Developmental Psychology

The graduate program in Developmental Psychology prepares students for careers in academic and applied research settings. Developmental Psychology includes seven core faculty and several affiliated faculty in other areas of Psychology and related disciplines across the university including Law and Social Work.

Unifying Themes

Our faculty and students study developmental change in social behavior, cognition, language, neurological structure and emotions from childhood through early adulthood. This work is informed by a bio-psycho-social perspective, and we explore the interactions among neurobiological and environmental processes. Although our faculty have diverse research programs, there are several core synergies and unifying themes. These include:

Developmental Psychopathology. The dynamic interplay between normative and atypical developmental trajectories is present throughout our program. For example, JoAnn Farver and David Schwartz investigate links between early maladjustment with peers and later psychopathology. Frank Manis examines neurobiological and cognitive processes underlying the development of children and young adults with reading disorders, using the state-of-the-art MRI facility housed in the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroimaging Center. David Walsh studies decision-making across the lifespan, with a special focus on health decisions made by adolescents and young adults. Affiliated faculty members Gayla Margolin in Clinical Psychology and Penny Trickett in Social Work study developmental outcomes related to stress exposure in the family and neighborhood contexts.

Literacy and Language Development. Developmental faculty also take a multifaceted approach to language and literacy development. Toby Mintz examines the acquisition of word meanings and syntactic structures in infants and toddlers using behavioral studies and computational modeling. His work has been funded by NICHD and NSF. Frank Manis studies the development of reading and phonological skills in children and adults using both cognitive and fMRI paradigms, in work funded by NICHD. Elaine Andersen is working with the Bring Me a Book Foundation to increase early literacy development among low-income children. JoAnn Farver is collaborating with colleagues in Florida to norm a dialect-free Spanish language version of the Test of Early Literacy funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and she is carrying out a large scale biliteracy intervention with Spanish-speaking preschoolers funded by NICHD.

Cognition and Cognitive Development. Human adults rely on a wide array of complex cognitive abilities, including those used to perceive objects, navigate the environment, communicate with others, and understand others' intentions, beliefs and desires. What are the origins of these capacities with regard to both developmental and evolutionary timescales? Justin Wood studies the development of cognition by examining how cognitive abilities develop in nonhuman animals using non-invasive behavioral measures. In addition, he studies the mechanisms that support mature visual thought in human adults by examining the memory mechanisms that store and organize visual information during various cognitive tasks. Toby Mintz's research investigates the nature of the learning constraints in children, compared to adults, which underlie the relative ease with which children acquire language.

Culture and Ethnicity. The Developmental faculty has established international collaborations that allow us to conduct cutting-edge cross-cultural research. David Schwartz has examined bully/victim problems in the Pacific Rim countries of South Korea, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. Jo Ann Farver studies the social behavior of children in Mainland China, Indonesia, and South Korea, and family conflict and violence in Beirut, Lebanon. In the more immediate setting of Los Angeles, our faculty has been involved in research with complex multi-ethnic samples. Toby Mintz conducts psycholinguistic research on language acquisition that considers cross-linguistic diversity, and JoAnn Farver and Frank Manis examine literacy development among Spanish-speaking English language learners.

The Urban Paradigm. Because of its location in the complex urban environment of Los Angeles, USC offers unique opportunities to explore issues that impact children and adolescents in modern cities. Our faculty's research focuses on development in the context of the school, neighborhood, and larger community. To this end we have established relationships with a variety of governmental entities, nonprofit organizations, and school-based programs. An example of this collaborative work is the Center for the Study of Urban Youth, directed by Gayla Margolin and the steering committee: Manis, Farver, Trickett, and Lyon. Two current projects at local schools include the Going for the Goal Program for middle school children directed by Margaret Gatz, and the training of undergraduates to interview young children directed by Thomas Lyon.

  • Department of Psychology
  • University of Southern California
  • SGM 501
  • 3620 South McClintock Ave.
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061