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Developmental psychology

The branch of psychology that explores physical, emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of development.

Nature-nuture debate

The debate in psychology over the relative influences of genetics and environment in determining behavior.

Continuity model

The model proposing development involves quantitative changes that occur in small steps over time.

Discontinuity model

The model proposing that development progresses in discrete stages that involve abrupt, qualitative changes in cognitive ability and ways of interacting with the world.

Longitudinal study

Study that compares the same individuals at periodic intervals over an extended period of time

Cross-sectional study

Study that compares individuals of different ages or developmental levels at the same point in time.

Cohort effect

Differences between age groups as a function of historical or social influences affecting those groups rather than age per se.


The male reproductive cell.


An egg cell.


The release of an ovum from an ovary.

Fallopian tube

A strawlike tube between an ovary and the uterus through which an ovum passes after ovulation.


The union of a sperm with an ovum during sexual reproduction.


A fertilized agg cell.

Germinal stage

The stage of prenatal development that spans the period from fertilization through implantation.


The female reproductive organ in which the fertilized ovum becomes implanted and develops to term.

Embryonic stage

The prenatal development from implantation through about the eighth week of pregnancy during which the major organ systems begin to form.


The developing organism at an early stage of prenatal development.

Neural tube

The area in the embryo from which the nervous system develops.

Amniotic sac

The uterine sac that contains the fetus.


The organ that provides for the exchange of nutrients and waste materials between mother and fetus.

Fetal stage

The stage of prenatal development in which the fetus develops, beginning around the ninth week of pregnancy and lasting until the birth of the child.


The developing organism in the later stages of prenatal development.

Spinal bifida

A neural tube defect in which the child is born with a hole in the tube surrounding the spinal cord.


An environmental influence or agent that may harm the developing embryo or fetus.


A common chilhood disease that can lead to serious birth defects if contracted by the mother during pregnancy.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The sudden and unexplained death of infants that usually occurs when they are asleep in their cribs.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

A syndrome caused by maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy in which the child shows developmental delays and facial deformities.


A technique for diagnosing fetal abnormalities involving examination of extracted fetal cells.

Chorionic Villus Sampling

A technique of detecting fetal abnormalities that involves examination of fetal material extracted from the chorion.


The membrane that contains the amniotic sac and fetus.

Down syndrome

A chromosomal disorder characterized by mental retardation and certain facial abnormalities.

Ultrasound imaging

A technique for using high-pitched sound waves to form an image of the fetus i n the womb.

Rooting reflex

The reflexive turning of the newborn's head in the direction of a touch on its cheek.

Eyeblink reflex

The reflexive blinking of the eyes that protects the newborn from bright light and foreign objects.

Sucking reflex

Rhythmic sucking in response to stimulation of the tongue or mouth.

Moro reflex

An inborn reflex, elicited by a sudden noise or loss of support, in which the infant extends its arms, arches its back, and brings its arms toward each other as though attempting to grab hold of someone.

Palmar grasp reflex

The reflexive curling of the infant's fingers around an object that touches its palm.

Babinski reflex

The reflexive fanning out and curling of an infant's toes and inward twisting of its foot when the sole of the foot is stroked.


The biological unfolding of the organism according to the underlying genetic code.


A characteristic style of behavior or disposition.


The enduring emotional bond that infants and older children form with their caregivers.


The process by which parents develop strong ties to their newborns, which may form in the first few hours following birth.


The formation of a strong bond of the newborn animal to the first moving object seen after birth.

Strange situation

Ainsworth's method for assesing infant attachment to the mother, based on a series of brief separations and reunions with the mother in a playroom situation.

Internal working models

Generalized expectations, developed in early chilhood, about how others are likely to respond in close relationships.


In Piaget's theory, a mental framework for understanding or acting on the environment.


The process of adjustment that enables people function more effectively in meeting the demands they face in the environment.


The process of incorporating new objects or situations into existing schemas.


The process of creating new schemas or modifying existing ones to account for new objects or experiences.

Object permanence

The recognition that objects continue to exist even if they have disappeared from sight.

Symbolic representations

Symbols that stand for names and experiences; specifically, the words in a language.


The tendency to see the world only from one's own perspective.

Animistic thinking

The child's belief that inanimate objects have living qualities.


The inability to reverse the direction of a sequence of events to their starting point.


The tendency to focus only one aspect of a situation at a time.


The ability to recognize that the quantity or amount of an object remains constant despite superficial changes in its outward appearance.

Formal operations

The level of full cognitive maturity in Piaget's theory, characterized by the ablity to think in abstract terms.

Zone of proximal development

The range between children's present level of knowledge and their potential knowledge state if they receive proper guidance and instruction.


Tailoring the degree and type of instruction to the child's current level of ability or knowledge.


The period of life beginning at puberty and ending with early adulthood.


The stage of development at which individuals become physiologically capable of reproducing.

Secondary sex characteristics

Physical characteristics that differentiate males and females but are not directly involved in reproduction.

Primary sex characteristics

Physical characteristics, such as the gonads, that differentiate males and females and play a direct role in reproduction.


The first menstruation.

Imaginary audience

The common belief among adolescents that they are the center of other people's attention.

Personal fable

The common belief among adolescents that their feelings and experiences cannot possibly be understood by others and that they are personally invulnerable to harm.

Ego identity

The attainment of a psychological sense of knowing oneself and one's direction in life.

Identity crisis

A stressful period of serious soul searching and self-examination of issues relating to personal values and one's direction in life.

Role diffusion

Aimlessness or a lack of direction with respect to one's role in life or public identity.

Fluid intelligence

A form of intelligence associated with the ability to think abstractly and flexibly in solving problems.

Cristallized intelligence

A form of intelligence associated with the ability to use accumulated knowledge.


The time of life when menstruation ends.

Emerging adulthood

In some cultures, the period of psychosocial development roughly spanning ages 18 to 25 during which the person makes the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Midlife crisis

A state of psychological crisis, often ocurring during middle adulthood, in which people grapple with the loss of their youth.

Empty nest syndrome

A cluster of negative emotions, involving a loss of purpose and direction, that can occur when one's children have grown and left home.


The tendency for people to marry others who are similar to themselves.


A condition involving a major deterioration or loss of mental abilities involved in memory, reasoning, judgment, and capacity to carry out purposeful behavior.

Alzheimer's disease

An irreversible brain disease characterized by progressive deterioration of mental functioning.


Prejudice and discrimination directed at older persons.


A psychological state of deprivation involving feelings of grief and loss resulting from the death of a loved one or close friend.


The expression of sorrow or grief in accordance with a set of customs, such as wearing black clothing.


A bone disease characterized by a loss of bone density in which the bones become porous, brittle, and more prone to fracture.

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