What Does a Developmental Psychologist Do? (With Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A developmental psychologist studies human development throughout a person's lifespan. Development psychologists analyse how people mature and the various factors influencing a person's growth. Understanding what a developmental psychologist does and some typical responsibilities can help you determine if it's the right field for you. In this article, we discuss what a development psychologist does, explore their typical areas of focus, list common duties and skills, identify their typical work environment, specify their salary and provide a list of similar roles to developmental psychologists.

What does a developmental psychologist do?

The answer to the question 'What does a developmental psychologist do?' is they study changes in human development. They examine the human body and the brain, including how each develops. Some specialise in specific ages, such as early childhood, adolescence or old age. In early childhood, these professionals can help identify developmental issues in young children, which can help parents whose children require assistance. Early intervention can be beneficial to a child's overall health and development.

Development psychologists study physical development and social, intellectual, cognitive, emotional, perceptual and personality growth. Others may study the phases a person goes through throughout their life. Developmental psychologists can help people understand how they change and grow over time, applying this knowledge to live to their full potential. Understanding growth can offer opportunities for better treatment and prevention of a wide range of developmental issues.

Related: How to Become a Psychologist

Key areas of focus for a development psychologist

There are several areas of focus if you're working as a development psychologist, including:

Cognitive

Cognitive development refers to studying various perception, reasoning and language acquisition processes. Most development psychologists' focus areas for cognitive development research are likely to be early childhood up to adolescence. They can also focus on how ageing can affect cognitive processes. In children, cognitive development typically refers to how children explore, think and figure things out for themselves, developing knowledge and problem-solving skills.

Physiological

For developmental psychologists who work with children, a large part of their role can study how young children's bodies develop, for example, watching and analysing how they learn to talk or walk. Another area is how the body deteriorates as part of the ageing process, including looking for ways that older people can take measures to help remain active and help slow down this process. Other psychologists may examine the period from puberty to mature adulthood, exploring teenagers' physical changes and offering strategies to support those changes.

Social

Developmental psychologists often work on research that looks at social development. This type of work may look at aspects, such as family or culture, and how they impact socialising. The area of focus for psychologists specialising in adolescents may include exploring how teenagers and young adults form their own social identities under the pressure of their peers.

Typical responsibilities of a developmental psychologist

Specific responsibilities can change depending on a psychologist's speciality area. For example, some developmental psychologists work with particular groups of people, such as developmentally delayed children. Some general responsibilities might include:

  • exploring how to support elderly patients to remain independent

  • evaluating young children to identify developmental delays or disabilities

  • providing recommendations and treatment plans for various developmental issues

  • analysing the social, behavioural, cognitive and emotional changes that occur throughout a person's life

  • researching how children gain language skills

  • exploring different developmental issues relating to specific groups of people, for example, the elderly or young children

  • investigating child or elderly abuse and neglect

  • educating families of children or elderly patients to support treatment plans and care

  • specialising in the treatment of memory loss in older patients

  • treating various learning disabilities in young children, such as ADHD.

  • teaching development psychology if working in higher education to undergraduate students studying psychology

Skills required to be a developmental psychologist

Some skills that can be helpful if you're considering becoming a developmental psychologist include:

Empathy

Looking after patients experiencing developmental delays or a disability can mean helping them or their families cope with stress and fear. Demonstrating empathy can help build a strong relationship with patients, assisting with their ongoing care and treatment plans. Showing a patient and their loved ones you understand the challenges they're experiencing by using empathy can help demonstrate your care for your patients. To improve your empathy skills, try to put yourself in your patient's (or their parents', if working with children) situation. Asking them questions and responding to any queries they have with kindness is also essential.

Research

Developmental psychologists are typically required to perform or participate in research to address various cognitive, emotional and social developmental impairments. Knowing how to undertake research, write a formal research proposal, request funding and how to use different research methods can be helpful. The ability to question and challenge findings, perform literature research and analyse results to produce a conclusive argument can be an essential skill.

Communication

Developmental psychologists communicate with patients and their families about intervention and treatment programs. Communication can be a critical part of patient care. Their role can also be about providing education and awareness about specific developmental concerns and how to best proceed for the best results. In addition, being compassionate with strong interpersonal skills can be helpful. Part of a psychologist's role is to listen to the concerns of the patient or their family to help work out the best course of action.

Problem solving

An essential skill as a development psychologist is to make conclusions from any patient observations to help provide solutions or treatment plans. Depending on the patient's response, you may be required to adapt your treatment or intervention plan, identifying new and innovative ways to help with developmental issues. Problem solving can also be essential if you're involved in research to help identify solutions.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Analytical

Developmental psychologists can develop significant knowledge about different human behaviours through research or interacting with their patients. Strong analytical skills can help them better understand these behaviours, investigating what the causes may be and how to address any developmental delays or concerns. In addition, analysing behaviour can help them evaluate, diagnose or treat their patients.

Related: Definitions and Examples of Analytical Skills

Typical work environment of psychologists specialising in development

Developmental psychologists can work in various settings depending on their area of speciality. For example, some may research developmental topics while working in higher education, such as universities. Besides conducting research, they may also act as tutors or professors and teach courses to undergraduate students.

Other psychologists may work within government agencies, assessing, evaluating and treating patients diagnosed with developmental disabilities. They could also work in assisted living homes for the elderly, rehabilitation clinics, public or private hospitals, homeless centres or psychiatric clinics. The role may involve typical business hours working in a private clinic or working weekends and nights if you secure a position working in a public hospital.

Developmental psychologist salary

The national average salary for a developmental psychologist is $97,000 per year. Your level of education and experience can impact how much you earn in this role. Your salary can also depend on the job location.

Similar roles to a developmental psychologist

Here are some similar roles to a development psychologist that you may be interested in exploring:

1. School counsellor

National average salary: $86,415 per year

Primary duties: School counsellors, sometimes referred to as guidance counsellors, can provide support and case management to students. They may work in primary or secondary education and can often assist with mental health issues, student protection matters and other critical incidents. In addition, they typically work with other teachers, families, the school executive team and other professionals to help create a supportive, healthy and safe learning environment for students.

2. Social worker

National average salary: $87,363 per year

Primary duties: Social workers are qualified to assist people experiencing various issues. These may include anxiety, depression, trauma, crisis or family problems. They can support people who require counselling or have mental health issues. They can work in public or private settings and can specialise in specific types of care for people.

3. Special education teacher

National average salary: $88,582 per year

Primary duties: A special education teacher is usually a qualified teacher who has undertaken additional training. This training helps support students experiencing learning, social or behavioural difficulties or who have a disability. Their role is to create a learning environment to help the students get the most from their education. Special education teachers use their knowledge of different learning styles and develop individual learning plans for their students.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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