In order for me to provide my own personal view on human development and aging over the life span, I have provided a review of several key research theories pertaining to human development. My own personal model of human development is a hybrid of other prominent sociological theorists. Because it is important to consider the theoretical underpinnings of human development, I will incorporate a review of the scholarly research pertaining to theories of life stage development and psycho-social development theories, then, I will include my own perspective pertaining to each theory.
Sigelman and Rider (2006, pg. 2) define development as the entire set of "systematic changes and continuities" that occur in the individual from birth to death. These systematic changes and continuities occur in three broad domains: physical development, cognitive development and psychosocial development (Sigelman and Rider, 2006). Physical development, of course, include normative physical attributes during the growth and decline of the human body, including the proper functioning of all combined physiological systems, physical manifestations of aging, sensory-motor responses, as well as the collective physical accommodations that humans develop as a result of the aging process (Sigelman and Rider, 2006). Cognitive development includes the set of changes and adaptations that occur in perception, language, learning, memory, problem solving and the gamut of mental functioning (Sigelman and Rider, 2006). Psychosocial development, Sigelman and Rider (2006, pg. 3) note, include "interpersonal aspects of development, such as motives, emotions, personality traits, interpersonal skills and relationships, and roles played in the family and in the larger society." With this working definition of human development, it is important to note that life span theorists do not all agree on either the ways in which people grow and develop, or exactly why people develop they way that they do.
All developmental theories involve some element of progression from one stage to another. This progression, however, does not necessarily mean "change." Life stage development theorists differ on the nuisances of each life stage, but seem to agree that incremental progressions throughout the lifespan provide for unique and identifiable segments in human development. Again, this is not to suggest that "progression" imparts a sense of "better" or "improved."
Life span perspectives suggest that an individual's adult experiences should be contextualized; that childhood and adolescence are integral components, involving a myriad of experiences, thoughts, and feelings that must be considered to understand the adult. Dividing human development into two distinctly separate phases, the life-span perspective involves both an early phase (childhood and adolescence) and a later phase (young adulthood, middle age, and old age). "The early phase is characterized by rapid age-related increases in people's size and abilities. The later phase is defined by slow changes in size while abilities continue to develop in response to the environment adaptation" (Cavanaugh, 2005, pg. 3). While these life changes are certainly evident, I don't believe that life is so rigid as to adhere to any marked delineation of stages.
Intellectual Adaptation Theory
Jean Piaget suggested that intellectual development occurs through participation of activities; that the development of intelligence is a necessary consequence to the range of cognitive structures as well as the increasingly complex cognitive skills learned from "doing." Every person then is responsible for creating, interpreting, and incorporating the ways in which that person creates meaning in their lives. Cavanaugh (2005, pg. 284) notes that "each individual is responsible for creating the ways in which that individual processes, organizes, and structures thoughts." Having defined two separate processes involved in intellectual function, Piaget thought that "assimilation" involved "the use of currently available knowledge to make sense out of incoming information" and that "accommodation" involves changing one's thought to make it a better approximation of the world of experience (Cavanaugh, 2005, 285). Hence, the cognitions, the cognitive structures that each individual possesses, Piaget thought, are necessarily determined by not only the type of information that we receive, but also the ways in which our "world view" influences our perceptions. Piaget thought that among the most discernable changes noticed during human development involved theses cognitive structures; these intellectual functioning's that determine perception and attendant reactions. Piaget promulgated four stages, or structures, in the development of cognition; sensori-motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (Cavanaugh, 2005, pg. 285).
Erik Erikson and Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson believed that people develop in psychosocial stages; that human beings were primarily driven by social influences and that individual motivation reflected a desire to connect with other people. Emphasizing the developmental changes that occur throughout the life span, Erikson postulated that eight stages of psychosocial development phases could be discerned in the individual. Each of these eight stages comprises a set of developmental tasks or orientations that every person must achieve; a crisis, a dichotomy to be resolved (Santrock et al., 2003). (Santrock et al., 2003) notes that Erikson believed each psychosocial phase involved an opportunity to achieve some potentially beneficial attribute, rather than as strictly a bifurcation between catastrophe and success. The successful resolution of each of Erikson's stages suggests a greater happiness in the individual and the increased potential for a healthy development.
Erikson's Eight Formative Stages
Trust vs. Mistrust
Erikson argued that the basic aspect of a healthy personality is a sense of trust toward oneself and others. The first stage in his theory involves trust vs. mistrust; the conflict that an infant faces in developing trust in a world it knows little about. With trust come feelings of security and comfort (Cavanaugh, 2005). Anderson, Carter and Lowe (2006) write that this trust/mistrust stage involves the necessity of developing a feeling of trust in both other's and the self.
Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
Autonomy vs. shame and doubt comprise the second stage and involves a child's understanding that actions are attributable to the self. This is the first stage of the child's psychosocial crisis. The child understands the fundamental premise of autonomy; autonomy influences the child in that a child is then able to recognize that they aren't reactive beings; instead, they can act on the world intentionally. This autonomy is threatened, however, by a child's proclivity to avoid responsibility for their actions and to go back to the security of the first stage (Cavanaugh, 2005). There is a fine line between the child's assertive behavior's and the restriction on that behavior, which can result in the individual child being less prepared for succeeding stages in the formative stages that follow in the individuals' life. Anderson, Carter, and Lowe (2006) note that placing too few limits on the child's assertive behaviors may result in the inability to internalize the capacity for self-care. However, overly restrictive efforts may contribute to an inability to experience autonomy.
Initiative vs. Guilt
Initiative vs. guilt is the conflict in the third stage and comprises the second psychosocial crisis for the child. The child is able to discover who he/she is once they are able to understand that they can influence the world around them and that they are an integral part of the world in which they live. It is during this stage that the child is able to dream and imagine the possibilities surrounding them in the world (Cavanaugh, 2005). Erikson (1968, p. 122) wrote that, in the child's mind, there is the idea that "I am what I imagine I will be." Should the child have a greater level of initiative than that of shame, the child will be able initiate social behaviors and transactions (Anderson, Carter, and Lowe, 2006).
Industry vs. Inferiority
The fourth stage is marked by children's increasing interests in interacting with peers, their need for acceptance, and their need to develop competencies (Cavanaugh, 2005). The child's interaction with community systems, such as schools and church's, as well as informal organizations, such as the surrounding neighborhood and peer groups, comprises this industry vs. inferiority stage (Anderson, Carter, and Lowe, 2006). This stage involves the child's desire to accomplish tasks by working hard. The child's failure to develop self-perceived competencies can result in feelings of inferiority (Cavanaugh, 2005). The struggle in adolescence is choosing from among a multitude of possible selves the one we will become. Identity confusion results when we are torn over the possibilities. Erikson posited the primary psychosocial task of adolescence as one of an optimal balance between identity achievement and role confusion (Kroger, 2000). The struggle involves trying to balance a need to choose a possible self and the desire to try out many possible selves (Cavanaugh, 2005). Erikson (1968, p. 127) wrote that the successful child in this stage of development would claim "I am what I can learn to make work."
When the individual simply fails to achieve the industry goal, the identity diffusion that can result, according to Erikson, is referred to as "negative identity." This occurs because having a negative identity is more desirable than no identity at all (Anderson, Carter, and Lowe, 2006). Erikson (1968, p. 174) writes that the negative identity is "perversely based on all those identifications and roles which, at critical…