Developmental psychologists study the growth and development that occurs throughout the entire lifespans of humans and animals. They study all types of development: physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personal and emotional. Their primary research is in studying how infants and children acquire, develop and use their mental, emotional and language capacities.
Originally, developmental psychology was concerned only with the development of people until they became adults, but now it has expanded to the study of all ages. This has granted researchers with a broader perspective of the developmental processes, and by reviewing case histories of adults, researchers can gain insight into current cases of children who share characteristics present in these adults.
Researchers have learned that normal development in children proceeds through progressive stages, though the structure and complexity of these stages can sometimes mask these stages and make the predicted progress difficult to ascertain. But abnormal development is getting easier to spot and predict, allowing for earlier diagnoses of developmental diseases, which can speed up the treatment of these diseases.
Developmental psychologists spend much of their time in research, which might include some of the following areas:
- Acquisition of language skills
- Development of moral reasoning in children
- Development of motor skills
- Identity formation
- Problem-solving abilities
- Cognitive development
- Emotional development
- Development of social skills
- Personality changes
- Development of behavior under environmental stresses
- Environmental effects upon mental and emotional health
Developmental psychologists provide many applied fields in psychology with research, particularly educational psychology, child psychopathology and forensic psychology. They also work closely with other research fields like cognitive psychology, comparative psychology, ecological psychology and social psychology.
Degrees in Developmental Psychology
There are a few four-year undergraduate degrees available in developmental psychology, though some students have to settle for a bachelor’s degree in general psychology with a concentration in developmental psychology.
Very few jobs in developmental research are available with just a bachelor’s degree. Most research assistant jobs require at least a master’s degree, and most full-fledged research jobs require a doctor’s degree.
Typical courses at the undergraduate level include:
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Introduction to Developmental Psychology
- Theories and Concepts of Child Development
- The Psychology of Aging
- Fundamentals of Learning
- The Psychology of Families
- Developmental Psychopathology
- Psychology of Adolescence
- Social and Personality Development
- Cognitive Development
- Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience
- Applied Developmental Psychology
- Culture and Human Development
- Perceptual Development
- Introduction to Lifespan Development
Master’s and doctorate degrees in development are readily available. Their aim is to train students in researching human development, particularly of young people.
Master’s degrees in developmental psychology can normally be completed in two years. Doctor’s degrees take another two years, and some states also require a year of internship.
Typical courses for graduate programs include:
- Families and Parenting
- Advanced Methods in Psychological Research
- Early Childhood Assessment
- Advanced Cognitive Development
- Theories of Child Development
- Best Practice with Young Children
- Understanding and Guiding Child Behavior
- Theoretical Issues in Child Development
- Lifespan Development
- Developmental Research Methods
- Research Issues in Child Development
- Longitudinal Growth Modeling
- Social Development
- Research in Cognitive Development
- Home Impact on Child Development
- Children’s Peer Relationships
A Ph.D. in developmental psychology might enable better access to jobs as compared to a graduate degree. Holding a Ph.D. might enable you to work as a teacher or a researcher. Developmental psychologists mostly earn their Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in developmental psychology or alternatively a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) The distinction between the two programs is that the Psy.D. degree focuses more on clinical training than research.
Most development psychologists work in research centers, which can be funded by corporations, governmental grants, non-profit foundations, universities or various types of health care agencies. Some teach at universities, in addition to their research there. With a developmental psychology degree you might also be able to work as:
- School Counselor
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Research Coordinator
- Substance Abuse Social Worker
- Psychology Assistant
- Education Consultant
- Early Childhood Instructor
A master’s degree in developmental psychology may qualify people for positions outside of developmental psychology proper, such as:
- Grant writer
- Parent educator
- Museum educator
- Early childhood center director
- Program analyst
- Infant-toddler specialist
- Early childhood specialist
Developmental psychologists’ salaries can vary considerable, based The Salary Wizard at Salary.com states that the median salaries for developmental psychologists in 2009 were between $69,000 and $90,000, depending upon location, training and work setting. The highest ten percent earned more than $100,000 per year.