Theoriesof Lifespan Development
Theoriesof Lifespan Development
Lifespandevelopment also known as developmental psychology is the division ofpsychology that is concerned with the studies of intra-individualchanges and inter-individual changes in regard to intra-individualchanges. Lifespan development psychologists study changes indevelopment covering life span from conception to death. Through thisprocess, they attempt to provide a complete picture of growth anddecline. However, some only concentrate on a segment of the life spansuch as childhood, adulthood or old age (Creasey, 2006).Psychologists studying life span development all agree that neithergenetic nor environment can be solely responsible for the whole humandevelopment. As established by the psychologists, development is asteady process which is founded on three different aspects includingphysical, cognitive and personality and social development (Baltes,Reese & Nesselroade, 2014). There are several theories of humandevelopment which are based on certain principles and focus ondifferent aspects of development. Traditional theories of developmenthave been acknowledged for their contribution to lifespandevelopment. However, the realization of the limitation presented bythe classical theories, modern theories of lifespan development triesto bridge these gaps. This essay will focus on psychosocial theory byErickson and bioecological theory of human development. They will becompared to the classical sociocultural and socio-cognitive theoriesof human development.
BioecologicalTheory of Development
Thistheory was developed by psychologists Urie Bronfenbrenner inacknowledging the weaknesses that traditional theories of lifespandevelopment presented. The bioecological approach to lifespandevelopment suggests that five phases of the environment concurrentlyinfluence individuals (Addison,1992).According to Bronfenbrenner, one cannot fully comprehend humandevelopment without regarding how an individual is affected by thesefive phases of the environment. The levels of the environment thatdetermine development of a person include
TheMicrosystem: This is described as the immediate, everyday surroundingin which a child leads his or her own life. This includes home,friends, care givers, and teachers. Nevertheless, the child is notonly a passive recipient of the influences of the microsystem but heor she actively assists in constructing and shaping the immediateenvironment in which he or she lives (Riggins-Casperset al., 2003).This is the level of the environment which most classical work indevelopment of a child is based.
TheMesosystem: This is the second level influencing a child’sdevelopment. It provides relations between different elements of themicrosystem. Just like links in a chain, the mesosystems link a childto his or her parent, teachers to students, friends to friends,bosses to employees (Addison,1992).This level recognizes the direct and indirect influences that connectus to one another, like those that influence a child who had a badday in school and is rude to his parents back at home.
TheExosystem: This level represents wider influences, including societalinstitutions like the community, local government, schools, localmedia or places of worship where the child does not function directly(Riggins-Casperset al., 2003).Each of these broader societal institutions can have a direct andmajor impact on personal development and each influence theoperations of the microsystem and the mesosystem (Berk, 2000). Forinstance, the exosystem may include the workplace schedule of aparent or community based resources. The child may not be immediatelyor directly involved at this phase, but he definitely feel thepositive or undesirable force concerned with interaction with his ownsystem (Adamsons,O’Brien, & Pasley, 2007).
TheMacrosystem: This can be considered as the outermost level in thechild’s environment. Although it does not consist of a particularframework, macrosystem encompass cultural beliefs, customs and lawsas argued by Berk (2000). The effects of broader principles definedby the macrosystem have a ripple effect throughout the interactionsof all the other levels. For instance, if cultural beliefs dictatethat parents are solely responsible for the well fare of theirchildren, this culture is less probable to provide resources toassist parents, consequently, it affects the systems in which theparents function. Similarly, the ability or inability to care fortheir child within the framework of the child’s microsystem isaffected (Riggins-Casperset al., 2003).
TheChronosystem: As the name suggests, this level involves the dimensionof time as it regards to a child’s environment. Features withinthis system can be external like timing of the death of a parent orinternal like the physiological changes and may be likely todetermine more how this change influences a child (Weigel, Martin &Bennett, 2005).
Mostmodern lifespan development psychologists accept that, a child’sbiology and his environment play a significant role in change andgrowth. Theories are thus concerned on the role of each factor andthe level at which they interrelate in continuous development(Riggins-Casperset al., 2003).Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model focuses on the qualityand context of a child’s environment. According to him, as thechild develops, the relationship within these levels of theenvironment become more complex (Bronfenbrenner& Morris, 2006).The complexity is as a result of growth and maturation of the child’sphysical and cognitive structures. It acknowledges the biological andenvironmental component in development hence the term bio-ecological.
Bronfenbrenneris the co-founder of Head Start through his bioecological theoryprovides an incredibly clear perspective of the problems beingexperienced with children and in families. He argues that, technologyhas influenced our society. But when we are busy safeguarding thephysical surroundings from the harm done by this technology, we tendto forget to provide equal resources or efforts to safeguard the harmbeing done to our societal environment (Henderson, 1995). Inaddition, Bronfenbrenner is concerned on the deficit approach used todetermine the degree of support given by the public for families withdifficulties. Parents need to admit they are somehow deficient so asto qualify for help in solving issues that may arise from theircultural value independence (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). A large rate offailure stipulates a larger amount of assistance. Through the‘deficit’ model, families are expected to hold their hands upfrom a deep hole of helplessness (Harms, 2010).
Ericksonborrowed from Sigmund Freud’s work to develop an eight stagelifespan development theory encompassing the entire human lifespan,i.e. from infancy through old age. Freud did not say much beyond theadolescent stage (Steinberg, 2010). Born in 1902 near FrankfurtGermany, from a secret relationship between his Jewish mother and anindentified Danish man. His mother married when he was three years,although he greatly took after his biological father. His life storyinspired him through psychoanalysis, and helped him throughinteraction with Sigmund and his wife. Basically, Erickson’spsychosocial theory considers the role of external factors, parentsand the society as a whole in personality development since childhoodto adulthood (Fingerman et al., 2011). According to his theory, aperson must pass through a series of eight stages that areinterrelated over the entire cycle. They include
Infancy:Birth to 18 months
Basic Trust vs. Mistrust (Hope)
Thisstage occurs during the first or second year of life, and dependsentirely on the mother and father’s nurturing potential and carefor their child particularly in terms of touch and visual contact.The child will develop trust, optimism, confidence and security ifwell taken care of and handled appropriately. If a child fails toexperience trust, the child may develop worthlessness, insecurity andgenerally mistrust to the world (Steinberg, 2010).
Toddler:18 Months to 3 Years
Autonomy vs. Shame (Will)
Thisis the second stage in Erickson’s model which occurs between 18months to 3 years of life. At this stage, the child has anopportunity to develop self-esteem and autonomy as he learns newskills and differentiating right from wrong (Baltes, Reese &Nesselroade, 2014). The child that was well cared for in stage one issure of himself or herself, carrying him/herself with pride asopposed to shame. At this stage, known as the ‘terrible twos’temper tantrums, defiance, and stubbornness are likely to occur(Steinberg, 2010). A child tends to be vulnerable at this stage, attimes feeling shame and experiencing low self esteem if unable tolearn particular skills.
Preschooler:3 to 5 years
Initiative vs. Guilt (Purpose)
Atthis stage, a child develops the desire to copy adults around themand take initiative in establishing play situations (Steinberg,2010). Children make up stories with John’s and Cate’s, miniaturecares, toy phones, playing out roles in a sample universe andexperimenting with the blue print for what they perceive as themeaning of adulthood. Children also start exploring the world byasking ‘WHY’ (Shaffer & Kipp, 2010).
AlthoughErickson was inspired by Freud, he downplays biological sexualityover psychosocial features of conflict between a child and his or herparents. However, he agreed that a child at this stage often becomeengaged in the traditional “Oedipal struggle” and resolve thiscrisis through “social role identification.” (Shaffer & Kipp,2010). If a child is frustrated over natural desires and goals, he orshe can easily experience guilt. The most important relationship atthis stage is with the nuclear family (Lerner, 2010).
SchoolAge: 6 to 12 years
Industry vs. Inferiority (Competence)
Thisfourth stage is also known as Latency, where a child is capable oflearning, creating and achieving several new skills and knowledge,hence developing a sense of industry. This is also a very importantsocial stage of a child’s development. Therefore if a childexperiences certain unresolved feelings of inefficiency andinferiority among his or her peers, he or she may experience seriousissues in terms of self esteem and competence (Harms, 2010). As theworld around the child continues to expand, his or her mostsignificant relationship is with the neighborhood and the school.Although parents are important at this stage, they are not the soleauthority they previously enjoyed (Creasey, 2006).
Identity vs. Role Confusion (Fidelity)
Inthe previous stages, development was influenced by what is done to anindividual. At this point though, development relies on what anindividual does. An adolescent should strive to discover and find himor her own identity, at the same time negotiating and struggling withsocial relations and ‘fitting in’ and establishing a sense ofmorality and discovering right and wrong (Steinberg, 2010). In thisstage, some people try to delay into adulthood by avoiding orwithdrawing from responsibilities in what is known as moratorium(Newman& Newman, 2011).Those who are unsuccessful in this phase experience role confusionand mayhem. Adolescents also start to establish strong affiliationand commitment to ideals, friends and causes (Harms, 2010).
Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation (Love)
Thisis the stage where young adults tend to seek companionship and love.In some, this is the time to settle down and start families, eventhough it appears to be pushed further in the recent days. Youngadults seek intimacy and satisfying relationships. If unsuccessful,they may experience isolation (Creasey, 2006). Marital partners andfriends form significant relationships at this stage.
MiddleAged Adults: 35 to 65
Generativity vs. Stagnation (Care)
Atthis stage, career and work are of paramount importance together withfamily. It is also the stage at which people start taking greaterresponsibilities and control (Harms, 2010). In this stage, strivingto achieve stability and Erickson’s view of generativity (anattempt to make a significant contribution to the society). Commonfears during this stage include inactivity and meaninglessness(Newman& Newman, 2011).
Significantchanges in life can happen during this phase. For example, childrenbecome mature, leaving home for college, work or to start their ownfamily. Some individuals may struggle with finding purpose in theirlife (Harms, 2010). Relationships that are significant at this levelinclude family, workplace, church and other communities.
LateAdulthood: 65 to Death
Integrity vs. Despair (Wisdom)
Accordingto Erickson, much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood phaseand the final stage entail reflection. As older adults, some peoplecan look back with a sense of integrity-that is, contentment andfulfillment, having lived a meaningful life and significantcontribution to society (Newman& Newman, 2011).Some may experience despair at this stage, reflecting on theirexperiences and failures. They may be afraid of death as they striveto find purpose to their lives, asking themselves what was the pointof living, and was it worth it (Lerner, 2010).
Ericksonpreferred using biographical case study of famous individuals such asMahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther (Wong, 2013). This method isunreliable for Erickson’s identity formation since it fails toaccount for those adults who rediscover themselves later and developa diverse understanding of their purpose in life (Creasey, 2006).
Thisis a classical theory of lifespan development that was put forth byLev Semenovich Vygotsky, a developmentalist of Russian origin.According to Vygotsky, it is not possible to fully comprehendindividual development without regarding the culture in which aperson comes from or is nurtured (Rogoff, 2003). This theory arguesthat, cognitive development is achieved through social interactionbetween persons in the same culture. As argued by Shaffer (2009), achild’s understanding of the world is achieved through problemsolving interactions with adults and other children (Zastrow &Ashman, 2007). As kids relate and connect with each other as theyplay, they learn what is considered important in their culture andthe society at large while at the same time develop cognitively intheir view of the world. Therefore, Vygotsky believes that, for oneto understand the course of development, it is vital to consider whatis meaningful to persons of a particular culture. Socioculturaltheory is unique in that, it perceives development as a reciprocalrelationship between a child and the people in the life of this child(Johnstonet al., 2007).Thus, people and surroundings influence a child’s development,while the child also influences the environment. The pattern goes onand on, with children being recipients of influence and also sourcesof influence (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). For instance, a childbrought up in a collective society like in China and another broughtup in an individualistic society like in America will have verydifferent views of society.
Vygotsky’ssociocultural theory is divergent form Erickson’s psychosocialtheory and Bronfenbrenner bioecological theory in a number of ways.Bioecological theory is largely concerned with the interaction of thechild with the ecosystem or the environment while psychosocial theoryis largely concerned with nature and experiences (Sigelman &Rider, 2011). The sociocultural theory unlike the other two moderntheories of lifespan development does not define development, i.e.when it starts and when does it end (Harms, 2010). From thebioecological theory and psychosocial theories, it is clear thatdevelopment occurs at various stages of life as during childhood,school, at work hence showing the different stages of physicaldevelopment. This is not clear in the sociocultural theory (Sigelman& Rider, 2011).
However,sociocultural theory fails to appreciate the role of nature in childdevelopment. It fails to acknowledge biological or heredity asimportant components of development. Similarly, it ignores the roleof an individual in shaping his or her own environment like the onesdescribed by humanistic theories (Thyer, Dulmus, & Sowers, 2012).Humanistic theory argues stipulates that, every individual can shapetheir own development.
Regardless,sociocultural theory continues to gain significant attention incontemporary psychology as opposed to other traditional theories oflifespan development. This is mainly to the common acknowledgementthat, culture plays a significant role in development Thyer, Dulmus,& Sowers, 2012). As argued by Rogoff (2003), a child does notdevelop in a culture-vacuum setting, but his or her attention isaffected by the society to a given direction and as a result acquirescertain skills which are due to the culture.
Thisis a classical development theory that was put forward bypsychologists Albert Bandura. Social-cognitive theory emphasize that,a considerable amount of learning can be attributed to cognitivesocial learning theory, which emphasizes learning from observing andimitating another person, otherwise known as a model (Baltes, Reese &Nesselroade, 2014). This theory stipulates that behavior is learnedthrough observation and not through trial and error as argued byoperant conditioning theory. Bandura argues that, one does not haveto experience the consequences of a certain behavior to learn it(Baltes, Reese & Nesselroade, 2014). When a person sees abehavior of our model being rewarded, we are likely to imitate thatbehavior.
Thistheory as compared to bioecological theory social-cognitive learningtheory does not appreciate the nature or nurture as part of lifespandevelopment. It considers observation as the main influence onbehavior. Unlike Erickson’s psychosocial theory, social-cognitivelearning theory approaches development as a continuous process(Zastrow & Ashman, 2007).
Asnoted earlier, modern psychologists appreciate the fact that, humandevelopment cannot be attributed solely to biological orenvironmental factors. As such, psychosocial theory by Erickson isinherently considerate of this fact. The developmental stagesdescribed by Erickson are specific to certain time periods and stagesin life (Fingerman et al., 2011). This is in connection to biologicaldevelopment. From the infancy, childhood, preschool, school age,teenage, early adulthood, adulthood and late adulthood stages are allstages in human life that involve changes in physical, emotional andpsychological development (Thies & Travers, 2001). Erickson hasbeen able to link these changes with environment that a person is in.for instance, during the first four stages, he argues that theoutcome of a child’s behavior is dependent on what is done to them,i.e. the external environment such as how the child is treated athome, at school and in the society as a whole (Fingerman et al.,2011). In the last four stages a person’s development depends onthe paths they chose. The path a person chooses especially fromadolescence determines the outcome of the stage of development, i.e.positive or negative. These choices are simply the interaction withthe environment or socialization (Fingerman et al., 2011). Therelationships one creates with the environment or the people aroundhim or her determines their development. Therefore, Erickson’spsychosocial theory acknowledges the role of both nature and nurturein development.
Developmentalchanges are either continuous or discontinuous in nature. Continuityapproach to development considers the fact that, development is agradual process. This means that changes in development are notnoticeable instantly but are cumulative (Hendry & Kloep, 2002).
Bioecologicaltheory by Urie Bronfenbrenner approaches development in continuitymanner. The interaction of the child or an individual with theenvironment is not specified in terms of time or period (Addison,1992).It emphasizes on the relationship between a person and the variouslevels of the environment. Although Bronfenbrenner defines thevarious levels of the environment, there is no limit into when aperson interacts with this environment (Addison,1992).In addition one can actually interact with more than one environmentat a time. For instance a school going child interacts with bothexosystem and macrosystem and their development is therefore as aresult of both the environments. Bioecological theory alsoacknowledges the importance or the interrelation between the variousenvironmental levels in lifespan development (Zastrow & Ashman,2007).
Discontinuousapproach to development on the other hand regards development as anabsolute process whereby changes in development are instant and canbe realized at certain times. Erickson’s psychosocial theory is oneof the theories of development which approach development in adiscontinuous manner (Hendry & Kloep, 2002). According toErickson’s eight stages of lifespan development, behavior in onestage is quantitatively variable from the previous or the next stage.For instance, the adulthood stage of 35-65 years (generativity vs.stagnation) and the late adulthood to death stage (integrity vs.despair) are largely discontinuous. Despite the two stages being nextto each other and transitioning through each other, they have noconnection. This theory assumes that, development in instant asopposed to gradual (Hendry & Kloep, 2002).
Nevertheless,continuity and discontinuity does not necessarily influence thevalidity of a certain theory as it all depends on the type ofdevelopment in question. Therefore, it would not be right tocriticize one approach or the other without consideration of what isright (Hendry & Kloep, 2002).
Theoriesof lifespan development are diverse and utilize various approaches todevelopment. Whereas traditional methods have been aligned towardsone concept such as behavioral theories or social learning theories,modern development theories have continued to acknowledge the role ofnature and nurture in lifespan development. The bioecological andpsychosocial theories are two theories that have considered theaspects of biological development through a chronological system, andrelated it to interaction with environment and experiences. Thesetheories differ from traditional theories such as socioculturaltheory and Bandura’s social-cognitive learning theory in a numberof ways. Ultimately, they offer great insight in the understanding oflifespan development.
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