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VCE Psychology Unit 1: Area of Study 2: Outcome 2

Area of Study 3: Student-directed research investigation

Area of Study 2: What influences psychological development?

The psychological development of an individual involves complex interactions between biological, psychological and social factors. In this area of study students explore how these factors influence different aspects of a person’s psychological development. They consider the interactive nature of hereditary and environmental factors and investigate specific factors that may lead to development of typical or atypical psychological development in individuals, including a person’s emotional, cognitive and social development and the development of psychological disorders.

Outcome 2
On completion of this unit the student should be able to identify the varying influences of nature and nurture on a person’s psychological development, and explain different factors that may lead to typical or atypical psychological development.

Key knowledge

The complexity of psychological development:

  • the interactive nature of hereditary and environmental factors on a person’s psychological development, illustrated through twin and adoption studies
  • the role of critical and sensitive periods in a person’s psychological development 
  • the importance of attachment on an individual’s emotional development: genetics; temperament and early life experiences (with reference to the work of Harlow & Ainsworth)
  • the development of cognitive abilities from concrete to symbolic thinking (with reference to the work of Piaget)
  • psychosocial development across the lifespan as an influence on the development of an individual’s personality (with reference to the work of Erikson).

Atypical psychological development:

  • the conceptualisation of normality including typical and atypical behaviours; adaptive and maladaptive behaviours; and mental health and mental disorder as a continuum
  • mental health as a product of internal and external factors which assist individuals to cope with change and challenge 
  • major categories of psychological disorder: addiction disorders; anxiety disorders; mood disorders; personality disorders; and psychotic disorders
  • the ‘two-hit’ hypothesis as an explanation for the development of particular psychological disorders, illustrated by schizophrenia.

From VCE Psychology Study Design, p.15

Areas of psychological development

What are developmental milestones?

Much like physical development, psychological development occurs in an orderly fashion. There are stages of development where the brain is more pliable and ‘ready’ to advance thought processes or learn.

Our psychological development depends on having particular experiences at these crucial times.

Psychological development occurs in either a sensitive period or a critical period. Most sensitive and critical periods appear in the early years of life.

Theories of development

Video: Piaget's Stages of Development

A collection of clips demonstrating Piaget's stages of development.

For more information go to Simply Psychology's article, Jean Piaget, or Psychology Notes' Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

Heredity vs Environment

Video: Behavioural genetics

Behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin on twin studies, genetic influence of parents on their children, and 1% of DNA that makes people different.

Emotional development & Attachment theory

Video: Monkeys and Morality: Crash Course Psychology #19

In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank takes a look at a few experiments that helped us understand how we develop as human beings.

Video: Harlow's Studies on Dependency in Monkeys

Harry Harlow shows that infant rhesus monkeys appear to form an affectional bond with soft, cloth surrogate mothers that offered no food but not with wire surrogate mothers that provided a food source but are less pleasant to touch.

Video: John Bowlby's 44 Juvenile Thieves: Methodology and the Attachment Theory

John Bowlby's theory of 'Maternal Deprivation' can be traced back to his research known as '44 Juvenile Thieves'. However the methodology of the time had severe limitations which caused Bowlby to draw causations based on correlations which were unfounded.

Go to Simply Psychology's article, Bowlby's Attachment Theory, for more information.

Video: The Strange Situation Experiment

Original video with a great explanation to Mary Ainsworth's famous attachment experiment.

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