What is a Developmental Psychologist?

Developmental PsychologistA developmental psychologist studies the stages of development over the human lifespan. Though initially centered around stages of development in infancy and childhood, the field has expanded to include the study of adolescence, adulthood and geriatric development as well.

Developmental Psychology Defined

Developmental psychology focuses on the study of social, cognitive, emotional, physical and biological milestones that occur throughout the life cycle of humans. Developmental psychology studies have identified normative behavior for major life milestones under the assumption that all individuals

For example, reams of studies have identified a normative milestone as an infant sitting up by themselves by nine months of age. If an infant is not exhibiting sitting behavior by the ninth month, this may be an indicator of a more serious health issue or a developmental delay of some sort. Developmental psychologists assess growth processes and milestones from childhood through old age to ensure normative development throughout life stages.

Nature vs. Nurture: Dichotomy or Continuum

Developmental psychology considers the importance of both nature and nurture in human development. According to Simply Psychology, an individual’s DNA is the “nature” aspect, whereas the external environment is the “nurture” aspect. Some disciplines in the field of psychology focus primarily on nature while others focus on nurture. For example, behaviorism is only concerned with changing human behavior through the external environment, and psychoanalysis better explains innate sex drives and aggression. Developmental psychology considers both nature and nurture, viewing these factors not as a dichotomy, but rather as a continuum of development.

A Career as a Development Psychologist

Developmental psychologists are employed by a variety of industries, including health care, primary and secondary schools, government agencies and academia. If you plan to teach and work in research, the academic track is probably the one for you. If you would like to work with patients in an applied setting, you may need to follow another course of action. According to the American Psychological Association, applied settings, such as schools, clinics and hospitals, may require a Masters degree or a Psy.D, whereas an academic research in the field will likely require a Ph.D.

Applied psychologists may be employed by pregnancy resource centers, adoption agencies, child care centers, early childhood education programs, welfare agencies, game and toy development projects and government agencies focused on the prevention of child abuse. Ph.D-level developmental psychologists are generally employed by colleges and universities for teaching and furthering research in the field.

If you are considering a career in developmental psychology, start by loading up on undergraduate psychology courses while working on your bachelor’s degree. You may want to consider making psychology your major. When approaching your third year, select and pursue a master’s program that will best prepare you for the direction you choose. Finally, seek out and apply to an accredited Ph.D or Psy.D program that employs faculty members who represent the area of study you wish to pursue.

Related Resource: Become a Behavioral Pscyhologist

Note that you are not necessarily required to attain a master’s degree if you intend to pursue a Ph.D or Psy.D, however, a master’s degree can be a terminal degree if the Ph.D or Psy.D is not desired. Students in applied programs can often opt for internships to get a better idea of a day in the life of a typical developmental psychologist.