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Overview of Life Span Developmental Psychology

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  • 0:05 Life Span Development
  • 1:31 Multidimensional and…
  • 5:09 Plasticity
  • 6:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Developmental psychology studies the way people change and grow. In this lesson, we'll look at the principles of how people develop across the life span, including multidimensionality, multidirectionality, and plasticity.

Life Span Development

Gina has a lot of new things going on in her life. A couple of years ago, her daughter had a baby, so Gina has a grandson. Then, just last month, Gina retired from her job. Things are changing, and they are changing quickly for her!

Developmental psychology is the study of how people grow and change. These changes traditionally looked at how people's thoughts, feelings, behaviors and physical bodies changed and grew in childhood and adolescence. For a very long time, experts thought that development only happened up to a certain point. Once a person reached adulthood, psychologists believed, they were pretty much done with growth and change.

Now, though, we know better. Look at Gina: her life is full of change, and she is growing and changing every day. She's not the same now as she was ten years ago; she's learned new things and lost some skills, too.

Life span development is the study of how humans grow and change throughout their entire life. For example, Gina's grandson, Timmy, is just now learning how to talk and walk. Meanwhile, Gina is learning how to handle stress better. At the same time that her grandson grows taller, Gina's having to deal with new aches and pains and other changes in the way her body functions.

Let's look closer at some key principles in life span development: multidimensionality, multidirectionality and plasticity.

Multidimensional and Multidirectional

One thing that's happened recently with Gina is that her eyesight isn't as good as it used to be. She's starting to find it difficult to do things, like thread a needle or read small print, without her glasses. This is a physical change that Gina is going through.

One aspect of life span development is that development is multidimensional, or change happens across many different aspects of a human life. Biological (or physical), cognitive (or mental) and socioemotional changes all take place at the same time. Not only that, those three dimensions interact with each other in different ways.

Remember that Gina's eyesight is getting worse. This is a biological change that is occurring in her body. But that's not all that happens; this biological change spurs on a cognitive change, too. It makes her think about how she's getting older, which makes her think that she doesn't have very long left to live. These cognitive changes cause socioemotional changes, too. Her thoughts about aging and dying make her feel depressed and make her want to withdraw from others.

As you can see with Gina, the three dimensions of a person's development all have relationships with each other. Gina's biological changes cause cognitive changes, which can cause socioemotional changes.

This could happen in a different order, too. After she retired, she found that she was more socially isolated from others, which is a socioemotional change. Because of her social isolation, Gina joined a group of retirees who like to walk in the park several times a week. The walking caused biological changes in her body. And because exercise has a positive influence on a person's cognitive abilities, she found that her thought processes were faster and more accurate than they were before. In this example, socioemotional change led to biological change, which led to cognitive change.

Closely related to multidimensionality is the idea that development is multidirectional. That is, dimensions and specific components of dimensions grow and shrink during different points in a person's development.

Remember Gina's grandson Timmy? He's learning to talk. In young children, language acquisition is at its highest point. As he grows older, his facility for language acquisition will shrink. That is, learning new languages will become more difficult for Timmy as he grows older.

But other dimensions will grow. For example, as a toddler, Timmy doesn't really understand what's going on when his parents argue or when he sees someone cry. And even if he does understand, he doesn't know what to do. But as he gets older, his ability to understand and navigate complex social situations will grow. He'll understand that his parents are fighting and be able to offer comfort to someone who is crying.

Notice that a component of the cognitive dimension (language acquisition) is high even as a component of the socioemotional dimension (dealing with social situations) is low for Timmy. Eventually, these will change and evolve.

Let's look at another example. Gina might be able to handle stressful situations better as her wisdom grows, but her reflexes are slower, and therefore, her ability to respond to things that require quick processing and motor skills (like playing video games) shrinks. Her socioemotional dimension is growing even as her biological dimension is shrinking.

Plasticity

Besides being multidimensional and multidirectional, human brains and bodies are also highly plastic. Plasticity is simply the ability to change.

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