What are Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Development?

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  • 0:01 Development
  • 1:22 Cognitive Development
  • 2:56 Social & Emotional Development
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

People grow and develop in many different ways and in many different areas. In this lesson, we'll look closer at three types of human development: cognitive, social, and emotional development.


Wes is taking a class in developmental psychology, or the study of how people's thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and relationships change as they grow and age. He thinks it's really interesting, and it's made him look differently at his two kids, Ethan and Ellen.

For example, Wes notices that Ellen, who is 11, is able to understand that people have lives that go beyond what she sees of them. She knows that when Wes is not in the room, he's still going on with his life and might have conversations or events that happen even though she's not there to witness them.

Ethan, though, is only three years old, and he doesn't get that when Wes is not there with him, things still happen to Wes. He knows that Wes exists when he's not with Ethan; it's not like Ethan thinks Wes just completely disappears when he's not around. But Ethan doesn't quite get that Wes has other relationships that don't involve Ethan.

Developmental psychology, like other branches of psychology, looks at people's thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. But developmental psychology specifically involves studying the way people grow and change throughout their lives.

Let's look closer at three types of development commonly studied in psychology: cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Cognitive Development

The other day, Wes and his kids were drawing pictures in their backyard. Wes pointed out two small sticks that were lying next to each other.

'Wow!' Wes said. 'If those two sticks were put end-to-end, it would be a massive stick!'

Ellen agreed and drew a picture of the stick. But Ethan couldn't quite understand what Wes and Ellen meant. He toddled over and put the two sticks end-to-end, and then he could see what they were talking about.

Cognition is the thought processes of a person, and developmental psychology classes study how people's thoughts develop, which is called cognitive development.

Think about Ellen and Ethan and the sticks. Ellen is older and more cognitively developed than Ethan. She can imagine the two sticks together without having to actually put them together. But Ethan isn't there yet, so he has to physically put the sticks together to understand.

Likewise, Ellen can look at a puzzle and map out a strategy in her head. She knows that if she puts this piece there and then that piece here, then she can figure out the puzzle. But Ethan has to actually do the puzzle; he can't yet figure things out in his head.

This is just one example of cognitive development. Skills like problem-solving, abstract thinking, and reading or math comprehension are all part of cognitive development.

Notice that Ellen is 11, and Ethan is three, so we would expect them to be at different cognitive levels. Cognitive development is affected by age, but it can also be affected by other things, including disabilities.

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