Essay-Life Span Development Psychology


Articulating and Testing a Hypothesis

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Goals of the assignment: 

  • To create a hypotheses about human behavior from a developmental      perspective
  • To gather empirical data to test that hypothesis
  • To logically evaluate whether the data support or refute your      hypothesis

Directions for the assignment:

For this assignment, you will need to work closely with an individual of your choosing. This person could be a parent, friend, romantic partner, sibling, child, or anyone else you know. You will need to obtain written consent (i.e., you must inform him or her that you are working on a school-related project & the individual must agree to be your “participant”) and attach it to your assignment when you turn it in. If you choose to observe someone who is younger than 18 years old, you must obtain approval from both the child and his/her parent.

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Before you begin, you will need to prepare for your observation. You will need to:

a) Propose a hypothesis about the person’s development that you will be able to test during your interaction. This hypothesis could relate to cognitive, physical, social, or emotional development. However, you must base your hypothesis on an established theory of development (e.g., Erikson’s theory of socioemotional development, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Marcia’s theory of identity development, etc.).

b) Design a series of questions or tasks that you will use to test your hypothesis while you’re interacting with the person.

When you meet with your participant, lead him or her through the questions, tasks, or other activities you have planned that will allow you to test your hypothesis. Keep careful notes of the person’s answers to your questions, their behavior, and other responses you see from them.

After your interaction is complete, write a 3-5 page paper describing what you did & why. Your paper should include details about the following:

1) Your hypothesis (30% of grade)

a. What exactly was your hypothesis?

b. On which theory of development is your hypothesis based?

c. What questions or activities did you develop that will allow you to test your hypothesis?

d. What kinds of responses did you expect to see from your participant that would have supported your hypothesis? How exactly would those behaviors or responses support the hypothesis you proposed?

2) Your interaction with your participant (30% of grade)

a. Describe who your participant was: Sex, age, your relationship to him or her, etc..

b. Describe the context of your interaction: Where were the two of you? How long did it take? etc.

c. Describe your interaction: What questions did you ask & what answers did the person give? If you asked him or her to complete any activities (tasks, tests, etc.), what were they? How did your participant perform on them?

3) “Testing” or evaluating your hypothesis (30% of grade)

a. Which individual behaviors or answers supported (fit with) or contradicted (went against) your hypothesis? How so exactly?

b. Consider your interaction with the person as a whole. Does the majority of the “data” you observed support or contradict your hypothesis? How so exactly?

4) Other interesting information  (10% of grade)

a. Aside from the hypothesis you proposed for this paper, did you observe any other (unexpected) behaviors that were covered in class or by the text? If so, which ones?


Below are some examples of the types of hypotheses you might propose & how you might go about “testing” them. For each example, the developmental theory is in bold, and the behaviors you might look for that could “test” the theory are underlined & in italics. Each of these would satisfy goals 1a and 1b listed above. You may use one of these as your hypothesis, but ideally you would create your own hypothesis instead.


Example Hypothesis if you are observing a child:

I predict that because Jenny is 4, she will demonstrate behaviors consistent with Piaget’s preoperational stage of cognitive development. For example, she will probably fail the conservation task when I lead her through it using glasses of juice, and she will probably demonstrate egocentrism in her answers to my questions. 

Example hypothesis if you are observing an adolescent:

I predict that Sam will demonstrate behaviors that are typical of adolescents who are in Erikson’s stage of identity vs. role confusion. For example, he might discuss how he is searching for an identity by participating in different activities in school (sports, clubs, etc). He will probably also demonstrate some of the adolescent thinking patterns described in our textbooks, such as the illusion of invulnerability and the personal fable. 

Examples of hypothesis if you are observing a young adult:

I predict that Georgia’s answers to my questions will support the theory of assortative mating. That is, I expect her to describe her husband as being more similar than different from her on important characteristics like personality, religion, intelligence, and work ethic.

Examples of hypothesis if you are observing a middle adult:

I predict that John will show signs of being in Erikson’s stage of Generativity vs. Stagnation. For example, when I ask him what is important to him or what brings him the most joy in life, I predict his answers will have to do with contributing to the next generation of people (e.g., being a grandparent, being a mentor at work) as opposed to activities that do not contribute to others (e.g., exercising, playing golf).

Examples of hypothesis if you are observing an older adult:

I predict that when I discuss how she deals with the problems in her life, Marsha will report that she uses more secondary control strategies than she does primary control strategies. This is based on the theory of developmental patterns of control described in our text, which states that as we age we rely more on secondary control strategies and less on primary control strategies.