Skip to content

Developmental Psychology

Developmental faculty with babyDevelopmental Faculty

Mayra Bámaca-Colbert - Lab website
Heather Bortfeld - Lab website
Jeffrey Gilger - Lab website
Elif IsbellLab website 
Alexandra Main - Lab website
Rose Scott - Lab website
Eric Walle - Lab website

The following Developmental Faculty are recruiting students for Fall 2024 (pending funding): Mayra Bamaca-Colbert, Heather Bortfeld, Elif Isbell, Alexandra Main, Rose Scott, Eric Walle.

Developmental Program

Developmental Psychology is the study of how and why psychological processes and behavior change across the lifespan. The field can be a unifying source of multidisciplinary questions and collaborations involving experimental, social, community and health psychology, as well as quantitative methods, cognitive science, and neuroscience. The findings from developmental research can often be readily applied to issues in fields of education, family life, and human health and treatment. Developmental psychology thus aligns with the interdisciplinary emphasis and translational and engagement efforts of the department and university.

The Developmental Program at UC Merced has a thematic focus on diverse children and families, especially the underserved populations in our local region. Our current faculty have diverse interests and expertise in cognitive development, social development, emotional development, neuroscience, and genetics. While some faculty members focus on issues pertinent to typically developing children, others investigate atypical development (e.g., learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and giftedness). Specific areas of emphasis include:

  • Language development in hearing children and children with cochlear implants (Bortfeld, Scott, Walle)
  • How parent-child interactions are affected by culture and context (Bámaca, Main, Scott)
  • Brain development in typically-developing children and children with learning disabilities (Bortfeld, Isbell, Gilger)
  • Social, emotional, and cognitive development in infancy and early childhood (Bortfeld, Isbell, Scott, Walle)
  • Ethnic-racial minoritized youths' psychological and behavioral adjustment within family, school, and neighborhood contexts (Bámaca, Main)


In addition to the core coursework, students interested in developmental psychology should take the following courses. It is highly recommended that this sequence is completed by the end of the student’s second year unless one of the courses is not offered during that time frame.

  • PSY 230 Developmental Psychology (4 units)
  • PSY 231 Developmental Psychology II (4 units)

Students take three additional courses from the developmental course offerings listed below:

  • Emotion
  • Development in the Family Context
  • Development of the Social Mind
  • Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Human Behavioral Genetics
  • Immigrant Youth
  • Language Acquisition
  • Neurological Development & Context

Exceptions and substitutions of transfer courses may be made with approval by the student's advisor and the developmental faculty. These courses should be an explicit part of the student’s coursework plan based on the department’s projected offerings/course schedule.

Elective courses outside developmental area: In consultation with their advisors, students are expected to broaden their backgrounds by taking courses outside the developmental area. Electives may also be used to provide a more in-depth study of a particular area. All electives need to be content courses at the 200 level.

Students should select elective courses that complement their current research focuses. Students may opt to fill this requirement with psychology courses offered by the health and quantitative psychology faculty, or with courses outside the psychology department. We encourage students to consult the course schedules of various disciplines on campus, such as anthropology, cognitive science, biology, computer science, sociology or public health, among others.

Developmental psychology seminar: Students focusing on developmental psychology are expected to register for the Developmental Psychology Seminar Series each semester. Attendance at all meetings is strongly encouraged. Note that this course does not count toward the elective requirement.

Research or Directed Study: It is highly recommended that students register for credits of PSY 295 or 299 each semester unless they are already registered for 16 credits. PSY 295/299 credits can be used to bring students’ total semester enrollment to at least 12 credits (full-time status). Students are expected to engage in research each semester regardless of whether s/he is registered for PSY 295/299 credit. About the fourth year, these courses will be replaced with PSY 297 as work commences on dissertation research. Topics, the type of research performed and the number of credits for PSY 295 or 299 are determined in consultation with each student's advisor and are part of the research mentoring process of the program.

Updated 2021