Learn about Infant Development and careers in this area
Infant developmental psychology addresses the critical stage of human development from conception to roughly age 2, a time period when growth is so rapid, and the consequences of neglect so damaging, that many believe this to be the most important stage of a person’s life.
At birth, a child’s length roughly equals the distance from an adult’s elbow to the fingertips, and by age 2 that child grows to half its adult height. Most remarkable, by age 2, the child’s brain in weight equals 75 percent of an adult’s brain weight. The rate of change occurring in the brain takes place mainly in the brain’s outer layer – the cortex – where neurons are connecting and changing at lightning fast speeds.
These changes that occur during infancy affect a person’s later stages of development, creating a sort of “building block” approach for attaining key skills and attributes. Those working in the field of Developmental Psychology, and who focus on infants, research the following key components of human growth and development: cognitive growth, linguistic acquisitions, social and emotional capacities, as well as motor development. Researchers also try and sort out environmental influences on infants in addition to genetic influences that might affect a baby’s growth in each of these key areas.
When studying infants, the term “active learner” cannot be over-emphasized. From the moment a child takes its first breath, it is trying to assimilate all the sights and sounds that meet its senses. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) pioneered the grand “cognitive theory” that psychologists continue to reference today to understand how children actively use sensory inputs to learn how to think.
An infant’s flailing arms and other automatic reflexes start a process in the child’s brain that initiates learning, Piaget argued. This renowned Swiss researcher showed that motor development and cognitive growth are inextricably linked. And learning, he argued, from early relationships with family and caregivers helps people form frameworks that they reference in dealing with people in all other stages of their lives – in other words, growth and learning in infancy affects emotional capacity and future social interactions.
Infant developmental psychology specialists today use computers and advanced technology to study infants in ways never before possible. For example, non-invasive imaging techniques allow researchers to observe brain activity during specific activities. Infants might be shown pictures, or video-screen images, and then researchers observe how the infants’ brains react to the stimuli. Also, large databases can now be shared by researchers across the country, which supports more longitudinal studies that research individuals at birth, and follow those individuals over the course of many years and life stages.
Understanding how and why babies learn and grow contributes to healthy day care and home environments, sound educational practices, and age-specific toys and games for infants. Additionally, by recognizing and documenting developmental milestones and norms, health care workers can better assess learning disabilities and interventions for those not meeting scientifically established measures.
If you are fascinated by infants, and how they grow and change, and you want to study developmental psychology, consider a degree in development psychology. Positions are available in day cares and preschools, in addition to many social service agencies and hospitals. Day care programs and preschools hire graduates with a bachelor’s degree, while a master’s is required for many hospital and social service positions. Academic positions at the university level also require a master’s or PhD in Psychology.
Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.