Continuity and Discontinuity in Development

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What are Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Development?

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Development
  • 1:41 Continuity & Discontinuity
  • 3:10 Nature Vs. Nurture
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

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.

Do people grow and change slowly over time, or do they make sudden steps forward into new phases in their lives? In this lesson, we'll examine the continuity and discontinuity theories of developmental psychology.

Development

Imagine that you are standing at the base of a large mountain. You want to go from where you are standing now, all the way at the bottom, to the very top peak of the mountain. Development is a lot like going from the bottom of a mountain to the top. Development is the process of growth and change that everyone experiences.

Think about babies: when they are first born, they can't even hold their heads up; someone must support the head so it doesn't just loll back. As they grow, though, their necks become strong, and they are able to hold their heads up and even move them around.

As they continue to grow, babies learn to sit up, and then to crawl and eventually to stand and walk. Children learn to run, skip, jump and cartwheel. Teenagers might learn the steps to a complicated dance. Adults who have their own babies might learn how to move quickly to catch a child who is falling. Older adults learn how to walk with arthritis in their joints or with an artificial hip or knee.

All of these are examples of development that happen during a person's life span. And those are only some of the physical ones: there are also emotional, social and intellectual growth that can occur throughout a person's life.

But how do people develop? How can you get from the bottom of the mountain to the top? Let's look closer at two competing theories about development - continuity and discontinuity - and what they have to do with the classic 'nature versus nurture' debate in psychology.

Continuity and Discontinuity

Let's go back to that mountain that you want to climb. You're standing on the very bottom of the mountain, and you want to get to the top. But when you look closer, you notice that there are two ways up. On one side of the mountain is a path that involves walking uphill until you get to the peak. On the other side, someone has carved stairs into the side of the mountain so that you can climb up to the peak that way.

The path is a lot like the continuity view of development. Proponents of the continuity view say that development is a continuous process that is gradual and cumulative. For example, a child learns to crawl, and then to stand and then to walk. They are gradually learning how to walk. It's just like hiking up the mountain path: a slow, steady ascent that leads to the top.

On the other hand, some people see development as consisting of different stages. The discontinuity view of development believes that people pass through stages of life that are qualitatively different from each other. For example, children go from only being able to think in very literal terms to being able to think abstractly. They have moved into the 'abstract thinking' phase of their lives. As you can imagine, discontinuous development is like walking up the stairs: a series of stages, or steps, that get you to the top of the mountain.

Nature vs. Nurture

It might seem odd that psychologists can't agree on whether development is a continuous process or whether it happens in stages. To understand the continuity-discontinuity issue, it's important to understand another fundamental debate that has shaped psychology over the past 150 years. The nature versus nurture debate hinges on the following question: are people more shaped by their biology or by their environment?

Let's look at an example of how the nature versus nurture debate might play out. Imagine a boy who is very good at basketball. Is this an inherent skill that he has? Or has he just practiced basketball more than others? Is he better than others because he's taller than most people, or is he better because he's worked with some of the best coaches in the country?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support