Life Span Development Development throughout the lifespan is highly plastic, development takes place when the body, mind and social circumstance change. Many other factors can influence this development such as nature, societal influences and family.

This book chronicles the life course and development of an ex miner. aged 70 years. He was brought up in a small village in South Wales and like all the young men in the village worked down the mines all his working life. He was made redundant 20 years ago and has been unable to find work since then.

This book will

• Describe stages of human growth and development and explain biological, physiological, social and cultural influences.

• Discuss how individuals adjust to change and challenge across the life span highlighting some key debates such as

o Nature / Nurture - this debate looks at whether our lifespan is influenced more by nature or nurture. Anastasi (1986) argues that neither exist separately.

o Continuity v discontinuity – this debate looks at whether development is continuous and gradual or whether milestones in the lifespan end a phase and it becomes discontinuous making way for a new developmental phase disconnected from the previous. Hayslip, et al. (2006)

o Stage versus open-ended theories, this theory looks at wether development is affected through life stages or is open ended and is not related to other life stage developments.

o Ideographic versus nomothetic perspectives on personality, this theory looks at the development of a person as either unique (ideographic) or can examine the person as part of a cohort (nomothetic). Allport (1937)

• Assess the effect of social influences on developing or modifying behaviour


Mary (wife of Owen and mother to be of James) had worked long hours in a munitions factory and had miscarried a year before this pregnancy. Two of her sons had gone to war and one was killed aged 19, the other returned but could not find work in the Valleys, He moved to London and did not visit his parents very often. Her husband had become distant. Mary blamed herself for this distance and her miscarriage because of taking work in the factory which her husband had forbid. Things were different! Nobody discussed it and life carried on.


After a dramatic period of development during the first eight weeks (the embryonic period) the Foetal period begins and ends in birth. The major organ systems continue to develop and assume their specialised functions.

According to Glover (2011) During pre-natal development, pathways are being formed that influence the way the child will deal with events during the lifespan development. These pathways deal with learning, thinking and responses to stress


Despite his mother’s work in a munitions factory some years ago, James seemed to be visibly unaffected by teratogens. He was a particularly happy child who was nurtured by his mother but at an early age seemed to know when his father was due to come home. He craved attention from his parents but was happy to be left alone when he knew they were around. He was well nourished and seemed to be developing well. James was meeting developmental milestones such as copying behaviours, taking turns in games and showing emotional responses.

Even at this early stage in his life the nurture nature debate comes into play, he was well nurtured and was a gift after the loss of one son in the war and a miscarriage a year previously. Was he genetically programed to seek nurturing, he had already come through an almost unbelievable pre-natal development, would he have infact sought to be nurtured in any way by any person that would look after him? Was it nature that drove him to survive in the best way he could? or was it a combination of both nature and nurture.

Anastasi (1986) argues that neither exist separately.

Early childhood

Early childhood for James was overall good, his rapid growth had slowed down and he now began to make sense of the world in a measured way. He interacted well with other children although he was occasionally jealous of his parent’s attention to others.

According to Glover, (2011) Long before birth, developmental pathways that influence the capacity to respond to the environment and factors such as stress or situations that are a challenge are formed. The measured responses James displayed may predict an adaptive response. In some situations, this altered capacity may become maladaptive. This natural resilience could have implications for health! when the response becomes maladaptive it could affect behaviour or psychiatric health.

Mid Childhood

James moved up to primary school education. It is a time of slower physical growth but faster intellectual development. He was apprehensive about moving to the new school but it was next door to his old school. Although there were a lot of new children he had never met before, James was soon to realise that they were from family’s he knew and some, the brothers and sisters of his class mates who had moved to the new school with him. James had been separated at this school from his friend, who was in another class, for a while he struggled to fit in but overtime he settled. He did however during the whole of his school life consider this child to be his best friend and would go to him during play time in preference to his own class mates.

We could use the ideographic versus nomothetic debate to understand why he has a need to stay within certain friendships .


James was now developing into an adult; he was adjusting to social and cultural influences as his family and community saw him develop into a Man and with this adjustment he was modifying his behaviour to be socially accepted, or at least accepted the way he felt was appropriate.

During the transition from childhood to adulthood James went through changes in Primary sex characteristics and other bodily changes due to hormonal increases, His physical appearance was changing and he seemed to be coping psychologically. This was a rapid change and was not without difficulties for James as he was critical of his self-image and strived to behave and look a certain way. Influences, on his behaviour such as family, culture and the environment had influenced his responses to change and at this stage of his life he was keen to portray a certain identity.

According to Piaget, (1963) It is at this stage that cognitive development is rapid, during the transition into adulthood the child’s concept of the world changes and he starts to look at his place in it. He is becoming much more judgemental about his family, friends and society.


James was now working in the mines in the Valleys. He had imagined that one day he would go to work with his farther however he had retired from work because of a respiratory disease. James married a local girl.

The environment James had grown up in had helped form his views on life, he was aware of his history and became part of it and felt socially included within society. His identity had infact become socially constructed.

We could look at the continuous versus discontinuous debate here to argue that James has used what he has learned earlier in his life to influence the developmental pathway he is following.

Late adulthood

During late adulthood, James had been made redundant from the mines. He never worked again! He had some minor health issues, however he blamed the closure of the mines on his unemployment.

Depression set in for James at this point. It may be that pathways developed during the prenatal stage of life had become maladaptive. Although he had more than 15 years of working life left he felt that to move away from his family was too not possible, he thought of himself as a Miner who was unemployed. It was not conceivable to him or his family that he could be anything else. Social influences helped him maintain his identity within his community.

Final stages of life

James continues to live at home supported by his family to live with his wife, he expects his children to visit often which they do and still considers himself to be the head of the family. He is reflective about his life and still maintains his identity and his hopes for his own children. He is aware of his mortality but prefers to occupy his thoughts with that of everyday living. He is worried about the end of his life and what will happen. His wife has dementia and he hopes to live long enough to see her die at home, he will be ready then to die.

End of life care has changed from being a subject that if spoken of would cause a lot of distress, this may be the case for younger people however it has become mainstream thinking both culturally and within the medical and care


Created with images by Ian Livesey - "Castlerigg - Keswick [explored]" • State Library of South Australia - "Making parts for Beaufort bombers" • Robert J Heath - "High Cup Nick 1" • ARG_Flickr - "The Dam Busters" • puzzlemaster - "Paul Swan 1915" • Capt' Gorgeous - "untitled image"

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