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Developmental Psychology for AP Psychology

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Developmental Psychology Review Questions for AP Psychology

Key Issues in Development

Nature vs. Nurture

For thousands of years, philosophers and psychologists took sides in the nature versus nurture controversy, dealing with the extent to which heredity and the environment each influence behavior. Today, psychologists agree that both nature and nurture interact to determine behavior, but they disagree as to the extent of each. Many biological psychologists, neuroscientists, and evolutionary psychologists argue the nativist (nature) position that basic structures for our behavior are genetically determined, and their expression depends on interaction with the environment. In other words, development results mostly from genetically determined maturation—biological growth processes that bring about orderly changes in behavior, thought, or physical growth, relatively unaffected by experience. On the other side, behaviorists argue that physical structures are genetically inherited and intellectual structures are learned; the environment shapes us. Developmental psychologists conduct experimental and observational studies on identical twins, for example, to try to determine the relative contributions of nature and nurture.

Continuity vs. Discontinuity

A second controversy, continuity versus discontinuity, deals with the question of whether development is gradual, cumulative change from conception to death (continuity), or a sequence of distinct stages (discontinuity). Behaviorists who favor continuity focus on quantitative changes in number or amount, such as changes in height and weight. Vygotsky favored continuity. On the other hand, theorists such as Piaget, Kohlberg, Gilligan, and Erikson who favor distinct stages focus on qualitative changes in kind, structure, or organization. They theorize that the child and growing adult resolve conflicts or develop different abilities in stages through which everyone passes in the same order and that build upon one another; the growth pattern is discontinuous.

Stability vs. Change

A third controversy, stability versus change, deals with the issue of whether or not personality traits present during infancy endure throughout the lifespan. Psychoanalysts, followers of Freud, believe that personality traits developed in the first 5 years predict adult personality. Change theorists argue that personalities are modified by interactions with family, experiences at school, and acculturation. Developmental psychologists research which characteristics are most likely to remain stable and consistent, and which are likely to be more flexible and subject to change. Some aspects of temperament, such as energy level and outgoingness, seem relatively stable, whereas social attitudes are more likely to change.

Methods of Studying Development

Developmental psychologists conduct experiments, naturalistic observations, correlational studies, and case studies that enable them to assess change over time. They use four basic research designs: longitudinal, cross-sectional, cohort-sequential, and retrospective studies.

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