11 Characteristics of Life Span Development

An Introduction

According to the life span perspective, significant changes occur throughout development. It encompasses the multidimensional, multidirectional, plastic, multidisciplinary, and contextual factors that influence human development. Growth, maintenance, and regulation are all components of development.

Changes are interpreted in terms of the cultural requirements and context of the occurrences. According to Paul Baltes, humans possess the capacity, plasticity, and capacity for positive change in response to the constant environmental demands placed on individuals. Throughout life, an individual develops strategies for compensating for and overcoming obstacles. According to Baltes, one of the most important characteristics of old age is the ability to compensate and overcome (Boyd and Bee, 2006). These characteristics combine to form a family of beliefs that define a consistent view of development's nature. The life-span approach is defined by the application of these beliefs in concert. The following are the critical characteristics of the life span approach's beliefs:

11 Characteristics of Life Span Development 

  1. Development is Lifelong:
  2. Development is Multidimensional
  3. Development is Multidirectional
  4. Development is Plastic
  5. Development is Contextual
  6. Development is Multidisciplinary
  7. Development involves Growth, Maintenance, and Regulation
  8. Development is Embedded in History
  9. Normative Age Graded Influences
  10. Normative History Graded Influence
  11. Non-normative Events

  1. Development is Lifelong: This belief has two separate aspects. First, the potential for development extends across the entire life span: there is no assumption that the life course must reach a plateau or decline during adulthood and old age. Second, development may involve processes that are not present at birth but emerge throughout the life span. No age period dominates during development. Researchers increasingly study the experiences and psychological orientations of adults at different points in their development. Gains and losses in development occur throughout the life cycle.
  2. Development is Multidimensional: Multidimensionality refers to the fact that development cannot be described by a single criterion such as increases or decreases in a behaviour. It occurs in the biological, cognitive and social emotional domains.
  3. Development is Multidirectional: The principle of multidirectional maintains that there is no single, normal path that development must or should take. In other words, healthy developmental outcomes are achieved in a wide variety of ways. Development is often comprised of multiple abilities which take different directions, showing different types of change or constancy. Some dimensions or aspects of development may be increasing while others are declining or not changing.
  4. Development is Plastic: Plasticity refers to the within-person variability which is possible for a particular behaviour or development. For example, infants who have a hemisphere of the brain removed shortly after birth (as a treatment for epilepsy) can recover the functions associated with that hemisphere as the brain reorganises itself and the remaining hemisphere takes over those functions. A key part of the research agendas in developmental psychology is to understand the nature and the limits of plasticity in various domains of functioning. Development can be modified by life circumstances to some extent. Plasticity involves the degree to which characteristics change or remain stable.
  5. Development is Contextual: Development varies across the different contexts in which we live our lives. For example, social and rural environments are associated with different sets of factors which have the potential to impact these two settings requires an understanding of the differing contexts. It occurs in the context of a person’s biological make-up, physical environment and social, historical and cultural contexts.
  6.     Development is Multidisciplinary: The study of developmental psychology is multidisciplinary. That is, the sources of age-related changes do not lie within the province of any one discipline. For example, psychological methodologies may not be appropriate for understanding factors that are sociological in nature. Rather, an understanding of human development will be achieved only by research conducted from the perspective of disciplines such as sociology, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, neuroscience and medicine.
  7. Development involves Growth, Maintenance, and Regulation: The mastery of life involves conflict and competition among three goals of human development: growth, maintenance and regulation
  8.  Development is Embedded in History: Development is also historically situated and is always influenced by historical conditions. The historical time period in which we grow up affects our development.
  9. Normative Age Graded Influences: Biological and environmental influences that are similar for individuals in a particular age group (example: Childhood, Puberty) also influences development.
  10. Normative History Graded Influences: Biological and environmental influences that are associated with the history that are common to people of a particular generation (example: Depression, The AIDS epidemic) also influences.
  11. Non-normative Events: Unusual occurrences that have a major impact on an individual’s life; the occurrence, the pattern, and sequence of these events are not applicable to most individuals (e.g. Death of a parent at young age, getting a serious illness.


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