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What is Developmental Psychopathology?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Developmental psychopathology is the study of human development with an emphasis on the evolution of psychological disorders and how they affect behavior at different stages over a lifespan. Psychological disorders is a sub-field of developmental psychology and include psychopathy, autism, schizophrenia, and depression. This branch concentrates on atypical development and maladaptive outcomes in comparison with normal development. Developmental psychopathology is just as interested in an individual who has not followed a normal development pattern but does not exhibit disorders as it is in an individual who exhibits abnormal behavior because of developmental deviations.

Professionals in this field focus on high-risk populations that may or may not yet be exhibiting symptoms of abnormal behavior. They incorporate a long-term perspective of how and why abnormal behavior develops using multi-discipline contexts that may also be used to predict potential behavior disorders. In this way, preventative measures can be taken. This kind of risk prediction is made possible by the comparison of people who face adversity and survive intact and those who face adversity and go on to exhibit behavior disorders.

In the past, child clinical psychology or abnormal development was separate from the study of normal development. Recent efforts to combine the studies and use one to complement the other has resulted in developmental psychopathology. This differs from developmental psychology in that the latter focuses on childhood development, while developmental psychopathology examines maladaptive development in childhood as well as adults across time, usually throughout their lifespan.

Most behavior disorders such as autism, depression, hyperactivity, and attention-deficit disorder find their basis in childhood. Developmental psychopathology considers the adaptational process of growing up a complex one with demands made for developmental transformation. Most pathology can be traced back to a difficulty or lack of success in the adaptation required as a person matures or as his environment changes. Physiological, cognitive, genetic, emotional, social, and cultural influences are all considered to play a part in development, so all of these factors need to be examined when things go wrong.

Developmental psychopathology is a relatively new field of study originating in the 1970s and '80s. It is basically the combination of child psychology and psychopathology in both children and adults. As a study of the development of psychological disorders, it provides a framework for both normal and abnormal development. Rather than being a study of pathological disorders as such, it is the study of the deviations occurring along developmental pathways that lead to pathology.

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Discussion Comments

By SunSeal — On Dec 08, 2014

@ Copper Salmon

I second that! If a child is "too" energetic, have schools heard of recess these days? If kids can't concentrate, has anyone considered that they might be bored and actually really intelligent? That's what happened to my son. I home-school him now and he scores in the 95th percentile or higher nationally, in all subjects.

By CopperSalmon — On Dec 07, 2014

I think our culture is too into psychopathology. Kids are constantly being diagnosed with "psychological problems" that are just normal behavior. I mean, just like what happened to you Water Serpent. Kids are diagnosed and prescribed pharmaceuticals because they can't concentrate or they seem too energetic. It's wrong.

By WaterSerpent — On Dec 06, 2014

The development of psychological disorders in early child development completely fascinates me. This is a little personal, but when I was younger I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Then as an adult, I was told that diagnosis was completely wrong. Reading about how BPD is developed over time, I was shocked. It was like a book of my life.

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