Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology is interested in discovering the psychological processes of development.  The four core studies in this section all focus on how children develop.  It is worth noting that developmental psychologists also study adulthood too.

Samuel and Bryant's (1984) study is an example of a experiment which attempted to criticise Jean Piaget's cognitive developmental approach to child development.   Piaget's influential approach to child development is also called the structuralist approach.

Piaget argued that younger children do not have the capabilities to think in the same way as older children.  And that children have to go through a process of cognitive development in order to achieve the abilities of an older child or adult.   Piaget believed that there are a number of stages that all children go through in the same order.  Piaget is therefore arguing that these stages are innate.  

Bandura takes a very different approach to developmental psychology.  In his study of aggression, Bandura (1961) demonstrated that children learn development from role models.   Bandura's approach is an extension of behavioural theories which emphasise the way we learn behaviour from others, our environment, experiences and so on.   Bandura was particularly interested in the way children learn new behaviours through observing and imitating role models.

Whereas Piaget was mainly interested in cognitive development and Bandura behavioural development, Freud was interested in emotional development.  Freud's psychodynamic approach argued that a child's early experiences will shape its personality in later life.  He believed that all children pass through a number of psycho-sexual stages as they develop.  Freud's study of Little Hans provides a detailed account of a young boy coming to terms with his emotional conflicts.

Freud's emphasis on the early years being important for later development has been extended by psychologists interested in the concept of attachments.   Other psychodynamic psychologists such as Bowlby have popularised the ideas that a baby must have an emotional bond with its mother during the first two years of its life.  Bowlby argued that if this bond was not developed during this time there would be negative consequences for the child.  These consequences would be a lack of social, emotional and intellectual development.

The study by Hodges and Tizard (1989) is one of many which demonstrates that Bowlby's ideas were very extreme.  They show that early experiences are important but that some of the negative consequences of maternal deprivation can be overcome with good relationships later in life.

 Theories of Child Development



e.g. Freud & Bowlby


e.g. Piaget

Behavioural Theory e.g. Social Learning Theory

e.g. Bandura





Age of major development

0 to 5

0 to 12

Throughout life









Concrete op.

Formal op.


Criticised by

Hodges & Tizard

Samuel & Bryant

the social cognitive approach


Criticised for

Too much emphasis on early years as important (therefore too deterministic)

Too much emphasis on the role of maturation

Too simplistic and provides a passive picture of human nature.

Therefore too deterministic


Candidates should:

        be able to describe and evaluate the developmental approach in psychology;

    demonstrate knowledge and understanding of structuralist, psychoanalytic and behavioural theories of development;

        consider the criticisms of child development research and the conclusions that have been drawn from such research;

        understand the implications of the research for child care practices;

        consider the concept of attachment;

        be able to evaluate the research on the effects of early childhood experience;

        consider the implications of research in developmental psychology.






More Stuff

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Test yourself on the aims here

And on the participants here


Below are the latest articles in the excellent BPS Research Digest.