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social sciences

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Developmental Psychology  
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The study of human growth and development throughout the life cycle, developmental psychology examines behavior from a biopsychosocial perspective. The psychology of development describes age-related changes in behavior, personality, and physiological maturation. Growth and development are assumed to be embedded within the social environment, and normative biological processes progress through a series of predictable stages that are influenced by socio-cultural and political phenomena.

Unfortunately, glbtq identity development has not yet been fully integrated into mainstream theories of psychological development, nor have other glbtq developmental issues been studied from a developmental perspective. However, recent work in this area, especially on the formation of sexual and gender identities, promises to further our understanding of the life experiences of glbtq people.

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The Field

Developmental psychology assumes that human beings continue to grow throughout the life span, moving from infancy through old age. Development assumes "change," but not all change is developmental; the change must be permanent or have a lasting effect to be considered developmental. Development is generally assumed to unfold in a sequential manner. It is also presumed to have an "end goal" of maturation.

Human development moves through a progression of stages that are age-graded. Although these changes take place within individuals they are also interpersonal and transactional. The movement through each stage is affected by environmental variables. The ability to traverse each stage is a mark of successful development and has implications for an individual's level of functioning at later stages of development.

For example, while most humans will begin to talk by the age of three, contact with adults who encourage language and verbal interaction will increase comprehension and verbal acuity, as well as the clarity and sophistication of language skills. This contact may potentially have a lifelong impact on communication patterns, as well as on basic reading and writing skills, which can affect learning throughout the curriculum. Thus, children who are hearing impaired often have difficulties with speech and language development, while children who are raised bilingual often have increased ability to learn other languages when they are older.

Most models of development include an ecological framework that recognizes the impact of environmental and socio-cultural factors on biological development. Developmental psychologists have examined various aspects of human development including biological, cognitive, emotional, social, sexual, moral, and sometimes spiritual influences. Research into behavior, personality, and the sequence of normal development is often framed in a "nature vs. nurture" paradigm, analyzing how growth and development are affected by familial and educational influences, genetics, nutrition, poverty, and numerous other variables within a multi-dimensional perspective.

Age-graded influences include, for example, physical maturation, reproductive capacity, and the impact of aging on health and employment status. Human development is also influenced by social and historical factors, such as wars, epidemics, and political, technological, economic, and cultural changes. Often age-cohorts experience these factors in similar ways, such as children who lived through the Depression era, or adolescents who came of age during the counter-culture movement of the 1960s.

Additionally, individual human development is influenced by very personal, out-of-the-ordinary life experiences, such as life-threatening or chronic illnesses, infertility, or the death of a spouse or child.

There have been numerous criticisms leveled at developmental theories. Age has often been assumed to be a master-status, funneling people into life-stage expectations, as if people never marry in their seventies, become first-time parents in their fifties, or experience life-changing developmental processes regarding their sexuality past puberty.

Early research on human development examined male behavior only, and lacked cross-cultural comparisons. More recently, issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation have been acknowledged. This new acknowledgment of diversity contrasts with earlier studies that assumed that white heterosexual males were the baseline for normative development.

Conventional Models of Human Development

The first developmental theory in Western psychology is Sigmund Freud's psychosexual model, which viewed human development as a sequential process of libidinal progression. Freud outlined a five-stage progression--Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency, and Genital—that charted the movement of human sexual desire from various zones in the body to culminate in healthy adult heterosexual sexual development.

In the mid 1950s, Arnold Gesell charted development in terms of a series of physical, age-graded milestones in the normal growth patterns and motor and perceptual domains. Gesell believed these were consistent from child to child, and created an underlying blueprint of expected physical maturation.

Jean Piaget outlined a model of cognitive development, and examined how infants and children adapt to their environment though assimilating and accommodating new information. He developed a four-stage developmental overview of cognitive processes referred to as schemas, the underlying blueprint for how children move from private sensation to abstract reasoning.

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