Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology

Understanding wider issues in developmental psychology can help you to better understand research methods and theories that current debates relate to. Any science subject is surrounded by discussion, it is the way of the scientific method and engaging other researchers in questioning how phenomenon in the world works. Here, we will explore current issues and debates in developmental psychology.

Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology

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Table of contents
    • We will look at what issues on human development means
    • Then we will explore some current issues and debates in developmental psychology
    • Finally, we will give a specific example of a current issue in developmental psychology by looking at theories of moral development

    Issues on Human Development Meaning

    What we mean by current issues on human development is the topic of the unanswered questions and debates revolving around developmental research. These debates have been present for decades and do not currently have any clear answers.

    Research can be influenced by the perspective taken by the psychologists, such as looking at more biological aspects of an issue compared to cognitive or social factors. These can reflect the side of the debate that researchers land on, for example, in the nature vs nurture debate, a psychologist conducting research from a biological perspective may argue that it is our genetics and our nature that drives human behaviour. However, a social psychologist will most likely believe that it is the nurture we receive from our environment and the people around us that influence how we develop. Many researchers also believe development to be due to a mix of both nature and nurture, again finding no clear resolution to the debate.

    Issues & Debates in developmental psychology, three people wearing green shirts have a thought or speech bubble above their head, StudySmarterDifferent research perspectives lead to interesting debates in developmental psychology, Speech vector created by storyset -

    Broad Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology

    There are a few big debates centred on developmental psychology, on which people of different research backgrounds and perspectives agree to disagree on.

    Issues on human development: Stability vs Change

    The debate around stability vs change is focused on personality traits. A psychologist arguing from a stability perspective believes that personality traits are the same throughout a person's entire life, from infancy through to adulthood.

    Other researchers agree with an opposing belief, that personality traits can change throughout a person's life and are heavily influenced by their social interactions. For example, increasing confidence in social skills and settings from experience and with age.

    Issues on human development: Continuity vs Discontinuity

    This debate surrounds the occurrence of change that children and adults experience. Do people experience change in a smooth progression over time or in a series of staggered steps, pausing and then growing again at intervals? The answer depends on which psychological perspective you agree with.

    Many psychological theories suggest that learning and cognitive development occur in distinct stages, only passing on from one step to the next with age and experience and rarely regressing backwards. Theories such as Piaget's theory of cognitive development support discontinuity.

    Issues on human development: Nature vs Nurture

    As previously mentioned, the nature vs nurture debate is a large debate in developmental psychology. Some believe that human thought and behaviour are innate and a result of our genetics. Others believe at birth our mind is a blank slate that gets filled with knowledge by experience from our environment as we grow.

    The current perspective on this debate is that human behaviour is the result of a mix of both our nature and nurture. Our genes can influence how we interact with the world and vice versa, our environment can trigger something in our genetic code that can result in new or abnormal behaviour.

    Current Issues in Child Development Example: Moral Development

    Morals are distinguished beliefs of what is right and wrong, and morality is behaving in 'good' or 'bad' ways that match these moral beliefs. These can be different between cultures and individuals. Moral development is an example of a debate in developmental psychology due to its links with cognitive and social aspects of developmental stages. Moral development is defined as:

    The change in understanding of morals and right or wrong behaviours displayed as children grow into adulthood.

    There are several theories of moral development, a few of which we will look at now are good examples of viewing development in stages (think of support for discontinuity). However, these theories are still vastly different and also show how psychological theories themselves can change over time with input and research from others.

    Issues & Debates in developmental psychology, a girl in a green t-shirt has an angel in yellow dress on her left shoulder and a devil in a yellow jumpsuit on her right shoulder. The angel and devil are whispering in her ear, StudySmarterMorals are beliefs about doing right or wrong, Choice vector created by storyset -

    Piaget's Theory of Moral Development (1932)

    This theory suggests morals develop in 2 main stages:

    1. Heteronomous stage - told by others. From the ages of 5 - 10 years old, a child's morals reflect the same beliefs as those around them, and they think that these rules cannot be changed. With a focus on actions having consequences, such as a punishment for bad behaviour and a reward for good behaviour.
    2. Autonomous stage - individuality. From 10 + years old, a child becomes more independent and understands that intentions play a role in any consequences received due to their actions, a bad result doesn't mean that the action was immoral if they had good intentions. Rules can be changed if agreed by others to be of benefit.

    Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development (1958)

    This theory of moral development also progresses in stages with age. Kohlberg's theory includes 3 levels, each with its own 2 stages:

    • Level 1: Pre-conventional (<9 years old) - children have a basic view of good and bad behaviour, and believe in the consequences of actions.
      • Stage 1: Children avoid punishment by following orders.
      • Stage 2: Considering a self-interested benefit of good behaviour (rewards).
    • Level 2: Conventional Morality (10+ years) - by following social norms, people see themselves as good and moral members of society.
      • Stage 3: wanting approval and a good self-image from conforming to societal rules, also known as the good boy or good girl stage.
      • Stage 4: carrying out a duty to society to follow orders from authority figures to maintain social order.
    • Level 3: Post-conventional Morality (only reached by 10% of people) - goes beyond social norms and individuals have their own ideas of right and wrong.
      • Stage 5: moral differences based on the societal laws people are willing to follow.
      • Stage 6: belief that morals are abstract ideas and understanding universal moral codes should be followed instead of societal ones.

    Damon: On Developing a Moral Self (1999)

    Damon did not suggest stages of moral development but argued that moral development is a combination of factors from an individual's nature and nurture. Babies are suggested to be born with the ability to feel empathy, and then these babies grow into children who observe and overhear their caregiver's ideas on right and wrong behaviour - so moral development is a mix of nature and nurture.

    Moral development is just one example of a complex issue and debate in developmental psychology. Do you think children develop morals as part of their cognitive growth and the society they keep? Or is morality something we are born with?

    Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology - Key takeaways

    • Current issues on human development are the topic of unanswered questions and debates revolving around developmental research.
    • Debates tend to centre around psychologists having different research backgrounds and perspectives e.g. biological, cognitive etc.
    • Current big debates revolve around stability vs change, continuity vs discontinuity and nature vs nurture.
    • Moral development is the change that occurs in the understanding of morals and right or wrong behaviours as children grow into adulthood.
    • Theories of Moral Development, such as Piaget's and Kohlberg's use stages to progress with age, and other psychologists such as Damon (1999) suggest mixes of nature vs nurture to explain how morals grow and change.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Issues and Debates in Developmental Psychology

    What are the 4 basic issues of developmental psychology 

    Issues examined in developmental psychology involve biological, social, emotional, and cognition development in children and adults.

    What are the three major issues in developmental psychology explain? 

    Major issues and debates in developmental psychology are: stability vs change, continuity vs discontinuity and nature vs nurture.

    What is the biggest debate in developmental psychology? 

    The nature vs nurture debate. Do we develop and behave due to our genetics or the environment we live in? 

    What are the developmental issues? 

    Major issues and debates in developmental psychology are: stability vs change, continuity vs discontinuity and nature vs nurture.

    What are the main points of the nature-nurture debate? 

    The debate concerns whether psychologists believe it is our genes, evolutionary and biochemistry that influence our behaviour (nature) or if it is environmental factors (nurture). 

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