The Significance of Age in the Nature of Development

While studying the significance of age, one of the issues challenging the developmentalists is whether development proceeds in a continuous or discontinuous fashion. Significance of age through the lifespan is a decades-long journey. Though there are some shared markers along the way- such as learning to speak, going to school, and finding a job. There are, as we have just seen, many individual routes with twists and turns along the way that also influence this journey.

In continuous change, development is gradual, with achievements at one level building on those of previous levels. Changes in height prior to adulthood, for example, are continuous. Some theorists suggest that changes in people’s thinking capabilities are also continuous. Showing gradual quantitative improvements rather than developing entirely new cognitive processing capabilities.

In contrast, discontinuous change, one can view development as being made up of primarily discontinuous change, occurring in distinct stages. Each stage or change brings about behavior that is assumed to be qualitatively different from behavior at earlier stages. Some cognitive developmentalists suggest that as we develop, our thinking changes in fundamental ways. And that such development is not just a matter of quantitative change but of qualitative change.

There are two periods in significance of age

  1. Critical period 
  2. Sensitive period.

Critical Period: Significance of age.

If a woman comes down with a case of rubella (Rubella is an infection that mostly affects the skin and lymph nodes. In kids, rubella (German measles) is usually a mild illness. But the infection is dangerous for pregnant women in the first twenty weeks of pregnancy, the consequences for the child she is carrying are likely to be devastating: They include the potential for blindness, deafness, and heart defects. However, if she comes down with the exact same strain of rubella in the thirtieth week of pregnancy, damage to the child is unlikely.

The differing outcomes of the disease in the two periods demonstrate the concept of critical periods. A critical period occurs when the presence of certain kinds of environmental stimuli is necessary for development to proceed normally. More recent thinking suggests that in many realms, individuals are more malleable than was first thought, particularly in the domain of personality and social development. For instance, rather than suffering permanent damage from a lack of certain kinds of early social experiences, there is increasing evidence that people can use later experiences to their benefit, to help them overcome earlier deficits.

Sensitive Period: Significance of age

In a sensitive period, a point in development when organisms are particularly susceptible to certain kinds of stimuli in their environment. But the absence of those stimuli does not always produce irreversible consequence. A sensitive period represents the optimal period for particular capacities to emerge, and children are particularly sensitive to environmental influences.

It is important to understand the difference between the concepts of critical periods and sensitive periods. In critical periods, it is assumed that the absence of certain kinds of environmental influences is likely to produce permanent, irreversible consequences for the developing individual. But when we look through sensitive period, although the absence of particular environmental influences during a sensitive period may hinder development, it is possible for later experiences to overcome the earlier deficits. In other words, the concept of sensitive period recognizes the plasticity of developing humans.

In addition, as lifespan developmentalist Paul Baltes points out, development across the life span involves both gains and losses. With age, certain capabilities become more refined and sophisticated, while others involve loss of skill and capacity. For example, vocabulary tends to grow throughout childhood and continues this growth through most of adulthood.

The life span is usually divided into broad age ranges: the prenatal period (the period from conception to birth), infancy and toddlerhood (birth to age 3), the preschool period (ages 3 to 6), middle childhood (ages 6 to 12), adolescence (ages 12 to 20), young adulthood (ages 20 to 40), middle adulthood (ages 40 to 65), and late adulthood (age 65 to death).

To know more about the periods of development, click here


Berk, L. E. (2006). Child Development. (7 Ed). New Delhi: Pearson Education Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.

Feldman, R. S., & Babu, N. (2011). Discovering the Life Span. Indian subcontinent adaptation, New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *