What is Development? - Growth, Maturation & Learning

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  • 0:03 Development
  • 2:09 Growth & Maturation
  • 5:03 Learning
  • 6:43 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.

To many people, terms like development, growth, maturation, and learning all mean the same thing. In this lesson, we'll learn the subtle differences between each of these terms and how they apply to human life.


Keisha is a college student who is taking a developmental psychology class. She's learned a lot about development, or the way that people grow and change as they age. She thinks about her life so far and realizes that she's developed quite a bit! As a baby, she couldn't walk or talk or do much of anything.

Then, as she grew into a kid, she learned how to walk, run, and jump rope. She was able to talk and learned how to express her thoughts and tell people what she wanted. She learned how to recognize when she was feeling sad or lonely and how to deal with those emotions.

As a teen, Keisha learned more complex things, like algebra and critical thinking. She also learned how to think about others' needs, as well as her own, and to recognize that just because she wants something, it doesn't mean that she'll get it.

As Keisha now transitions into adulthood, she realizes that there's still a lot of development for her to do. She will learn how to be in a healthy, romantic relationship. She'll become a mom and grow into the role of caretaker. Her career will take off as she navigates more and more complex and demanding roles at work.

Eventually, Keisha will find that her life changes even more. Her children will move out and have children of their own. She will retire and learn to garden and skydive in her spare time. She'll also learn how to deal with physical frailty as her eyesight starts to go and she develops arthritis in her joints.

All of these are examples of development, and Keisha recognizes that development happens at all stages of a person's life. There are many aspects of development: physical (like when Keisha learned how to jump rope), emotional (like when she learned how to deal with feeling sad), social (like when she learned how to recognize others' needs), and intellectual (like when she learned algebra). Let's look closer at three components of development: growth, maturation, and learning.

Growth & Maturation

Many people use the words growth and maturation interchangeably. Someone might say, 'You know, so-and-so used to throw temper fits when she didn't get her way, but she's matured, and now she just goes with the flow. She's really grown up.'

In psychology, though, growth and maturation are a little different. Growth is the physical process of development, particularly the process of becoming physically larger. It is quantifiable, meaning that it can be measured, and it is mostly influenced by genetics. For example, the year that she was 11, Keisha got taller by two inches. This is an example of growth because it involves her getting physically taller and is quantifiable (two inches).

On the other hand, maturation is the physical, intellectual, or emotional process of development. Maturation is often not quantifiable, and it too is mostly influenced by genetics. For example, as Keisha became older, her brain developed in a way that meant she was able to handle more complex tasks than she could before.

Notice that, while growth is physical, maturation is physical, intellectual, or emotional. Often, maturation involves two or even all three. Keisha's brain physically developing allowed her to intellectually understand complex matters better. In fact, the emotional component of empathy is sometimes affected by physical and intellectual maturity. As a person's brain physically develops, they are able to understand intellectually what others are going through and how they might feel, and that allows them to emotionally feel empathy for others.

One other key difference in growth and maturity is in the limits of development. A person can only grow so far, and most people grow roughly the same amount - adult brains all end up weighing similar amounts, adults end up a range of heights that are relatively narrow, and so on. In other words, if a person does not have a disorder that prevents them from growing normally, they will all end up relatively similar. A normal, healthy adult does not look like a kid because they have grown up.

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