Life Span Perspective PaperHistorically, the philosophy of human development has stemmed from the Biblical understanding of original sin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s intimations of innate goodness, and John Locke’s postulation that we are born with a psychological blank slate (Boyd & Bee, 2006). However, in the 19th century the study of human development was given legs to its already well-defined frame in the form of the theory of evolution, as put forth by Charles Darwin. With the idea of evolutionary stages in place, G. Stanley Hall of Clark University was able to formulate his theory of norms, which hypothesize that human development can be segregated into identifiable phases, and Arnold Gesell was able to suggest his theory of maturation, which was largely dependent on genetic predisposition. From these beginnings the lifespan development perspective of human psychology has been largely concerned with the physiological, psychological, cultural, genetic, and environmental context of individual human development from conception to old age (Baltes & Staudinger, 1999; Boyd & Bee, 2006). Moreover, the lifespan perspective (LSP) of development can be put into context through the models of both human development domains and developmental periods, the major characteristics of LSP, and the contemporary concerns about LSP.
Human Development DomainsLSP is concerned with three separate, but principally overlapping, domains of human development: physical domain (ontogenesis), cognitive domain, and social domain. The physical domain of LSP studies the physiological changes that occur over a lifetime, such as puberty, menopause, and bone loss. On the other hand, the cognitive domain researches changes in thinking, problem-solving, and memory that occur throughout life. This domain of LSP is concerned with everything from how children learn to read to memory deterioration in old age. Lastly, the social domain of LSP analyzes the cultural and environmental progression of human development, including individual differences in personality and children’s social skill development. These three domains constitute the broad strokes, rather than the rigid categories, of the LSP, and serve to organize discussion and research on human development.
Developmental PeriodsChild development theorists hypothesize that several critical periods exist within human advancement—periods in which humans are predisposed, either genetically or environmentally, to a particular type of learning. For instance, children might be inclined to learn language more proficiently during a certain set of years or baby ducks might only be able to identify parental attachment within the so many days of hatching. Furthermore, the more common understanding of sensitive periods postulates that individuals are only receptive to specific forms of experience, or lack thereof, for the duration of a span of months or years. In the realm of sensitive periods learning is more likely during times of receptivity, but no altogether absent at other times. For example, if a child does not form a parental bond during infancy, then a parental bond is still possible, but less likely, to form in early childhood. On the other end of the spectrum, atypical development encompasses the sphere of abnormal behavior, psychopathology, and maladaptive development. The study of atypical development in LSP seeks to understand developmental periods and pathways that lead to harmful behaviors, such as extreme aggression in children or compulsive gambling in adults. These different periods and pathways —critical, sensitive, and atypical—form the basis of individual differences in the LSP of development.
Characteristics of LSPLSP leverages a wide variety of concepts and paradigms to the end of understanding human development in the broadest terms possible. Of particular interest to LSP research is the struggle to reconcile the nature versus nature controversy, the continuity versus discontinuity issue, and the psychological prediction of the future self by the present self. In the early days of human development research it was assumed that either nature or nurture comprised the bulk of explanation for human behavior. More recently most psychologists have adopted a more comprehensive understanding of the nature/nurture controversy. For instances, inborn biases is a concept now used to describe the interplay of genetics and environment, explaining that nature influences, rather than determines, our reactions to predisposed factors. Additionally, the continuity versus discontinuity issue deals with the debate over whether age-related change is chiefly a matter of degree or type—meaning does change happen upon a continuous quantitative continuum or a disconnect qualitative gamut. If the case is the former, then stages of human development might be altogether irrelevant; if the latter, then stages might be particularly useful in the description of lifespan maturation. What's more, the psychological prediction of the future self by the present self is not developmentally constant over a lifetime (Fortman, Giles, Honeycutt, & Ota, 2003). For instance, the future self might be of particular interest when determining which career path or degree path to pursue, but of less significance after retirement. From these areas of interest —nature/nurture, continuity/discontinuity, and the future prediction of self—it is clear that the characteristics of LSP cover a wide range of topics and concerns within the area of psychology, biology, and genetics.
Contemporary Concerns about LSPContemporary concerns about LSP include an eclectic and accommodative movement with the goal of formulating a comprehensive theory of human development. Drawing from the pools of psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and cognitive approaches psychologists are now formulating models of behavior that can better explain atypical or abnormal behavior, such as divorce or disruptive children. Furthermore, two main areas of interest to LSP have been: what is successful development and which regulatory processes underlie successful development (Ebner & Riediger, 2007). In recent years LSP has put forth the models of assimilative and accommodative coping, optimization in primary and secondary control, and the metamodel of selection, optimization, and compensation to try and explain these two foundational questions. Of further interest is work being done by Boerner and Jopp to integrate all of these contemporary theories into one comprehensive model of improvement/maintenance and reorientation, which brings together the theories’ main points. These contemporary models within the field of LSP seek to create a “theory of everything” to describe the gambit of human lifespan development from beginning to end.
ConclusionIn conclusion, the lifespan perspective of human development is built upon the foundation of several philosophical constructs, organized by domains and periods, characterized by a wide variety of psychological, biological, and genetic concerns; and contemporarily engrossed with an eclectic movement towards a comprehensive theory of everything. Nevertheless, whether development is mainly due to nature or nurture, continuous or discontinuous it is clear that development does take place over a lifetime, and the discipline of lifespan development is moving towards a more inclusive understanding of human behavior over a lifetime.
ReferencesBaltes, P.B., Staudinger, U.M. (1999). Lifespan psychology: Theory and application tointellectual functioning. Annual Review of Psychology, 50(1), 471. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.
Boyd, D. and Bee, H. (2006). Lifespan development (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.
Ebner, N. C., Riediger, M. (2007). A broader perspective on three lifespan theories: Comment on
Fortman, J., Giles, H., Honeycutt, J., & Ota, H. (2003). Future selves and others: A lifespan and cross-cultural perspective. Communication Reports, 16(1), 1. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.