Approved by Faculty Senate

University Studies Course Approval

Department:                       Psychology

Course Number:                       250

Semester Hours:               3

Frequency Offered:                Every semester

Course Title:                       Developmental Psychology

Catalog Description:              A survey of the patterns of change and stability in human behavior from
                                             conception to death. Theories and research pertaining to growth and change
                                             in physical, cognitive, personality and social functioning across the lifespan are examined.

A2C2 Approved Course?     Yes

Requested Approval:                Arts and Sciences Core: Social Science

Contact Person:                     Janette Williams,

Specific Outcomes for Arts and Sciences Core: Social Science

 Learning Activities

The following learning activities are used in this course to support the students' attainment of the objectives identified below: lecture/discussion, reading assignments in the textbook, videos, Web site quizzes, and in-class writing assignments.

A. Understand humans as individuals and parts of larger social systems

Developmental psychologists seek to describe and explain the changes and continuities in behavior and mental processes that occur across the lifespan. While there are many commonalties across individuals in the sequences of growth and change, developmental trajectories are significantly affected by the social context in which they occur. The modern lifespan approach in developmental psychology explicitly recognizes that individual development occurs and must be understood within many social contexts, such as the family, peer group, school system, socioeconomic group, ethnic background and culture. For example, there is considerable research on parenting styles and their outcomes in terms of children's behavior. It is easy to see how ethnic and cultural differences in traditions, values and attitudes related to child-rearing will affect parental behavior; it is perhaps more interesting to find that the same disciplinary technique has different outcomes depending on the sociocultural context. Research has shown that the use of physical punishment (spanking) is related to antisocial behavior in children of European-American parents, but this relationship is not found for African-American children. This suggests that the motivation for and meaning of spanking differs between African-American and European-American families. As another example, we know the peer group can exert considerable influence on an individual's behavior. While it has been shown that drug use/abuse is related to individual differences in temperament, personal attitudes and exposure to stresses, the single most powerful predictor of drug use in young adulthood is having friends who use drugs. Examples such as these frequent throughout the course.


B. Understand the historical context of the social sciences

In its relatively brief history, from the late nineteenth century to the present, developmental psychology and the questions asked by developmental psychologists have been affected by the prevailing intellectual and social Zeitgeist. Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory (and particularly the idea that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny") is generally credited with giving scientific value to the study of childhood and served to launch developmental psychology as a science. While developmental psychologists in the first half of the twentieth century devoted nearly all of their efforts to the study of children and adolescents, in the last fifty years or so, a broader perspective which investigates patterns of change and continuity throughout the lifespan has emerged. This change can be attributed in part to the increased longevity of the population. Due to longer lifespans, areas of investigation which would have been nearly unthinkable to early developmental psychologists, such as adjustment to retirement or new cognitive developments in later life, are now lively research areas. Other changes during the last century, such as increased opportunities for individuals to be both geographically and socially mobile, changing attitudes toward marriage and divorce, increased tolerance for a diversity of lifestyles, made it more likely that people would be exposed to influences on their development that could be quite different from those experienced during their childhood and adolescent years. Today, it is increasingly rare for persons to live in the same place all their lives, to associate only with persons from the same background, to be married to the same person or to work at the same job for 40 years or more. These various historical changes across the twentieth century provided the impetus for developmental psychologists to investigate the ways in which adults can change and provided the opportunity to examine a variety of lifesyles that were not as common previously. Some of the topics in developmental psychology which reflect these social/historical changes are career changes in midlife, second marriages and stepparent families, cohabitation, and homosexual partnerships.

As a very specific sample of the influence of historical context on developmental psychology, we might consider the effects of the women's movement in the 1970s. By that time, women's greater involvement in the work force led to questions about the effects of day care on child development, an issue which has been fiercely debated and extensively researched over the last 25 years or so. Ironically, developmental psychologists' interest in fathers and their role in child development dates from this time as well. If one relied on developmental research prior to the 1970s, one would hardly have known fathers existed. Maternal influences on child development were thought to be paramount and fathers only significant if they were absent. Since the 1970s, however, research on the influence of fathers who are present has increased substantially, at least in part due to the examination and questioning of the roles and competencies of women and men provoked by the women's movement.


 C. Identify problems and frame research questions relating to humans and their experience

Developmental psychologists try to understand how and why individuals change as they get older and how and why they remain the same. Developmental psychologists are interested in the ways in which all humans are alike and the ways in which humans are different in their developmental pathways and outcomes. Research in developmental psychology relies upon systematic procedures for gathering empirical data to confirm or disconfirm hypotheses regarding developmental phenomena. Any ordinary person could ask the kind of questions about human development which developmental psychologists can or have addressed through their research methods. Does personality change as we get older? How are children able to master their native language in so brief a time? How can we account for the development of a heterosexual or homosexual orientation? Why do children in the same family often turn out so differently? Why do some young adults seem readily able to establish close and satisfying relationships, while other seem unhappy or insecure in their relationships or only able to interact with others in the most superficial ways? Why do some adults retain their cognitive capacities well into old age, while others are characterized by decline? Throughout the course, students are exposed to questions such as these, as well as the theoretical models and research studies which have attempted to provide answers to these queries.


D. Become familiar with the process of theory-building and theoretical frameworks used by the social sciences

The "nature-nurture" issue identifies the most basic division in explanatory models that focus on human development. While all theories acknowledge that behavior is affected by both heredity and environment, they vary in the emphasis placed on each factor, sparking debates among developmental psychologists that are often quite heated, as has been the case in discussions of intelligence.

Developmental psychologists employ a variety of theoretical perspectives in their attempt to provide a comprehensive account of human development. Broadly speaking, psychoanalytic, learning, cognitive, sociocultural and epigenetic systems theories are the major approaches evident in the field. In response to research findings, each theory has undergone modifications in order to provide a better representation of the phenomena it purports to explain. The history of research and theory regarding infant attachment is a good example of how theories may be challenged and modified by research findings and how different theoretical frameworks may each contribute a distinct but valuable perspective on a particular topic. Why does a child love her mother (or caregiver)? Early psychoanalytic theorizing suggested that love for the mother was based on her satisfaction of oral needs (sucking), whereas learning theory attributed love for the mother in terms of her association with reinforcement (food). Despite huge differences in their assumptions and explanatory mechanisms, both of the frameworks linked love to the feeding function of the caregiver. The famous work of Harry Harlow necessitated modification in both these theories. Using infant monkeys as his subjects and "surrogate mothers" made of bare wire or wire covered by terry cloth, Harlow demonstrated that feeding alone did not produce an attachment to the "mother." In his studies, "contact comfort" was the potent factor predicting the infant monkeys' attachment. Current theories of attachment recognize the importance of the overall quality of the social interaction between caregiver and child in promoting a good relationship. Cognitive theory emphasizes how the developing mental capacities of the infant to differentiate herself from her environment, to recognize particular individuals and to attribute permanence to those individuals are necessary to the development of the attachment relationship. Epigenetic systems theory emphasizes how our evolutionary history and genes program infants and adults to behave and respond to each other in ways that promote the survival of an infant through the establishment of attachment. Sociocultural theory examines the commonalties and differences among various societies and social classes in values, attitudes, and expectations regarding infant care. Many other topics in developmental psychology lend themselves to analysis through multiple theoretical perspectives, such as parenting styles, gender roles, language acquisition, aggression and personality development, to name a few.


 E. Understand the research methods used in the social sciences

Many courses in psychology begin with a discussion of research methods and developmental psychology is no exception. Developmental psychologists use the research methods employed by other psychologists such as experiments, naturalistic observation, surveys, correctional research and case studies. In addition, developmental research employs data collection strategies that are designed to reveal age-related changes and continuities in behavior. These are termed longitudinal, cross-sectional and sequential designs. These techniques and their advantages and limitations are given coverage in this course, not only in the "methods" section but throughout the semester as different topic areas are explored and the confidence that can be placed in particular research findings is discussed. For example, it is common in long-running longitudinal research in adulthood to have considerable subject attrition. This results in changes in the characteristics of the sample from the beginning to the end of the study. At the end of such a study, one is likely to find that the continuing participants are, on the average, more educated, more affluent and healthier than the original group. This raises questions about the generalizability of the findings of such research. On the other hand, a cross-sectional study in adulthood, one for instance examining the attitudes of 20-year-olds, 40-year-olds and 60-year-olds, presents its own problems of interpretation in that any differences found between age groups may reflect age-related change, or cohort(generational) differences, or both. As an empirical discipline, developmental psychologists rely on research findings to inform their understanding of human development. Throughout this course, students are encouraged to use their knowledge of the advantages and shortcomings of various research methods to put those findings in perspective and to maintain an appropriately critical attitude.


F. Describe discipline-specific knowledge and its applications

There are numerous opportunities for students studying developmental psychology to relate research findings to practical applications. Awareness of the needs and capacities of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers has direct implications for the selection or design of quality day centers and nursery schools. Knowledge of the course of cognitive development during middle childhood, adolescence and adulthood can lead to the structuring of educational experiences appropriate to the abilities of each of these groups. Familiarity with the research on the cognitive, personality and social functioning of children can be related to child-rearing techniques and their likely effectiveness. Understanding the "peculiarities" of adolescent thinking has implications for designing interventions to encourage safe sexual practices and to moderate or eliminate drug use. Acquiring the information concerning the effects of drugs and other teratogens on prenatal development can lead to relevant personal applications and/or societal interventions to insure the best opportunity for healthy development of all our children. Information concerning the physical changes associated with aging is pertinent to the design of environments that accommodate and support the aged in their daily activities.


G. Understand differences among and commonalties across humans and their experience, as tied to such variables as gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.

As discussed earlier, a premise of the modern lifespan perspective is that any individual's life is embedded in many contexts and that these contexts are important in understanding the developmental pathways that are observed. There do appear to be universals in human development, such as the sequence of physical and motor skill development, the general course of language acquisition and other cognitive developments, the broadening of social awareness and understanding from the preschool years through adolescence and the decline in the speed of mental processing later in life, to mention a few. Nevertheless, individual differences in developmental trajectories are great and at least some of these can be linked to variables such as gender, ethnicity or culture. Gender differences, for example, are apparent throughout the lifespan from the greater viability of female fetuses to the greater longevity of women. Some of these differences are rooted in biology. Other differences, such as those found in the styles of play in children, occupational aspirations and attainments, conceptions of love, participation in caring for elderly parents, are likely to be socially conditioned, at least in part.

Next to the documentation of gender differences, developmental psychologists have probably given differences related to socioeconomic status the most attention. Most comparisons have been made between individuals living in poverty and those in middle class environments and, as one might imagine, the differences in developmental outcomes are legion. Infants born to impoverished mothers are at higher risk for being low birthweight, which, in turn, increases the risk for physical problems, child abuse and lower intelligence. Growing up in poverty often means a child is exposed to dangerous, violent neighborhoods, schools which are overcrowded and ineffective caregiving from parents who are stressed concerning financial and other difficulties, all of which affect development.

Ethnic background also has an impact on various developmental phenomena, such as the rate of motor skill development, the level of aggression in children, identity formation in adolescence and parenting and grandparenting styles. On a broader level, developmental psychologists have conducted cross-cultural research that has revealed differences in areas such as type of mother-infant play, children's development of a theory of mind, moral reasoning and the schooling experience. These topics and others give students the opportunities to consider the universals and specifics in development.


Developmental Psychology
Psychology 250
Fall 2000

Instructor:                                          Dr. Janette Williams
                                                         Phelps 231-C, 457-5452 or 457-5435

Hours:                                          MWF 1:00-2:30, TR 12:30-2:00 and by appointment

Text:                                                  Berger, K. S. (2001). The developing person through the life span
                                                         (5th ed.). New York: Worth
                                                         There is a Study Guide for this text in the bookstore. Purchase of the
                                                         Study Guide is optional.

Web Support:                        

 This is a University Studies Program Social Science course in the Arts and Sciences Core. As a Social Science course, it is designed to enable students to achieve the following outcomes:

a. understand humans as individuals and parts of larger social systems

b. understand the historical context of the social sciences

c. identify problems and frame research questions relating to humans and their experience

d. become familiar with the process of theory building and theoretical frameworks used by the social sciences

e. understand the research methods used in the social sciences

f. describe discipline specific knowledge and its applications

g. understand differences among and commonalties across humans and their experience, as tied to such variables as gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.


Course Objectives for Developmental Psychology

To be aware of the goals and methods of study in developmental psychology
To understand the basic principles governing human development from conception to death
To be familiar with the major changes in behavior that are linked to age
To develop a critical understanding of the theories and research designed to provide explanations for developmental changes
To understand the implications of developmental theory and research for child-rearing, education, work, and other such areas of practical and social interest


Course Schedule

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Social Science
       Topic                                                                                    Reading                              Outcomes                                  

        Aug 28-30        Introduction and Methods                                                          Ch 1,2                         b, d, e
                               *brief history, research methods

       Sept 1-8         Heredity and Environment                                                                 Ch 3                         f
                               *principles of inheritance, behavioral genetics,
                                heredity-environment interaction       

       Sept 11-13        Prenatal Development & the Newborn                                       Ch 4, 5                         c, e, f, g
                               *factors affecting prenatal development,
                                perceptual functioning of newborn

       Sept 15       Test I

       Sept 18-20         Psychosocial Development in Infancy                                  Ch 7                                 a, b, d, f, g
                               *temperament, attachment, daycare

       Sept 22-Oct 2    Cognition in Infancy & Early Childhood                                  Ch 6, 8, 9                         c, d, e, f
                                *sensorimotor and preoperational stages,
                                 recent cognitive research, language acquisition


       Oct 4                   Test II

       Oct 6-16           Psychosocial Development in Childhood                       Ch 10,13                         a, c, d, f, g
                                  *parenting styles, gender roles, aggression,
                                   prosocial behavior


       Oct 18          Cognition in Middle Childhood                                   Chap 11,12                 f, g
                                *concrete operations, information processing, schooling


      Oct 20                   Test III

      Oct 23-Nov 3         Adolescence                                                                    Ch 14, 15,                   a, b, d, f, g
                                 *identity, body image, formal operations and
                                  and egocentrism, moral reasoning, peer relationships


      Nov 6                   Test IV

      Nov 8-20           Psychosocial Development                                          Ch 17, 19,20,22                 a, b, c, e, f, g
                                  in Early and Middle Adulthood

                                  *work, mate selection, marriage and parenthood,
                                   extended family relationships, friends


      Nov 27           Test V

      Nov. 29-Dec 8       Late Adulthood                                                                                     Chap 21, 23, 24, 25          b, c, d, e, f, g
                          ageism, physical changes, cognitive functioning,
                                  personality, retirement, confronting death

Dec 14 Test VI


Each exam will be multiple-choice and will be worth 50 points. Each exam covers the material presented in lecture and in the textbook reading for that unit. In addition to the points earned on exams, points will be given for short, in-class writing assignments. Each of these is worth 3 points and the best 8 out of 11 assignments will be used in the calculation of the final grade.

Grades will be determined by the scores on the six exams and the in-class assignments. The total points earned by the top-scoring 5% of the students in the class will be averaged and the grading scale will be as follows:


A = 92-100% of the average of the top 5%

B = 82- 91% of the average of the top 5%

C = 72- 81% of the average of the top 5%

D = 62- 71% of the average of the top 5%

Tests may not be taken earlier or later than the scheduled date and time without penalty unless there is a legitimate reason, such as serious illness.