What is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental psychology is the study of various stages of human development from infancy to old age. It explores emotions, language, behavior, cognition, learning, personality, culture, and environmental influences. The science focuses on patterns of change and individual differences throughout a lifespan. In this endeavor, psychologists incorporate their theories of development as well as established theories. An example is the long-studied nature vs. nurture theory. The nurture component refers to environmental factors or experiences that affect a child’s personality. Nature is the genetic and biological factors that affect a child’s mental abilities and personality traits.

Most developmental psychologists agree that the early years have the most influence on a human. At birth, the healthy brain is about a quarter the size of an adult’s.

By the age of one, the infant’s brain has doubled. By the age of three, it is 80% of an adult’s and 90% at age five.

Therefore, an infant’s interactions with parents and others have a substantial effect on the child’s healthy development. Positive and loving relationships enhance the child’s development, whereas negative interactions may result in enduring emotional and behavioral problems.

DegreeQuery elaborated on the degrees necessary to work in this field (see link below); therefore, we won’t delve into this aspect. This post deals with where graduates may seek employment as developmental psychologists.

The formative years in a human’s life attracts psychologists to specialize in this area. Opportunities exist in early childhood education, working with pre-school and elementary school students. Daycare and childcare facilities are potential venues for creating a nurturing environment. As either a staff member or director, you would be responsible for designing a curriculum that encourages children to adopt a lifelong learning experience.

Another job title is an Early Intervention Specialist who faces the challenges of providing intervening services because of disabilities or mental development delays. This position requires the evaluation, assessment, and development of treatment plans. The professional may also document the progress of the child, educate parents, and discuss a child’s condition with medical professionals. In this role, you could coordinate services with Medicaid and other government agencies as part of the case management obligations.

Consulting is an area of employment for developmental psychologists. An early childhood education consultant in a statewide public media organization is available. The state of Kentucky employs people to coordinate and create content conducive to childhood education and family engagement activities. A posted job on Indeed requires a Bachelor’s degree graduate in early childhood education or childhood development.

A niche job within the developmental psychology arena is in game design. The global video game market may reach $90 billion by 2020. These games are not strictly for entertainment. The military, the FBI, local police departments, and Homeland Security use games as a training and education tool. Gaming companies have started to add psychologists to their design teams as researchers to assess how the goals of the gaming experience. Cognitive, developmental, and educational psychology apply to the game industry.

Gerontology is an avenue a student might take during her/his studies in developmental psychology. The projected population of U.S. residents 65 and older will top 55 million at or near 2020. This escalating number translates to jobs in hospitals and hospice facilities. Developmental psychologists use their skills to counsel and provide emotional support for elderly patients.


The “baby boomer” generation has fueled research into human development that once stopped at adolescence. In addition to the nature vs. nurture theory applied to the elderly, there are other theories worthy of current research — for example, stability versus change. Developmental researchers pose the question: are people the same throughout life, or do they change during their adult years? Answers to this query and others help the elderly cope with physical and cognitive decline in their later years. Another aspect of the research is the examination of how culture, financial means, country of residence, disabilities, education, childhood, and personality affect a person’s lifespan. Many researchers believe that how individuals cope with aging depends a great deal on their social and cultural contexts.

Sandwiched between childhood and the elderly is adolescence – the age group from 8 to 14. During these years, there are numerous changes physically, emotionally, and behaviorally because of internal and external changes. This age group is also subjected to the temptations of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, drugs, and the current crisis of opioids.

The exposure to the influences mentioned above provides opportunities for work in the education system, treatment facilities, consultation services, and outpatient clinics. The developmental issues and challenges related to adolescence offer another source of employment. Most of the professions in adolescent development require a master’s or doctorate.

We have touched on research as a viable area, which primarily occurs at learning institutions. There are diverse areas of, including behavioral and reasoning development, acquisition of language skills, socialization, cognitive development, and theories of the mind. Work at this level typically demands a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology).

Additional Resources:

What is the Benefit of a Ph.D. in Psychology vs. a Psy.D?

What are the differences in an Online vs Campus Master’s Degree in Psychology?

What Are the Different Kinds of Psychology Degrees?

What is a degree in Psychology?

How fast can I complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology Online?

What Government Jobs are there with a Degree in Psychology?

What is the Benefit of a Master’s vs. Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Psychology and Sociology?