The field of developmental psychology is also called human development. It is the scientific study of the systematic psychological changes that happen in human beings as they grow older. Though it started off by studying infants and children, it now covers adolescence, adult development, aging, and the whole life span. This field studies changes that occur in motor skills and similar psycho-physiological processes; cognition covering problem solving, conceptual understanding and moral understanding; the ability to acquire language; development in the personality, social, and emotional skills; as well as self-concept and identity formation.
A developmental psychologist studies the way in which humans (and animals) develop psychologically throughout their lives. The attempt is to understand underlying development mechanisms.
Most developmental psychologists narrow their interests by stage and type. The stages of development are infancy, adolescence, childhood, young adulthood, middle age, and old age. The main types of development focused on are physical (that is, neurological), cognitive (that is, thought processes), and social (dealing with interactions, emotions, and personal identity).
Most people who pursue advanced degrees in this field majored in either psychology or a cognitive neuroscience in their basic degree. Each graduate program has specific requirements about the undergraduate major. While almost all insist on collegiate exposure to biology, psychology, and statistics. One can choose between a master’s and doctoral level degree in developmental psychology. For both an essential requirement is having appeared for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Most developmental psychologists work in research. Some programs offer clinical exposure such as patient care. These need specialized courses as well as supervised professional experience before obtaining a government license. As there is no special license given to developmental psychologists, those wanting a career as clinical psychologists apply for a license as a clinical or educational psychologist.
Income depends on geographic location, experience, and competence. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show a 12 percent growth in employment opportunities for psychologists. This means that job prospects—especially for those with doctoral degrees—are good. Most developmental psychologists work in research positions at universities. However, a few, especially those with a clinical licensure, can work in hospitals, schools, and mental health centers.
It is a growing field as modernization has thrown up new questions and challenges. For example, as the median lifespan for human beings increases, psychologists are able to study development into extreme old age. Another area of focus for developmental psychologists is the study of the role of computers and other technology in human development. Other new areas are likely to be available for study as advances in genetics lead to a better understanding of development as well as the potential to alter the course of development genetically.
All developmental psychologists share the astonishment of new parents when encountering the learning abilities of an infant. The difference is that a development psychologist is equally interested in all development that takes place between conception and death. The entire gamut of a life excites and fascinates them. They are interested in finding out why and how people change or not as time passes by.
Besides, developmental psychologists pinpoint and study all the environmental influences that affect change. These could be culture, socioeconomic conditions, and genetics. Other influences on development include family, divorce, friends, parenting styles, religion, educational levels, poverty, as well as physical and emotional abuse.
As developmental psychology is a vast field covering many stages, the majority of professionals focus on a particular life stage and category, for instance, moral development in children of school-going age or the decline of motor skills with age.
There are many practical applications for developmental psychology theories in various career paths. The commonality is their aim to help people achieve their full potential. All teachers and counselors should be aware of the theories and principles of developmental psychology. The same applies to healthcare workers, social workers, and those working with the elderly.
Developmental psychologists desiring to work directly with people can find employment in medical centers, hospitals, educational institutions, and preschools. Other avenues for them include jobs at assisted living centers for the old, as juvenile advocates in the judicial system, in homeless programs, and with companies making educational toys.
Those who are interested in the reasons for and the why in which people change should think about studying developmental psychology. They can then use the theories about change to assist people in achieving their full potential.
Almost all jobs in developmental psychology insist on a master’s degree in psychology at the minimum. Students should actively pursue fieldwork in social service agencies and internships in hospitals to obtain valuable work experience before graduating. The majority of jobs mandate a PhD. This is so especially if you want to teach at a university. Some universities offer teaching assistantships to those working for a PhD in psychology.