Controversies Surrounding the Study of Adult Development and Aging

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  • 0:01 Controversies Defined
  • 3:04 Nature vs. Nurture
  • 4:58 Stability vs. Change
  • 6:09 Continuity vs. Discontinuity
  • 8:18 Universal vs. Context-Specific
  • 10:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Controversies have developed over a difference in opinion about certain aspects of development. This lesson explores some of the controversies in developmental psychology, as well as providing possible answers to resolve them.

Controversies Defined

I was reading a recent social media post about the debate between creationism and evolution. People always seem to have an opinion. And sometimes you will find deep, thoughtful and well-informed opinions that are difficult to refute because they are so well-rounded and knowledgeable. Then there are the comments that are so flagrantly ignorant, willfully provocative and all around bad. I can't help but wonder if these people in the second category think that they are part of the first category or are even aware of the difference.

I think that controversies and opinions need to have adequate information prior to a decision being made. I mean, it seems that people forming opinions without information leads to controversies. In developmental psychology, some ideas have been formed that have been arbitrarily decided to be an either or choice about the formation of personality traits, behavioral patterns, emotional reasoning and endurance of these qualities.

New psychologists are often asked which forming event they think is more important, which is, in my opinion, a question poorly asked. Confused? Let's look at the first controversy and then retouch on this. As a quick note, do not think of examples or opinions yet. I don't want you getting bogged down thinking about something while the lesson continues!

The first controversy we will discuss is nature vs. nurture, or a debate between the origins and strength, either innate or learned, of various psychological and behavioral components. In developmental psychology, the idea that we are born with traits or traits are developed is part of a contention. Many people form opinions about which is superior or more important.

The second controversy is stability vs. change, which is defined as a debate over whether psychological features remain constant or fluctuate over time. This is a nice one because the terms chosen make sense. Think stability or change of traits.

Continuity vs. discontinuity is defined as a debate focused on the accumulation of skills, either as a quantitative build up or a stage acquisition. Sorry for the wordiness on this one, but it's rather technical. Think in terms of continuous acquisition or discontinuous chunks of learning.

Lastly, is the controversy of universal vs. context-specific, defined as a debate involving the existence and appearance of psychological traits and features across cultures and times or unique to certain areas. Easily enough explained, with universal concepts being present in all humans and context-specific being based on where and when. This will be the last controversy we will look at. Now let's look at each one individually and see why there is no controversy.

Nature v. Nurture

Most people are pretty familiar with this one. It is brought up in any basic psychology class because it forms one of the root questions that all psychologists must contend with.

What causes people to be who they are? Is it how they're born? Is there a genetic trait that makes a person shy or gregarious? Or are we raised to be how we are? Do our caretakers influence who we are, making us quiet or loud? The answer, and believe me, it is an answer, is that it is both.

The reason it is both is that there is genetic and developmental components to both. Introverted people have been found to have neurons that are overly sensitive to stimuli. This means that no matter how they were raised, they would always be sensitive to over-stimulation. However, depending on how they were raised, an introverted person may learn to overcome this and become extroverted. They will likely never be as extroverted as someone who doesn't have the sensitivity, but they can learn to dampen it and become extroverted.

Let's make this a little more concrete by making it a very simple visual example when we talk about whether nature or nurture. If we have a shape that represents you, like a circle, and I put it into an environment that pushed it to be something else, like a mold, it will change shapes. However, you may retain some of your original shape. Its nature is to be a circle, but it was nurtured to be a square.

If you started off as a square and put it into the same mold, it will come out looking nearly the same. What this means is that strength of nature versus nurture depends on what you're starting with and what the environment is pushing you to be. We can't make sweeping declarations about which is stronger or better because it depends on the individual.

Stability v. Change

Are you the same as you were ten years ago? 20 years ago? The answer is, of course, 'kind of.' Each of us has aspects that remain the same throughout our lifetime. However, this is not always the same from person to person. Some kids are very shy but grow up to be loud. Some people start off hating certain kinds of spices or foods but over years will start to like them.

Research is being conducted to see what aspects of ourselves remain stable over time. Do you stay the same level of shy your whole life or do you change to some degree? Or if shyness does not stay stable over time, what makes it change? This gets really complicated when you start thinking of all the different ways we can measure something and all the different things that can happen in a person's life.

There isn't an easy answer to stability versus change. Yes, it appears that some people will change across their lifetimes, but it also seems fairly unique to the individual, and most people tend to have certain aspects that remain stable. This one just isn't as clear-cut.

Continuity v. Discontinuity

To understand this one, you have to know a bit about developmental stage theories. Stage theories are developmental courses that involve overarching patterns and shifts. Many major theorists have them, including Freud, Jung, Erikson and Piaget - to name some of the popular ones. What they say is that we develop in stages, and children (and to a lesser degree adults) develop along predetermined routes based on their age. All kids under the age of 2 are kind of just reflex-based, while most kids around 13 can use some logical processes.

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