Why Lifespan Development is Curious

Developmental Psychology was one of the subjects I was most looking forward to in my degree. I have always been immensely curious about the changes we experience and how nature vs nurture informs our understanding. As someone with a career in HR and Learning, coaching people through their development, and into the grey space of work life blend, is some of the most rewarding work I have been involved in. We grow, learn and interact with our environment and that’s one of the most hopeful things about humanity, the possibility for change.

Despite us all sometimes thinking we’re unique sunflowers, there’s a lot about our development which is similar, from the stages of development to the nature of lifespan development. Of course, individual variations exist, and the timing for changes will vary for a number of reasons. However, there’re some good norms that assist us understand the natural shape of our lives, the challenges we might face and how to overcome these obstacles. In a nutshell this is lifespan development:

  • It’s multidimensional – it’s biological, social, cognitive and more… we are the sum of a lot of pieces
  • It’s plastic – we have the capacity for change, although some things might be fixed …
  • It’s multidisciplinary – there isn’t just one expert on how to live a good life (gosh what does that even mean), there is a lot of wisdom and part of your development is understanding how to select and apply this information
  • It’s contextual – our environment will shape our understanding of the world and our development and there are a couple of high levels ways we can classify context. There is something called Normative Age Graded, which is where experiences are similar by age range for example, puberty, early childhood etc; there is also Normative History Graded, where you look at how historical events or time periods shape development, for example living during the Great Depression, the post 911 era or World War I & II. Lastly, there is Normative Life Events which are more individualised, not all people will experience them, but there are some big representative groups, like becoming a parent, caring for elderly parents, winning the lottery or suffering a life threatening illness. You have to take in these contextual factors to truely understand someone.

In recent years, more contemporary research has included more nuanced dimensions which impact on our lifespan development and these include:

  • Health and Wellbeing, influenced by the growing evidence in positive psychology
  • Parenting and Education, exploring the dynamic between parenting styles, and education level in families and how this influences outcomes
  • Sociocultural context, such as gender and ethnicity and how this shapes our understanding
  • Social Policy, this is something I am particularly interested in, how different social and welfare policies shape a society and the individuals….how they shift the dial on individual choices and opportunities, and given the heavy political influence, there is so much to consider.
  • Technology, such as the impact of screen time, media influences and the relationship with attention.

Lifespan development is a broad topic, I mean where do you even start to unravel this! I’m going to be working through different topics, some by age, some by theory and some by special interest over the coming months.

I mean I say age, but there is chronological age, psychological age and social age… so much to know!


Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/z-POCVO_LXE

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