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Psychology of Lifespan

Development: Introductory


Carol Laman
This work is produced by The Connexions Project and licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License †



Core Concepts: developmental psychology, lifespan perspective, cohort, hypothesis, correlational study, case
study, naturalistic observation, experiment, experimental group, control group, independent variable, control
variable, random, cross-sectional, longitudinal, cross-sequential
Developmental psychology is the scientic study of how people change and how they
remain the same. This lifespan perspective begins before conception and continues through
the process of dying. People from all cultural backgrounds are included in this study, although
until recently most research has taken place in Western countries. Cross-cultural research
ensures that concepts are applicable to people and developmental processes everywhere.
In addition to culture, the historical period in which one lives can inuence the process of development.
A cohort refers to a group of people who were born at approximately the same time and who were inuenced
by the same socio-historical variables. Example: All students attending Forester high school in 2010.
Research methods in psychology include correlational studies, case studies, scientic observation, surveys,
and experiments. Only experimental studies demonstrate cause and eect relationships. Psychologists do
background research before conducting a study. Then they form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated
guess about the relationship between variables in a research study. Example: A psychologist may hypothesize
that playing Baroque music to preschool children during naptime will improve their ability to recite the
Correlational studies involve collecting data to determine a relationship between variables. Variables
are any measurement or quality which can vary. Example: psychologists might study the relationship
between family income and school performance. Statistical analysis would be used to determine whether or
not a relationship existed and how strong the relationship was.
Case studies are in depth explorations of individuals. Case studies might include information from in-
terviews, personality tests, medical data, past records, and behavioral observations. Example: Psychologists
might study a terrorist in depth to try and understand his motives.
Scientic observations might be done in natural or laboratory settings. Each setting has advantages.
Subjects behave normally in a familiar setting ( naturalistic observation). The researcher can control the

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setting and limit the impact of outside inuences in the laboratory. Example: Two year olds studied in a
day care center (naturalistic observation) v. two year olds observed in a laboratory setting where they are
given a choice of three toys.
Surveys are questionnaires that can be administered orally or in writing. The researcher can be present
or absent. Large amounts of data can be collected in a relatively short period of time. Unfortunately, people
are not always honest. Memories are not always accurate. The quality of responses is harder to determine.
Example: Patients in a hospital are asked about how much pain they experience and how long it takes nurses
respond to their calls for pain medicine.
Experiments determine cause and eect relationships. Psychologists deliberately manipulate the in-
dependent variable. Then they measure the eect of this change on the second variable, called the
dependent variable. In order to make sure that the change did not occur due to the passage of time,
psychologists compare two groups of subjects. Subjects are randomly assigned to be in one group or the
other. Example: subjects draw numbers out of a hat; odd numbers are in one group, evens in the other.
The experimental group receives the treatment (change). The control group receives no treatment.
If the results show a dierence between the groups, then the treatment caused an eect. Example: The
hypothesis is that children can learn to handle a hamster by watching a movie showing them the behavior.
A psychologist shows the experimental group of children a movie about how to pick up a hamster. The
movie is the independent variable. The control group does not see the lm. Then the psychologist tests the
children to see how they pick up a hamster. The results (dependent variable) are the measure of whether
the children pick up the hamster the way they were shown in the movie.
When possible, research subjects should be selected randomly from the population that the psychologists
want to study. Randomselection means that each member of the population has an equal chance of being
chosen for participation. Randomly selected subjects more closely resemble the overall population than do
subjects selected in another way. Example: Psychologists may use a computer generated list of student
ID numbers to choose research subjects. Sometimes, however, samples of convenience must be used. For
example, psychologists may not be able to randomly assign students to classrooms in a school. Therefore,
classrooms matched on student characteristics might be compared or used as the experimental and control
In developmental psychology, an important function of research is to measure change over time. There
are two primary ways this research can be conducted: cross-sectional and longitudinal studies.
Cross-sectional research measures the same variable in people who dier in age but share most other
characteristics in common. (For example, psychologists might measure reading ability in a group of 6 and 10
year olds in the same school at the same time). This research is the least expensive and takes the shortest
amount of time. However, since the 6 year olds are not the same children as the 10 year olds, some other
variable might be causing the dierences between the groups. (For example, one group may have used a
dierent set of learning materials).
Longitudinal research measures the same variable in the same people over a long period of time. (For
example, psychologists might measure reading level in a group of 6 years and measure reading level again 4
years later when they are 10.) This research takes longer (at least 4 years) and is more expensive. However,
since these are the same children, the results show how they have developed over time.
Cross sequential studies follow a small subset of the cross-sectional subjects over a longer period of
time. These studies may add further support to cross sectional ndings.

Core Concepts: Freud's psychosexual theory, id, ego, superego; oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages;
libido, Erikson's Psychosocial theory, Psychosocial Conicts, Learning Theory, Classical Conditioning, UCS,
UCR, CS, CR, Operant Conditioning, reinforcement, punishment, shaping, Social Learning, Piaget's Theory
of Cognitive Development, , Information Processing, Sociocultural Theory, Vygotsky, guided participation,
scaolding, zone of proximal development, systems theory, epigenetic systems theory, sociobiology, nature v.
nurture controversy.
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Freud can be used as an example of both cultural and historical inuences on development. He did not
have a degree in psychology  the subject did not exist at that time. His religious background limited his
career choices. He chose the branch of medicine, neurology, which focused on the study and treatment of
the nervous system. Based on training in diseases of the mind and hyponosis, Freud developed a talking
therapy called psychoanalysis. Through self analysis and case studies of his patients, Freud put together a
comprehensive theory of personality and development that attempted to explain both normal and abnormal
behavior. As a Darwinian, Freud believed that reproduction was the basis for survival. His theory states
that sexual energy ( libido) motivates human behavior. Motivation is primarily unconscious.
Freud's Psychosexual Theory focuses on the resolution of psychosexual conicts as the basis for
human development. These conicts include weaning the infant during the oral stage, toilet training
the toddler during the anal stage, sexual awareness and identication with the same sex parent in early
childhood during the Oedipal stage, consolidation of the gender role in middle childhood during the latency
stage, and heterosexual interest and activity after puberty during the genital stage.
Freud also hypothesized a three part division in the personality structure. The id, present at birth,
represents the full force of the life instincts and the desire for self-gratication (pleasure principle). The ego,
or independent self, emerges as the child learns to gratify the id through self control and interaction with
the real world (reality principle). The superego , or conscience, develops when the child identies with the
parent and internalizes the moral rules they have been taught.
Erikson's psychosocial theory focuses on psychosocial conicts throughout the lifespan. Adult stages
as well as childhood stages are considered important. Interactions between the individual, society and culture
shape personality. Erik Erikson
Examples: During infancy, the individual is totally dependent on others. The psychosocial conict is
trust v. mistrust. The virtue of hope develops when the baby learns to trust the caregiver.
During the toddler years, the individual learns self control and personal choice. This may be called the
no stage, or the terrible twos since the young child ghts for independence. The psychosocial conict
is autonomy v. shame and doubt. During early childhood (3-6), the individual seeks to engage others in
conversation and activity. They ask questions, issue invitations to play, and try out new behaviors. The
psychosocial conict is initiative v. guilt. Erikson proposed 8 stages which will be described during the
relevant section of the text.
Learning theory or Behaviorism explains the relationship between environmental events and human
actions. Learning can occur through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, or social learning.
Classical conditioning is learning to associate a reex pattern with a neutral stimulus. Reexes are
unlearned patterns which occur when an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) causes an unconditioned response
(UCR) Repeated pairings of the UCS with a neutral stimulus lead the individual to respond to the neutral
stimulus in the same way that they respond to the biologically programmed stimulus. The neutral stimulus
has become a conditioned stimulus ( CS) and the response is now a conditioned response ( CR) Learning
has occurred. Example: A nurse gives a shot to an infant. The reexive response to pain is fear and crying.
The infant learns to fear the nurse and cries when the nurse enters the room. Pavlov's dog ; Watson's
Experiment with Little Albert
Operant conditioning involves learning due to reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is any
consequence which causes an increase in behavior. Example: A parent gives a child a favorite treat after they
practice on the piano for ve minutes. The child practices more. Punishment is any consequence which
causes a decrease in behavior. Example: A worker plays on facebook rather than complete a task. The boss
makes the worker stay late to complete the task. The next day the worker does not play on facebook. B. F.
Social learning theory involves learning through the use of modeling. Example: A child watches a
character on TV load a gun. The child nds a gun and ammunition in a desk. The child loads the gun.

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Bandura's Bobo Doll Experiment
Piaget's theory of cognitive development describes a theory of stages that children pass through
as they learn to adapt their thought processes to new experiences in the environment. Age specic processes
shape the schemes or patterns that children use to interact with the world. Example: Preverbal children
process information by using sensory or motor information. A parent must show rather than tell a toddler
how to brush her teeth. Jean Piaget
Information Processing Theory describes the human brain as analogous to a computer. This theory
focuses on input, processessing, output, and programs as the basis for understanding learning. Example: A
teacher determines that a child does not have a correct method of studying for a spelling test. The child is
taught a method of processing this information into memory.
Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, developed a Vygotsky discussed guided participation as a primary
process by which learning takes place. In guided participation, a skilled person works alongside a novice. The
skilled person teaches, models, and shares the learning experience with the novice. Vgotsky's Developmental
Sociocultural Theory emphasizes the major inuence of society and culture on individual development.
Example: Development for an HIV positive child prostitute in the SE Asia diers signicantly from a healthy,
middle class Anglo child in suburban Dallas.
Systems theories consider the complex interactions between the individual and the environment. Ac-
cording to systems theory, if you change one variable in a system, there are changes in other aspects of the
system as well. Example: The government gives food stamps to a pregnant woman. She eats better food and
her baby is healthier. Making both mother and child healthier reduces the nancial burden on the family
and society because money is saved on health care and the mother is able to work and contribute taxes. In
addition, the child is better able to learn, improving his/her chances of becoming a contributing member of
society and reducing the need for expensive special education. Other family members are also aected as
more time is available for siblings if the mother and baby are healthy. And more time is available for the
mother to spend with the father, improving the likelihood that he will stay with the family, improve their
economic status and help parent the children. Unintended consequences might also occur, however. If the
food stamp program is designed to nancially subsidize high fat farm products, the mother might gain too
much weight and develop diabetes.
Urie Bronfenbrenner's bioecological systems theory outlines the interactive eects of the biological self
and Microsystems (family, peers, & immediate environments), mesosystems (interactions among microsys-
tems), exosystems (community-size environments), macrosystem (the larger socio-cultural environment), and
chronosystem (historical time). Example: Two hundred years ago, rural culture inuenced the school cal-
endar and curriculum which interacted with the family work patterns, seasonal food preparation, exposure
to disease and individual health. Individual health, fertility, family size, education, and urbanization, all
changed with time.
Other biological theories emphasize the primacy of evolution or changes in brain, body and behavior
based on physical maturation, health status, and biochemistry.
Epigenetic systems theory emphasizes the interactions between genes and the environment. Scientists
explain that all human characteristics are inuenced by genetic inheritance (DNA). Genes determine generic
human characteristics and behavior patterns that have evolved over time. Examples: ability to speak,
walking upright. Genetic makeup also provides the roadmap for individual and group dierences. Examples:
musical talent, eye color, body size. On a micro-scale, genes are turned o or on by environmental inuences.
Example: prenatal viruses may turn o or on the genes for schizophrenia. In addition, environmental
inuences as dierent as nutrition and abuse shape the extent to which genetic potential is expressed.
Example: infant malnutrition may result in lower intelligence.
The nature/nurture controversy refers to the debate between whether genes (nature) or environ-
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ment (nurture) plays the greater role in human development. Harry Harlow
Although historically this argument was either/or, current thinking rates the interaction between nature
and nurture as primary. Basically what this means is that there is no easy cause-eect relationship between
a stimulus and human behavior. One cannot ask what causes autism or why does an abused wife stay with
her husband. Human behavior is complex and inuenced by multiple, interactive variables.