Life Span Development
Developmental psychology studies patterns of growth and change over the course of a person’s life (McGraw-Hill, 2010). Psychologists have been developing theories to explain these patterns. Theories are important in developmental psychology for many reasons. Theories produce hypotheses, generate discoveries, and offer practical guidance (Berger, 2011). Theories in developmental psychology help psychologists understand how and why changes occur throughout the span of a person’s life.
Life Span Perspective of Development
Developmental psychologists developed the life span perspective. They believed that developmental changes occurred throughout the entire span of life (Wood, Wood, & Boyd, 2011). Some developmental psychologists say that development occurs in stages while others do not. Urie Brenfenbrenner developed the ecological – systems approach in life span development (Berger, 2011). This approach examines all the systems around a person. This approach takes in account systems such as family, peers, school and social conditions. From this approach developmentalists take all contexts into account when studying a person’s development. Cultures each have beliefs and habits unique to them. Learning these beliefs and habits is a part of a person’s development. Some characteristics can be molded yet durable. Characteristics can be changed. Developmental psychologists spend time studying ages and stages of a person’s development. From these studies, different theories have been developed to explain human development.
Theories of Life Span Development
Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory
Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory. His theory was centered on a person’s unconscious drives. Freud introduced the psychosexual stages, stating that development was characterized by sexual interest and pleasure centered on a certain body part (Berger, 2011). His theories on infantile sexuality is one reason his theories met resistance. In infancy, a human experiences the oral stage centered on the mouth. In early childhood, the anal stage is experienced and centered on the anus. The phallic stage develops during the preschool years and centers on the penis. According to Freud, there are two stages following the phallic: latency and genital. According to Freudian psychoanalysts, personality patterns are determined by how a person experienced and reacted to these stages (Berger, 2011). Since Freud did not believe that new stages developed during adulthood, he concluded that personalities were influenced by a person’s earlier stages. Unconscious conflicts such as smoking or attraction to an older person may be caused by problems reacting to a childhood stage (Berger, 2011).
Freud also had a stage theory for the development of personality. The three parts are the id, superego and ego. The id is developed during infancy. According to Freud, the id includes a person’s unconscious thoughts. The pleasure principle works within the id (McGraw-Hill, 2010). The superego develops during the phallic stage. The conscience forms during this stage and traits are learned from parents and society. The final stage is the ego, formed during adulthood. This part of personality includes the conscious self. The reality principle works with the ego. Defense mechanisms are used in the ego in order to control the id and the superego (Berger, 2011). While some psychologists, like Freud, use stages to explain development, others do not.
Psychologists subscribing to the behaviorism theories of development rejected the psychoanalytic theories. Behaviorism studies observable behavior and can also be called learning theories (Berger, 2011). Behaviorists did not subscribe to the stage theory or the unconscious theories. John Watson believed developmental psychologists should study only what they could see: observable behavior (Berger, 2011). He believed that irrational thoughts and hidden urges the psychoanalysts used in theories were not easily measured in developmental psychology. The behaviorist theories described the laws and processes by which a person learned. The most common process was by conditioning, or the way responses were linked to stimuli. The two most popular forms of conditioning were classical and operant.
Ivan Pavlov performed the most popular experiment in classical conditioning. His study revealed the link between a stimulus and a response. In his study a stimulus is connected with a neutral stimulus, which had no meaning before. B.F. Skinner felt that classical conditioning explained some behavior. He performed operant conditioning research. In this conditioning, an action was followed by a reward or punishment. If a reward was given, it was more likely that the action would be repeated. However, if a punishment was received, it was more likely the action would not be repeated.
Effects of Heredity and Environment
Both heredity and environment influence the behavior of a person. The genetics that a person inherits may play a role on the way his or her brain functions in relation to behavior. A person’s outside influences may also play a role in how a person behaves. While some psychologists believe that either heredity or environment has the largest impact on behavior, there is a third group that have an interactionist view (McGraw-Hill, 2010). This view states that both factors play an equal role in behavior. Based on heredity, each person has a certain potential. However, based on environment, each person depends on outside influences in order to reach that potential. It is important for developmental psychologists to study both heredity and environment to understand how each factor influences a person’s behavior.
A person begins developing during the fetal stage before birth and continues developing until death (Wood, Wood, & Boyd, 2011). Because of this view in developmental psychology, the expression “from womb to tomb” was coined. A person develops physically, cognitively and socially through the different stages in life. A person’s genetics influences his or her physical changes, cognitive changes as well as behavioral changes. A person’s environment influences his or her behavioral changes and is important in helping them achieve his or her genetic potential.
Berger, K. S. (2011). The developing person through the life span (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
McGraw-Hill (2010). Psychsmart. New York, NY: Author.
Wood, S. E., Wood, E. G., & Boyd, D. (2011). The world of psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/ Allyn & Bacon.
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