Introduction To Lifespan Psychology


Lifespan psychology is about finding common patterns of human develop and recognizing differences as well.

There are numerous factors that play a role in how each of us develops; genetics and biology, social and cultural influences as well as the influences of language and intellectual activities on our thinking patterns.

Biological Processes

Cognitive Processes

Socioemotional Processes  


This course exams various stages of human development from prenatal through infancy and childhood to adolescence and adulthood.

Major sections of the course will apply developmental theory to the following stages:

Issues of human development

Stability vs Change - do we remain much the same throughout life or do we transform?

Continuity vs Stages of change - assuming we do change is it gradual or do we go through qualitative stage changes?

The Nature -Nurture Debate

A central debate in psychology that pertains to the origin of fundamental characteristics like personality and intelligence.

-Genetic/biological destiny vs. environmental shaping?

Nature and Nurture - while many people believe that only nature or nurture is relevant, others view them BOTH as having an influence on human development.

Research Methods for lifespan development

Descriptive Studies - Describe the characteristics of an individual or group of individuals with in numerical terms (scores and measures or qualities and attributes

Case Studies - Careful and detailed (in depth) analysis of specific people or groups. Offers a rich account of the lives or conditions that are under investigation.

-May not be generalizable to all persons, however, may still reveal general patterns  or qualities that people share.

Case study Method examining one person over a period of time enables understanding of how one goes from infancy to adulthood.

Longitudinal Studies -are carried out to examine the same people at different times of development. The strength of this approach is that it follows the actual developed from t 1 to t n however the disadvantage is that those select people may not be representative of most people, as in the case study method.

Cross-sectional studies - attempt to be more generalizable by looking at many people of various ages at the same time. Here comparisons are made across groups of people of different ages. The problem is though, that cohort effects might confound the results.

Cohort Effects - occur when people being compared have different environments or worlds in which they live.

E.g., people who are now 10 years old have internet and video games in comparison to people who are now 40 - they did not have those when they we 10.

Correlational Studies - examine how two or more variables or characteristics are regularly associated.

Correlation - a measure of the strength of the relationship of a collection of people's scores on two or more variables.

Positive correlation occurs when both variables tend to go together (as one is high so is the other)

Negative correlation occurs when they go against each other. One goes up as the other goes down.
  No Correlation  

Experimental Studies are done make inferences about the cause of various phenomena, offering an explanation of what made it happen.

Random Assignment is done to control for extraneous variables (influences) that might have an impact on the results. Having a sample that is both representative and evenly distributed into the treatment (experimental) and control groups is important.

Population Sample - are these people like everyone?
Independent Variable - the experimental conditions that are manipulated or "varied" to produce an effect (teaching style, drug, exposure to X, placebos....)

We often make use of non assignment categories in developmental research as independent variables such as age, and gender.

Dependent Variable - the various resultant behaviours or conditions that are produced in the experimental situation. E.g. test scores, GPA, IQ, violence...

Experimental group gets the treatment or some manipulation of the independent variable.

Control group are people who get placebos, waitlisted or given "time out" or distractors.

Placebo effects occurs when a person thinks they are being  given a real treatment, but are given something inert, like an empty pill, a sham treatment.


Theories and theoretical perspectives

Theories are central to psychological research where they play a role in guiding research studies and explaining the results. A theory is a integrated collection of ideas that allow for coherent explanations of phenomena along with the development of hypotheses (or predictions) of the outcomes in research or in everyday life.

Major Theories / theoretical perspectives in lifespan develop are the Psychoanalytical, Psychosocial, Cognitive, Information Processing , Ecological , Social cognitive, and humanistic.


Developed by Sigmund Freud the psychoanalytical model of human psycho-sexual development is based upon erotogentic zones of the body and psycho-social relations with one’s parents.

Oral stage is first where infant gain pleasure through oral stimulation.

Anal stage is where toddlers gain pleasure as they seek to acquire control over their anuses and receive praise or shame form their parents.

Phallic stage is where boys and girls learn about their genitals and seek pleasure through them only to be scolded by their parents leading them into a period of denial

Latency stage is a period of denial of pleasure where children, now focus on school and development of social and intellectual skills.

Genital stage is around the onset of puberty where adolescents learn to gain pleasure through sexual activities, moving them into the world of adulthood.


Developed by Erik Erikson based upon Freud’s model and enhanced to include 8 ages of the human lifespan with a greater focus on the psychological (ego) development in conjunction with social relations of family and society.

Human development moves through changes at eight ' critical turning points' of the life cycle

Each stage is built upon the previous ones but is not completely dependent upon them through the dialectics of ritualization and ritualism. (see crises)

When the crisis at a given staged is resolved in a healthily and balanced manner the ego-strength (virtue) of that stage emerges. E.g., Trust -Mistrust >Hope

The important features of being human are biological ( soma), psychological ( psyche), and social ( ethos / polis). Thus were are co-constructed by these three worlds of existence.

The PsychoSocial nature of being human was central to Erikson's work where he identified mutuality as a way to describe the ways in which we "inter-live" and our life cycles are "cogwheeling" each other's   interview

While each stage is built upon the previous one, it is possible to reverse back to deal with earlier crises., making this a "soft" stage model rather an than a "hard" model.

Trust vs. Mistrust -> HOPE
Autonomy vs. Shame or Doubt -> WILL
Initiative vs. Guilt -> PURPOSE
Industry vs Inferiority -> COMPETENCE
Identity vs. Diffusion (Role Confusion) -> FIDELITY
Intimacy vs. Isolation -> LOVE
Generativity vs. Stagnation (Self-Absorption)-> CARE
Integrity vs. Despair -> WISDOM


Social (Cultural) Cognitive

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural / Cognitive Theory



The cognitive approach is developed by Jean Piaget who examined the development of though or knowledge making by children in the form of genetic epistemology.

He put forward four stages of cognitive development, including sensorimotor, pre-operational, contrete operations and formal operations.

Jean Piaget suggested that cognitive (thinking) development changes over the years of childhood development.

-Built around notion of schemas or 'templates' for thinking. Patterns of thought are innate and unfold in a timely and order sequence:

The schemas go are used for assimilation of information into them, make sense of the world through our pre-existing categories of thought.

These schemas also under go accommodation where they themselves change or transform in time.

-This 'hard' stage model indicates that one moved forward through age-related transitions one way only (built from Kantian-Rationalist perspective regarding the forms of thinking as schemas).

1) Sensory motor (0-2) knowledge through sensing and moving things and self.
Gradually have the development of object permanence and symbolic thought.

2) Pre-Operational (2-7) many shortcomings to operational.
Still working on:   Conservation & Reversibility, and trying to overcome egocentrism.

They tend to be dominated by Centration- a form of "tunnel vision" as seen in the task for Liquid Conservation number or Length also -i.e. play dough.

Egocentrism is also a characteristic that changes

3) Concrete Operational (7-11) thought emerges as these tasks are mastered.
 Understanding of hierarchical classification emerges here.
  Categorization-- reversibility

4) Formal Operational (12 +) thought is where one is able to master abstract logical and intellectual tasks.   youtubeB


 Information Processing Theory

Behavioural Theory

Ethological Theory

Ecological Theory

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory  is an environmental systems approach including development through five systems with and emphasis on the interaction of biological and environmental factors 

Humanist Approach


 Comparing Theories