AP Psychology Unit 6 Notes: Developmental Psychology

February 13, 2024
AP Psychology Study Notes: Unit 6

Review what is covered in Unit 6 of AP Psychology, including key terms and people you should know for the AP exam. These AP Psychology study notes should be used to supplement what you’re learning in your AP Psych class. More study strategies and expert tips can be found in our latest AP Psychology Test Prep Book.

[ READ NEXT: AP Psychology Unit 7 Notes: Sensation and Perception ]

AP Psychology: Unit 6 Summary

The developmental psychology unit is an example of “applied” psychology, meaning that researchers use psychological research to apply it to questions about how humans develop. Developmental psychologists use some unique research methods and study the entire life span, from before we are born to old age. Issues related to parenting, cognitive, moral, and other specific developmental topics are addressed.

Nature vs. Nurture

In a way, developmental psychology is the most comprehensive topic psychologists attempt to research. Developmental psychologists study how our behaviors and thoughts change over the course of our entire lives, from birth to death (or conception to cremation). Consequently, developmental psychology involves many concepts traditionally included in other areas of psychology. For example, both personality researchers and developmental psychologists closely examine identical twins for personality similarities and differences. Some psychologists consider developmental psychology to be an applied research topic because developmental psychologists apply research from other areas of psychology to topics involving maturation. One way to organize the information included in the developmental psychology section is to think about one of the basic controversies: nature versus nurture. This unit discusses influences on development from nature (genetic factors) first and then moves on to theories about nurture (environmental factors).

AP Psychology: Unit 6 Key Terms & People

Below, we describe some of the Unit 6 key terms and people you should review ahead of the AP Psychology exam.

  • Teratogens: The environment can also have profound influences on us before we are born. Certain chemicals or agents (called teratogens) can cause harm if ingested or contracted by the mother. The placenta can filter out many potentially harmful substances, but teratogens pass through this barrier and can affect the fetus in profound ways. One of the most common teratogens is alcohol.
  • Reflexes: All babies exhibit a set of specific reflexes, which are specific, inborn, automatic responses to certain specific stimuli. Some important reflexes humans are born with are listed below.
  • Mary Ainsworth: Mary Ainsworth researched the idea of attachment by placing human infants into novel situations. Ainsworth observed infants’ reactions when placed into a strange situation: their parents left them alone for a short period of time and then returned.
  • Authoritarian parent: Set strict standards for their children’s behavior and apply punishments for violations of these rules. Obedient attitudes are valued more than discussions about the rationale behind the standards. Punishment for undesired behavior is more often used than reinforcement for desired behavior.
  • Permissive parents: Do not set clear guidelines for their children. The rules that do exist in the family are constantly changed or are not enforced consistently. Family members may perceive that they can get away with anything at home.
  • Authoritative parents: Have set consistent standards for their children’s behavior, but the standards are reasonable and explained. The rationale for family rules are discussed with children old enough to understand them. Authoritative parents encourage their children’s independence but not past the point of violating rules. They praise as often as they punish.
  • Sigmund Freud: Freud was the first to theorize that we pass through different stages in childhood. Freud said we develop through five psychosexual stages. Sexual to Freud meant not the act of intercourse but how we get sensual pleasure from the world. If we fail to resolve a significant conflict in our lives during one of these stages, Freud said we could become fixated in the stage, meaning we might remain preoccupied with the behaviors associated with that stage.
  • Jean Piaget: Piaget thinks humans go through this process of schema creation, assimilation, and accommodation as we develop cognitively. His cognitive development theory describes how our thinking progresses through four stages: Sensorimotor Stage, Preoperational Stage, Concrete Operations, and Formal Operations.
  • Information-processing model: The information-processing model is a more continuous alternative to Piaget’s stage theory. Information processing points out that our abilities to memorize, interpret, and perceive gradually develop as we age rather than developing in distinct stages.
  • Lawrence Kohlberg: Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage theory studied a completely different aspect of human development: morality. Kohlberg wanted to describe how our ability to reason about ethical situations changed over the course of our lives. In order to do this, he asked a subject group of children to think about specific moral situations. One situation Kohlberg used is the Heinz dilemma, which describes a man named Heinz making a moral choice about whether to steal a drug he cannot afford in order to save his wife’s life.
  • Gender schema: Gender schema theory explains that we internalize messages about gender into cognitive rules about how each gender should behave. If a girl sees that her little brother is encouraged to wrestle with their father, she creates a rule governing how boys and girls should play.

Next, test your AP Psychology Unit 6 knowledge using our free Key Terms Worksheets!