Become a Developmental Psychologist – Schooling Guide – Online Degrees [2024]

Developmental Psychologist Career

Nature or nurture – which one is more influential in how humans develop? It is an age-old question that researchers have debated for decades. This debate highlights our desire to understand how we develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically, and how the changes that occur in one stage of life influence how we develop in later stages of life.

The manner in which this development takes place over the course of the lifespan and the sheer volume of changes that occur, particularly in childhood, are what make human development such a popular area of study.

What is Developmental Psychology?

The primary focus of developmental psychology is on the process of change – for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. The origins of developmental psychology can be found in the Industrial Revolution. As the need for educated workers began to rise, scientists sought to better understand the child mind to develop appropriate educational programs to prepare students for the burgeoning workforce.

Developmental psychologists look at a wide variety of areas in which change occurs. Much attention is paid to common issues over the course of the lifespan. Social and emotional change is heavily researched, as are cognitive and physical changes.

The field of developmental psychology is heavily influenced by several key figures, perhaps most famously by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Both psychologists have their unique take on human development, and the theories put forth by each are still highly influential in this field even today.

Piaget posited that all human beings – regardless of their upbringing – go through specific stages of development. During each stage, individuals reach certain landmarks, such as acquiring speech or abstract thought, and then move on to the next stage to acquire further knowledge and skills.

Children are helped through these stages through interactions with their parents, usually in a didactic manner. This experiential take on development is a cornerstone of developmental psychology.

The social development aspect of developmental psychology is most heavily influenced by the research of Lev Vygotsky. Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that children advance through a variety of stages as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.

But unlike Piaget, Vygotsky believed that society, as a whole, was responsible for helping children develop, not just their parents. For Vygotsky, the culture into which one is born will heavily influence how that person grows and develops over time.

What is Applied Developmental Psychology?

Applied developmental psychology is a specialization that seeks to understand how knowledge of human development can be used to solve humankind’s problems. Applied developmental psychology considers events throughout the lifespan and examines them through the lens of social, cultural, and historical influences.

Essentially, applied developmental psychology takes the theoretical underpinnings that allow us to understand human behavior and applies them to research, developmental science, and education.

What Does a Developmental Psychologist Study?

Developmental psychologists study a variety of areas related to human development. For example, a developmental psychologist might study the way in which children come to understand emotion. Someone conducting research in this area might seek to understand how children learn to regulate their emotions, and the role that their parents play in acquiring that ability.

Other developmental psychologists examine how children form emotional attachments. These attachments might be examined in the context of a parent-child relationship, or between a child and another caregiver, such as a grandparent.

Psychologists conducting research in this field could utilize what they learn about attachment formation in childhood to draw conclusions about how those early attachments influence the expression, understanding, and regulation of emotion throughout the lifespan.

Education is another highly popular topic of study for developmental psychologists. There might be an examination of how the social environment in schools positively or negatively impacts a child’s cognitive development.

Likewise, developmental psychologists that research educational topics also examine the efficacy of various educational programs. Their studies are highly important for informing school personnel, families, and government agencies about the value of educational programming and how programs and services can be made more effective.

Yet another area of study for developmental psychologists is memory. Research in this field might be focused on issues related to memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, in elderly populations. This might include studying intervention strategies to determine what programs are most effective in helping older adults keep a sharp memory.

Other researchers might instead focus on adolescents, seeking to develop strategies such as mnemonics that can aid in information acquisition and retention.

How Do I Become a Developmental Psychologist?

Developmental Psychologist Degree

To become a developmental psychologist, one must first complete an undergraduate program in psychology. The primary goal of undergraduate psychology programs is to familiarize students with basic concepts in psychology.

As such, coursework is fairly general, covering topics from statistics and research methods to physiological psychology and abnormal psychology. Courses in developmental psychology are also part of standard undergraduate programs.

After completing a four-year degree, it is necessary to continue one’s education in graduate school. Most graduate programs in psychology require students to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and a passing score on the Graduate Record Exam. Some programs also require students to get approval for admittance after an interview with members of the department faculty.

Concepts and topics at the graduate level focus on deepening students’ understanding of human development. Research in developmental psychology is a focus of many graduate programs, as is the application of research findings to improving services such as education and healthcare.

While entry-level and mid-level jobs may be found with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, the most job opportunities will be available for students that have a doctorate.

Doctoral programs in developmental psychology usually result in one of two degrees: a Ph.D., which is best suited for research, or a Psy.D., which prepares students to provide psychological services in a mental health setting. Both degree programs require upwards of five years of studies, research, and internships. Post-doctoral work on a specific topic in developmental psychology may also be required.

Individuals that wish to work as a licensed psychologist almost always need a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.

Developmental Psychologist Licensure

Although licensure is handled by individual states, and result in some requirements being different, there are a few requirements that are standard from state to state.

Applicants must have completed an accredited program of study and be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills during an internship or post-doctoral placement. Supervised training experiences are often required, as is a passing score on a written licensure exam.

What is an Online Developmental Psychology Degree?

An online developmental psychology degree program is a specialized academic course that is centered around the study of human growth and development from infancy to old age. Developmental psychology is a subfield of psychology that scrutinizes how people evolve over time, and how biological, social, and cultural factors play a pivotal role in that transformation.

Online degrees eliminate the need to commute to campus, which can save time and money. You can also balance your studies with other responsibilities, such as work and family obligations.

The curriculum of an online developmental psychology degree program covers a diverse range of topics, such as cognitive development, social and emotional development, language development, personality development, and abnormal psychology. Students enrolled in this program acquire the proficiency to apply developmental theories and principles in real-world settings, such as education, healthcare, and social services.

Just like campus-based degrees, online developmental psychology degree programs can be pursued at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and they offer the convenience of being completed entirely online. These programs may also feature practical experiences, such as internships or capstone projects, which enable students to apply their knowledge in a real-world scenario.

Upon completion of an online developmental psychology degree program, graduates can expect to pursue diverse career paths, such as education, social services, healthcare, research, and counseling. These professionals can work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, clinics, social service agencies, and private practices, among others.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Developmental Psychologist?

Generally, it takes 8-12 years to become a developmental psychologist, including the time spent completing a bachelor’s degree, doctoral degree, supervised experience, and obtaining state licensure. However, the exact time frame can vary depending on individual circumstances or any specific requirements in your state.

What is the Work Environment of a Developmental Psychologist?

Because this career area is so diverse, there are many job opportunities for developmental psychologists. Most developmental psychologists conduct research, teach or do both in an academic setting.

At smaller colleges and universities, developmental psychologists might be responsible for teaching various courses in psychology, including those outside the realm of developmental psychology.

However, at larger universities there is a greater likelihood that a developmental psychologist can specialize in research and teaching in their area of expertise.

A developmental psychologist that works as a researcher might dedicate his or her entire career to studying specific issues related to a certain age group. For example, a developmental psychologist might devise research into the manner in which children acquire abstract thought. In this capacity, psychologists would design, develop, and carry out research to answer that question, as well as analyzing data and reporting their findings.

Many other developmental psychologists provide welfare services, child protective services, or family support. In this context, developmental psychologists might be employed to investigate claims of child or elder abuse or neglect. They might also work to educate young mothers and fathers about pregnancy, preparing for childbirth, and providing a proper home environment in which their child can learn and grow.

Some developmental psychologists work as a part of a team of professionals to improve educational programs for children and adolescents. For example, developmental psychologists might work with a speech-language pathologist to develop a special speech-language program for a toddler that is language delayed.

Other developmental psychologists might work to educate families with an elderly loved one about social and emotional issues that may arise with old age.

Likewise, psychologists with a specialization in this area might engage children and their families in counseling. Some clinicians focus on helping their clients build skills such that they can have a more successful life. For example, a developmental psychologist might work with a young adult that has a social anxiety disorder to improve his or her social skills.

Other clinicians might work with parents to provide training and education that helps families provide the support a developmentally disabled child needs to develop to their potential.

Entertainment companies also employ developmental psychologists. Businesses that produce toys, TV shows, movies, and other products for children will consult with developmental psychologists to ensure their products are age appropriate. For example, a toy manufacturer would seek the input of a developmental psychologist to ensure the toy they have created for a three-year-old is safe, as well as developmentally appropriate for that age group.

What are the Pros and Cons of Being a Developmental Psychologist?

Developmental psychology can be a highly rewarding, yet highly stressful career. Some of the primary advantages and disadvantages of working in this field are:


  • Opportunities to make a difference – Whether working in a research setting or in a clinical setting, developmental psychologists have the opportunity to effect positive change in people’s lives.
  • Many different job opportunities – From schools to hospitals to government agencies, psychologists in the field of developmental psychology can find employment in a wide variety of settings. This can make finding employment easier, and also provides the opportunity to get experience in various disciplines.
  • Income potential – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists can make a very good living, with the potential to earn a six-figure income. The place of employment and the years of experience will largely determine salary, but the potential is certainly there to earn a good wage.


  • High stress – Psychologists in all disciplines can have very stressful jobs. For developmental psychologists that work in research settings, long hours and strict deadlines can cause much day-to-day stress. Those working in clinical settings might deal with very high stress related to working with clients that have faced extremely difficult life circumstances.
  • Emotional burnout – All psychologists face emotional burnout as a result of working with clients in crisis. While many developmental psychologists do not work directly with clients, those that do can have difficulty protecting themselves from becoming emotionally drained from their work.
  • Unusual hours – Particularly for developmental psychologists that work in clinical settings, the hours worked can be long and erratic. Nights and weekends can often be interrupted by job duties. Developmental psychologists often work on holidays as well.

What Skills are Required to be a Developmental Psychologist?

There are some skills which are especially important to being a successful and effective developmental psychologist:

Excellent communication skills appropriate for all ages

Whilst communication skills are important in all areas of psychology, developmental psychologists work with a uniquely broad range of patients. They can work directly with children, providing educational assessments or developmental disorders.

This type of work requires the psychologist to be able to connect with and explain things to the child, gaining their trust and developing an open dialogue where the child feels safe talking to them. It also requires the psychologist to be able to work closely with the child’s parents and teachers to relay relevant information and explain any issues. This may involve breaking difficult news to parents.

Finally, some developmental psychologists work with elderly people – this may involve discussing sensitive issues with people whose communication skills may be deteriorating.


Often working with clients dealing with some form of difficulty, developmental psychologists do need the ability to work with empathy and show patients that they have a good understanding of the issues they are facing. But in addition, development psychologists also have to be able to maintain a perspective of positivity and be able to show clients that there are ways to overcome their issues and maintain a focus on their strengths.

Critical thinking skills

Developmental psychologists are often working with clients who have diverse and complex needs. To address these in the most effective way possible often requires the psychologist to thoroughly analyze the issues and come up with highly individualized strategies.

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