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Chapter 1
An Introduction to Life Span Development

What is lifespan development?

The field of study that examines the patterns of growth, change, and stability in behavior that occur throughout the entire human life span.

Overall, lifespan developmentalists believe several things…



That the study of lifespan development should focus on human development

Principals that are universal to development

Cultural, racial, ethnic differences in development

The development of individual traits and characteristics

That development is a lifelong, continuing process

That development occurs through change and growth in addition to stability, consistency, and continuity

Developmentalists often focus on different topics…

Physical Development

The body’s physical makeup, including the brain, nervous system, muscles, and senses, and the need for food, drink, and sleep

Malnutrition, declining athletic performance

"How does malnutrition affect the growth of children?"

"Hoe do athletes’ physical performance decline during adulthood?"

Topical areas studied by developmentalists

Cognitive Development

Involves the ways that growth and change in intellectual capabilities influence a person’s behavior

Learning, memory, problem solving skills, and intelligence across the lifespan

"How do people explain their academic successes and failures?"

"Can a person who experiences a traumatic event as a young child remember it when she becomes an adult?"

Topical areas studied by developmentalists

Personality Development

Involves the ways that the enduring characteristics that differentiate one person from another remain stable or change over the life span

"Are there stable, enduring personality traits that persist throughout the lifespan?"

Topical Areas, continued

Social Development

Involves the way in which an individual’s interactions and social relationships grow, change, and remain stable over the course of life

"How does poverty, racism, and divorce effect development?"

The lifespan is usually divided into broad (albeit arbitrary) age ranges.

Age Ranges of the Life Span

Prenatal - conception to birth

Infancy and toddlerhood - birth to age 3

Preschool - ages 3 to 6

Middle childhood - ages 6 to 12

Adolescence - ages 12 to 20

Young adulthood - ages 20 to 40

Middle adulthood - ages 40 to 60

Late adulthood - age 60 to death

An important thing to remember about these age ranges is that they are social constructions--shared notions that are widely accepted in our culture.

People mature at different rates and reach developmental milestones at different points

Environmental factors, including culture, play a role in determining when events occur

Age ranges are only averages, and some people will be above or below

The context of development takes a broad perspective.

The bioecological approach (Bronfenbrenner)

Suggests that different environmental levels simultaneously influence individuals .

Four major levels:

Microsystem (everyday immediate environment)—home, caregiver/parent, friends, teachers.

Mesosystem (connects parts of the microsystem)—parents linked to children, students to teachers, friends to friends, bosses to employees.

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach, continued

3) Exosystem (represents broader influences)—local government, the community, schools, places of worship, local media

4) Macrosystem (represents larger cultural influences)—society in general, federal government, religious and political value systems

5) Chronosystem (underlies all systems)--the passage of time and historical events affects development



Advantages to taking an ecological approach…

It emphasizes the interconnectedness of the influences on development

It illustrates that influences are multidimensional

It stresses the importance of broad cultural factors that affect development

Developmental Diversity

Major factors influencing developmental include cultural, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and gender differences.

Terms have been used inappropriately—"race" is a biological concept, whereas "ethnic group" and "ethnicity" are broader terms referring to cultural background, nationality, religion, and language.

How do these factors impact the different parts of the ecosystem?

Other influences on development include…

Each person’s COHORT

The group of people born at around the same time and same place

History-Graded Influences

Biological and environmental influences associated with a particular historical movement,

September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania; December 2004 tsunami in Indian Ocean


Age-Graded Influences

Biological and environmental influences that are similar for individuals in a specific age group, regardless of when or where they were raised

Puberty, menopause, entry into formal education

Sociocultural-Graded Influences

The impact of social and cultural factors present at a specific time for a specific individual, depending on unique variables such as ethnicity, social class, subcultural membership

Affluent childhood vs. living in poverty

Other influences on development

Non-normative Life Events

Specific, atypical events that occur in a particular person’s life at a time when they do not happen to most people

Cancer as a teen, auto accident

Key Issues in Lifespan Development

Continuous vs. Discontinuous Change

Continuous change

Gradual development in which achievements at one level build on those of previous levels

Changes achieved are a matter of degree, not kind.

Discontinuous change

Development that occurs in distinct steps or stages.

Changes achieved are qualitatively different that behavior at earlier stages.

What do most developmental psychologists believe on this issue?

Some development is continuous, and some is discontinuous.

Critical Periods

A critical period is a specific time during development when an event has its greatest consequences (interference with critical periods thought to interfere with development, often permanently)

Language development, exposure to disease


The concept of a sensitive period is favored

--A sensitive period is a point in development when an individual is especially susceptible to certain stimuli BUT the absence of those stimuli does not always produce irreversible consequences.

Key Issues in Lifespan Development

A focus on particular periods vs. lifespan approaches

Early developmentalists focused on "infancy" & "adolescence."

Today the entire lifespan is seen as important for several reasons:

Growth and change are continuous throughout life.

Each age has reciprocal influences on other ages.

(Key Issues in Lifespan Development

Nature vs. Nurture

Nature refers to inherited traits, abilities, and capacities

Includes maturation

Nurture refers to the environmental influences that shape behavior

What do developmentalists believe today?

That behavior is the result of nature and nurture combined