Developmental psychology

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The developmental psychology is a branch of psychology . Its subject is the description and explanation of permanent, successive changes in human experience and behavior over the entire lifespan ( lifespan psychology ). These changes lead to an increase or decrease in abilities in the biologically species-appropriate course of life that is not determined by disease . Developmental psychology does not deal with short-term mood-dependent or reactive changes caused by sudden external events. Human mental development is also an area of ​​study in educational sciences and social work , often concentrated in child psychology or youth psychology .

Philosophical positions before the XX. century

Many philosophers have also developed theoretical positions on psychological development, which are often closely related to pedagogical teachings. With Aristotle there is the entelechy , according to which living beings strive for a fixed goal in their development. Jean-Jacques Rousseau analyzed the growth of a child up to adolescence at Emile .

In Germany in the 19th century Ernst Haeckel ( basic biogenetic rule ) and William Preyer (“ Diary of a Child ”) at the University of Jena tried to explain the psychological evolution of children as a catch-up evolution. They fall within the transition from the emergence of psychology as a separate discipline around 1900.


Some historical theories still form a basis for current research, which primarily relies on a purely empirically founded, nomothetic science with its constructed system of categories on a descriptive-empirical basis. These theories include John B. Watsons and BF Skinner's behaviorism (more on the role of behaviorism in behavioral analysis of child development) and Erik Erikson's eight stages of mental development. Other theories such as psychoanalysis , gestalt psychology or cognitivism have also contributed to individual aspects of scientific development. Since the 20th century, many theoretical perspectives have tried to explain development ; the best known of them are:

Jane Loevinger's comprehensive model of interconnected developmental aspects describes the ten stages of ego development by linking “ meaning ” -generating aspects from several models: Piaget's model of cognitive development, Kohlberg's theory of moral development , Robert Kegan's developmental stages of the self, William G. Perrys (1913–1998) epistemological growth, Harry Stack Sullivan's self-system and Robert F. Peck's (1924–2011) character development .

One of the pioneers of the stages of human development was Robert J. Havighurst , who identified developmental assignments for six basic age groups. Klaus Hurrelmann has further developed the approach and placed it in a socialization- theoretical framework. Development tasks therefore describe, on the one hand, the expectations that the social and physical environment brings to a person. On the other hand, they name the requirements that result from the physical and psychological dynamics of personal development. The so-called “productive processing” of the inner reality of body and psyche and the outer reality of the social and physical environment takes place throughout life in four dimensions: binding, qualifying, consuming and participating.

Research areas

Originally, developmental psychology was considered child psychology , as it was primarily concerned with adult development. Today, on the other hand, it is assumed that human beings will continue to develop throughout their entire lifespan, which is already reflected in development models such as Erik Erikson's step model of psychosocial development .

The lecture by Rainer Silbereisen (University of Jena, summer semester 2006) presents central research questions of the discipline (see structure below).

The drive behind the development is the interplay between the genetic program and ecological (= environmental) experiences, including cultural ones. In biology this interaction is called epigenesis . Developmental psychology uses the term “proximal processes” (Bronfenbrenner).

According to Paul B. Baltes , a representative of lifespan psychology , interaction with the environment promotes development in three relevant processes (SOK model): a) Selection: e.g. B. Information selection and information processing b) Optimization: the process of acquiring, consolidating and maintaining effective methods for achieving desirable goals and avoiding the undesirable. c) Compensation (two types): 1. Use of new strategies to achieve the same goal; 2. Change of goal due to loss of skills

  • Example: The 80-year-old pianist Arthur Rubinstein a) limits himself to a few pieces, b) practices these pieces more often, c) to counteract his loss of speed, he simply plays more slowly before fast segments.

It is controversial whether psychological properties can be changed throughout life : the concept of the limited sensitive phase is on the one hand, the concept of lifelong plasticity on the other. The former means that early and earliest experiences have a decisive and practically irreversible formative effect ("What Hans doesn't learn, Hans never learns again!").

  • Example: fixation and psychosexual development with Sigmund Freud, learning to imprint with Konrad Lorenz (mother's picture: experimenter as goose mother), early childhood deprivation with René A. Spitz (retarding neglected children in the home).

This is countered by the more modern assumption of lifelong plasticity, that development is possible during the entire life span. (Wrong) developments can therefore be corrected to a certain extent. Research in recent years has provided more and more evidence for this.

  • Example: A study by Michael Rutter from the 1990s on Romanian orphanage children examined the development potential of children from unfavorable backgrounds after being adopted into English middle-class families. It was found that the existing deficits could be largely (if not always completely) compensated - and the better the younger the children were at the time of adoption.

The sociologist Glen H. Elder studied the effects of war on psychological development . When young men (up to around 20 years of age) went into military service, the prospects for development were more favorable: better social and professional development prospects, e.g. B. The military made it possible for them to study free of charge. Men who moved in late and in whom developmental strands were interrupted showed negative aspects. This cohort showed an increased divorce rate, negative health effects and often social decline.

The anthropologists Super and Harkness compare the influence of cultures on developments . The proximal processes take place in the developmental niche :

1. physical setting

  • Examples: Julian S. has a large room in which the blinds are lowered in the evening. The children of the Kenyan Kipsigi tribe sleep with their mothers at night and are alone during the day. Your less and irregular sleep is not a development deficit, but a different physical setting.

2. cultural customs: unconscious but firmly anchored cultural habits that have a massive impact on the development gradient.

  • Example: In some cultures it is common to wear children in shawls. Children moved in this way have a different visual field and experience greater motor stimulation than children pushed in strollers. Their growth and motor development are accelerated due to this stimulation. The plasticity of the genome can be influenced by switching genes on and off.

3. Naive psychology / ethnotheories: people's beliefs about development.

  • Example: Kipsigis believe that silence is better than speaking. As a result, their children's language development is slower (but not necessarily worse).

Dondi investigated whether the ability to be socially empathic is already genetic or is only acquired by measuring the ability to empathize in newborns who were three days old or less . They were played both their own cries in pain and those of others in pain caused by drawing blood from the heel. The changes in the facial expression of the newborns were measured. In addition, the suction frequency was registered on the pacifier with measuring sensors. There were three groups: the first heard their own screams, the second heard the screams of another newborn, the third group was a control group with no stimuli. Result: The infants react much more strongly to screaming from others than to their own screaming with "facial expressions of distress". An infant hearing someone else's cry in pain has the same facial expression as it does when it is in pain. This suggests that the ability to empathize (infectious through the emotions of others) is genetic. Like sympathy (understanding the emotions of others), this ability is an elementary basis of social behavior and human interaction.

Piaget considered the age at which a certain stage of development is reached to be independent of culture and social form . Two questions were asked about his static development theory, according to which children reached the stage of formal-operational thinking at the age of around 12. Are there long-term changes in the average age at which a developmental stage is reached? There are many observations that more children reach these stages earlier. 2. Are there cultural differences with regard to the average age at which a stage of development is reached? Barbara Rogoff confirmed it by examining untrained Mexican children for their formal operational thinking skills. She initially carried out the same tasks as Piaget on European children to classify developmental stages. The Mexican children did poorly in these tasks. Could these deficits stem from a lack of “familiarity with the material”? That was not decisive, but the way of thinking formally and operationally. However, the Mexican children managed to do a typical cultural task for formal-operative thinking, explaining complicated family relationships.

In an experiment on language acquisition in 1987, a fairy tale was read to infants in two different ways: on the one hand with the usual pauses and on the other hand with pauses that disregard the meaningful units. From the age of 7 months, children prefer language examples with pauses in grammatically meaningful places. In addition, they prefer an overly emphasized, exaggeratedly intonated way of speaking, which has always been common as " nurse's language ". Up to six months of age, newborns can differentiate between all possible sounds. The maximum number decreases up to the 10th month of life. Sounds that are not used in the mother tongue can then neither be discriminated against nor produced. For example, Asians lose the ability to distinguish between “l” and “r”.


  1. Development systems and basic determinants
    1. Age-Correlated Change and Historical Change
    2. Interdependence of biological and ecological development systems
  2. Early childhood
    1. Prenatal Psychology
    2. The first months of infant and toddler research
    3. Sensorimotor Development Nonverbal Communication
    4. Social-emotional development
    5. Despite phases and identity
    6. Developmental Disorders and Risks
  3. Development of psychophysical functions
    1. Cognitive development and concepts of individual orientation
    2. Emotional development
    3. language
    4. motivation
    5. Social cognition and interaction
    6. Moral development: interests, values ​​and moral judgment
    7. Motorical development
  4. Research methods
    1. Attachment theory describes forms of interpersonal relationships.
    2. Bronfenbrenner's ecosystem approach
  5. Family as a development context
    1. Family development and demographic processes
    2. Models and concepts of the development of / in families
    3. Parent-child interactions
    4. Separation or loss of parents and their consequences
    5. Economic burdens and socialization function
    6. Family and peers from preschool through puberty
    7. Parents and children in old age
  6. Extra-family groups as a development context
  7. Age
    1. Concepts of Aging - Gerontopsychology
    2. Course of mental functions over the life span
    3. Dealing with normative and non-normative conditions
    4. Cognitive Development and Intervention
    5. Motivational development and intervention
  8. General developmental tasks in physiological and psychological terms up to adolescence
  9. Integrative development approaches of human development potential
    1. Development of the ego : frame of meaning of own experiences
    2. Integral theory

See also


Introductory literature
  • Gerd Mietzel : Paths into developmental psychology. Childhood and youth ; Weinheim: Beltz, 2002 4 ; ISBN 978-3-621-27477-7 .
  • Gerd Mietzel: Paths into developmental psychology. Adulthood and end of life ; Weinheim: Beltz, 1997 2 ; ISBN 978-3-621-27376-3 .
  • Werner Deutsch: From the nursery to science. Developmental diary studies ; in: I. Behnken, J. Zinnecker (Ed.): Handbuch Kindheit ; Hanover: Velber, 2004.
  • Peter Rossmann: Introduction to Developmental Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence ; Bern: Huber, 1996 4 ; ISBN 3-456-82723-7 .
  • Liselotte Ahnert : Theories in Developmental Psychology. Springer Verlag, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3642348044
  • Patricia Miller: Theories of Developmental Psychology ; Berlin, Heidelberg: Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 1993; ISBN 3-86025-077-9
  • August Flammer: Theories of Development - Psychological Theories of Human Development , Bern 2009. ISBN 3-456-83921-9 .
  • Werner Wicki: Developmental Psychology . Munich: Ernst Reinhardt, UTB Basics (2nd revised edition), 2015 ISBN 978-3-8252-4475-0
Adolescent Psychology
Social psychological approaches
Socialization-theoretical approaches
  • Klaus Hurrelmann, Ullrich Bauer, Introduction to Socialization Theory ; Weinheim, Beltz, 11th edition 2015; 978-3-4072-5740-6.
  • Klaus Hurrelmann, Ullrich Bauer, Matthias Grundmann , Sabine Walper (eds.): Handbuch Sozialisierungforschung ; Weinheim, Beltz. 8th edition 2015. ISBN 978-3-4078-3183-5 .
  • Liselotte Ahnert : How much mother does a child need. Attachment - education - care: public and private. Springer Spektrum Verlag, 2010
Constructivist approaches
  • Robert Kegan : The stages of development of the self: Progress and crises in human life , Munich: Kindt, 1994. ISBN 978-3-925412-00-4
  • Jane Loevinger : Ego Development - Questions of Method and Theory , Washington: Psychological Inquiry, 1993.
Psychoanalytic Approaches
Gestalt theoretical approaches
  • Kurt Koffka : The basics of psychological development - an introduction to child psychology ; Osterwieck a. Harz, AW Zickfeldt, 1921. ND 2012: General Books, ISBN 978-1-235-11446-5 .
  • Kurt Lewin : Psychology of Development and Upbringing , Kurt Lewin Werksausgabe Vol. 6, Klett-Cotta, 1982. ISBN 978-3-12-935160-4
  • Anna Arfelli Galli : Gestalt psychology and child research . Krammer, Vienna 2013. ISBN 978-3-901811-66-1 .
  • Anna Arfelli Galli: Attachment theory and gestalt theoretical developmental psychology . In: Phenomenal, 6 (1/2014), 39–46.
Textbooks and manuals
  • Rolf Oerter , Leo Montada (Ed.): Developmental Psychology. Textbook . Weinheim: Beltz, 2002 5 ; ISBN 3-621-27479-0 .
  • Franz Petermann (ed.): Textbook of clinical child psychology . Göttingen: Hogrefe, 2008 6 ; ISBN 978-3-8017-2157-2 .
  • HM Trautner: Textbook of Developmental Psychology , 2 volumes; Göttingen: Hogrefe, 1992/1997.
  • Arnold Lohaus / Marc Vierhaus: Developmental Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence for Bachelor. 2nd Edition. Heidelberg: Springer, 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-34434-3 .
  • Fritz Oser , Wolfgang Althof: Moral self-determination. Models of development and education in the realm of values. A textbook ; Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992. ISBN 3-518-28993-4

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Kurt Lewin : Field Theory. Bern: Huber and Klett-Cotta, 1982 (originally 1942), pp. 167–185, pp. 331–365, ISBN 3-12-935140-X
  2. ^ Robert F. Peck, Robert James Havighurst , Ruth Cooper: The Psychology of Character Development . Wiley, 1960 ( [accessed August 13, 2020]).
  3. ^ Rainer K. Silbereisen: Script about all events of the lecture. 2006, accessed on August 12, 2020 .
  4. Super, CM; Harkness, S. (1986): The Developmental Niche: a Conceptualization at the Interface of Child and Culture .
  5. Dondi, M., Simion, F. & Caltran, G. (1999): Can Newborns Discriminate Between Their Own Cry and the Cry of Another Newborn Infant?
  6. Barbara Rogoff, Pablo Chavajay: What's become of research on the cultural basis of cognitive development? In: American Psychologist . tape 50 , no. October 10 , 1995, ISSN  1935-990X , p. 859-877 , doi : 10.1037 / 0003-066x.50.10.859 .
  7. ^ Norbert Kühne : Early development and upbringing - The critical period, in: Teaching materials Pedagogy - Psychology, No. 694, Stark Verlag, Hallbergmoos
  8. Arnd Krüger : When should children start exercising? Peter Lösche (Ed.): Göttingen Social Sciences Today. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1990, 278 - 308.
  9. Critical review: Peter Gstettner : The conquest of the child through science - from the history of discipline, rororo 7425, Reinbek 1981; ISBN 3 499 17425 1
  10. Expert: Liselotte Ahnert