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DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY

Developmental psychologists study how people change over time and the developmental stages across the human lifespan (i.e., birth to death). Developmental psychologists conduct basic and applied research in such topics as age-related changes in neurobiological development, emotional and social development, and cognitive- intellectual development and language acquisition. Until recently, the primary focus was on infancy and childhood, the most formative years. But as life expectancy in this country approaches 80 + years, developmental psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in aging, especially in researching and developing ways to help elderly people stay as independent as possible. Developmental psychologists are often employed in academic settings, clinics, hospitals, and public school systems as well as in private or group practice.

Introduction
Programs in developmental and child psychology focus on the study of growth and aging in people. Students learn how children's emotions and personalities develop. They also learn how to research human needs in various stages of development.

Overview
The development of the human mind is one of life's great wonders. Everyone has experienced it firsthand and has seen it happen to family members, yet it still holds many mysteries. For example, the parents of a toddler might show her a photo with her own image and say, "That's you!" For some time the child might point to it and say, "That's you!" How and when does the child learn to say, "That's me!"?

The most rapid development of the mind occurs early in life, and what goes right or wrong then can affect a person's whole life thereafter. So young people have always been of special interest to researchers in this field. However, people's minds continue to develop throughout life. As baby boomers are going gray, researchers are paying more attention to the changes that older adults go through. How do they cope with the empty nest? With retirement? With thoughts of their own mortality? What can help them stay productive and keep a positive outlook?

You can study developmental and child psychology as an undergraduate. About 180 colleges offer a bachelor's degree in this field. Normally that takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. In such a program, you learn what researchers have found out about emotional and cognitive development. You study developmental problems. You learn about the kinds of mental illness that are more likely to occur at various stages of life. You study the scientific methods that are used to investigate behavior. In order to make sense of the data that such research produces, you also study statistics.

The bachelor's degree by itself does not prepare you to work in psychology; in this field, even research assistants often have graduate degrees. However, you may use the bachelor's as the foundation for your further education. It may prepare you go on to graduate school in psychology, physical or occupational therapy, business, or (with some additional courses) medical school. Or it may lead to work assisting with marketing research.

Graduate work in this field prepares you mainly to do research or teach in college. The best preparation is a doctoral degree. That probably explains why more universities offer the doctorate (about 60) than the master's (about 30). You can earn a master's in about two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's. The doctorate takes an average of three additional years. That time may be divided between studying and assisting with research or teaching.

In graduate school you take additional courses to learn about development at various stages of life, but the main emphasis is on learning how to do research. That's why the culmination of the master's is an original research project written up as a thesis. And to complete your doctorate you need to do a more elaborate research project for a dissertation.