Developmental Psychology

Study this course in developmental psychology to learn more about how people change over their lifetime from infancy through to adulthood. Find out about key psychological and emotional challenges at different life stages.

Course Code: BPS210
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Life Is all About Change

This course teaches students about how people develop from birth to death, emotionally, psychologically, physically and behaviourally. If you have an in-depth understanding of the processes and changes which underlie different life stages you can use that knowledge as a basis for working with and helping people in any context.

Significance of Developmental Psychology

When you study developmental psychology you develop an understanding of what may be considered normal development and what might be not so normal.

This type of knowledge enables you to pinpoint where some people may be facing difficulties and how or when this might have occurred.

Developmental psychology is also the study of progressive psychological changes that occur in human beings as they age. For example, in older age the acuity of our senses may diminish, we might be a little slower to respond and we might be slightly more forgetful but dementia despite affecting a significant proportion of the population is not normal and brings with it particular challenges of its own.   

Study this course to learn about how we develop from infants and children, through adolescence and early life, into old age.

This subject examines changes across a broad range of topics including: motor skills and other psycho-physiological processes, problem solving abilities, conceptual understanding, acquisition of language, moral understanding, and identify formation, through to relationships, marriage, work-life balance and retirement. 

This course is aimed at people working in a counselling, supporting, caring or even teaching capacity who will benefit from understanding how physiological and psychological changes over the lifespan affect human behaviour.

Students will gain greater insight into issues that present particular challenges at different stages of the life span, especially from adolescence to old age. This course also sets the theoretical framework complementing the Child Psychology course.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Theoretical Approaches and Key Concepts
    • Introduction
    • Theoretical Approaches
    • Psychodynamic
    • Freud
    • Virtue
    • Mutuality
    • Ego Identity
    • Role Confusion
    • Piaget’s Stages of Development
    • Egocentrism
    • Locus Of Control
    • Interactionist
    • Assimilation
    • Accommodation
    • Adaptation
    • Zone Of Proximal Development
    • Biological Or Physical Development
    • Cognitive Development
    • Infancy
    • Toddlerhood
    • Maturity And Old Age
    • Ethics In Developmental Research
  2. Early Childhood: Cognitive and Social Development in the First 6 Years
    • The Development of Humans and Children
    • Influences Of Prenatal Development
    • Language Acquisition
    • Age
    • Language Skill
    • Theories Of Infant Development
    • Behaviours – Unlearned and Learned
    • Personality
    • Social Relationships
    • Pro-Social or Altruistic Behaviour
    • Can We Encourage Children to Become Altruistic?
    • Aggressive Behaviour
    • Age-Related Changes in Aggression
    • Is Aggression A Stable Attribute?
    • Cognitive Development
    • Autonomy
  3. Middle Childhood – Cognitive, Moral & Social Development In The Primary School Years
    • Introduction
    • Language Development
    • What Is the Difference Between Speech and Language?
    • Problems With Speech and Language
    • Relationships With Family & Peers
    • More Sophisticated Thinking: Piaget’s Version
    • Theories of Intelligence
    • Cognitive Processing Theory - Memory
    • Memory Capacity
    • Moral Development
    • Peer Groups
    • Special Children and Special Needs
  4. Challenges of Middle Childhood
    • Introduction
    • Physical Changes
    • Variations In Height and Weight
    • Industry Vs Inferiority
    • Trauma And Grief
    • Family Relationships
    • Siblings
    • Adoption
    • Divorce
    • Television/The Internet/Video Games
    • Learning Disabilities
    • Sense Of Self
  5. Adolescence: Cognitive, Moral and Social Development
    • Introduction
    • Cognitive Development
    • Piaget’s Formal Operations Stage
    • Physical Development
    • Puberty In Females
    • Puberty In Males
    • Nutrition And Eating Disorders
    • Hormones
    • Physical Activity
    • Identity
    • Moral Development
    • Relationships With Family and Peers
    • Cultural Perspectives
  6. Challenges of Adolescence
    • Introduction
    • Body Image
    • Self Esteem
    • Peer Groups
    • Identity Vs Role Confusion
    • The Acquisition of Gender Identity and Sex Role Identity
    • Gender Identity Disorders
    • Curiosity
    • Sexual Orientation, Homosexuality and Heterosexuality
    • Theories Of Sexual Orientation
    • Do People Have a Choice as To Their Sexual Orientation?
    • The “Coming Out” Process
    • Sexual Behaviour
    • Grief And Teenagers
    • Supporting A Grieving Child
    • Case Study – Suicide
  7. Adulthood: Cognitive and Psychosocial Development in Early and Middle Adulthood
    • Introduction
    • Attending College/University or Leaving the Nest
    • Marriage/Partnerships
    • Work And Achievement
    • Friendships
    • Adult Thinking
    • Transitions
    • Adult Psychological Development
    • Physiological Changes
    • The Male Menopause
  8. Challenges of Adulthood
    • Divorce
    • Trauma and Depression
    • Parenting
    • Impact Of Relationships on Health
    • Stress
    • Social Adjustment
    • Relationship Between Stress & Heart Disease
    • What Happens to The Body When We Experience Stress?
    • Chronic & Acute Stress
    • Why Do Some People Suffer More Damage from Stress Than Others?
    • Alternative Lifestyles
    • Grandparenthood
    • Erikson’s Stage 7 – Middle Adulthood
    • Erikson’s Stage 8 – Late Adulthood
  9. Late Adulthood: Cognitive and Psychological Changes in the Older People
    • Introduction
    • Physiological Changes in Late Adulthood
    • Health Related Issues
    • Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease
    • Nutritional Challenges
    • Pseudo-Dementia
    • Memory & Learning
    • Depression
    • Determining The Type of Depression
    • Causes Of Depression
    • Dying And Bereavement
  10. Challenges of Late Adulthood
    • Introduction
    • Stereotypes
    • Loss And Mourning
    • Integrity Vs Despair
    • Facing Mortality
    • Grief And the Grieving Process
    • Social Issues
    • Strategies To Deal with Loneliness
    • Physical Difficulties
    • Osteoarthritis
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Incontinence
    • Problems With the Eyes
    • Hearing Difficulties
    • Factors In Maintaining a H

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Understand key theories and concepts in the study of developmental psychology
  • Identify cognitive and social aspects of a small child’s development and some key inherent and external influences.
  • Describe major cognitive, moral and social developments in middle childhood and how they influence behaviour
  • Identify common psychological and physiological challenges faced by children from ages 6 to puberty.
  • Identify areas of change that will affect adolescent behaviour and thinking.
  • Identify changes that can occur in early and middle adulthood and which influence the person’s development.
  • Identify some key challenges faced in adulthood and ways of coping with them.
  • Identify effects of physiological changes and life experience on the aged person’s cognition and psychosocial states.
  • Identify key challenges faced by older people, and strategies for dealing with them.

What You Will Do

  • Learn key theories and concepts in the study of developmental psychology;
  • List major ethical concerns when studying development, and one step a researcher can take to reduce each;
  • Identify cognitive and social aspects of a small child’s development and some key inherent and external influences;
  • Describe the phases of language acquisition in infants, and what can adversely affect it;
  • Describe major cognitive, moral and social developments in middle childhood and how they influence behaviour
  • Compare short term memory with long term memory in middle childhood, and discuss how this affects the child’s ability to learn;
  • Identify common psychological challenges faced by children from ages 6 to puberty;
  • Reflect on your own success and failure experiences, and your own sense of competence in middle childhood. Consider how they affected your perceptions of yourself as you matured;
  • Identify areas of change that will affect adolescent behaviour and thinking;
  • Explain post formal thought, and consider how it can contribute to an adolescent’s ability or willingness to make moral choices;
  • Identify challenges common to adolescence, and ways to deal with them;
  • Explain individuation. Discuss its importance, and how it can both challenge and complement group identity;
  • Identify changes that can occur in early and middle adulthood and influence behaviour;
  • Explain K. Warner Schaie’s ‘stages of adult thinking’ and explain why Schaie’s model might be more relevant to understanding adult cognition than Piaget’s cognitive model;
  • Identify some key challenges faced in adulthood and ways of coping with them;
  • List some changes that are typically associated with ‘midlife crisis’. Discuss both negative and positive aspects of ‘midlife crisis’;
  • Identify effects of physiological changes and life experience on the aged person’s cognitive and psychosocial experiences;
  • Explain how ‘cognitive plasticity’ can affect an older person’s ability to learn despite brain cell loss;
  • Research depression and suicide among the elderly;
  • Research ways that an older person can be made to feel more independent and automonous.
    • Consider in your response what family members can do to respect the older person’s need for autonomy.


The human being is also a natural being and, as such, is endowed with natural vital forces, which take the form of inherited qualities. Birth gives man existence as a natural individual. Although he comes into the world with insufficiently formed anatomical and physiological systems, they are genetically programmed as uniquely human. The newborn child is not a "tabula rasa" (clean slate) on which the environment draws its fanciful spiritual patterns. Heredity equips the child not only with instincts. He is from the very beginning the possessor of a special ability, the ability to imitate adults, their actions, the noises they make. He has an inherent curiosity, an ability to enjoy bright objects. He is capable of being upset, disappointed, experiencing fear and joy. His smile is innate and it can be observed even in prematurely born babies. Smiling is the privilege of man. And these purely human innate potentials are developed in the course of his whole subsequent life in society. Many specific features even of the human being's physiological make-up (the round shape of the head, the sophisticated structure of the hands, the shape of the lips and the whole facial structure, the erect posture, etc.) are products of the social way of life, the result of interaction with other people.

Influences of prenatal development

There are many influences that can affect the health and physiology of the child. This can start as early as preconception with the health of the parents and whether or not they have come in contact with any chemicals or the environment that may affect the reproductive health of the parents. There are other risk factors when the child is growing in the womb that may also affect the anatomy and physiology of the child. Risks such as nutrition of the mother, stress, as well as the mothers age. Of course it is also imperative that the mother stays away from tetratogens (these are any agent that can affect the baby). These can be drugs, diseases or environmental hazards. A mother should also look into genetic counselling if there are known genetic diseases which run in the family and that a child may be at risk of having. Some examples of the above are:

  • Genetic disorders due to abnormal chromosomes – Down syndrome
  • Medicinal drugs taken by the mother – Thalidomide
  • Foetal alcohol syndrome – FAS
  • Maternal diseases – rubella or German measles
  • Environmental hazards – radiation

Genetics is the study of our genes (our molecular structure containing DNA). Genotype is the set of genetic traits we inherit from our parents. The phenotype is the set of traits an individual actually displays during development: reflects the evolving products of genotype (nature) and experience (nurture).

These traits that we inherit can be recessive or dominant. Dominant traits have a greater influence and what trait manifests, whereas recessive traits will only have an influence if no dominant trait is present. Some examples are hair colour brown/black is dominant and blond is recessive. These traits are found on the chromosomes which are rod like structures that contain genetic material (DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid) from both parents which determine our characteristics.

Developing as an Adult
Given the number of years we spend in adulthood compared to childhood, there is surprisingly little research into this stage of life.  In recent years there has been more interest due to the acknowledgement that modern life has become increasingly more complex and demanding and the fact that adult lifestyles change over time as well as the fact that young adults are staying home with their parents much longer.

As young people extend the transition to adulthood by delaying marriage and childbearing and expanding education, parents also extend their role in the lives of their children. As youth move into adulthood, families continue to greatly influence their children’s life chances and outcomes by, for example, providing social and employment connections, paying for college, and providing direct material support in the form of time, money, help, and shared housing.

Young adulthood is an overlooked era. Yet the period between ages 18 to 30 is a time of profound change, when young adults acquire the skills and education they need for jobs and careers, when they establish households and relationships, begin families, and begin to contribute to society in meaningful ways. 

If we think about stages of adulthood in terms of issues and challenges of young adulthood, middle age, later adulthood, and old age, then there are major differences in terms of competition from interests that may affect the amount and type of life experience, and interest in an intentional spiritual journey.

In young adulthood, people often focus on finding a livelihood that is right for them and making decisions about mate selection and family formation. By the time people reach middle age, their job and family responsibilities often become routine, perhaps still demanding but well within their capacity, and opportunities for community involvement often increase. In later adulthood, having launched children into adulthood and having retired from the workforce can bring increased freedom to choose a life quite different from what has been known. In old age, many people maintain their involvement in community organizations, especially religious organizations, and a few find themselves serving as spiritual elders



Any job that involves working with people can be enhanced by doing this course. Any relationship you have with others can be improved by understanding developmental psychology.

This is a subject that helps you to build a greater empathy. You can better, and more accurately understand what drives people to act the way they do, whether at work, in their home or in a leisure time pursuit. You can become a more effective manager, supervisor, counsellor, salesperson, health professional or teacher.

Whatever your reason for studying this course, it has the potential to enlighten you and improve your knowledge and skills in a very real way.
ACS is a Member of the Complementary Medicine Association.
ACS is a Member of the Complementary Medicine Association.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Jacinda Cole (Psychologist)

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist.
B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA
Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. She has co-authored several psychology text books and many courses including diploma and degree level courses in psychology and counselling. Jacinda has worked for ACS for over 10 years.

Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy
Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head for TAFE, she brings a wealth of skills and experience to her role as a tutor for ACS.

Tracey Jones (Psychologist)

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE.
Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc.
25 years industry experience in writing, editing, education, psychology, and business. Tracey has several books and hundreds of articles published; in both fiction and non fiction.

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