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PSY 3531 Child Psychology and Development

Course Description

Overviews psychological principles, theories, and research pertaining to the developing child from conception through early adolescence. Includes biological and environmental influences on affective, cognitive, moral, social, and personality development.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, the student will be able to

  • Examine age-related changes in children’s physical characteristics, social behaviors, and cognition and the mechanisms for these changes
  • Understand how interactions between biology and environment affect development
  • Understand how children actively construct their own knowledge and development
  • Become familiar with major theories of child development
  • Develop skills in reading, evaluating, and synthesizing research in child psychology and applying research to promote children's welfare
  • Apply knowledge regarding child psychology to both formal and informal observations of children and to interactions with children

Week 1

Lecture: Introduction
Lecture: Prenatal Development


  • Understand the reasons for learning about child development
  • Identify strengths and limitations in the contributions of philosophers and early scientific theorists to the study of child development
  • Explain seven enduring themes in development
  • Summarize the authors’ perspectives on the contemporary positions on each of the seven basic questions about child development
  • Describe the procedures involved in the scientific method
  • Name important criteria for good measurement
  • Define the contexts for gathering data and summarize the advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Recognize and label examples of correlational designs
  • Identify the risks and benefits associated with the use of correlational designs
  • Recognize and label the essential components of experimental designs, including random assignment, experimental and control groups, independent variables, and dependent variables
  • Explain the major advantage and disadvantage of experimental designs
  • Describe techniques for overcoming the major limitations of experimental designs
  • Recognize and label examples of each of the three designs for studying development
  • Describe the major structural changes that occur during each of the three major periods of prenatal development: the period of the zygote, the period of the embryo, and the period of the fetus
  • Apply the principle of cephalocaudal development to prenatal development
  • Give at least two examples of the ways in which the fetus’s behavior contributes to its own development
  • Provide evidence for human fetal learning
  • Explain how the effects of the environment begin before conception
  • Name common teratogens and explain the factors associated with the likelihood that exposure to teratogens will result in birth defects
  • Explain the ways in which the process of being born contributes to the postnatal survival of the fetus
  • Recognize different states of arousal in the newborn
  • Explain the ways in which the sleep state changes over development
  • Know what to say to parents who ask how they should respond to the newborn’s cries
  • Name the reasons for the relatively high rate of infant mortality in the United States 
  • Describe the outcomes associated with low birth weight and prematurity
  • Understand the multiple-risk model as it is applied to the impact of poverty on development

Week 2

Lecture: Biology, Behavior, and Cognitive Development – Heredity
Lecture: Biology, Behavior, and Cognitive Development – Brain Development
Lecture: Biology, Behavior, and Cognitive Development – Theories of Cognitive Development


  • Identify several mechanisms that contribute to genetic variability
  • Explain the contribution of the child’s genotype to his or her own phenotype
  • Give an example of the influence of the child’s phenotype on the environment
  • Name the basic research designs used to study heritability
  • Explain the limitations of heritability estimates
  • Identify the parts of the neuron and the major lobes of the cortex
  • Explain the developmental processes that bring the human brain into being: neurogenesis, myelination, synaptogenesis, and synapse elimination
  • Discuss the relationships among sensitive periods, plasticity, and vulnerability
  • Give an example of a secular trend in development
  • Explain the origins of obesity
  • Understand the ways in which undernutrition and malnutrition interact with other forms of deprivation and affect all aspects of development
  • Describe Piaget’s view of children’s nature
  • Explain sources of continuity and discontinuity in Piaget’s theory, applying the concepts of assimilation, accommodation, and stages
  • Describe the approximate age and the new ways of knowing that characterize each of Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development: the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational
  • Describe the present assessment of Piaget’s theory, incorporating both the strengths and limitations of the theory
  • Describe the view of children’s nature embodied in information-processing theories
  • Name the basic processes that underlie information processing
  • Summarize the contributions of strategies and content knowledge to developmental changes in memory and learning
  • Describe the view of children’s nature conveyed in core-knowledge theories
  • Explain the concept of domain specificity as used in core-knowledge theories
  • Describe the view of children’s nature conveyed in sociocultural theories
  • Explain the concept of guided participation, incorporating the concepts of zone of proximal development, intersubjectivity, and social scaffolding
  • Describe the connection between thinking and action in dynamic-systems theories
  • Compare the five theoretical perspectives presented in this chapter with regard to the central development issues with which they are most concerned
  • Apply concepts from each of the five major theoretical approaches to everyday observations and interactions with children

Week 3

Lecture: Development in Infancy – Perception and Motor Development
Lecture: Development in Infancy – Learning and Cognition in Infancy
Lecture: Development in Infancy – Language Development


  • Apply theories presented previously in the course, especially Piaget’s theory and core-knowledge approaches, to the understanding of perception and cognition in infancy
  • Explain the preferential-looking technique for the study of infant perception
  • Describe the rapid development of visual acuity, scanning patterns, and pattern perception that occurs during infancy
  • Name the sources of information infants use to perceive depth and objects
  • Provide evidence for intermodal perception in early infancy
  • Demonstrate several reflexes that are present at birth
  • Explain the role of culture and experience in the achievement of motor milestones
  • Describe the developmental progression of reaching and self-locomotion
  • Explain and apply examples to the following forms of infant learning: habituation/dishabituation, perceptual learning, instrumental conditioning, classical conditioning, and observational learning
  • Explain the use of the violation-of-expectancy procedure in the study of infant cognition
  • Describe the development of means-end problem solving in infancy
  • Explain the components of language development, including phonological development, semantic development, syntactic development, pragmatic development, and metalinguistic knowledge
  • Explain what is necessary for language learning, including both biological and social prerequisites, and why only humans achieve full-fledged language
  • Describe the competencies in speech perception that are present in early infancy and the changes that occur in this aspect of language development before the end of the first year of life
  • Discuss the role of the social context in the emergence of language production, including the ways in which it influences the infant’s communicative competence
  • Describe the characteristics of children’s word production during the holophrastic period of language development
  • Name multiple sources of support for learning new words, including examples of adult influences and children’s own contributions to word learning
  • Summarize the development of children’s conversational skills during the preschool period
  • Explain the major differences among three current theoretical perspectives on language development: nativist views, interactionist views, and connectionist views
  • Present a piece of evidence that supports each of these views of language development – nativist, interactionist, connectionist – and articulate a major criticism of each view
  • Apply the material on language development to observations of children at different ages

Week 4

Lecture: Theory of the Mind and Intelligence – The Mind
Lecture: Theory of the Mind and Intelligence – Intelligence


  • Recognize the general pattern of conceptual development apparent across all domains examined in this chapter: that understanding begins early in infancy but major improvements continue for many years thereafter
  • Provide examples of the ways in which both nature and nurture play important roles in children’s acquisition of concepts
  • Explain perceptual categorization as a key element in infants’ thinking
  • Explain what is meant by naive psychology, and describe the psychological constructs included in the naive psychology of children from infancy through age five
  • Give an example of a false-belief problem and predict a typical three-year-old child’s performance of this problem
  • Describe the evidence in support of the existence of a Theory of Mind (TOM) module
  • Contrast the nativist and empiricist explanations of children’s acquisition of biological knowledge
  • Identify the role of egocentric representations, landmarks, and self-locomotion in developmental changes in the representation of space
  • Describe the limitations in infants’ and preschoolers’ understanding of time
  • Provide examples of the ways in which children’s abilities to identify causal relations expand with development
  • Explain the major change that characterizes children’s understanding of numerical equality through infancy
  • Explain the five counting principles
  • Observe examples of preschoolers’ concepts of people, living things, space, time, causality and number in everyday interactions with children

Week 5

Lecture: Social and Emotional Development – Psychoanalytic Theories
Lecture: Social and Emotional Development – Learning Theories
Lecture: Social and Emotional Development – Emotions


  • Explain the function of three personality structures proposed by Freud: the id, the ego, and the superego
  • Discuss the developmental issues that must be resolved in each of the first five stages of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development
  • Describe the similarities and differences between Freud’s and Erikson’s psychoanalytic theories
  • Explain the use of learning principles in behavior modification
  • Explore the implications of the differences between Watson’s behaviorism and Skinner's operant conditioning for the acquisition of behavior
  • Discuss the role of vicarious reinforcement and reciprocal determinism in social learning theory
  • With reference to the social cognitive theories of Selman and Dodge, provide an example of self-socialization in social development
  • Discuss the importance of attributions in social cognitive theories
  • Explain the role of evolution in ethological and evolutionary theories
  • Give an example of an influence within each of the nested structures – microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem – that constitute the environment in Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model
  • Evaluate the present status of each of the major categories of theories of social development, as presented in this chapter
  • Summarize the course of development of positive emotions and negative emotions and describe the major milestones that are involved
  • Give examples of self-conscious emotions and explain the cognitive changes and social experiences that are associated with the emergence of these emotions during the second year of life
  • Identify several factors that contribute to depression among adolescents
  • Explain three general age-related patterns of change in the development of emotional self-regulation
  • Name several dimensions of temperament
  • Explain the role of temperament in children’s social skills and adjustment, incorporating the concept of goodness of fit
  • Discuss some of the socialization practices that parents should follow to foster their children’s emotional responding
  • Give an example of the way in which the norms, values, and circumstances of a culture or subcultural group may contribute to differences among groups in their expression of emotion
  • Summarize major developments (including the use of social referencing) in children’s ability to identify the emotions of others
  • Identify milestones in children’s developing ability to understand the causes of emotions

Week 6

Lecture: Attachment, Self Concept, and the Family – Attachment
Lecture: Attachment, Self Concept, and the Family – The Self
Lecture: Attachment, Self Concept, and the Family – The Family and Parenting
Lecture: Attachment, Self Concept, and the Family – Families Today and Divorce


  • Summarize the central ideas of attachment theory, as developed by John Bowlby, including the concept of the secure base
  • Explain what an internal working model of attachment means and how it relates to adult attachment models
  • Describe the Strange Situation behaviors of infants in each of the four attachment categories: secure attachment, insecure/resistant (or ambivalent) attachment, insecure/avoidant attachment, and disorganized/disoriented attachment
  • Discuss the role of parental sensitivity in the development of secure attachment
  • Describe the long-term effects of security of attachment
  • Outline the development of the concept of the self in infancy, childhood, and adolescence, including the major developmental milestones
  • Explain the four possible outcomes that result from the resolution of the crisis of identity versus identity confusion, as postulated by Erik Erikson
  • Summarize the development of ethnic identity from childhood through adolescence
  • List the developmental milestones in the process of self-labeling and disclosure among sexual-minority youth
  • Discuss the special challenges faced by sexual-minority youth in identity formation
  • Identify several factors that affect children’s self-esteem
  • Compare levels of self-esteem among majority and minority children
  • Discuss the complexities inherent in cross-cultural comparisons of self-esteem

Week 7

Lecture: Peer Relationships and Moral Development – Peer Relationships
Lecture: Peer Relationships and Moral Development – Moral Development


  • Explain the unique contributions that peers make to development
  • Summarize the developmental changes that occur in friendships between the early school years and adolescence
  • Identify differences and similarities in the functions that friendships fulfill among boys and girls
  • List the factors that predict friendship formation among children during the preschool and elementary school years
  • Discuss the changes that occur in children’s stable cliques from middle childhood through late adolescence
  • Identify the characteristics of children who are most likely to experience negative influences from peer groups or gangs
  • Explain how a child’s sociometric status is determined
  • Compare the characteristics of children in each of the four categories of sociometric status
  • Describe the near- and long-term risks and negative outcomes associated with having an undesirable peer status
  • Identify different subcategories of rejected children, and discuss the causes of peer rejection for the children in each subcategory
  • Based on the material in the text, discuss the child and family characteristics that are associated with popularity in children
  • Provide examples of the ways that parents influence children’s relationships
  • Identify aspects of the sociometric context that are important in children’s peer relationships
  • Explain the differences between the stage of the morality of constraint and the stage of autonomous morality in Piaget’s theory of moral judgment
  • Identify similarities in Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s theories of moral judgments with regard to assumptions, methods, and central constructs
  • Discuss the differences between Kohlberg’s preconventional, conventional, and postconventional (or principled) levels of moral judgment
  • Summarize the criticisms of Kohlberg’s work
  • Provide examples of moral judgments, social conventional judgments, and personal judgments
  • Identify several factors that affect the development of conscience
  • Summarize the expected age-related changes that characterize the development of prosocial behavior
  • Describe the specific socialization practices within the family, including modeling and communication of values, opportunities for prosocial activities, and discipline and parenting style that are linked to prosocial moral development
  • Summarize the changes in aggression that occur between the preschool years and adolescence for children of each gender
  • Identify several characteristics of aggressive-antisocial children and adolescents
  • Discuss the following contributors to the development of aggression in children: genetic makeup, socialization by family members, the influence of peers, and cultural factors. Consider the relative significance of each; the specific components of the contributors that are most clearly associated with aggression in children; and the interrelationships among these factors
  • Explain why it is very difficult to separate the specific aspects of biology and socialization that affect the development of children's antisocial behavior

Week 8

Lecture: Gender Development – Approaches and Theories
Lecture: Gender Development – Milestones


  • Generally distinguish among theoretical perspectives on gender development in terms of biological differences, including evolutionary psychology theory and biosocial theory, as well as neuroscientific approaches
  • Generally distinguish among cognitive and motivational influences in gender development, including the processes of gender self-socialization and self-socialization, as well as cognitive developmental theory, gender schema theory, social identify theory, and social cognitive theory
  • With reference to Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental theory, explain the three-stage process involved in the development of a mature understanding of gender
  • Discuss the similarities and differences of gender schema theory and the cognitive developmental explanation of the basis of gender
  • Explain the possible reasons for and consequences of gender segregation, as presented in Maccoby’s theory
  • Discuss cultural influences in gender development, particularly from the perspective of the bioecological model
  • Specify milestones in the development of gender in infancy and toddlerhood, the preschool years (including gender segregation), middle childhood, and adolescence (including gender-role intensification and/or flexibility)
  • Discuss gender flexibility and asymmetry in boys and girls
  • Discuss the role of physical development in gender differences in behavior during childhood
  • Compare cognitive abilities and academic achievement of male and female children, and provide explanations based on biological, cognitive, and motivational influences
  • Give examples of both biological and social influences on gender differences in self-regulation
  • Compare differences in the use of direct and indirect aggression by boys and girls, and explain why girls are more likely to demonstrate relationship aggression, whereas boys show higher levels of physical aggression
  • Discuss incidences and long-term consequences of sexual harassment in males and females, from childhood through adulthood
  • Explain gender differences in aggression, based on biological, cognitive, motivational, parental, and other adult influences
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the theme of nature and nurture by explaining several sources of complexity in the relationship between nature and nurture
  • Show comprehension of the theme of the active child by discussing four ways in which children contribute to their own development
  • Explain how development is both continuous and discontinuous at the same time
  • Convey an understanding of mechanisms of developmental change by identifying specific biological, behavioral, and cognitive change mechanisms
  • Provide examples of the ways that the sociocultural context shapes development
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how children become so different from one another by explaining how to determine which individual differences are the crucial ones
  • Convey an appreciation for the ways in which child development research can improve children’s lives by providing examples of theoretical constructs and empirical findings that can enhance parenting, improve education, contribute to the design of effective services for children at risk, and help formulate social policy

The course description, objectives and learning outcomes are subject to change without notice based on enhancements made to the course. May 2012