How do we get to be the person that we are today? This question is one that many psychologists are still trying to answer, although theories in modern psychology have provided substantial insights. We can thank developmental psychologists for their dedication to understanding human development and how we grow from infants to children to functioning adults in society.
Developmental psychologists aren’t just looking for answers. They are applying what they have learned to a variety of settings. Millions of young and old people live with developmental disabilities or are navigating the recovery journey after experiencing trauma or injury. For those recovering from traumatic events or injuries, the road can often involve relearning basic skills or adjusting to a new way of life. Developmental psychologists play a pivotal role in this process. They utilize their understanding of human development to design tailored interventions and therapeutic strategies, helping individuals regain lost capabilities or develop alternative ways to achieve their goals. Whether it's assisting a child who has undergone traumatic events to relearn social skills or helping an adult adapt to cognitive changes after a brain injury, these professionals apply their knowledge in tangible ways that can transform lives.
Through various job positions and responsibilities, developmental psychologists can make a significant difference in someone’s life and contribute profoundly to psychology.
Interested in developmental psychology? Read on for information about salary, job responsibilities, and where you can look for work as a developmental psychologist.
What Does a Developmental Psychologist Do?
Developmental psychologists gather and apply human behavior and development knowledge to various settings, including healthcare facilities and schools. They specifically focus on growth: mental, emotional, cognitive, and sometimes even physical growth. In these settings, they aim for clients and humans to reach their potential and continue growing.
For one developmental psychologist, this could look like researching how our mind grows and changes after trauma. Another psychologist may work directly with adults with developmental disabilities under state care. Yet another developmental psychologist may coordinate psychology services for all children in a large school district.
The one common denominator between all developmental psychologists is that they have studied growth and development. They have a good grasp of how the mind grows and develops at all stages of life.
Like most psychologists, developmental psychologists need a doctorate to practice in most job positions. Colleges and universities offer various degrees in psychology, but a Ph.D. or PsyD in clinical psychology focusing on developmental psychology is preferred.
Once you have obtained this degree, you can focus on getting board-certified in Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. This isn’t required for every job but may be worth looking into, depending on where you want to work. Board certification requires passing exams and completing a clinical internship.
Other job requirements may involve experience in certain settings or certifications. Each state, type of organization, and field is different.
Salary (How Much Do Developmental Psychologists Make?)
Developmental psychologists aren’t easy to come by, but they aren’t usually in their positions to make six figures. It’s possible to do so, but usually only after building up a big resume or working with the same organization for a long period. These sources show the wide range of developmental psychologists in the country. (The numbers vary from state to state.)
Developmental Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Developmental Psychology Degrees
Want to be a developmental psychologist? Get started by applying for schools. These universities offer some of the best developmental psychology programs that you can go through in the United States.
- Stanford University (Stanford, California)
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
- The University of California - Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)
- Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
- Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK)
- Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Liberty University (Online)
- University of Nebraska - Lincoln (Lincoln, NE)
- The University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Companies That Hire Developmental Psychologists
Where do developmental psychologists work? A lot of different places! Developmental psychologists who specialize in helping adults with disabilities share the same title as developmental psychologists who are conducting research at universities, and they have very different employers. All of these companies and organizations may be looking for developmental psychologists:
- Government agencies
- Healthcare providers and facilities
- Schools and school districts
- Research and consulting companies
Interviews with a Developmental Psychologist
You can further research this career by hearing from developmental psychologists themselves! Dr. Nancy Galambos is a developmental psychologist and professor at the University of Alberta - read what it’s like to go through a day in her life.
You can also watch interviews with developmental psychologists on YouTube. Kevin David is a developmental psychologist and a professor at Northeastern State University!
You can also go through the day in the life of a developmental psychology student with a gratitude student from UMD!
How is developmental psychology applied to everyday life? Take a listen to Angela Duckworth, author of Grit. She discusses how working as a developmental psychologist helped her research and write her best-selling book!
Famous Developmental Psychologists
Developmental psychology has changed and evolved over decades - we’re still trying to answer big questions about development and growth! These are some names you might hear as you study and read about developmental psychology:
- Jean Piaget developed the Stages of Cognitive Development and shaped how people view a child’s development as they discover the world from infancy to adolescence.
- Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences, changing how we view children and their ability to perform specific tasks in school.
- Lawrence Kohlberg developed the stages of moral development, showing how children may make decisions differently as they grow and develop.
- Carol Gilligan strayed from other famous developmental psychologists (such as Erik Erikson and Lawrence Kohlberg) to focus on how boys and girls develop and make decisions.
- Andrew N. Meltzoff conducted research that concluded that infants can observe and copy adult gestures, giving more “credit” to infants than previously given.
A Glimpse into a Research Study in Developmental Psychology
Developmental psychology research aims to understand how people grow and change. Such studies often involve long-term observations, complex experiments, and collecting varied data sets to understand developmental patterns and anomalies.
Initiating a Research Study
A developmental psychologist may start with a hypothesis or a specific question. For instance, they might be curious about the effects of bilingual upbringing on cognitive development in children. With this hypothesis, they would design a research study comparing the cognitive abilities of children in bilingual homes and those in monolingual environments.
Day-to-Day in the Study:
- Data Collection: This could involve a mix of observations, surveys, and standardized tests. In our bilingualism example, the psychologist might administer cognitive tests to both groups of children at various ages.
- Analysis: As data accumulates, it is regularly analyzed to find patterns or significant differences between groups.
- Team Meetings: Regularly discussing findings, challenges, or changes to the methodology with a team of researchers.
- Literature Review: Continuously reading up on current research to ensure the study remains relevant and to understand findings in the context of the broader scientific community.
Research in developmental psychology can be time-consuming, particularly if it's a longitudinal study observing changes over time. There are also ethical considerations, especially when working with minors or vulnerable populations.
Once the study is concluded, researchers will interpret their findings, draw conclusions, and typically publish their results in scientific journals. They might also present their findings at conferences.
A Day in the Life of a Developmental Psychologist:
- Reviewing notes and data from the previous day.
- Meeting with research assistants to discuss the day's schedule, particularly if they're in the midst of data collection.
- Administering tests or surveys as part of an ongoing study.
- Conducting one-on-one sessions or observations, depending on the nature of the study.
- Meeting with other professionals, such as teachers or caregivers, to gain additional insights.
- Analyzing data or reviewing video recordings from observation sessions.
- Writing or updating research papers, grant proposals or planning for upcoming lectures (if they are also educators).
- Attending seminars, workshops, or classes. Many developmental psychologists are lifelong learners, consistently updating their knowledge.
- Preparing for the next day, creating to-do lists, or setting up appointments.
While each day might vary significantly depending on the current research phase or the psychologist's specific role, these professionals are united by their passion for understanding human development and commitment to scientific rigor.
Developmental Psychology Examples
Like growth, developmental psychologists change and have different responsibilities throughout their careers. As a developmental psychologist, you might find yourself:
- Publishing a study on how children make decisions
- Diagnosing students in a school district with developmental disabilities
- Creating assessments for other developmental psychologists to use
- Hosting study groups as part of a larger research project in developmental psychology
- Teaching undergrad students about the history of developmental psychology