Developmental Psychology – Subject, tasks and methods

Learn more about Developmental Psychology, it's subject, tasks and methods with our article

Developmental psychology emerged at the end of the 19th century in order to examine the age-specificities and dynamics of the processes of mental development of a person over the course of his life. Developmental psychology studies the factors and patterns of human mental development in the ontogenesis. The main task is to reveal the prerequisites, conditions and driving forces of a person’s mental development from the moment of his birth to his old age, to describe the dynamics of the development of particular mental processes (cognitive, volitional, emotional) and properties that influence the formation of the qualities of а person, age and individual characteristics of the activity and communication. It describes the characteristics of each period of life, revealing its specificity and interdependence with other periods, as well as showing the differences in the course of each age period in people with different individual-psychological characteristics.

Developmental psychology examines the quantitative and qualitative alterations that occur in a child’s psyche during his or her transition from one age group to another. Usually, the changes cover a considerable period of life – from a few months for newborns to several years for adults. These changes depend on the so-called “permanent factors” – biological maturation and the psycho-physiological state of the child’s organism. The factors of mental development include the driving forces and conditions of that development, factors related to training, etc.

The driving forces of mental development are those factors that determine the progressive development of a child and are the cause of that development; the needs of the child himself, his motivation, activity, communication, goals and tasks that are related to the education and upbringing of the child. In addition to the driving forces, there are conditions for development – those internal and external permanent factors that influence development, guide its course, shape its dynamics and determine the final results. The factors of pedagogical influence include the set of methods and means of teaching, the organization and content of this training, as well as the level of teacher training. These factors can either promote or hinder the child’s development, accelerate it or slow it down. The laws of mental development define the general and private regularities by which one can describe the mental development of a person and by using them to try to guide that development.

Age alterations in developmental psychology are divided into 3 main types:

1. Evolutionary – relatively slow quantitative and qualitative transformations.

2. Revolutionary – deeper, quicker and in a relatively short period of time. Such alterations are usually associated with the appearance of development crises that occur at the border between relatively calmly flowing stable periods. The presence of these crises and the associated new developments in the psyche of children are the basis for dividing the period of childhood into separate stages.

3. Situational – the influence of the particular social situation in the period of training and upbringing.

The term "age" is not a one-dimensional construct and its formal definition has two main meanings:

1. Absolute / chronological / calendar age – a quantitative term that denotes the duration of the existence of an object. It shows the number of years since the birth of a person and is not the cause of its development, but simply a marker of processes that change over time.

2. Conditional age – it refers to the location of the object in a specific order in some development process based on both quantitative and qualitative traits. Conditional age includes:

– Biological – measures the functional capacities of an individual’s organism and assesses its current position concerning its potential life span.

– Psychological – it affects the adaptive qualities of the individual, that is, his ability to adapt to the changing requirements of the environment compared to that of other individuals of identical chronological age.

– Functional – This is a Measurement and involves the assessment of an individual’s ability to function effectively in a given environment or society.

– Social – it affects the social roles and expectations of the people towards themselves as well as the expectations of the society towards them.

– Existential – it is determined by the subjective experience and age of self-awareness of the person, that is, how old a person feels.

The concept of “lifetime” – denotes the time interval between birth and death and shows only the chronological frames of individual existence, the content of which is unaffected.

The term “life cycle” – suggests that the course of life is subordinate to certain regularities, and its stages are a constant cycle. This concept implies closed and complete process.

The concept of “life path” – implies different trends and lines of development within the same biography, while these lines are both autonomous and interconnected.

The concept of “age crises” – describes the qualitative changes in development, which emphasize the disturbed balance, the emergence of new needs and the reorganization of the motivational spheres of the individual.

The concept of “Sensitive Developmental Periods” – for the formation and development of each psychological and behavioural characteristic of the individual has its own specific period, which is the most sensible beginning of the active conduct of the education and upbringing of children. A particular role in understanding the laws of Child Development play the concepts of “leading activity” which is related to determining the development of cognitive processes and “leading type of communication” – related to the formation of basic personality traits. These two phenomena change over time and their diversity increases. We must bear in mind that when we talk about leading activity and communication and their importance for the development of the child in one or another period of his life, this does not mean that the type of communication and activity actually lead to the development itself. It is more correct to speak of a system of interrelated types of leading activity and forms of communication.

In general, we can arrange these types of activities and communication in sequence as follows:

1. Emotional- Direct Communication is represented by the contact of children with adults which is carried out through mutual subject activity from the period of birth to about 1 year of age.

2. Object-Manipulative Activity is the activity of the child from 1 to 3 years of age which is carried out by manipulating various toys and surrounding objects and without active interaction with the adult.

3. Plot-Role Play – here we have a combination of game activity with communication that imitates a certain social situation and its characteristic forms of role-playing behaviour of participants (from 3 to 6 or 7 years of age).

4. Learning-Cognitive Activity is a combination of learning activity and interpersonal communication that determine Cognitive Development from 6-7 to 10-11 years of age.

5. Professional-Personal Communication is based on a collective group activity of interests, which can serve as a preparation for the children for their future professional activity (from 10-11 to 14-15 years of age).

6. Moral-personal communication is related to more intimate topics during the middle school age and adolescence from 14-15 to 16-17 years of age.

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