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Beginnings: The Study Of The Life Span And Theories Of Development

Beginnings: The Study of the Life Span and Theories of Development


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Define     development, and discuss the five characteristics of the life-span     perspective within the precepts of continuous and discontinuous     development.
  2. Explain     how the scientific method of study applies to the study of development,    how data are collected, what main research designs are used, what research     methods are used, how changes are studied over time, and the importance of     ethics in science.
  3. Define     theory and differentiate between “grand” and “emergent” theories.
  4. Describe     the five theoretical perspectives on human development, and discuss the     contributions of the theorists within each perspective. Discuss some     contributions and limitations of the theories.
  5. Differentiate     between types of learning, within the context of laws of behavior:    classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling.
  6. Compare     and contrast heredity and environment in terms of the “nature-nurture”    controversy.


This lesson introduces the student to the overall concept of human development in terms of the life-span perspective. The importance of the scientific method in the study of development will be examined, and the major theories and theorists will be discussed. In addition, the on-going “nature vs. nurture” controversy will be revisited.

Development and the Life-Span Perspective

Since development is defined as “change over time,”  human development must involve the study of all of the changes that take place over the course of human life, from conception to death (Berger, 2004, p. 4).  Whether in terms of continuous development (involving gradual, cumulative changes such as those found in temperament) or discontinuous development (changes occurring in distinct stages, such as in language ability),  developmental changes across the different stages of life are linked (Baltes,  Lindenberger, Ulman, & Staudinger, 1998).

According to Baltes et al, 1998,  there are five individual characteristics involved in the life-span perspective:

  • Multidirectional changes imply that change can be seen in terms of both increase and decrease and not always in a linear fashion.
  • Multicontextual development involves changes that take place within certain frameworks, such as those of biological,  physical, cognitive, social, historical, and cultural contexts.
  • Multicultural developmental characteristics acknowledge the numerous values and traditions that are espoused within the myriad cultures found at both national and international levels.
  • Multidisciplinary means that the study of development takes place among and across numerous academic and scientific fields, involving psychology, anthropology, neurology, education, and sociology, to name a few.
  • Plasticity involves the degree to which individual characteristics change or remain stable.
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