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Child Development Research Topics

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

In psychology, the study of human development started out as the study of child development. In many ways, topics in this field continue to develop because of current events and interests, much like they did in the study's early days.

Developmental Psychology

The human lifespan often seems to have few universals. Different people grow up and spend their lives in different situations, with different results. However, there is a branch of psychology that looks at the stages of human life in terms of a single universal - the developing brain. Often considered the study of young people as they change and grow, developmental psychology is actually the study of the human mind and brain throughout a person's lifespan. Much of the earliest work in developmental psychology was performed with children in mind. The development of young people is still a vibrant and active topic in psychology today.

Topics Then and Now

Topics of interest in developmental psychology often vary with the era. Without many of the earliest studies, the field wouldn't have developed into what we have today. The earliest ideas we will cover here include cognitive, moral, and psychosexual development. These subjects are fundamental to the understanding of development, so we'll use the term fundamental topics. Contemporary topics are today's current topics, such as children's understanding of emotion and bullying. Some of these topics are new fields of concern to psychologists because of current events, while others are ones that may not have been considered serious topics in the past. For instance, bullying may have been considered a behavior issue on the part of the victim or the abuser, rather than as a psychological issue.

Fundamental Topics

One of the earliest topics of study for developmental psychologists has been how the mind of a young person functions. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget studied a child's cognition, or how they take in and process information about their environment and use this information to make decisions. Piaget's theories focus on the development of a child's cognition through several stages from the simple concrete operations, through the ability to reason in the abstract. Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, studied cognitive development, but his theories deal with how this development is influenced by the environment. Often considered a competing theory to Piaget's, Vygotsky's theories focus on what he calls a zone of proximal development. This zone is a time in a child's life when the child is especially able to learn certain skills with the right instruction and learning environment.

Using some of Piaget's work on the ability of a child to reason through dilemmas, Lawrence Kohlberg studied the ability of children to reason through morality. Kohlberg formulated his Stages of Moral Development based upon this research. These stages demonstrate the growing ability of children to reason through moral choices. At the earlier stages, such as pre-conventional morality, children generally take the same moral positions as authority figures around them. Later, children will explain why things are wrong, depending on how old they are. Older children reason through conventional morality in terms of maintaining relationships and social consequences. There's even a post-conventional morality stage that few people attain, consisting of ethical principles derived from understanding a sense of universal morality or natural rights.

Sigmund Freud is also considered a researcher in child development. In Freud's case, he focused on psychosexual development. This is the study of how an individual's sense of self and attachment develop through his or her lifetime. Freud inspired his daughter to continue his work. Though less well-known than her father, Anna Freud contributed to an understanding of how emotional problems in children can manifest themselves differently depending on the development of the child. Erik Erikson was a contemporary of Anna Freud and focused on psychosocial development. This kind of development depended on how the child came to deal with his or her caretakers and immediate family. Erikson framed human development as a series of challenges that depended on the child's age and stage of development. For instance, an infant must learn to trust or mistrust his or her caretakers. Generally, this depends on the relationship between the infant and the child's mother.

Contemporary Topics

There are still studies conducted on the same topics as we've already discussed. Many of these studies are either to further develop or challenge more traditional theories. However, the modern world has brought other topics of interest to people's attention. These topics are numerous, most lists of contemporary topics in child development run over a dozen topics. Since we can't discuss all of them, here's a couple of examples.

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