


Where are we going next? Today, a proliferation of minitheories has replaced single dominant positions or theoretical frameworks, and each of these smaller-scale theories accounts for a limited set of issues. This domain-specific nature of theory is one of the hallmarks of our current state of the field. It represents a disenchantment with grand theories both of a century ago and of our more recent past. Part of the reason for the current proliferation of smaller and more modest paradigms is the lack of a new overarching paradigm to replace the disfavored grand theories.

The next stage of our development as a field involves the creation of such a new overarching paradigm or framework to help us with our integrative efforts. There are signs that a new integration may be emerging in the form of a systems perspective that will bring together biological, social, cognitive, and emotional minitheories into a more coherent framework (Fogel & Thelen, 1987; Sameroff, 1994). Although the promise of a general dynamic systems theory is appealing and has been applied with considerable success to the motor development domain, especially by Thelen (1989), it remains to be seen whether the stringent requirements of this approach for precise parameter estimation and measurement can be met in other domains (Aslin, 1993). Whether we have reached the stage of being able to quantify social behavior or children’s theories of mind with sufficient precision to make this approach useful, beyond being merely metaphoric, is an open question.

We are cautiously optimistic that a systems approach is a promising one and has proven useful both in organizing data and in pointing to new research directions in recent family research, as well as in research on the organization and functioning of social contexts. Perhaps we need to develop a family of systems-theory integrations that would be hierarchically organized and would represent the levels of analysis that are intrinsic to different areas of development, just as we have long recognized that biological, biochemical, and social levels of inquiry may each have its own set of integrative principles (Sameroff, 1994). Multiple integrative approaches may be needed to cover different parts of the development terrain. The goal is to retain the advances that our retreat to minitheories has brought but, at the same time, to begin to put the “whole child” back together again. Our forebears had the vision to see this as the goal, and we should be in a better position to achieve it now than they were a century ago.


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research paper on psychological development

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Advancing Human Assessment pp 453–486 Cite as

Research on Developmental Psychology

  • Nathan Kogan 5 ,
  • Lawrence J. Stricker 5 ,
  • Michael Lewis 6 &
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn 7  
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Part of the Methodology of Educational Measurement and Assessment book series (MEMA)

Developmental psychology was a major area of research at ETS from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. This work was a natural extension of the programs in cognitive, personality, and social psychology that had begun shortly after the organization’s founding in 1947, consistent with Henry Chauncey’s vision of investigating intellectual and personal qualities. This chapter covers research on representational competence; parental influences, migration, and measurement; cognitive, personality, and social development of infants and young children; and cognitive, personality, and social development from infancy to adolescence.

  • Representational Competence
  • Paper Folding Task
  • Teaching Parents Behavior
  • infantsInfants
  • Young childrenYoung Children

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Developmental psychology was a major area of research at ETS from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, a natural extension of the work in cognitive, personality, and social psychology that had begun shortly after the organization’s founding in 1947, consistent with Henry Chauncey’s vision of investigating intellectual and personal qualities (see Stricker, Chap. 13 , this volume). For a full understanding of these qualities, it is essential to know how they emerge and evolve. Hence the work in developmental psychology complemented the efforts already under way in other fields of psychology.

A great deal of the research in developmental psychology was conducted at ETS’s Turnbull Hall in the Infant Laboratory , equipped with physiological recording equipment and observation rooms (e.g., Lewis 1974 ), and in a full-fledged Montessori school outfitted with video cameras (e.g., Copple et al. 1984 ). Hence, as Lewis ( n.d .) recalled, the building “had sounds of infants crying and preschool children laughing” (p. 4). Other research was done in homes, schools, and hospitals, including a multisite longitudinal study of Head Start participants (e.g., Brooks-Gunn et al. 1989 ; Laosa 1984 ; Shipman 1972 ).

A handful of investigators directed most of the research, each carrying out a distinct program of extensive and influential work. This chapter covers research by Irving Sigel , on representational competence ; Luis Laosa, on parental influences , migration , and measurement ; Michael Lewis, on cognitive, personality, and social development of infants and young children ; and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, on cognitive, personality, and social development from infancy to adolescence. Other important research was conducted by Gordon Hale (e.g., Hale and Alderman 1978 ), on attention; Walter Emmerich (e.g., Emmerich 1968 , 1982 ), on sex roles and personality development ; and Nathan Kogan (e.g., Wallach and Kogan 1965 ) and William Ward (e.g., Ward 1968 ), on creativity . (The Kogan and Ward research is included in Kogan, Chap. 14 , this volume.) In the present chapter, Kogan describes Sigel’s research, and Stricker takes up Laosa’s ; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn discuss their own work.

1 Representational Competence and Psychological Distance

Representational competence was the focus of Sigel’s research program. Roughly defined by Sigel and Saunders ( 1983 ), representational competence is the ability to transcend immediate stimulation and to remember relevant past events and project future possibilities. Also indicative of representational competence in preschoolers was the understanding of equivalence in symbol systems, whereby an object could be rendered three-dimensionally in pictorial form and in words.

The level of a child’s representational competence was attributed in large part to parental beliefs and communicative behaviors and to family constellation (number of children and their birth order and spacing). Earlier research by Sigel and collaborators emphasized ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES ; see Kogan 1976 ). SES was retained in many of the ETS studies in addition to a contrast between typical children and those with communicative–language disabilities .

A conceptual model of the Sigel team’s research approach is presented in a chapter by McGillicuddy-DeLisi et al. ( 1979 ): Mothers’ and fathers’ backgrounds determined their parental belief systems. Belief systems, in turn, influenced parental communication strategies, which then accounted for the child’s level of cognitive development . It was a nonrecursive model, the child’s developmental progress (relative to his or her age) feeding back to alter the parental belief systems. In terms of research design, then, parental background was the independent variable, parental belief systems and child-directed communicative behavior were mediating variables, and children’s representational competence was the dependent variable. The full model was not implemented in every study, and other relevant variables were not included in the model. In most studies, family constellation (e.g., spacing and number of children), SES , the nature of the parent–child interaction task, the child’s communicative status (with or without language disability ), and the gender of the parent and child were shown to yield main or interaction effects on the child’s representational competence.

In the view of Sigel and his associates, the critical component of parental teaching behavior was distancing (Sigel 1993 ). Parental teachings could reflect high- or low-level distancing. Thus, in a teaching context, asking the child to label an object was an example of low-level distancing, for the child’s response was constrained to a single option with no higher-thinking processes invoked in the answer. By contrast, asking the child to consider possible uses of an object was an example of high-level distancing, for the child was forced to go beyond the overt stimulus properties of the object to adopt new perspectives toward it. In brief, the concept of distancing, as reflected in parental teaching behavior, referred to the degree of constraint versus openness that the parent imposed on the child. Sigel’s principal hypothesis was that higher-level distancing in child-directed communication by an adult would be associated with greater representational competence for that child. Correspondingly, low-level distancing by an adult would inhibit the development of a child’s representational competence.

An additional feature of Sigel’s research program concerned the nature of the task in the parent–child interaction. Two tasks were selected of a distinctively different character. For the storytelling task, age-appropriate edited versions of children’s books were used, with parents instructed to go through a story as they typically would do at home. The other task required paper folding, with the parent required to teach the child to make a boat or a plane.

1.1 Influence of Parental Beliefs and Behavior on Representational Competence

Having outlined the conceptual underpinning of Sigel’s research program along with the nature of the variables selected and the research designs employed, we can now proceed to describe specific studies in greater detail. We begin with a study of 120 families in which the target child was 4 years of age (McGillicuddy-DeLisi 1982 ; Sigel 1982 ). Family variables included SES (middle vs. working class) and single-child versus three-child families. For the three-child families, there was variation in the age discrepancy between the first and second sibling (more than 3 years apart vs. less than 3 years apart), with the restriction that siblings be of the same sex. Each mother and father performed the storytelling and paper-folding tasks with their 4-year-old child. Proper controls were employed for order of task presentations. A total of 800 parent and child observations were coded by six raters with satisfactory interrater reliability .

The presentation of the research was divided into two parts, corresponding to the portion of the analytic model under investigation. In the first part (McGillicuddy-DeLisi 1982 ), the influence of the demographic variables, SES and family constellation, on parental beliefs was examined, and in turn the influence of parental beliefs for their prediction of overt parental behaviors in a teaching situation was explored. The second part, the child’s representational competence, was treated separately in the Sigel ( 1982 ) chapter. Note that the assessment of beliefs was focused exclusively on the parents’ views of how a preschool child acquired concepts and abilities, hence making such beliefs relevant to the parental strategies employed in facilitating the child’s performance in a teaching context.

Parental beliefs were assessed in an interview based on 12 vignettes involving a 4-year-old and a mother or father. The interviewer asked the parent whether the child in the vignette had the necessary concepts or abilities to handle the problem being posed. Further inquiry focused more generally on parents’ views of how children acquire concepts and abilities. Analysis of these data yielded 26 parental belief variables that were reliably scored by three coders. ANOVA was then employed to determine the influence of SES, family constellation, gender of child, and gender of parent on each of the 26 belief variables. Beliefs were found to vary more as a function of SES and family constellation than of gender of parent or child. More specifically, parents of three children had views of child development that differed substantially from those of single-child parents. For the parents of three children, development involved attributes more internal to the child (e.g., reference to self-regulation and impulsivity) as opposed to greater emphasis on external attributes (e.g., direct instruction) in single-child parents. The results as a whole constituted an intriguing mosaic, but they were post hoc in the absence of predictions derived from a theoretical framework . Of course, the exploratory nature of such research reflected the dearth at that time of theoretical development in the study of child-directed parental beliefs and behaviors.

Consider next the observed relationships between parental beliefs and teaching behaviors. Having shown that SES and family constellation influenced parental beliefs, the question of interest was whether such beliefs provided useful information about parents’ teaching behaviors beyond what might be predicted from SES and family constellation. To answer the question, stepwise regressions were carried out with SES and family constellation entered into the analysis first, followed by the belief variables. Separate regressions—four in all—were conducted for mothers’ and fathers’ performance on the storytelling and paper-folding tasks, the dependent variables.

Demonstration of belief effects on teaching behaviors would require that multiple correlations show significant increments in magnitude when beliefs were entered into the regression analysis. Such increments were observed in all four regressions, indicating that parents’ beliefs about their children’s competencies were predictive of the way they went about teaching their children on selected tasks. Noteworthy is the evidence that the significant beliefs varied across the two tasks and that this variation was greater for mothers than for fathers. In other words, mothers appeared to be more sensitive to the properties of the task facing the child, whereas fathers appeared to have internalized a set of beliefs generally applied to different kinds of tasks. Mothers would seem to have a more differentiated view of their children’s competencies and hence were more attuned to the nature of the task than were fathers.

Thus far, we have considered the relations among family demographics, parental beliefs, and teaching strategies. The missing link, the child’s cognitive performance, was examined in the Sigel ( 1982 ) chapter, where it was specifically related to parental teaching behaviors. The child’s responses to the storytelling and paper-folding tasks were considered (e.g., extent of engagement and problem solutions), as was the child’s performance on tasks independent of parental instructions. These latter tasks included Piagetian conservation and imagery assessments and the Sigel Object Categorization Task (Sigel and Olmsted 1970 ). The major hypothesis was that the parents’ uses of distancing strategies in their teaching behaviors would be associated with enhanced cognitive performances in their children—representational competence.

To address this hypothesis, stepwise regressions were analyzed. The results confirmed the basic hypothesis linking parental child-directed distancing to the child’s representational competence. This general observation, however, conceals the specificity of the effects. Thus mothers and fathers employed different teaching strategies, and these strategies, in turn, varied across the storytelling and paper-folding tasks. Of special interest are those analyses in which the mothers’ and fathers’ teaching behaviors were entered into the same regression equation. Doing so in sequence often pointed to the complementarity of parental influences . In concrete terms, the multiple correlations sometimes demonstrated significant enhancements when both parents’ teaching strategies entered into the analysis compared to the outcome for the parents considered separately. This result implied that the children could intellectually profit from the different, but complementary, teaching strategies of mothers and fathers.

1.2 Impact of a Communicative Disability

Sigel and McGillicuddy-DeLisi ( 1984 ) were able to recruit families who had a child with a communicative disability (CD), making it possible to compare such families with those where the child was not communicatively disabled (non-CD). It was possible to match the CD and non-CD children on SES , family size, gender, age, and birth order. Again, mothers’ and fathers’ distancing behaviors were examined in the task context of storytelling and paper folding.

In the case of the child’s intellectual ability, assessed by the Wechsler Preschool and Primary School Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI; Wechsler 1949b ), parental effects were largely confined to the CD sample. Low parental distancing strategies were tightly associated with lower WPPSI scores. Of course, we must allow for the possibility that the parent was adjusting his or her distancing level to the perceived cognitive ability of the child. In contrast, the child’s representational competence , as defined by the assessments previously described in Sigel ( 1982 ), was linked with parental distancing behaviors in both CD and non-CD samples, with the magnitude of the relationship somewhat higher in the CD sample.

Of course, these associations could not address the causality question: The parent might be affecting the child or reacting to the child or, more likely, the influence was proceeding in both directions. Sigel and McGillicuddy-DeLisi ( 1984 ) argued that low-level distancing strategies by parents discouraged active thinking in the child; hence it was no surprise that such children did not perform well on representational tasks that required such thinking. They were optimistic about CD children, for high-level parental distancing seemed to encourage the kind of representational thinking that could partially compensate for their communicative disabilities (Sigel 1986 ).

1.3 Belief-Behavior Connection

Working with a subsample of the non-CD families described in the previous section, Sigel ( 1992 ) plunged into the controversial issue of the linkage between an individual’s beliefs and actual behavior instantiating those beliefs. He also developed a measure of behavioral intentions—a possible mediator of the belief–behavior connection. Although the focus was naturally on parental beliefs and behaviors, similar work in social psychology on the belief and behavior connection (e.g., Ajzen and Fishbein 1977 ), where major advances in theory and research had occurred, was not considered.

Three categories of variables were involved: (a) parents’ beliefs about how children acquired knowledge in four distinct domains (physical, social, moral, and self); (b) the strategies that parents claimed they would use to facilitate the children’s acquisition of knowledge in those domains; and (c) the behavioral strategies employed by the parents in a teaching context with their children. The first two categories were assessed with a series of vignettes. Thus, in the vignette for the physical domain, the child asks the parent how to use a yardstick to measure the capacity of their bathtub. The parents’ view about how children learn about measurement constituted the belief measure; the parents’ statements about how they would help their child learn about measurement constituted the self-referent strategy measure. For the third category, the parents taught their child how to tie knots, and the strategies employed in doing so were observed. Note that the knots task involved different content than was used in the vignettes.

Parental beliefs regarding children’s learning were categorized as emphasizing cognitive processing (e.g., children figuring out things on their own) or direct instruction (e.g., children learning from being told things by adults). Parental intended teaching strategies were classified as distancing, rational authoritative (e.g., parent gives reasons with commands), or direct authoritative (e.g., parent offers statement or rule without rationale). Parental behavioral strategies were scored for high-level versus low-level distancing.

The three variable classes—parental beliefs, parental intended teaching strategies, and parental behavioral strategies—were intercorrelated. Substantial relationships were observed between parental beliefs about learning (cognitive processing vs. direct instruction) and the strategies the parent intended to employ. As anticipated, cognitive processing was associated with distancing strategies, and direct instruction was linked to authoritative strategies. Of course, both the beliefs and self-referent strategies were derived from the same vignettes used in the parental interview, suggesting the likely influence of method variance on the correlational outcomes. When the foregoing variables were related to the parents’ behavioral strategies in teaching the knots task, the magnitude of the correlations dropped precipitously, though the marginally significant correlations were in the predicted direction. Sigel ( 1992 ) attributed the correlational decline to variation across domains. Thus the belief–strategy linkages were not constant across physical, social, and moral problems. Aggregation across these domains could not be justified. Obviously, the shifting task content and context were also responsible for the absence of anticipated linkages. Conceivably, an analytic procedure in which parents’ intended strategies were cast as mediators between their beliefs and their behavioral strategies would have yielded further enlightenment.

1.4 Collaborative Research

The large majority of Sigel’s publications were either solely authored by him or coauthored with former or present members of his staff at ETS. A small number of papers, however, were coauthored with two other investigators, Anthony Pellegrini and Gene Brody, at the University of Georgia. These publications are of particular interest because they cast Sigel’s research paradigm within a different theoretical framework , that of Vygotsky ( 1978 ), and they introduced a new independent variable into the paradigm, marital quality.

In the case of marital quality, Brody et al. ( 1986 ) raised the possibility that the quality of the marital relationship would influence mothers’ and fathers’ interactions with their elementary-school age children. More specifically, Brody et al., leaning on clinical reports, examined the assumption that marital distress would lead to compensatory behaviors by the parents when they interact with their children in a teaching context. Also under examination was the possibility that mothers and fathers would employ different teaching strategies when interacting with the children, with the nature of such differences possibly contingent on the levels of marital distress.

Again, storytelling and paper-folding tasks were used with the mothers and fathers. Level of marital distress was assessed by the Scale of Marriage Problems (Swenson and Fiore 1975 ), and a median split was used to divide the sample into distressed and nondistressed subgroups. Observation of parental teaching strategies and the child’s responsiveness was accomplished with an event-recording procedure (Sigel et al. 1977 ) that yielded interrater reliability coefficients exceeding .75 for each of the eight behaviors coded. ANOVAs produced significant Marital Problems × Parent interactions for seven of the eight behavioral indices. Nondistressed mothers and fathers did not differ on any of the behavioral indices. By contrast, distressed mothers and fathers differed in their teaching strategies, the mothers’ strategies being more effective: more questions, feedback, and suggestions and fewer attempts to take over the child’s problem-solving efforts.

Fathers in the distressed group “behave in a more intrusive manner with their school-aged children, doing tasks for them rather than allowing them to discover their own solutions and displaying fewer positive emotions in response to their children’s learning attempts” (p. 295). Mothers in distressed marriages, by contrast, responded with more effective teaching behaviors, inducing more responsive behavior from their children. Hence the hypothesis of compensatory maternal behaviors in a distressed marriage was supported. The psychological basis for such compensation, however, remained conjectural, with the strong likelihood that mothers were compensating for perceived less-than-satisfactory parenting by their husbands. Finally, Brody et al. ( 1986 ) offered the caveat that the outcomes could not be generalized to parents with more meager educational and economic resources than characterized the well-educated parents employed in their study.

In two additional studies (Pellegrini et al. 1985 , 1986 ), the Sigel research paradigm was applied, but interpretation of the results leaned heavily on Vygotsky’s ( 1978 ) theory of the zone of proximal development. Pellegrini et al. ( 1985 ) studied parents’ book-reading behaviors with 4- and 5-year-old children. Families differed in whether their children were communicatively disabled. MANOVA was applied, with the parental interaction behavior as the dependent variable and age, CD vs. non-CD status, and parent (mother vs. father) as the independent variables. Only CD vs. non-CD status yielded a significant main effect. Parental behaviors were more directive and less demanding with CD children. Furthermore, stepwise regression analysis examined the link between the parental interaction variables and WPPSI verbal IQ. For non-CD children, high cognitive demand was significantly associated with higher IQ levels; for CD children, the strongest positive predictor of IQ was the less demanding strategy of verbal/emotional support.

In general, parents seemed to adjust the cognitive demands of their teaching strategies to the level of the children’s communicative competences. In Vygotskyan terms, parents operated within the child’s zone of proximal development. Other evidence indicated that parents engaged in scaffolding to enhance their children’s cognitive–linguistic performances. Thus parents of non-CD children manifested more conversational turns in a presumed effort to elicit more language from their children. Similarly, more parental paraphrasing with non-CD children encouraged departures from the literal text, thereby fostering greater depth of interaction between parent and child. In sum, parental scaffolding of their children’s task-oriented behavior activated the potential for children to advance toward more independent problem solving as outlined in Vygotsky’s theory.

We turn, finally, to the second study (Pellegrini et al. 1986 ) influenced by Vygotsky’s theory . The research paradigm was similar to studies previously described. Again, gender of parent, children’s CD vs. non-CD status, and the tasks of book reading and paper folding constituted the independent variables, and the teaching strategies of the parents comprised the dependent variables. In addition, the extent of task engagement by the child was also examined. MANOVA was employed, and it yielded a significant main effect for the child’s communicative status and for its interaction with the task variable. ANOVAs applied to the separate teaching variables indicated that (a) parents were more directive and less demanding with CD children than with non-CD children; (b) parents were more demanding, gave less emotional support, and asked fewer questions with the paper-folding task than with the book-reading task; and (c) communicative status and task variable interacted: A CD versus non-CD difference occurred only for the book-reading task, with parents of CD children asking more questions and making lower cognitive demands.

The teaching strategy measures were factor analyzed, and the resulting four orthogonal factors became the predictor variables in a regression analysis with children’s rated task engagement as the criterion variable. For the paper-folding task, parents of both CD and non-CD children used high-demand strategies to keep their children engaged. For the book-reading task, parents of CD and non-CD children differed, with the CD parents using less demanding strategies and the non-CD parents using more demanding ones.

Pellegrini et al. ( 1986 ) had shown how ultimate problem-solving outcomes are of less significance than the processes by which such outcomes are achieved. Adult guidance is the key, with non-CD children requiring considerably less of it to remain engaged with the task than was the case for CD children. Hence the children’s competence levels alert the parents to how demanding their teaching strategies should be. Pellegrini et al. further recommended the exploration of the sequence of parental teaching strategies, as parents found it necessary on occasion to switch from more demanding to less demanding strategies when the child encountered difficulty (see Wertsch et al. 1980 ). In sum, the findings strongly support the Vygotsky model of parents teaching children through the zone of proximal development and the adjustment of parental teaching consistent with the competence level of their children.

1.5 Practice

An important feature of Sigel’s research program was linking research to practice (Renninger 2007 ). As Sigel ( 2006 ) noted,

efforts to apply research to practice require acknowledging the inherent tensions of trying to validate theory and research in practical settings. They require stretching and/or adapting the root metaphors in which we have been trained so that collaborations between researchers and practitioners are the basis of research and any application of research to practice. (p. 1022)

The research on representational competence and psychological distance has had widespread impact, notably for early childhood education (Hyson et al. 2006 ) and cognitive behavior therapy (Beck 1967 ).

2 Parental Influences , Migration, and Measurement

Laosa’s empirical work and his position papers spanned the psychological development of children, particularly Hispanics. His methodological contributions included test theory, especially as it relates to the assessment of minority children , and a standardized measure of parental teaching strategies. The major foci of Laosa’s work to be considered here are parental influences on children’s development, the consequences of migration for their adjustment and growth, and the measurement of their ability.

2.1 Parental Influences

Parental influence on children’s intellectual development has been a topic of long-standing interest to developmental psychologists (e.g., Clarke-Stewart 1977 ). A particular concern in Laosa’s work was Hispanic children , given the gap in their academic achievement. His early research concerned maternal teaching. Unlike much of the previous work in that area, Laosa made direct observations of the mothers teaching their children, instead of relying on mothers’ self-reports about interactions with their children, and distinguished between two likely SES determinants of their teaching: education and occupation. In a study of Hispanic mother–child dyads (Laosa 1978 ), mother’s education correlated positively with praising and asking questions during the teaching and correlated negatively with modeling (i.e., the mother working on the learning task herself while the child observes). However, mother’s occupation did not correlate with any of the teaching variables, and neither did father’s occupation. Laosa speculated that the education-linked differences in teaching strategies account for the relationship between mothers’ education and their children’s intellectual development found in other research (e.g., Bradley et al. 1977 ). Subsequently, Laosa ( 1980b ) also suggested that the more highly educated mothers imitate how they were taught in school.

In a follow-up study of Hispanic and non-Hispanic White mother–child dyads (Laosa 1980b ), the two groups differed on most of the teaching variables. Non-Hispanic White mothers praised and asked questions more, and Hispanic mothers modeled, gave visual cues, directed, and punished or restrained more. However, when mothers’ education was statistically controlled, the differences between the groups disappeared; controlling for mothers’ or fathers’ occupation did not reduce the differences.

In a third study, with the Hispanic mother–child dyads (Laosa 1980a ), mother’s field independence, assessed by the Embedded Figure Test (Witkin et al. 1971 ) and WAIS Block Design (Wechsler 1955 ), correlated positively with mother’s asking questions and praising, and correlated negatively with mother’s modeling. The correlations were reduced, but their pattern was similar when mother’s education was statistically controlled. Laosa suggested that asking questions and praising are self-discovery approaches to learning that reflect field independence, whereas modeling is a concrete approach that reflects field dependence; hence mothers were using strategies that foster their own cognitive style in their children. Mother’s teaching strategies, in fact, correlated modestly but inconsistently with the children’s field independence, as measured by the Children’s Embedded Figures Test (Witkin et al. 1971 ), WISC Block Design (Wechsler 1949a ), and Human Figure Drawing (Harris 1963 ), another measure of field independence. Most of the teaching strategies had scattered correlations with the Children’s Embedded Figures Test and Block Design: positive correlations with asking questions and praising (field-independent strategies) and negative correlations with modeling, punishing or restraining, and giving visual cues (field-dependent strategies).

In Laosa’s later research, a recurring topic was the impact of parents’ education on their children’s intellectual development; this line of work was presumably motivated by the influence of education in his maternal-teaching studies. Laosa ( 1982b ) viewed parental education as impacting the parent–child interaction and presented a conceptual model of this interaction as the mediator between parent education and the child’s development. He reported further analyses of the samples of Hispanic and non-Hispanic White mother–child dyads.

In one analysis, non-Hispanic White mothers and fathers read to their children more than did Hispanic parents. When parents’ education was statistically controlled, the group difference disappeared, but controlling for parents’ occupation did not reduce it. In addition, non-Hispanic mothers had higher realistic educational aspirations for their children (“ realistically , how much education do you think your child will receive?”); this difference also disappeared when mothers’ education was controlled but not when their occupation was controlled.

In another analysis, mother’s education correlated positively in both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic White groups with mother’s reading to the child, but father’s education was uncorrelated with father’s reading to the child in either group. Parent’s occupation did not correlate with reading in the two groups. In both groups, mother’s education also correlated positively with mother’s educational aspirations for the child, but mother’s occupation was uncorrelated.

Also, in an analysis of the Hispanic group, mother’s education correlated positively with the child’s ability to read or write before kindergarten, though father’s education was uncorrelated. Parent’s occupation was also uncorrelated with literacy . In addition, parent’s education correlated positively with their use of English with the child; parent’s occupation also correlated positively but weakly with English use.

Laosa argued that the set of findings, in total, suggests that the lower educational level of Hispanic parents produced a discontinuity between their children’s home and school environments that adversely affected academic achievement.

He explored the consequences of these parental influences on the test performance of 3-year-olds in two studies. In the first study (Laosa 1982a ), which targeted non-Hispanic White children , a path analysis was employed to assess the relationships, direct and indirect, between a host of family influences (e.g., mother’s education and occupation, mother’s reading to the child, nonparents in the household reading to the child, mother’s teaching strategies) and performance on the Preschool Inventory (Caldwell 1970 ), a test of verbal, quantitative, and perceptual-motor skills for kindergarten children. A Mother’s Socioeducational Values factor (defined by mother’s education and occupation and mother’s reading to child) was the strongest determinant of test performance. Less powerful determinants included nonparents in the household (probably older siblings) reading to the child and mother’s use of modeling in teaching. Laosa highlighted two important and unanticipated findings: the apparent influence of siblings and the substantial and positive influence of modeling, contrary to the conventional wisdom that verbal teaching strategies, such as asking questions, are superior to nonverbal ones, such as modeling.

In the second study (Laosa 1984 ) of Hispanic and non-Hispanic White children , the groups differed in their means on three of the five scales of the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities (McCarthy 1972 ): Verbal, Quantitative, and Memory. When a Sib Structure/Size factor (later-born child, many siblings) was statistically controlled, the group differences were unaffected. But when either a Language factor (mother uses English with child, child uses English with mother) or an SES factor (parents’ education, father’s occupation, household income) was controlled, the differences were reduced; when both factors were controlled, the differences were eliminated. The findings led Laosa to conclude that these early ethnic-group differences in ability were explainable by differences in SES and English-language usage.

2.2 Migration

In a series of white papers, Laosa reviewed and synthesized the extant research literature on the consequences of migration for children’s adjustment and development, particularly Hispanic children , and laid out the salient issues (Laosa 1990 , 1997 , 1999 ). One theme was the need for—and the absence of—a developmental perspective in studying migration: “what develops, and when, how, and why it develops” (Laosa 1999 , p. 370). The pioneering nature of this effort is underscored by the observation almost two decades later that migration is neglected by developmental psychology (Suárez-Orozco and Carhill 2008 ; Suárez-Orozco et al. 2008 ).

In a 1990 paper, Laosa proposed a multivariate, conceptual model that described the determinants of the adaptation of Hispanic immigrant children to the new society. Key features of the model were the inclusion of variables antedating immigration (e.g., sending community), moderator variables (e.g., receiving community), and mediating variables (e.g., child’s perceptions and expectations) between the stresses of immigration and the outcomes.

In a complex, longitudinal survey of Puerto Rican migrants in New Jersey schools, Laosa ( 2001 ) found that the majority of the student body were Hispanic in 46% of the schools and were native speakers of Spanish in 31%. Additionally, the majority of the student body was eligible for free lunch in 77% of the schools and was from families on public assistance in 46%. Laosa concluded that the migrants faced considerable segregation by ethnicity or race as well as considerable isolation by language in high-poverty schools, factors with adverse consequences for the students’ social and academic development.

2.3 Measurement

The measurement and evaluation of children’s ability and achievement, particularly the unbiased assessment of minority children, has long been beset by controversies (see Laosa 1977 ; Oakland and Laosa 1977 ). These controversies were sparked in the 1960s and 1970s by the Coleman report (Coleman et al. 1966 ), which suggested that average differences in the academic performance of Black and White students are more affected by their home background than by their schools’ resources, and by Jensen’s ( 1969 ) review of research bearing on genetic and environmental influences on intelligence. He concluded that genetics is a stronger influence, which many observers interpreted as suggesting that the well-established disparity between Black and White children in their average scores on intelligence tests is largely genetic in origin. The upshot was widespread concerns that these tests are biased and calls for banning their use in schools. These arguments were reignited by The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray 1994 ), which concluded that intelligence is mainly heritable. As Laosa ( 1996 ) noted, “thus, like a refractory strain of retrovirus, the issues tend to remain latent and from time to time resurge brusquely onto the fore of public consciousness” (p. 155).

In a 1977 paper, Laosa summarized the earlier controversies and other criticisms of testing and discussed alternatives to current testing practices that had been developed in response. The alternatives included constructing “culture-fair” tests “whose content is equally ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ to different cultural groups” (p. 14), translating tests from English, using norms for subgroups, adjusting scores for test takers with deprived backgrounds, devising tests for subgroups (e.g., the BITCH, a vocabulary test based on Black culture; Williams 1972 ), using criterion-based interpretations of scores (i.e., how well a student achieves a specific objective) instead of norm-based interpretations (i.e., how well he or she does on the test relative to others), employing tests of specific abilities rather than global measures like IQ, and making observations of actual behavior. Laosa cautioned that these alternatives may also be problematic and would need to be carefully evaluated.

In a companion piece, Laosa, joined by Thomas Oakland of the University of Texas, Austin (Oakland and Laosa 1977 ), provided a comprehensive account of standards for minority-group testing that had been formulated by professional organizations, the government, and the courts. They argued for the need to consider these standards in testing minority-group children.

Laosa ( 1982c ), in a subsequent paper on measurement issues in the evaluation of educational programs , specifically Head Start , delineated the concept of population validity and its applicability to program evaluation . Population validity deals with the question, “Do the results yielded by a given assessment technique have the same meaning when administered to persons of different sociocultural backgrounds?” (p. 512). Laosa discussed threats to population validity: familiarity (performance is influenced by familiarity with the task), communication, role relations (performance is influenced by the test taker’s relationship with the tester), and situational (e.g., physical setting, people involved).

In another paper, Laosa ( 1991 ) explicated the links between population validity, cultural diversity, and professional ethics. As an illustration, he described a study by Bradley et al. ( 1989 ) of children in three ethnic groups, Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White, matched on their HOME inventory (Caldwell and Bradley 1985 ) scores, a measure of the home environment. The HOME inventory scores correlated appreciably with performance on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Bayley 1969 ) and the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Test (Terman and Merrill 1960 ) for the Black and non-Hispanic White children but not for the Hispanic children . Laosa suggested that this finding highlights the importance of evaluating test results separately for different ethnic groups.

Laosa pointed out that population validity is a scientific concern in basic research and an ethical issue in applied work, given the inability to predict the results in different populations from the one studied. He also noted that when population differences are observed, two questions need to be answered. One, relevant to applied work, is, Which populations react differently? The other question, pertinent to scientific research, but rarely asked, is, Why do they differ?

In his last paper on measurement issues, Laosa ( 1996 ), responding to The Bell Curve controversy, made several general points about test bias. One was that bias reflects the absence of population validity. He noted that this view accords with the Cole and Moss ( 1989 ) definition of bias: “Bias is differential validity of a given interpretation of a test score for any definable, relevant group of test takers” (p. 205).

Another point was that the definition of predictive bias in the then current third edition of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education 1985 ) is insufficient. According to the Standards , predictive bias is absent if “the predictive relationship of two groups being compared can be adequately described by a common algorithm (e.g., regression line)” (p. 12). Laosa took up the argument that intelligence tests cannot be considered to be unbiased simply because their predictions are equally accurate for different races or social classes, noting Campbell’s rejoinder that the same result would occur if the tests simply measured opportunity to learn (D. T. Campbell, personal communication, May 18, 1995).

The last point was that the consequences of test use also need to be considered (Messick 1989 ). Laosa cited Linn’s ( 1989 ) example that requiring minimum high school grades and admissions test scores for college athletes to play during their freshman year can affect what courses minority athletes take in high school, whether they will attend college if they cannot play in their freshman year, and, ultimately, their education and employment.

3 Cognitive, Personality, and Social Development of Infants and Young Children

Lewis studied infant’s cognitive attention and language ability, infants’ and young children’s physiological responses during attention, and infants’ social and emotional development . He also formulated theories of development as well as theories about the integration of children’s various competencies.

3.1 Social Development

Social development was a major interest, in particular, the mother–child interaction and the role this interaction played in the child’s development. This work on social development revolved around four themes: (a) the mother–child relationship, (b) the growth of the child’s social knowledge, (c) social cognition or the nature of the social world, and (d) the social network of children.

For example, in a 1979 volume (Lewis and Rosenblum 1979 ), The Child and Its Family , Lewis challenged the idea that the child’s mother was the only important figure in the infant’s early life and showed that fathers and siblings, as well as grandparents and teachers, were also key influences. And in a 1975 volume, on peer friendship in the opening years of life (Lewis and Rosenblum 1975 ), Lewis disputed the Piagetian idea that children could not form and maintain friendships before the age of 4 years. The finding that infants are attracted to and enjoy the company of other infants and young children , and that they can learn from them through observation and imitation, helped open the field of infant daycare (Goldman and Lewis 1976 ; Lewis 1982b ; Lewis and Schaeffer 1981 ; Lewis et al. 1975 ). Because the infant’s ability to form and maintain friends is important for the daycare context, where groups of infants are required to play together, this work also showed that the learning experience of young children and infants involved both direct and indirect interactions, such as modeling and imitation with their social world of peers, siblings, and teachers (Feiring and Lewis 1978 ; Lewis and Feiring 1982 ). This information also had an important consequence on hospital care; until this time, infants were kept far apart from each other in the belief that they could not appreciate or profit from the company of other children.

Another major theme of the research on social development involved infants’ social knowledge. In a series of papers, Lewis was able to show that infants could discriminate among human faces (Lewis 1969 ); that they were learning about their gender (Lewis and Brooks 1975 ); that they were showing sex-role-appropriate behaviors (Feiring and Lewis 1979 ; Goldberg and Lewis 1969 ; Lewis 1975a ); that they were learning about how people look, for example, showing surprise at the appearance of a midget—a child’s height but an adult’s face (Brooks and Lewis 1976 ); and that they were detecting the correspondence between particular faces and voices (McGurk and Lewis 1974 ). All of these results indicated that in the first 2 years, children were learning a great deal about their social worlds (Brooks-Gunn and Lewis 1981 ; Lewis 1981b ; Lewis et al. 1971 ).

The most important aspect of this work on social development was the child’s development of a sense of itself, something now called consciousness, which occurs in the second and third years of life. In the Lewis and Brooks-Gunn ( 1979a ) book on self-recognition, Social Cognition and the Acquisition of Self, Lewis described his mirror self-recognition test, a technique that has now been used across the world. Results with this test revealed that between 15 and 24 months of age, typically developing children come to recognize themselves in mirrors. He subsequently showed that this ability, the development of the idea of “me,” along with other cognitive abilities gives rise to the complex emotions of empathy, embarrassment, and envy as well as the later self-conscious emotions of shame, guilt, and pride (Lewis and Brooks 1975 ; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1981b ; Lewis and Michalson 1982b ; Lewis and Rosenblum 1974b ).

These ideas, an outgrowth of the work on self-recognition, led to Lewis’s interest in emotional development . They also resulted in a reinterpretation of the child’s need for others. While children’s attachment to their mothers was thought to be the most important relationship for the children, satisfying all of their needs, it became clear that others played an important role in children’s social and emotional lives. His empirical work on fathers (Lewis and Weinraub 1974 ) and peers (Lewis et al. 1975 ) led to the formulation of a social network theory (Feiring and Lewis 1978 ; Lewis 1980 ; Lewis and Ban 1977 ; Lewis and Feiring 1979 ; Weinraub et al. 1977 ).

3.2 Emotional Development

Lewis’s interest in social development and in consciousness led quite naturally to his research on emotional development, as already noted (Lewis 1973 , 1977b , 1980 ; Lewis and Brooks 1974 ; Lewis et al. 1978 ; Lewis and Michalson 1982a , b ; Lewis and Rosenblum 1978a , b ). Two volumes framed this work on the development of emotional life (Lewis and Rosenblum 1974b , 1978b ) and were the first published studies of emotional development. These early efforts were focused on the emotions of infants in the first year of life, including fear, anger, sadness, joy, and interest. To study emotional life, Lewis created experimental paradigms and devised a measurement system. So, for example, paradigms were developed for peer play (Lewis et al. 1975 ), social referencing (Feinman and Lewis 1983 ; Lewis and Feiring 1981 ), stranger approach (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979a ), mirror recognition (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979a ), and contingent learning (Freedle and Lewis 1970 ; Lewis and Starr 1979 ). A measurement system was created for observing infants’ and young children’s emotional behavior in a daycare situation that provided scales of emotional development (Lewis and Michalson 1983 ). These scales have been used by both American and Italian researchers interested in the effects of daycare on emotional life (Goldman and Lewis 1976 ).

3.3 Cognitive Development

Lewis’s interests in development also extended to the study of infants’ and children’s cognitive development, including attentional processes, intelligence, and language development (Dodd and Lewis 1969 ; Freedle and Lewis 1977 ; Hale and Lewis 1979 ; Lewis 1971b , 1973 , 1975b , 1976a , b , 1977a , 1978a , 1981a , 1982a ; Lewis and Baldini 1979 ; Lewis and Baumel 1970 ; Lewis and Cherry 1977 ; Lewis and Freedle 1977 ; Lewis and Rosenblum 1977 ; Lewis et al. 1969a, 1971 ; McGurk and Lewis 1974 ).

Lewis first demonstrated that the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Bayley 1969 ), which were—and still are—the most widely used test of infant intelligence, had no predictive ability up to 18 months of age (Lewis and McGurk 1973 ). In an effort to find an alternative, Lewis turned to research on infants’ attentional ability, which he had begun at the Fels Research Institute, and developed it further at ETS. This work used a habituation–dishabituation paradigm where the infant was presented with the same visual stimulus repeatedly and then, after some time, presented with a variation of that stimulus. Infants show boredom to the repeated event, or habituation, and when the new event is presented, the infants show recovery of their interest, or dishabituation (Kagan and Lewis 1965 ; Lewis et al. 1967a , b ). Infants’ interest was measured both by observing their looking behavior and by assessing changes in their heart rate (Lewis 1974 ; Lewis et al. 1966a , b ; Lewis and Spaulding 1967 ). He discovered that the infants’ rate of habituation and degree of dishabituation were both related to their subsequent cognitive competence, in particular to their IQ. In fact, this test was more accurate than the Bayley in predicting subsequent IQ (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1981a , c ; Lewis et al. 1969 ; Lewis and McGurk 1973 ).

This research on attentional processes convinced Lewis of the usefulness of physiological measures, such as heart rate changes, in augmenting behavior observation, work which he also began at the Fels Research Institute and continued and expanded at ETS (Lewis 1971a , b , 1974 ; Lewis et al. 1969 , 1970 , 1978 ; Lewis and Taft 1982 ; Lewis and Wilson 1970 ; Sontag et al. 1969 ; Steele and Lewis 1968 ).

3.4 Atypical Development

Lewis’s research on normal development, especially on attentional processes as a marker of central nervous system functioning, led to an interest in atypical developmental processes and a program of research on children with disabilities (Brinker and Lewis 1982a , b ; Brooks-Gunn and Lewis 1981 , 1982a , b , c ; Fox and Lewis 1982a , b ; Lewis 1971c ; Lewis and Fox 1980 ; Lewis and Rosenblum 1981 ; Lewis and Taft 1982 ; Lewis and Wehren 1982 ; Lewis and Zarin-Ackerman 1977 ; Thurman and Lewis 1979 ; Zarin-Ackerman et al. 1977 ). Perhaps of most importance was the development of an intervention strategy based on Lewis’s work with typically developing children, the Learning to Learn Curriculum. Infants with disabilities were given home- and clinic-based interventions where their simple motor responses resulted in complex outcomes and where they had to learn to produce these outcomes, which served as operants—in effect, an applied-behavior-analysis intervention strategy (Brinker and Lewis 1982a , b ; Lewis 1978a , b ; Thurman and Lewis 1979 ).

3.5 Theories

Lewis formulated several influential theories about infant development . These included (a) a reconsideration of attachment theory (Weinraub and Lewis 1977 ) and (b) the infant as part of a social network (Weinraub et al. 1977 ). He also began work on a theory of emotional development (Lewis 1971b ; Lewis and Michalson 1983 ).

3.6 The Origin of Behavior Series

Lewis and Leonard Rosenblum of SUNY Downstate Medical Center organized yearly conferences on important topics in child development for research scientists in both child and animal (primate) development to bring together biological, cultural, and educational points of view. These conferences resulted in a book series, The Origins of Behavior (later titled Genesis of Behavior ), under their editorship, with seven highly cited volumes (Lewis and Rosenblum 1974a , b , 1975 , 1977 , 1978a , 1979 , 1981 ). The initial volume, The Effect of the Infant on the Caregiver (Lewis and Rosenblum 1974a ), was so influential that the term caregiver became the preferred term, replacing the old term caretaker. The book became the major reference on the interactive nature of social development —that the social development of the child involves an interaction between the mother’s effect on the infant and the effect of the infant on the mother. It was translated into several languages, and 15 years after publication, a meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health reviewed the effects of this volume on the field.

4 Cognitive, Personality, and Social Development From Infancy to Adolescence

Brooks-Gunn’s work encompassed research on the cognitive, personality, and social development of infants , toddlers, and adolescents , primarily within the framework of social-cognitive theory . Major foci were the acquisition of social knowledge in young children , reproductive processes in adolescence, and perinatal influences on children’s development. These issues were attacked in laboratory experiments, other cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, and experimental interventions . (A fuller account appears in Brooks-Gunn 2013 .)

4.1 Social Knowledge in Infants and Toddlers

In collaboration with Lewis, Brooks-Gunn carried out a series of studies on the development of early knowledge about the self and others in infancy and toddlerhood. They investigated how and when young children began to use social categories, such as gender, age, and relationship, to organize their world and to guide interactions (Brooks and Lewis 1976 ; Brooks-Gunn and Lewis 1979a , b , 1981 ) as well as the development of self-recognition as a specific aspect of social cognition (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979b , c ; Lewis et al. 1985 ). This developmental work was embedded in genetic epistemology theory as well as social-cognitive theory , with a strong focus on the idea that the self (or person) only develops in relation to others and that the self continues to evolve over time, as does the relation to others.

The studies demonstrated that social knowledge develops very early. Infants shown pictures of their parents, strange adults, and 5-year olds and asked, Who is that? were able to label their parents’ pictures as mommy and poppy, labeling their fathers’ pictures more accurately and earlier than their mothers’ (Brooks-Gunn and Lewis 1979b ). Shown pictures of their parents and strange adults, infants smiled more often and looked longer at their parents’ pictures (Brooks-Gunn and Lewis 1981 ). And when infants were approached by strangers—5-year-old boys and girls, adult men and women, and a midget woman—the children discriminated among them on the basis of age and height, smiling and moving toward the children but frowning and moving away from the adults and, compared to the other adults, watching the midget more intently and averting their gaze less (Brooks and Lewis 1976 ).

4.2 Reproductive Events

4.2.1 menstruation and menarche.

Brooks-Gunn’s interest in the emergence of social cognition broadened to its role in the development of perceptions about reproductive events, at first menstruation and menarche. Her focus was on how social cognitions about menstruation and menarche emerge in adolescence and how males’ and females’ cognitions differ. Brooks-Gunn and Diane Ruble, then at Princeton University, began a research program on the salience and meaning of menarche and menstruation, especially in terms of definition of self and other in the context of these universal reproductive events (Brooks-Gunn 1984 , 1987 ; Brooks-Gunn and Ruble 1982a , b , 1983 ; Ruble and Brooks-Gunn 1979b ). They found that menstruation was perceived as more physiologically and psychologically debilitating and more bothersome by men than by women (Ruble et al. 1982 ). In addition, their research debunked a number of myths about reproductive changes (Ruble and Brooks-Gunn 1979a ), including the one that menarche is a normative crisis experienced very negatively by all girls. In fact, most girls reported mixed emotional reactions to menarche that were quite moderate. These reactions depended on the context the girls experienced: Those who were unprepared for menarche or reached it early reported more negative reactions as well as more symptoms (Ruble and Brooks-Gunn 1982 ).

4.2.2 Pubertal Processes

Brooks-Gunn’s research further broadened to include pubertal processes. With Michelle Warren , a reproductive endocrinologist at Columbia University, she initiated a research program on pubertal processes and the transition from childhood to early adolescence. Brooks-Gunn and Warren conducted longitudinal studies of girls to chart their emotional experiences associated with pubertal changes and the socialization practices of families . The work included measurement of hormones to better understand pubertal changes and possible emotional reactions. The investigations followed girls who were likely to have delayed puberty because of exercise and food restriction (dancers training in national ballet companies as well as elite swimmers and gymnasts) and girls attending private schools—many of the girls were followed from middle school through college (Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1985 , 1988a , b ; Warren et al. 1986 , 1991 ).

The private-school girls commonly compared their pubertal development and had no difficulty categorizing their classmates’ development (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1986 ). Relatedly, the onset of breast development for these girls correlated positively with scores on measures of peer relationships, adjustment, and body image, but pubic hair was uncorrelated, suggesting that breast growth may be a visible sign of adulthood, conferring enhanced status (Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1988b ).

The context in which the girls were situated influenced their reactions. In a context where delayed onset of puberty is valued (the dance world—most professional ballerinas are late maturers), dancers with delayed puberty had higher scores (relative to on-time dancers) on a body-image measure (Brooks-Gunn, Attie, Burrow , Rosso , & Warren , Brooks-Gunn et al. 1989 ; Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1985 ). (They also had lower scores on measures of psychopathology and bulimia; Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1985 .) In contrast, in contexts where delayed onset is not valued (swimmers, private-school students/nonathletes), delayed and on-time girls did not differ in their body images (Brooks-Gunn, Attie et al., Brooks-Gunn et al. 1989 ; Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1985 ).

Two publications in this program, in particular, were very widely cited, according to the Social Science Citation Index: Attie and Brooks-Gunn ( 1989 ), on eating problems, and Brooks-Gunn et al. ( 1987 ), on measuring pubertal status, with 389 and 323 citations through 2015, respectively.

4.2.3 Adolescent Parenthood

Given Brooks-Gunn’s research interest in menarche and other pubertal processes , it is not surprising that she moved on to research on pregnancy and parenthood, events that presage changes in self-definition as well as social comparisons with others. Brooks-Gunn joined Frank Furstenberg, a family sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 17-year follow-up of a group of teenage mothers who gave birth in Baltimore in the early 1970s (Furstenberg et al. 1987a , b , 1990 ). They charted the trajectories of these mothers as well as their children, who were about the age that their mothers had been when they gave birth to them. The interest was in both how well the mothers were doing and how the mothers’ life course had influenced their children.

In brief, the teenage mothers differed widely in their life chances: About one third were on welfare and three quarters had jobs, usually full-time ones. Characteristics of the mothers’ family of origin and of their own families (e.g., higher levels of education) and their attendance at a school for pregnant teenagers predicted the mothers’ economic success.

The outcomes for their teenage children were “strikingly poor” (Brooks-Gunn 1996 , p. 168). About one third were living with their biological father or stepfather. Half had repeated at least one grade in school, and most were sexually active. Maternal characteristics were linked to the children’s behavior. Children of mothers who had not graduated from high school were 2.4 times as likely as other children, and children of unmarried mothers were 2.2 times as likely, to have repeated a grade. And children of unmarried mothers were 2.4 times as likely to have been stopped by the police, according to their mothers.

The Furstenberg et al. ( 1987b ) monograph chronicling this study, Adolescent Mothers in Later Life, won the William J. Goode Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of the Family Section and is considered one of the classic longitudinal studies in developmental psychology.

Brooks-Gunn and Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, then at George Washington University, also began a study of low-income, Black multigenerational families (grandmother/grandmother figure–young mother–toddler) in Baltimore to investigate family relationships, via home visits (Chase-Lansdale et al. 1994 ). One issue was the parenting by the grandmother and mother, as observed separately in videotaped interactions of them aiding the child in working on a puzzle. The quality of parenting depended on whether they resided together and on the mother’s age. Mothers’ parenting was lower in quality when they lived with grandmothers. (Residing with the grandmothers and sharing child caring may be stressful for the mothers, interfering with their parenting.) Grandmothers’ parenting was higher in quality when they lived with younger mothers than when they lived apart, but it was lower in quality when they lived with older mothers rather than apart. (Coresiding grandmothers may be more willing to help younger mothers, whom they view as needing assistance in parenting, than older mothers, whom they see as capable of parenting on their own.)

4.3 Perinatal Influences

Another line of research expanded beyond teenage parents to look at perinatal conditions, such as low birth weight and pregnancy behavior (e.g., smoking, no prenatal care), that influence parenting and children’s development. Poor families and mothers with low education were often the focus of this research, given the differential rates of both early parenthood and adverse perinatal conditions as a function of social class.

In a joint venture between ETS, St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital, and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Brooks-Gunn studied low-birth-weight children and their parents, many from disadvantaged families because of the greater incidence of low-birth-weight children in these families. The work led to her thinking about how to ameliorate cognitive, emotional, and academic problems in these vulnerable children (Brooks-Gunn and Hearn 1982 ).

Brooks-Gunn joined Marie McCormick , a pediatrician then at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 9-year follow-up of low-birth-weight infants from previous multisite studies (Klebanov et al. 1994 ; McCormick et al. 1992 ). The focus was on very low birth weight infants, for more of them were surviving because of advances in neonatal intensive care.

At age 9, the low-birth-weight children did not differ from normal-birth-weight children on most aspects of classroom behavior, as reported by their teachers, but they had lower attention/ language skills and scholastic competence and higher daydreaming and hyperactivity; these differences were most pronounced for extremely low birth weight children. This pattern of differences resembles attention deficit disorder (Klebanov et al. 1994 ). The low-birth-weight children also had lower mean IQs and, at home, more behavioral problems, as reported by their mothers. The adverse health status of these children underscores the importance of efforts to reduce the incidence of premature births (McCormick et al. 1992 ).

4.4 Interventions With Vulnerable Children

4.4.1 low-birth-weight children.

Brooks-Gunn and McCormick also collaborated on two other research programs involving interventions with biologically vulnerable children, the majority of whom were poor. One program focused on reducing the incidence of low-birth-weight deliveries by providing pregnant women with child-rearing and health information. This program used a public health outreach model to locate pregnant women who were not enrolled in prenatal care; the intervention was located at Harlem Hospital. This effort was a logical extension of Brooks-Gunn’s work on adolescent mothers in Baltimore (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1989 ; McCormick et al. 1987 , 1989a , b ).

The women in the program were very disadvantaged: One fifth were adolescents , three quarters were single, and half had not graduated from high school. The birth weight of their infants was unrelated to traditional risk factors: mother’s demographic (e.g., education) and psychosocial characteristics (e.g., social support). This outcome suggests that low birth weight in poor populations is largely due to poverty per se. Birth weight was associated with the adequacy of prenatal care (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1988 ; McCormick et al. 1987 ).

The outreach program was extensive—four local people searching for eligible women over the course of a year, each making roughly 20 to 25 contacts daily—but recruited only 52 additional women, at a cost of about $850 each. The labor-intensive and expensive nature of this outreach effort indicates that more cost-effective alternatives are needed (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1988 , 1989 ).

The other program involved the design and implementation of an early intervention for premature, low-birth-weight infants : enrollment in a child development education center and family support sessions. This program was initiated in eight sites and included almost 1000 children and their families; randomization was used to construct treatment and control groups. These children were followed through their 18th year of life, with the intervention from birth to 3 years of age being evaluated by Brooks-Gunn (Infant Health and Development Program 1990 ). The 3-year-olds in the intervention group had higher mean IQs and fewer maternally reported behavior problems, suggesting that early intervention may decrease low-birth-weight infants’ risk of later developmental disability .

4.4.2 Head Start

Brooks-Gunn also carried out a notable evaluation of Head Start, based on data from an earlier longitudinal study conducted at ETS in the 1970s. The ETS–Head Start Longitudinal Study, directed by Shipman ( 1972 , 1973 ), had canvassed poor school districts in three communities in an effort to identify and recruit for the study all children who were 3 ½ to 4 ½ years old, the Head Start population. The children were then assessed and information about their families was obtained. They were reassessed annually for the next 3 years. After the initial assessment, some children had entered Head Start, some had gone to other preschool programs, and some had not enrolled in any program. Clearly families chose whether to enroll their children in Head Start, some other program, or none at all (by processes that are difficult if not impossible to measure). But, by having the children’s assessments and familial and demographic measures at age 3, it was possible to document and control statistically for initial differences among children and families in the three groups. Children’s gains in ability in these groups could then be compared.

In several studies of two communities (Lee et al. 1988 , 1990 ; Schnur et al. 1992 ), Brooks-Gunn and her collaborators investigated differences in the children’s gains in the Head Start and other groups as well as preexisting group differences in the children’s demographic and cognitive characteristics. Black children enrolled in Head Start made greater gains on a variety of cognitive tests than their Black peers in the other groups by the end of the program (Lee et al. 1988 ) and diminished gains after 2 years (Lee et al. 1990 ). (The gains for the small samples of White children did not differ between the Head Start and other groups in the initial study; these children were not included in the follow-up study.) These findings imply that Head Start may have some efficacy in improving participants’ intellectual status. The Head Start children were the most disadvantaged (Schnur et al. 1992 ), seemingly allaying concerns that Head Start does not take the neediest children (Datta 1979 ).

5 Conclusion

As this review documents, ETS was a major center for basic and applied research in developmental psychology for decades. The number and quality of investigators (and their prodigious output) made for a developmental psychology program that rivaled the best in the academic community.

The research was wide ranging and influential, spanning the cognitive, personality, and social development of infants , children, and adolescents , with an emphasis on minority, working-class, and disabled individuals; addressing key theoretical, substantive, and methodological issues; using research methods that ran the gamut: laboratory and field experiments, correlational studies, surveys, and structured observations; and impacting theory, research, and practice across developmental psychology.

In common with ETS’s research in cognitive, personality, and social psychology (Stricker, Chap. 13 , and Kogan, Chap. 14 , this volume), this achievement was probably attributable to the confluence of ample institutional and financial support, doubtless due to the vision of Chauncey, who saw the value of a broad program of psychological research.

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Kogan, N., Stricker, L.J., Lewis, M., Brooks-Gunn, J. (2017). Research on Developmental Psychology. In: Bennett, R., von Davier, M. (eds) Advancing Human Assessment. Methodology of Educational Measurement and Assessment. Springer, Cham.

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  • 1 Centre for Research and Development, University of Teacher Education in Special Needs, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • 3 Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Paderborn University, Paderborn, Germany


Developmental psychology is traditionally of interdisciplinary nature with the aims to understand mechanisms of normative and individual changes and consistencies throughout the lifespan. The applied fields of developmental psychology target into health and educational sciences. The aims of developmental psychology cannot be reached without understanding and applying the underlying biological, senso-motoric, emotional, social, and cognitive processes that are intertwined with cultural context.

The field changes in dependence on internal and external factors. First, the increase in knowledge, in each of the associated areas can change the focus of interest in subfields or the whole field of developmental psychology. Second, methodological inventions can boost the development of certain subfields or the whole field of developmental psychology. Third, sudden changes in cultural context, by global events, such as strikingly demonstrated recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, affect the focus of interest in certain periods in life, or in interventions. Fourth, there is a solid claim for a bias in research on and from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) countries ( Henrich et al., 2010 ), which affect inferences and impact from research in developmental psychology. Awareness toward the cultural context of research in developmental psychology, its limitations and generalizability, can change perspective and course of the field.

In the following Specialty Grand Challenge, we would like to sketch the most important challenges we observe within the field of developmental psychology, which are dependent on the above-mentioned areas of change: changes in knowledge and methodology, changes or bias in environment by global events and cultural context.

Aims of the Specialty Grand Challenge

One of the key challenges we observe in developmental psychology relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Agenda 2030 and the associated SDGs pose new challenges on science as a whole and as such on developmental psychology. The global goals to sustain the resources in the world's biosphere for future generations are balanced across the dimensions of social responsibility, ecological responsibility, and economic growth ( United Nations Sustainable Development Group, 2019 ). Local or global actions at each of these dimensions can have an impact on the individual development and potentially on the normative development of people. Thus, they may affect individuals differently in childhood, youth, and adulthood. For example, youth in several countries have shown to take responsibility regarding SDGs to engage against climate change, against poverty, diversity, human rights, and democracy ( Plan International UK, 2018 ), while Education for Sustainable Development is part of the curriculum in many countries. The development of youth may be affected alone by the responsibility they take, and the social changes they achieve may affect development of future generations. Participating more actively in a society and being encouraged by children's rights (UNICEF), children might require more support in developing skills that pertains to engagement in active citizenship from early on. The global context and youth's participation put novel requirements on youth's and children's care, caregivers as well as education.

Further, fast economic growth in urban areas as well as political conflicts can lead to migration waves toward these areas, which provides an impact on the health and education infrastructure in both rural and urban areas, which may in turn affect vulnerable populations disproportionally, and particularly children, elderly, and individuals with disabilities. Observations of the kind has been observed in several countries ( Jampaklay et al., 2016 ; Holecki et al., 2020 ; Martín-Cano et al., 2020 ).

Actions relating to SDGs

In our view, SDGs require actions in the field of developmental psychology regarding relevant methodologies and topics. We observe two windows of opportunity to take action on the impact of SDGs on developmental psychology. First, global developments in methodology of research, particularly Open Science and Open Research Data help to access, merge, and analyze data in understanding emotion, cognition, and social dynamics in development within cultural context. These approaches initiate new discoveries but require an understanding of the technological functions and their limitations. Second, digitalization has a global impact on the use of knowledge and skills in social, health, and educational systems, which induces challenges and boosts research in the field of developmental psychology.

Regarding the methodologies, we recommend for three levels of actions. First, research in developmental psychology needs to adopt to the principles of Open Science. The movement of Open Science has been seen as an important step toward managing resources at a global scale. Open Access of publications as implemented by Frontiers and other publishers, increases access to knowledge across the globe. However, sharing data by implementing FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) principles on Open Research Data (ORD) would allow researchers across the globe to reuse data and connect own data to a larger pool of data than ever before. This could increase validation of evidence across different cultural contexts and could diversify and generalize theories on development. Simultaneously, methods can be further developed to adjust to novel contextual circumstances. Furthermore, a reuse of material, measures, procedures, and data contributes to more transparency and works against data loss, fosters collaborations, and generates reproducible workflows ( Klein et al., 2018 ). With these methods, key issues relating to development and SDGs can be more easily studied, because contextual differences can be identified in larger datasets. Currently, Frontiers does not have a policy regarding ORD, but in our view, we could and should commit to such a policy within our research communities.

Second, research in developmental psychology should be committed to international standards regarding the adoption of research designs, conducting research, reporting and critical appraisal standards. The EQUATOR network currently provides 529 reporting guidelines for all types of research, which are relevant for social sciences and medicine, such as PRISMA ( Page et al., 2021 ). Research communities, for example in neuroscience and medicine, have increased awareness toward such standards and thereby increased the quality of research ( O'Brien et al., 2014 ; Song et al., 2017 ). It is important that research communities commit themselves toward such standards to increase reproducibility, transparency, and sustainability of research across the globe. In addition to reporting standards, the reviewing standards should be transparent and compliant with the guidelines. Several valuable critical appraisal tools have been developed, such as CASP or JBI checklists, which can support and standardize reviewing processes. By taking such standards more seriously, and with a higher commitment to them, globally, the rigor in addressing key questions relating to development can be pushed forward, and a sustainable knowledge base can be acquired.

Third, we observe strong innovations and methodological developments in areas, which now affect the field of developmental psychology. It will be important to increase awareness about applying technologies for specific solutions and specific contexts. A recent Research Topic on empirical research at a distance provides a good example of putting together novel and rapid methodical developments driven by COVID-19 pandemic but discussing their limitations thoroughly ( Tsuji et al., 2022 ). In our view, it is important for novel methods to be presented in a comprehensive manner to provide informative access not only to procedures but also to its purposes and shortcomings. For this, Frontiers offers formats that might be used more often: Data Report, Technology and Code, Study Protocol, but also Brief Research Report could be used to introduce a technologically innovative method to describe novel possibilities of analysis. It should then involve a reflection about the used technology regarding ethics and privacy, its advantages, and disadvantages by addressing tradeoffs, for example between real world behaviors and in-lab controls. Examples of such technologies, involve techniques to record high resolution spatial and temporal data in more realistic settings such as Real-Time response measurements ( Waldvogel and Metz, 2020 ), dyads in Experience Sampling Methods ( Xia et al., 2022 ), Near Field Communication ( Lorusso et al., 2018 ), Google Trends Research ( Jun et al., 2018 ; Mavragani et al., 2018 ), and hyperscanning EEG ( Kayhan et al., 2022 ). A debate on the use of these techniques may provide a window of opportunity for global research on development and SDGs.

Regarding topics, we observe a strong impact of digitalization on health and education systems. Health issues have become a global phenomenon. The way in which people at different stages during the life span have access to health care, receive information on health risks and preventions, and are at risk to health problems is not evenly distributed. Industrial pollution, access to nutrients, eating habits, digital literacy and consumption, access to information depend on societal, technological, and climate changes. These potential risk and resources can affect fetal, early development and parenting, as well as later periods in life. The increasing knowledge about the mechanisms and the more widespread possibilities to observe changes longitudinally in several areas around the world lead to a more detailed understanding of the development of health risks and the effect of interventions during life span. In our view, it is important that the knowledge about health risks at all ages and heterogeneous populations is well-documented and (digitally) accessible for use by professional health practitioners.

Along similar lines, we observe that education undergoes changes depending on technological development, particularly digital information technology. Access to information and knowledge about education governance, access to education during political, societal and climate change can all affect the way in which children develop and the way in which communities and families are able to support the development of children. The current access to larger datasets has the potential to facilitate research about the psychological development on these topics. We therefore encourage the research on human development, health, and education specifically concerned with the influence of social and technological change in dynamic cultural contexts.

The main challenges that we observe are related to the global movements in science and society, which affect the course that developmental psychology takes. In the past, developmental psychology has been dominated by European and North American scientists, followed by important research from Japan ( Norimatsu, 2018 ). Now, researchers from an increasing number of countries across the world, but particularly China deliver important insights into the field of developmental psychology. Further, the Agenda 2030, the global issues relating to health and education, the Open Science movement, the increasing knowledge about developmental psychology from other counties, the ability to merge greater datasets provide the possibility to understand development at a different level. Our view is indeed in line with these developments, first because we see a chance that normative and individual changes in development can be better understood at both a global and local level. Second, because we trust that applied scientists can address that knowledge. Their task is to improve, for example, health care, health risk prevention and education in cooperation with professionals and providers of social support.

Nevertheless, we are aware of the subjective nature of our view. The foundation of it was mainly based on the set of Research Topics that we evaluate at the Frontiers in Psychology Specialty Section Developmental Psychology, the manuscript we receive in our role as Section Chief Editors, as well as our role we have as professionals at our universities and the research communities we work in. We are also aware of the diversity of ethical and cultural values, which drives our vision of research on developmental psychology and the visions of all researchers in the field. The hope that shared values on the necessity to continue research on developmental psychology in the light of Sustainable Development remains.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: Open Science, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Open Research Data, cultural context, developmental difference, methodological standards

Citation: Klaver P and Rohlfing KJ (2022) Challenges in developmental psychology, a focus on Sustainable Development. Front. Psychol. 13:1086458. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1086458

Received: 01 November 2022; Accepted: 03 November 2022; Published: 18 November 2022.

Approved by:

Copyright © 2022 Klaver and Rohlfing. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Peter Klaver,

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Developmental Psychology Topics

Topics for research, papers, and other projects

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

research paper on psychological development

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity,, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

research paper on psychological development

  • Childhood Topics
  • Adolescence Topics
  • Adulthood Topics
  • How to Choose
  • Tips for Students

Are you looking for a developmental psychology topic for a psychology paper , experiment, or science fair project? Topics you might pick can range from prenatal development to health during the final stages of life.

Developmental psychology is a broad topic that involves studying how people grow and change throughout their whole lifetime. Topics don't just include physical growth but also the emotional, cognitive, and social development that people experience at different stages of their lives.

At a Glance

The following are just a few different topics that might help inspire you. Remember, these are just ideas to help you get started. You might opt to explore one of these areas, or you might think of a related question that interests you as well.

Developmental Psychology Topics on Childhood

  • Could packaging nutritious foods in visually appealing ways encourage children to make healthier food choices?
  • Do children who listen to music while studying perform better or worse on exams?
  • Do students who eat breakfast perform better in school than those who do not eat breakfast?
  • Does birth order have an impact on procrastination ? Are first-borns less likely to procrastinate? Are last-borns more likely to put off tasks until the last minute?
  • Does teaching infants sign language help or hinder the language acquisition process?
  • How do parenting styles impact a child's level of physical activity? Are children raised by parents with permissive or uninvolved parents less active than those raised by parents with authoritative or authoritarian styles?
  • How does bullying impact student achievement? Are bullied students more likely to have worse grades than their non-bullied peers?
  • Which type of reinforcement works best for getting students to complete their homework: a tangible reward (such as a piece of candy) or social reinforcement (such as offering praise when homework is completed on time)?

Developmental Psychology Topics on Adolescence

  • What factors tend to influence the onset of depression in teens and young adults?
  • How do peer relationships influence identity formation during adolescence and young adulthood?
  • What impact do parent-child relationships have in predicting substance use among teens and young adults?
  • How does early substance use during adolescence impact impulsivity and risk-taking during early adulthood?
  • How does technology use during adolescence influence social and emotional development?
  • How does social media use influence body image among teens?
  • What factors contribute to success during the transition from the teen years to early adulthood?
  • How do cultural differences impact different aspects of adolescent development?

Developmental Psychology Topics on Adulthood

  • Are older adults who rate high in self-efficacy more likely to have a better memory than those with low self-efficacy?
  • Do the limits of short-term memory change as we age? How do the limits of short-term memory compare at ages, 15, 25, 45, and 65?
  • Do mental games such as word searches, Sudoku, and word matching help elderly adults keep their cognitive skills sharp?
  • How do explanations for the behavior of others change as we age? Are younger adults more likely to blame internal factors for events and older adults more likely to blame external variables?

Choosing Developmental Psychology Topics

Developmental psychology is a huge and diverse subject, so picking a topic isn't always easy. Some tips that can help you choose a good developmental psychology topic include:

  • Focus on a specific topic : Make sure that your topic isn't too broad to avoid getting overwhelmed by the amount of information available
  • Have a clear question or hypothesis : Your research question should be focused and clearly defined
  • Do some background research : Spend some time reviewing the existing literature to get a better idea about what you want to cover with your topic
  • Consider developmental theories : You might consider analyzing your topic through the lens of a particular theory of developmental psychology
  • Check out recent research : Use research databases to find the most recently published research on your topic

Before you start working on any paper, experiment, or science project, the first thing you need to do is understand the rules your instructor has established for the assignment.

Also, be sure to check the official guidelines given by your teacher. If you are not sure about these guidelines, ask your instructor if there are any specific requirements before you get started on your research .

If you are going to actually conduct an experiment , you need to present your idea to your instructor to gain their permission before going forward. In some cases, you might have to also present your plan to your school's Institutional Review Board.

Tips for Researching Developmental Psychology Topics

After you have gotten to move forward with your chosen topic, the next step is to do some background research. This step is essential! If you are writing a paper, the information you find will make up your literature review.

If you are performing an experiment, it will provide background information for the introduction of your lab report . For a psychology science project, this research will help you in your presentation and can help you decide how to best approach your own experiment.

What This Means For You

Choosing a topic for a developmental psychology experiment, paper, or project can be tough! The ideas above can be a great place to start, but you might also consider questions you've had about your own life. Once you have a general idea for your topic, narrow it down, do some background research and talk to your instructor.

Nielsen M, Haun D. Why developmental psychology is incomplete without comparative and cross-cultural perspectives .  Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci . 2016;371(1686):20150071. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0071

Leite DFB, Padilha MAS, Cecatti JG. Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature Review Checklist .  Clinics (Sao Paulo) . 2019;74:e1403. Published 2019 Nov 25. doi:10.6061/clinics/2019/e1403

Grady C. Institutional review boards: Purpose and challenges .  Chest . 2015;148(5):1148-1155. doi:10.1378/chest.15-0706

Kim WO. Institutional review board (IRB) and ethical issues in clinical research . Korean Journal of Anesthesiology . 2012;62(1):3-12. doi:10.4097/kjae.2012.62.1.3

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Articles on Developmental psychology

Displaying 1 - 20 of 29 articles.

research paper on psychological development

Secure attachment to both parents − not just mothers − boosts children’s healthy development

Or Dagan , Long Island University Post and Carlo Schuengel , Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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Children, like adults, tend to underestimate how welcome their random acts of kindness will be

Margaret Echelbarger , Stony Brook University (The State University of New York)

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Teens are wired to resent being stuck with parents and cut off from friends during coronavirus lockdown

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Luke Zaphir , The University of Queensland

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Nadia Chernyak , University of California, Irvine ; Peter Blake , Boston University , and Yarrow Dunham , Yale University

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Audrey-Ann Deneault , L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

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Adolescents have a fundamental need to contribute

Andrew J. Fuligni , University of California, Los Angeles

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Children are natural optimists – which comes with psychological pros and cons

Janet J. Boseovski , University of North Carolina – Greensboro

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Laurence Steinberg , Temple University

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Teens aren’t just risk machines – there’s a method to their madness

Jessica Flannery , University of Oregon ; Elliot Berkman , University of Oregon , and Jennifer Pfeifer , University of Oregon

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More children are starting school depressed and anxious – without help, it will only get worse

Dr Amelia Shay , Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang , Charles Sturt University

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Lies about Santa? They could be good for your child

Kristen Dunfield , Concordia University

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For baby’s brain to benefit, read the right books at the right time

Lisa S. Scott , University of Florida

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How to combat racial bias: Start in childhood

Gail Heyman , University of California, San Diego

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Babies can learn the value of persistence by watching grownups stick with a challenge

Julia Leonard , Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

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Watching children learn how to lie

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How parenting advice assumes you’re white and middle class

Mark Nielsen , The University of Queensland

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Top contributors

research paper on psychological development

Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Diego

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Assistant Professor of Marketing, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York)

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Clinician, Australian Catholic University

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F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor, University of Iowa

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Graduate Student, University of Iowa

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Formerly a lecturer in genetics, Lincoln University, New Zealand

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Assistant Professor of Psychology, Johns Hopkins University

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Researcher, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

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Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

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Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology, Northwestern University

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Professor of Human Sciences and Psychology; Faculty Associate of the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, The Ohio State University

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Senior Analyst, Strategic Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Assistant Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University

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Professor of Clinical Psychology, Long Island University Post

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