During Week 4, we will explore developmental psychology – or how we as humans develop socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically throughout our lifespan. This unit will be particularly interesting to those of you who are parents as you often see the principles and theories at work in examples in your own children!
As you progress through your lesson this week, take full advantage of all of the features of this adapted learning lesson – complete the exercises, honestly assess your understanding of the material using the slider bars at the bottom of each screen, and review the support material suggested based on your progress. Be sure to ask your instructor if you have any questions over any of the concepts introduced this week.
Welcome to the story of your life. In this module we explore the fascinating tale of how you have grown and developed into the person you are today. We also look at some ideas about who you will grow into tomorrow. Yours is a story of lifespan development, from the start of life to the end.
The process of human growth and development is more obvious in infancy and childhood, yet your development is happening this moment and will continue, minute by minute, for the rest of your life. Who you are today and who you will be in the future depends on a blend of genetics, environment, culture, relationships, and more, as you continue through each phase of life. You have experienced firsthand much of what is discussed in this module. Now consider what psychological science has to say about your physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development, from the womb to the tomb.
There are many different theoretical approaches regarding human development. Developmental psychology focuses on how people change, and keep in mind that all the approaches that we present address questions of change: Is the change smooth or uneven (continuous versus discontinuous)?
Is this pattern of change the same for everyone, or are there many different patterns of change (one course of development versus many courses)? How do genetics and environment interact to influence development (nature versus nurture)?
Is Development Continuous or Discontinuous?
Continuous development views development as a cumulative process, gradually improving on existing skills. With this type of development, there is a gradual change. Consider, for example, a child’s physical growth: adding inches to her height year by year.
In contrast, theorists who view development as discontinuous believe that development takes place in unique stages: It occurs at specific times or ages. With this type of development, the change is more sudden, such as an infant’s ability to conceive object permanence
Is There One Course of Development or Many?
Is development essentially the same, or universal, for all children (i.e., there is one course of development) or does development follow a different course for each child, depending on the child’s specific genetics and environment (i.e., there are many courses of development)? Do people across the world share more similarities or more differences in their development? How much do culture and genetics influence a child’s behavior?
Stage theories hold that the sequence of development is universal. For example, in cross-cultural studies of language development, children from around the world reach language milestones in a similar sequence (Gleitman and Newport, 1995). Infants in all cultures coo before they babble. They begin babbling at about the same age and utter their first word around 12 months old.
Yet we live in diverse contexts that have a unique effect on each of us. For example, researchers once believed that motor development follows one course for all children regardless of culture. However, child care practices vary by culture, and different practices have been found to accelerate or inhibit achievement of developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, and walking (Karasik, Adolph, Tamis-LeMonda, and Bornstein, 2010).
For instance, let’s look at the Aché society in Paraguay. They spend a significant amount of time foraging in forests. While foraging, Aché mothers carry their young children, rarely putting them down in order to protect them from getting hurt in the forest. Consequently, their children walk much later: They walk around 23–25 months old, in comparison to infants in Western cultures who begin to walk around 12 months old.
How Do Nature and Nurture Influence Development?
Are we who we are because of nature (biology and genetics), or are we who we are because of nurture (our environment and culture)? This longstanding question is known in psychology as nature versus nurture debate. It seeks to understand how our personalities and traits are the product of our genetic makeup and biological factors, and how they are shaped by our environment, including our parents, peers, and culture.
For instance, why do biological children sometimes act like their parents—is it because of genetics or because of early childhood environment and what the child has learned from the parents? What about children who are adopted—are they more like their biological families or more like their adoptive families? And how can siblings from the same family be so different?