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Lifespan Development



Lifespan development refers to the physical, social, and cognitive changes that occur throughout a person's life. These changes are a result of universal development processes, individual differences, and culture-specific features. Nature and nurture each drive development through a complex, bi-directional interplay between genes and the environment. Threats to typical development include genetic disorders, prematurity, low birth weight, and exposure to toxins. Certain aspects of development are especially important. Examples include the increasing cognitive and social competence occurring from infancy to adulthood and the stability or decline in cognitive function as people grow older.

At A Glance

  • Scientists use cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs to understand development throughout the lifespan and across generations.
  • Infant reflexes, such as grasping, sucking, and rooting, help ensure survival. Skills involving movement and coordination develop in a relatively predictable order.
  • From toddlerhood through elementary school, children refine their coordination.
  • Physical changes during puberty prepare the body for reproduction, increase sexual desire, and increase visible distinctions between males and females.
  • Aging leads to a gradual decline in strength, agility, and coordination and to the end of the menstrual cycle for women.
  • Genetic and environmental factors influence infant temperament and attachment to caregivers.
  • In adolescence, individuals begin to assert their independence from family and focus more heavily on peer relationships and larger social networks.
  • Authoritative parenting typically promotes social and emotional health. Permissive, authoritarian, and uninvolved parenting styles increase the risk for poor developmental outcomes.
  • Early theories of cognitive development recognized that cognitive development is influenced by biological maturation, experience, and a person's environment.
  • Modern research techniques reveal that Piaget significantly underestimated the abilities of infants and young children.
  • Brain development continues beyond adolescence. Older adults outperform younger adults on tests of basic knowledge but perform less well on some memory and processing-speed tasks.
  • Early theories of moral reasoning describe the moral reasoning process as a series of developmental stages. Modern theories frame moral judgment as a blend of emotion and deliberative reasoning.