Developmental Perspective: Definition & Explanation

Developmental Perspective: Definition & Explanation
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  • 0:01 Developmental Perspective
  • 0:50 The Developing Human
  • 1:48 Piaget's Stages
  • 4:21 Erikson's Stages
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea McKay

Andrea teaches high school AP Psychology and Online Economics and has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

How do we change throughout our lives? In this lesson, you will discover some of the cognitive and social changes we experience as we develop across the lifespan.

The Developmental Perspective

Consider your earlier years in life. Did you move through phases as you aged? Perhaps you had that 'awkward stage' around middle school. Or did you develop in a slow and continuous process? How will you change as you continue to age? Developmental psychologists study all of these questions to better understand the human experience from cradle to grave.

The developmental perspective explores three big questions:

  1. Is nature or nurture more important in the developmental process? That is, is our development shaped more by our genetics or our environment?
  2. Do we develop in stages or continually?
  3. How do we change throughout our lifespan? What elements remain stable? (Hopefully not the awkward middle school stage)

The Developing Human

From our time in the womb, we are already at risk for factors that might affect our development. Teratogens are chemicals or viruses that can cross the placenta and harm the developing fetus. Alcohol is a teratogen that causes both physical and cognitive delays for babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Lower birth weight, birth defects, and problems with cognition can affect an FAS child's development throughout their lives.

Once newborns enter the world, they begin a lifetime of learning. Even though newborns can't speak, they can already display mental processes related to behavior. Babies seem to prefer novel stimuli as evidenced by the amount of time they stare at new stimuli. Newborns show habituation, or a decrease in response to repeated exposure to a stimulus. Like so many adults and children, babies give more attention to something new.

What abilities or traits are we born with?  What traits do we learn through our environment?

Infancy and childhood are marked by major changes in motor development, cognitive development, social development, and maturation. Motor skills develop as infants follow a trajectory that leads from rolling over to sitting, from crawling to walking. Cognitive psychologists like Jean Piaget theorized that children develop through specific stages in cognitive development.

Piaget's four stages of cognitive development are:

  1. Sensorimotor stage (birth - 2 years): Infants in this stage first understand their environment through their reflexes. They eventually develop object permanence, understanding that objects continue to exist even when they are covered up or out of the room.
  2. Preoperational stage (age 2 - 6): Children in this stage are egocentric, or unable to take on another perspective. They do not yet understand laws of conservation, but they develop representational thought, understanding symbols can represent objects.
  3. Concrete operational stage (age 7-11): At this stage of cognitive development, children understand laws of conservation, and they begin to understand relationships between mental categories, such as in math.
  4. Formal operational stage (age 12 - adult): In this stage, children learn to understand hypotheticals and can take on multiple perspectives.

Critics of Piaget's stages note that Piaget didn't place much emphasis on infant thought processes, and psychologists today recognize that infants are able to demonstrate thinking in spite of being non-verbal. Habituation and preference for novel stimuli can help psychologists understand how babies think.

During adolescence, development of reasoning and morality is key. The adolescent brain continues to develop at a rate similar to that of toddlers, especially in the frontal lobe, responsible for impulsivity, judgment, decision-making, and higher-order thinking skills. Physically, pre-adolescence and adolescence are marked by puberty as the body changes rapidly in preparation for adulthood.

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