Courses of Study 2016-2017 
    Dec 03, 2022  
Courses of Study 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Human Development

In the College of Human Ecology .

Course Offerings  

The field of human development covers the entire life span and has benefited from the contributions of many disciplines. Human development majors explore the psychological, social, cultural, and biological development of people from conception to old age, focusing on the processes and mechanisms of growth and change over the life course. An important emphasis is the role that social institutions such as schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods play in human development, as well as the influence that developing people have on their environments. The human development major provides an excellent foundation for many professional careers, such as law, medicine (pediatrics, geriatrics, and psychiatry), clinical psychology and other mental health professions, education, social work, other health-related professions, business, nonprofit management, and advocacy. Many human development graduates attend graduate school in the fields of human development, psychology, and sociology.

Classes in human development cover a wide range of issues and approaches, and are organized into five different areas: social and personality development; cognitive development; developmental behavioral neuroscience; aging and health; and law, and psychology and human development. The faculty in the Department of Human Development come from multiple disciplines, including developmental psychology, neuroscience, clinical psychology, education, and sociology. The research of the department’s faculty is extensive and world renowned and addresses issues such as the neurobiological basis of personality, the role of childhood attachments in the development of adult romantic relationships, the acquisition of language in infants, the effects of environmental stressors on children’s cognitive development, interventions to prevent and mitigate the impacts of child maltreatment, risk-taking during adolescence, risk and resilience factors across the life course, the epidemiology of elder mistreatment, memory and the legal system, health care decision making among older people, and strategies to prevent social isolation and promote social integration among older people.


C. Brainerd, chair; R. Depue, director of graduate studies; E. Wethington, director of undergraduate studies; A. Anderson, A. Burrow, M. Casasola, S. Ceci, E. DeRosa, J. Eckenrode, G. Evans, C. Hazan, K. Kinzler, T. Kushnir, C. Loeckenhoff, B. Lust, J. Mendle, A. Ong, K. Pillemer, V. Reyna, S. Robertson, N. Spreng, R. Sternberg, F. Thoemmes, Q. Wang, W. Williams.


Human development is one of the most diverse majors in the College of Human Ecology. While all students learn the fundamentals of human development, students also focus on one or more areas of particular interest (e.g., social and personality development, aging and health; law, psychology, and human development). The major is flexible enough to give students ample opportunity to meet the requirements for admission to professional degree programs, including medical, dental, law, public health, social work, and business schools. Requirements specified by the College of Human Ecology make up part of each student’s curriculum, and include classes in the social and natural sciences, statistics, humanities, and writing. To fulfill department and college requirements, Human Development majors must take at least one biology course.

Special Opportunities:

Beyond the required formal course work, students in human development have many other opportunities that involve ongoing individual work with Cornell faculty or other professionals. Academic credit can be earned through all of them, up to the limit specified by the college (with some restrictions noted below).

Laboratory courses. Human development students may earn credit toward the major by taking formal courses designed to teach laboratory and other research techniques, including study design, data collection, and data analysis. Students may count one of these courses toward the credits required for the Human Development major. Additional elective credits can be earned toward graduation by enrolling in individual faculty research programs, as described below.

Faculty research. Many human development students work for several semesters as research assistants on faculty projects. On these projects, students get further training in research techniques such as laboratory experiments, surveys, and scientific behavioral observation. Participation in faculty research provides the type of experience that many graduate and professional schools expect from their top applicants. Recent projects involving students have included (1) language acquisition among infants in bilingual households or settings, (2) experimental studies of risky decision making among teens, and (3) the impact of poverty on stress responses in children and teens. Participation in faculty research for credit counts as elective credit toward graduation in the College of Human Ecology (up to the limit specified by the college).

Independent research. Under faculty supervision, some advanced students complete an honors thesis. Applications to enter the honors program are due in the first semester of the junior year. Honors theses typically involve a topic related to faculty research, and all applicants must have experience working on research projects and must meet other program requirements for research methods and advanced statistics. Seniors in the honors program register for an honors seminar and for honors thesis credits. The seminar and honors thesis credits count as elective credits toward graduation in the college (up to the limit specified by the college).

Field Placements. Human development majors can arrange internships with Urban Semester in New York City, Cornell in Washington, and Cornell Abroad programs. Students may also arrange internships during the fall and spring semesters in the Ithaca area. All such field placements are required to be under the supervision of a human development faculty member. In recent years, human development students have participated in projects with the Tompkins County Office on Aging, the Tompkins County Human Service Coalition, Kendal of Ithaca, local schools, the Tompkins County Youth Bureau, and the Law Guardian’s Office of Tompkins County. Summer internship credit is not allowed in Human Development unless the student is enrolled for Cornell University credit over the summer. Field Placement credits count as elective credits toward graduation (up to the limit specified by the college).

Undergraduate Teaching Assistantships. Advanced students can serve as undergraduate teaching assistants. The teaching assistantship requires work with the professor teaching the course as well as contact with students. Undergraduate teaching assistantships are for credit only. Teaching assistantship credits count as elective credits toward graduation (up to the limit specified by the college).