What is developmental psychology purpose importance theories

What Is Developmental Psychology?

Developmental Psychology is a discipline dedicated to studying the changes – or the lack of them – that affect people throughout their lives.

Part of this field is the maxim that every human being goes through some phases throughout their existence, marked mainly by periods of great transformations, also called periods of rapid transition .

In the article “ Developmental Psychology: a historical perspective ”, different authors expressed ideas about how each individual evolves.

One of them was Angela Maria

“The specificity of Human Developmental Psychology lies in studying the external and internal variables to individuals that lead to changes in behavior in periods of rapid transition (childhood, adolescence and aging). Contemporary theories of development accept that changes are more marked in periods of rapid transition, but changes occur throughout the individual’s life, not only in these periods. Therefore, it is necessary to broaden the scope of understanding of what the study of human development is.”

In this context, one of the most widely accepted definitions today was thought up by the Swiss biologist Jean Piaget , one of the greatest references in the area of ​​human development.

As described in the book “Developmental Psychology”:

“Human development, therefore, is a process of progressive equilibration , a passage from a state of less equilibrium to a state of greater equilibrium. This occurs in the scope of intelligence, affective life, social relationships, as well as in the organism in general. We constantly have needs or motives that lead us to act in the environment we are in, in order to achieve a balance.”

What Is Developmental And Learning Psychology?

This is an expression sometimes used as equivalent to the discipline of Developmental Psychology.

After all, the idea is common that development is the product of a sum of small learnings, of experiences that lead the human being to advance .

However, depending on the perspective and source used, there can be big differences between development and learning .

Jean Piaget himself differentiates the two terms in his work “Development and learning”, published in 1972.

For the author, the development of knowledge refers to a spontaneous process that leads to the maturation of the body, mind and nervous system.

Thus, a baby only completes this process when it reaches adulthood, reaching the apex of its development.

Learning, on the other hand, is caused by external situations, events and experiences , including the presentation of new content by a teacher, contact with a hitherto unknown culture, or the performance of a scientific experiment.

Piaget‘s conclusion is that the two are opposites, since the development of knowledge is spontaneous, while learning is provoked.

What Is The Purpose Of Developmental Psychology?

This discipline supports the work carried out by psychologists, teachers, pedagogues, mental health specialists, among other professionals.

They take advantage of learning about the development process at different stages of life, applying theories and findings to change behaviors in the daily lives of patients, students and clients.

In summary, Developmental Psychology has three main purposes.

The first is the recognition of the origin of behaviors , whether cognitive, social, affective or psychomotor.

The second corresponds to the identification of mechanisms that provoke responses and, consequently, certain patterns of behavior.

The third uses this knowledge to delimit development phases , revealing characteristics common to each one.

In this way, it is possible to study and produce specific materials, suitable for application with children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.

What Is The Importance Of Developmental Psychology?

By studying and identifying different aspects of life stages, Developmental Psychology supports the construction and improvement of the individual in each of them.

In other words, this field of knowledge serves to highlight normal and harmful behaviors, encouraging improvements and correcting failures.

Sound a little complex? So, let’s go to a very common example.

Imagine that a child has recently learned to read, and has taken a liking to reading.

She reads street signs, announcements, messages in online games, comic books and small books.

But, after a few months, he begins to show a lack of interest in letters and words, leaving his books aside, showing a drop in school performance and being aggressive towards his colleagues.

Concerned, the teachers talk to the child’s parents, who ask her to read aloud at home, repairing a confusion between the letters.

This incident prompts a consultation with an eye doctor, who discovers a vision problem.

In this example, Developmental Psychology collaborates by signaling that there are causes behind harmful or unusual behaviors , such as the child’s aggression.

This is because human development is formed by four pillars that are always interconnected:

  • Physical-motor aspect : describes the maturation of the body and mind
  • Intellectual aspect : refers to the cognitive ability of the human being
  • Affective-emotional aspect : shows the ability to integrate experiences and emotions, building their feelings
  • Social aspect : reactions and attitudes related to experiences in society.

What Is The Importance Of Developmental Psychology For The Teacher?

Understanding each of the aspects mentioned above is essential for success in the teaching-learning process.

After all, the formation of knowledge accompanies the development at each stage of life, determining the best pedagogical techniques , contents and languages ​​that favor learning.

Children tend to better understand messages transmitted from playful tools, in a more superficial way, while adults need deeper and more robust content.

Or, in the words of educators Telma Sara Matos, Fernanda Nasciutti and Vilma Leni Nista-Piccolo:

“From the understanding that the human being is constantly evolving, and that he goes through stages of development with individual characteristics related to his learning process, it becomes necessary for the teacher to have knowledge around the theories of development, with information about the different evolutionary stages of their students . Human development takes place together with knowledge, being essential to understand the being in all its developmental stages.”

In addition to contributing to the structure and techniques of teaching and learning, knowing aspects of human development helps to build bonds between educators and students, strengthening trust and facilitating pedagogical practice.

When Did Developmental Psychology Appear?

The exact date of the emergence of this discipline is controversial, but it is believed to have been born in the late 19th century , when some landmarks in the area were recorded.

One was the foundation of the first societies for the study of human development, such as the Child Research Institute at Clark , in the United States, and the Société Libre pour l’Étude de l’Enfant , in France.

On that occasion, both nations won periodicals addressing the topic, such as Pedagogical Seminars and L’Année Psychologique .

The year 1882 also stands out, due to the publication of the book “ The mind of the child ”, in which William Preyer already drew attention to the particularities of the child’s mind , arousing the interest of researchers in the subject.

What Are The Fields Of Discussion In Developmental Psychology?

The theme affects different segments and fields of discussion, as it involves affective, cognitive, social and biological variables of people throughout their lives.

In this sense, old theories related human development only to external variables, or only to internal ones.

Currently, there is a consensus that both types affect the way the individual grows and transforms .

Internal variables consist of processes present from birth, and genetic bases that predispose to the formation of certain behaviors and characteristics.

External variables, on the other hand, describe the influence that the environment exerts on the maturation of the human being, which develops differently in different societies and historical moments.

A person raised in a community with strong religious appeal, for example, is likely to have different interests than they would if they were born in a place where religion is undervalued.

As for the historical moment , we can observe, for example, the reduction in the number of children as women gained better prospects in studies and careers .

External variables even impact the learning process, since exposure to something new is necessary to learn.

Main Theories And Theorists Of Developmental Psychology

Since the dawn of civilizations, human beings have expressed curiosity about their development process, comparing their views on a subject at different stages of life.

Therefore, the contemporary approach to Developmental Psychology combines information from different schools of thought , starting from studies on the construction of knowledge and learning.

Next, we bring the main theories that have influenced this field.


Known as Psychology of Form, Gestalt preaches that the whole (for example, a complete figure) does not correspond only to the sum of its parts, having meanings that go beyond them.

Gestalt believes that small gestures or superficial responses give clues to latent feelings, which makes it a therapeutic tool that contributes to mental health.

According to this theory, people develop as they learn to use biological structures that are already born with them , that is, they only discover their brain capacity, little by little.

Despite contributing to the study of human behavior , this idea was later overcome, when scientists discovered that it is possible to increase the capacity for learning.

Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Famous, the ideas of Sigmund Freud highlight the emotional aspects of development, highlighting its influence on natural behavior at each stage of life.

The neurologist and researcher broke with the rationalist conception by stating that most of the activities of the human mind are of an unconscious nature, deeply impacted by affective factors .

In 1923, the work “ The Ego and the Id ” formalized his division theory for the mind, composed of id, ego and superego.

The id or unconscious is defined as a driving force, not socialized and that seeks the person’s unconditional pleasure , being moved by the libido or energy of the sexual drive.

The ego would be the most superficial part, responsible for the interactions between the individual and the environment, while the superego acts as a controller of the id’s impulses and the ego’s intentions.

According to psychoanalysis, development occurs in response to the search for satisfaction, driven by libido since the human being is born.

Thus, at each stage of development, the individual focuses on a part of the body and on actions that give him more pleasure .

An example is the oral phase, in which babies concentrate their libido in the mouth region, since feeding and contact with pacifiers, teethers, etc., makes them satisfied.


Looking up in the dictionary, this field of study is described as:

Theory and method of psychological investigation that seeks to more objectively examine human and animal behavior, with an emphasis on objective facts (stimuli and reactions), without resorting to introspection.”

Behaviorism believes, then, that behaviors change as a result of environmental changes, with the stimulus being a change in the environment, and the reaction, a change carried out by the individual.

His contribution to Developmental Psychology lies in the discovery that it is possible to change patterns of behavior.

Lev Vygotsky

One of the main representatives of cognitive theoryVygotsky has a different view of human development, considering people as constructors of their reality or internal representation of the world in which they live.

One of the highlights of his studies is the perspective that, in order to build his knowledge, the individual interacts with the environment and the historical moment in which he is inserted.

Jean Piaget And The Psychology Of Child Development

As we mentioned in the previous topics, one of the most remembered theorists when talking about Developmental Psychology is Jean Piaget.

His work focused on how knowledge is constructed , that is, what processes are behind the evolution in the structure of human thought.

To answer this question, the author studied behavior in depth during the early stages of human life, reaching four stages of cognitive development, from birth to adolescence.

According to his thesis, knowledge is constructed from a system that seeks to balance itself , assimilating and accommodating novelties in a cyclical way.

In assimilation, the person comes into contact with the outside world and learns new information, which will be added to his repertoire.

Then, accommodation takes place, in which this information is confronted with what the person already knew and, from this confrontation, a change in the structure of their thinking occurs – the construction of new knowledge and consequent cognitive advancement .

Below, learn more about the four stages formulated by Piaget.

Sensorimotor Period

It starts at birth and extends to about two years of age.

At the beginning of life, babies are restricted to performing reflexive movements, such as sucking, so that they can feed.

But, over time, they improve their movements and incorporate other objects, in addition to the mother’s breast, to their sucking routine, indicating differentiation between their body and the outside world.

Preoperative Period

It is between 2 and 7 years old , starting when the child learns to speak.

This is a very important milestone, as it allows boys and girls to express their thoughts and emotions, while still viewing the world in an egocentric way .

Their learning is based on experiences and objects they know.

Concrete Operating Period

Defined between 7 and 11 to 12 years , it is characterized by the construction of logical structures and reduction of egocentrism, enabling group work and collaboration.

Formal Operating Period

When adolescence begins , it is during this period that the individual becomes capable of exercising reflection, creating hypotheses and deductions.

It also expands your reasoning ability, solving equations with many variables or successfully analyzing complex topics.

What Are The Main Factors That Influence Human Development?

The theories and scholars that we commented above allowed the discovery of four main factors that influence the maturation of the individual

Are they:

  • Heredity : consists of genes passed on by parents, which determine the development of each one. Depending on experiences and environment, they may or may not manifest.
  • Organic growth : Physical maturity gives the teen/adult possibilities he didn’t have as a child
  • Neurophysiological maturation : corresponds to the skills needed to master new knowledge, such as the ability to speak or walk
  • Environment : brings together all external stimuli, both from the place where the individual lives and from the people he lives with.

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