Developmental Research

Research in developmental psychology involves looking at how people change throughout different stages of life, from infancy to childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age. Think about how you have grown since being a baby, not just physically but in other aspects of life. How have your language skills developed? How have your social behaviours and relationships changed? Has your memory or capacity for learning improved? Developmental research tries to answer these types of questions as well as many many more.

Developmental Research Developmental Research

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Contents
Table of contents
    • First we will define developmental research in psychology
    • Then we will look at certain characteristics of developmental research
    • Next, we will examine research methods in developmental psychology

    • After, we will explore various research designs in developmental psychology

    • Finally, we will mention specific developmental psychology research

    Developmental research, growth across the different phases of life of a man and a woman, from a baby through to old age, StudySmarterDevelopmental research involves examining changes across different life stages, Human growth vector created by vector4stock - www.freepik.com

    Developmental Research Definition

    Developmental research can examine how humans develop in countless areas of life (for example, cognition, learning, memory) and across various stages of life, a general definition is:

    Developmental research in psychology is the study of growth and change across the human lifespan.

    This research can be carried out in many ways and includes either one or several groups of people, looking at certain characteristics to understand how people develop.

    Characteristics of Developmental Research

    There are many different aspects of life that developmental researchers are keen to understand more about. Some topics examined can overlap with other areas studied in psychology, but the main characteristics of developmental research include:

    • Age-related research - measuring and comparing neural changes, cognition or memory in children and adults.
    • Gender differences - examining if boys and girls get different results in the same experiments.
    • Nature vs nurture effects - exploring if children behave and develop in certain ways due to innate instincts or learned behaviours from people in their environment.
    • Social behaviour and attachment types - looking at how children of different ages and backgrounds interact with others, often based on the kind of relationships they have with their caregivers.
    • Effects of severe deprivation in infancy - intensive case studies in developmental research study how children who have experienced abandonment and extreme trauma develop.

    The nature vs nurture debate has been present in psychological literature and research for decades. The debate centres on the extent of human behaviour being a result of genetics and biological features we have inherited (nature) or that we have acquired through learning from the environment we have grown up in (nurture).

    Most current research suggests that our thoughts and actions are a varied mix of inherited and learned aspects of being human. Factors of nature and nurture do not compete but complement one another to shape who we are as individuals.

    Developmental research, a woman and a girl sit on a couch opposite a therapist, StudySmarterDevelopmental research aims to understand how people develop differently due to their genetics and environment, Psychologist vector created by pch.vector - www.freepik.com

    Research Methods in Developmental Psychology

    Research methods are the data collection techniques used by experimental researchers in psychology. These can either be quantitative or qualitative research methods or sometimes even a mix of both.

    Quantitative methods involve gathering numerical data that can be analysed using statistics. Qualitative research methods involve gathering data that cannot simply be put into numbers and is analysed instead by finding keywords and patterns.

    Specific research methods used in developmental psychology vary depending on the question that the researcher is trying to answer. An appropriate method for the research is also influenced by the age of the participants involved, interviewing a toddler yet to learn to talk would not be an efficient use of time! Typical quantitative and qualitative methods used in developmental research include:

    • Observations - noting when and how children behave and react in different situations

    • Interviews - asking caregivers, older children and adults about their own or their child's behaviour

    • Self-reports - getting caregivers, older children and adults to write details of their own or their child's behaviour

    • Case studies - can involve a mix of the above methods to create an intensive look at an individual's or group's special circumstances

    Research Designs in Developmental Psychology

    Research designs refer to how the method of data collection (observation, interview etc.) will be organised to answer a specific research question and collect the most amount of relevant data possible. Examples of research designs typically used in developmental psychology include:

    • Longitudinal - these types of studies follow a group (called a cohort) of participants of the same age across a long period (can range from a few years to a few decades). Making observations about changes and similarities between the participants across the selected time frame.

    • Cross-sectional - involves cohorts of different ages being examined in the same research, again so differences and similarities can be compared.

    • Cross-sequential - is a mixed research design made up of longitudinal and cross-sectional methods. Different cohorts are studied at the same time across a long period, making comparisons easier to distinguish between any individual differences or events experienced by the group.

    • Micro-genetic - simply looks at one cohort of children over a short period to quickly assess any behaviour changes.

    Developmental Research, A man with a laptop analysing data in a bar and pie chart, StudySmarterDevelopmental psychology uses a range of research methods and designs to collect and analyse data, Analyze vector created by pch.vector - www.freepik.com

    Developmental Psychology Research

    Research in developmental psychology is a vast and ongoing field. Past experiments in psychological research can create ethical debates that probably wouldn't be done today, but still offer great insight into behaviour and development. Some examples of infamous research in developmental psychology and their research methods or design are mentioned below.

    Piaget & Inhelder (1956) Three Mountains Task

    The three mountains task by Piaget and Inhelder consisted of researchers conducting interviews with children from ages 4 - 8 years old to test their ability to change perspective and think from another person's point of view.

    • The children were shown models of mountains and asked to pick out images that would show the perspective of a doll placed on the same model.
    • Results of the interviews showed that the youngest children at 4 years old chose the image that represented their own perspective of the model instead of the dolls, therefore failing the task.
    • The 6-year-old participants showed a mix of correct and incorrect answers, often choosing a different perspective from their own but not necessarily the correct image for the doll.
    • 7 to 9-year-olds and above consistently chose the correct responses for the image from the doll's perspective, and so passed the three mountains task.

    The results of this research suggest that we are not born with a natural ability to think about perspectives different from our own, but it is something that develops between the ages of 6-8 years old. The age at which this skill develops is likely to be a result of both factors relating to nature and nurture, with genetics and social levels perhaps influencing how quickly a child can imagine things from another person's point of view.

    Gundersen et al. (2013) Motivational Frameworks Study

    The motivational frameworks study is a piece of longitudinal research, completed over 5 years.

    • This was to examine if receiving praise as a young child can affect an individual's motivational framework.
    • This involves either receiving (or not receiving) personal praise (either they are born talented or not), encouraging or discouraging someone's belief in their natural abilities, or process praise - relating to factors to do with effort and willingness to learn to complete a task rather than innate factors.
    • This research examined boys and girls between the ages of 14 months - 38 months old, who were recorded interacting with their caregivers, who did not know the purpose of the study was to look at how much praise they showed their child.
    • 5 years after these sessions, the children were given a questionnaire with questions relating to their understanding of intelligence and morality.

    The results of the recordings and questionnaires found that overall only around 3% of the caregivers' interactions included praise of any kind and that boys received a lot more process praise than girls. Receiving process praise gave a tendency to result in a child's belief that effort and time is an ability that they can put into a task, rather than based on their natural abilities. This highlights how differences in nurture can influence a child's beliefs about themselves and their motivation to achieve things.

    Ainsworth (1969) The Strange Situation

    The Strange Situation Classification is an example of a standardised experiment, initially with a cross-sectional design that has been adapted and evolved over the years to be a cross-sequential design. The original experiment consisted of children aged between 9 - 18 months old, being put in various scenarios to test their attachment type to their mother.

    The scenarios included variations of the child being separated from their mother, introduced to a stranger, left alone and then being reunited with their mother.

    Attachment type is determined by observing the child's response to any of these scenarios and could be grouped into 3 types: secure, avoidant and resistant.

    • A secure attachment is suggested from distressed behaviour at the mother leaving and introduction to the stranger, plus a positive reaction to being reunited with the mother.
    • An avoidant attachment is determined by disinterest in being left alone, with a stranger or at the mother's return.
    • A resistant attachment style is found in severe distress at being left alone, being fearful of the stranger and not being easily comforted by the mother when she returns.

    The majority of children in this experiment were said to have a secure attachment type and therefore believed to grow up with other healthy relationships and social skills later on in life. Having an avoidant or resistant attachment type is suggested to lead to similar difficulties in relationships with others when older due to social and behavioural issues. This again highlights the complex interaction between nature and nurture, as it is believed to be an innate reaction to form an attachment at this age, but the treatment of caregivers depends on the type of attachment.


    Developmental Research - Key takeaways

    • Developmental research in psychology is the study of growth and change across the human lifespan.
    • Characteristics seen in developmental psychology include looking at the effects of age, gender, nature vs nurture, relationships and deprivation.
    • Some research methods used in developmental psychology include observations, interviews, self-reports and case studies.
    • Some research designs typically used in developmental psychology are longitudinal, cross-sectional, cross-sequential and micro-genetic.
    • Developmental research can help us to understand the effects of genetics and the environment on how children can develop differently.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Developmental Research

    What is developmental research?

    Developmental research involves looking at how people change throughout different stages of life, from infancy to childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age. 

    What are the major research types in developmental psychology?

    The main research methods in developmental psychology are observations, interviews, self-reports and case studies.

    Why is research important in developmental psychology?

    Research is important in developmental psychology because it can help us to understand why and how people develop in similar or different ways.

    What is one major challenge of conducting developmental research?

    Ethical considerations are needed for the recruitment of children to participate.

    What is the purpose of developmental research?

    The purpose of developmental research will vary depending on the specific research question. Still, generally, the goal is to examine how and why people grow and develop across different ages and stages of life.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What type of study was Gunderson et al?

    Which of these best describes this study?

    Did the study find a link between praise and motivational frameworks?

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