Developmental Science

BabyThe Developmental Science Research Group offers a unique vision with a focus on developmental process and mechanisms of change. We eschew traditional dichotomies such as the nature/nurture debate and examine influences on development ranging from neurons to neighborhoods. We seek to understand the step-by-step accumulation of effects across these levels and over time using multiple research paradigms including observation, experimentation, computational modelling, virtual reality, and neuroimaging. Our highly integrative program has strengths in language, spatial cognition, perception-action, embodiment, social communication, working memory, executive function, and developmental behavioral neuroscience. We are the only program nationally with back-to-back winners of the APA’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the area of Developmental Psychology (with three such awards total).

Our PhD program is also integral to the  DeLTA Center, an interdisciplinary research center that brings together faculty and students across the University who seek to understand the processes of development from a multiple perspectives. Faculty in the center embrace the complexity of development and the challenges inherent in understanding the emergence of new skills over time. We are also committed to translating insights beyond the laboratory, recognizing that translation is most impactful when guided by an understanding of developmental process.

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Prospective Graduate Students

PhD Program: In addition to the formal PhD curriculum, our students take advantage of an exciting, active developmental community at the University of Iowa. Our PhD program is unparalleled in the quality of its training. In particular we offer:

Size and breadth: With seven top researchers in developmental science (and other affiliated faculty throughout the department and the university), the University of Iowa Developmental Science program is unique in its size. Our research interests cover perception, action, cognition, language, biology, and social behavior, and we study development from infancy to late childhood in children and animal models, giving us broad coverage of development. Finally, our faculty represents a range of theoretical viewpoints: dynamical systems, connectionism, ecological psychology, and developmental systems theory.

Unique coursework: Our distinctive coursework gives students strong training in 21st century developmental science and provides the foundation for a cutting-edge, theory-based understanding of development that can bridge from the laboratory to translation. Our innovative proseminar organizes developmental science by core mechanisms (e.g., learning, endogenous activity, caregiver-mediated learning) rather than by domain, to stress similarity in mechanisms across neurological, physical, social, perceptual, and cognitive development. Students also take core courses on behavior and the brain, computational approaches to development and translating developmental science to applied problems. 

Proven success: Our graduates have a track record of success. Each year our students present at many national conferences each year and author a number of first-authored papers. Our students have also won national awards such as the Society for Research in Child Development Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, the Council of Graduate Schools/University Microfilms International Distinguished Dissertation Award in Social Sciences, and the American Psychological Association Dissertation Award in Developmental Psychology. This success translates into first-rate post-doctoral training opportunities and tenure-track jobs at excellent universities including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Sussex University in the UK, the University of Alabama, University of Miami, University of Tenessee, and Loyola University-Chicago.

Hank Lab simulatorAn active research community: Researchers in the Developmental Science area have a proven track record of success, garnering $1.3 million in grant funding, 45 journal publications and 27 chapters or other publications, as well as multiple books in a single year. 

Resources: Our students have access to the latest methodological innovations including Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), advanced developmental psychobiology techniques, infant looking and listening procedures, automated eye-tracking technologies, immersive virtual reality, innovative methods for recording and analyzing real time behavior, and cutting-edge computational techniques.



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Office phone: 319-384-1815
Mailing address: Dept. of Psychological & Brain Sciences, W311 Seashore Hall, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242


Affiliated Faculty

Warren Darling, Health & Human Physiology
Joseph Kearney, Computer Science
Mike O'Hara, Psychology Clinical Area
Geb Thomas, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
J. Bruce Tomblin, Communication Sciences & Disorders
Patricia Zebrowski, Communication Sciences & Disorders

Delta Center

DeLTA Center