What is LifeSpan Developmental Psychology?

To understand the Lifespan Developmental Psychology, we need to understand meanings each word in this question.

As per Merriam Webster dictionary, Life the period from birth to death. Life span is Period of being alive between birth to death. Perspective is the point of view (POV) or approach.

Child development , an area of study devoted to understanding constancy and change from conception through adolescence.

As per Lerner (2006) Child development is part of a larger, interdisciplinary field which includes all changes we experience throughout the lifespan


Definition of Developmental Psychology

American Psychological Association (APA) defined Developmental psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the changes—physical, mental, and behavioral—that occur from conception to old age and investigates the various biological, neurobiological, genetic, psychological, social, cultural, and environmental factors that affect development throughout the lifespan.

Developmental psychology is that domain of psychology which studies the analysis of both persistence and modification in human behavior during the entire life, i.e, from conception till death (Baltes, 1987).

Developmental psychology is now often considered virtually synonymous with lifespan developmental psychology.

Lifespan Developmental Psychology

The study of psychological and behavioral change across and within individuals from birth through death using a lifespan perspective.

Feldman (2017) Lifespan development is the field of study that examines patterns of growth, change, and stability in behavior that occur throughout the entire life span.

Life-span developmental psychology is the field of psychology which involves the examination of both constancy and change in human behaviour across the entire life span, that is, from conception to death (Baltes, 1987).

Assumption of Lifespan Developmental Psychology

First assumption, human developmental processes are complex, interactive, and fully understood only in the context of influencing events.

Second assumption,  there is no end state of maturity and that not all developmental change is related to chronological age.

Third, No particular, single period of life governs all development. Instead, every period of life contains the potential for both growth and decline in abilities.

Fourth, The process of development persists throughout every part of people’s lives, beginning with the moment of conception and continuing until death.

The Importance of Studying Life- Span Development

1. Prepares individual to take responsibility for children.
2. Gives insight about individuals’ lives
3.  Provides knowledge about what individuals’ lives will be like as they age
4. Development
i) Pattern of change that begins at conception and continues through the life span.
ii) Involves growth as well as decline brought on by aging and dying
5. Life-span perspective
i) Involves growth, maintenance, and regulation
ii) Constructed through biological, sociocultural, and individual factors working together

Approaches to Lifespan Development

1. Physical development- 

This approach emphasizes how the brain, nervous system, muscles, sensory capabilities, and needs for food, drink, and sleep affect behavior.

Here they address questions like – What determines the sex of a child?  What are the long-term results of premature birth? What are the benefits of breast milk?  What are the consequences of early or late sexual maturation? How do adults cope with stress? What leads to obesity in adulthood?

2. Cognitive development

This approach emphasizes intellectual abilities, including learning, memory, language, problem solving, decision making  and intelligence.

According to American Psychological Association (APA), Cognitive development is the growth and maturation of thinking processes of all kinds, including perceiving, remembering, concept formation, problem solving, imagining, and reasoning.

Here they address questions like- How does creativity relate to intelligence?  What are the earliest memories that can be recalled from infancy? What are the intellectual consequences of watching television? Do spatial reasoning skills relate to music practice? benefits to bilingualism? How does an adolescent’s egocentrism affect his or her view of the world? Are there ethnic and racial differences in intelligence? Does intelligence decline in late adulthood?

3. Personality and social development

This approach emphasizes enduring characteristics that differentiate one person from another, and how interactions with others and social relationships grow and change over the lifetime.

Here they address questions like-  Do newborns respond differently to their mothers than to others? What is the best procedure for disciplining children? When does a sense of gender identity develop? How can we promote cross-race friendships? What are the causes of adolescent suicide? How do we choose a romantic partner? Do the effects of parental divorce last into old age? Do people withdraw from others in late adulthood? What are the emotions involved in confronting death?

Major issues in studying lifespan developmental psychology

Three basic issues:

1) Development continuous or discontinuous?

(a) Some Developmentalist believe that development is a smooth, continuous process. Gradual development in which achievements at one level build on those of previous levels. Children gradually add more of the same types of skills.
(b) Other Developmentalist think that development takes place in discontinuous stages. stages — qualitative changes in thinking, feeling, and behaving that characterize specific periods of development. Children change rapidly as they step up to a new level of development and then change very little for a while. With each step, the child interprets and responds to the world in a qualitatively different way.

(2) Does one course of development characterize all children, or are there many possible courses?

Stability and Change: Another issue which is of importance to developmental psychologists is the issue of stability versus change. Whether development is best characterised by stability, for example, does a behaviour or trait such as shyness stay stable in its expression over time or change example: Could a person’s degree of shyness fluctuate across the life span?

(3) Roles of genetic and environmental factors (nature and nurture) in development-

Does development depend upon heredity factors or the environmental factors? This debate is of most importance than other debates in development psychology. This is because this issue provides best explanation for how growth takes place. Nature states that the primary influence on development is our genetic inheritance, through the process of heredity. In contrast, nurture states that the environment (broadly construed as children’s experiences, including
parenting, education, learning, cultural influences) is mainly responsible for development. In past times in developmental psychology, extreme positions have been taken on the nature±nurture debate.

Arnold Gesell, 1928 strongly stands the view that development is greatly influenced by the genetic factors. Our genetic make-up specifies that biological processes. These processes largely which conclude the growth that each individual goes through. Gesell called this growth as maturation. Maturation can be defined as the sequence of growth which is specified and controlled by our genes. To study the impact of maturation on development, Gesell studied fraternal twins.

His studied two set of identical twins- one group was given training to learn a specific skill while the other one was given no training. Gesell’s findings revealed that behaviors of twins were not affected by the training given to the twins. Thus, we can conclude that twins with no training acquired the behavior as fast as the trained twin.

On the other hand, John B. Watson, 1928 argued that the environment has far more impact on a child’s development than the genetic make-up. Watson said that genetic make-up of a person had no effect on how environments could shape the route of children’s development. Watson believed that given the potential to influence the surroundings to his own standards, he could shape the growth of any child :

Watson was not able to make good on his boast, he did show that environmental exposure played a role in shaping a child’s behavior. He used the processes of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning can be defined as a type of learning in which a stimulus comes to be associated with a response after repeated pairings of the two (Watson, 1928).

The views held by Gesell and Watson on this issue can be considered as extremist positions. However, these views are contradictory as far as current research on child development is concerned. Today, developmental psychologists believe that genetic and environmental factors, both play a significant role in development of a child. Hence, the focus should be on the interaction between the two. Almost all developmental psychologists hold the view that it is both nature as well as nurture that play important roles in guiding development.

Thus, the real dispute which lies before us now is to study the relationship between biological and environmental factors, figuring out how they interact to produce developmental change.

The interactionist position is supported by psychologists like Elman, Bates, Johnson, Karmiloff Smith, Parisi & Plunkett, (1996). They believe that interaction between heredity and environment is the best method to study development. However, they argue that future research needs to focus on how nature and nurture interact to create development in an individual. One method to study this interaction is through an understanding of the extent to which our biological makeup can be influenced by environmental influences (Dellarosa Cummins & Cummins, 1999; Elman et al., 1996).

Characteristics of the Life-Span development Perspective

According to Baltes (1987) following are the Characteristics or principles  to study human development –

1. Development is a lifelong process-
Development takes place across the entire life span of an individual, from infancy to old age. Development involves processes that emerge throughout the life span and not just at birth.
2. Development is multidimensional
Multidimensional principle states that development doesn’t take place through “only” path. In other words, healthy development can be attained in a number of ways.
3. Development is multidirectional
It often includes a large number of capability which take diverse routes, presenting different types of change or constancy.
4. Development is plastic
Plasticity implies to the changes in the person. This variability is likely for a specific action or development. For example, just after birth an infant whose brain n hemisphere is removed can easily pick up the functions associated with that hemisphere.
5. Developmental psychology is multidisciplinary
The age-related changes can’t be studied under any one discipline. For instance, psychological methods are inappropriate for studying sociological factors in nature Human development understanding can only be accomplished when research takes the viewpoint of many disciplines such as sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and computer science.
6. Development is affected by contexts and history
The diverse situations we are in, have definite effect on our development . For instance, society and rural environments have diverse influence on the development; within these two environments understanding how development differs for individuals, requires compassionate of both the perspectives.
7. Development is the belief that development involves both gains and losses
Any kind of development involves both – growth and decline as stated by Baltes.
For instance, schooling leads to increase in a child’s knowledge and helps in the development of their cognitive abilities. However, every coin has two sides. Along with increase in child’s knowledge and cognitive skills, schooling also restricts a child’s creativity. This is because they are thought rules defined by others. It should be noted that both the features of growth and decline don’t occur in equal proportions.
b) Types of Contextual Influences
i) Normative age-graded influences: similar for individuals in a particular age group
(1) Ex: puberty and menopause
ii) Normative history-graded influences
(1) Common to people of a particular generation because of historical circumstances
(a) World war 1 and 2; Covid 19 Lockdown.
iii) Non-normative life events: unusual occurrences that have a major impact on an individual’s life.
1) Death of parent when child is young, winning the lottery

Contemporary Concerns of the Life-Span Perspective

i) Health and well-being
ii) Parenting and education
iii) Sociocultural contexts and diversity
(1)Culture: behavior patterns, beliefs, and all other products of a group that are passed on from generation to generation
(2) Cross-cultural studies: comparison of one culture with one or more other cultures
(3) Ethnicity: based on cultural heritage, nationality characteristics, race, religion, and language
(4) Socioeconomic status: grouping of people with similar occupational, educational, and economic characteristics
(5) Gender: characteristics of people as males or females
iv) Social policy: national government’s course of action designed to promote the welfare of its citizens.



  • Feldman, R. S., & Babu, N. (2011). Discovering the Life Span. Indian subcontinent adaptation, New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.
  • Berk, L. E. (2004). Development through the lifespan. (3 Ed). New Delhi: Pearson Education Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.

2 Replies to “What is LifeSpan Developmental Psychology?”

  1. Extremely helpful. Easy explainations . Studying psychology has always been fun, but these notes have made it even more interesting and fun!!

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