Approaches to Lifespan Development and Cultural Considerations


Developmental Psychology and Lifespan Development

Developmental psychology comprises the research of children’s cognitive, societal, and emotive development, and is especially interested in studying how children learn [1]. During the last decades, lifespan developmental psychology became an “independent, interdisciplinary specialization of life sciences” [2, p. 25] that is embracing the developmental stages over a whole lifespan [3]. Lifespan development research seeks insight into the determinants of individuals’ well-being, e.g., ‘successful aging,’ while drawing on traditional developmental psychology’s components of health, cognition, and relationships [4].

The Role of Culture

The impressive achievements in human collective creation may be seen as essentially the result of social rather than mental capacities [5]. Despite the plethora of cultural psychology research, there remains critique whether culture and context can play the central role in exploring what is influencing social behavior [6]. As a counter-argument some researchers propose the womanist model to overcome the definition of the self as a mere function of culture and societal norms [7].

Social abilities of children at different development stages have been reported to be comparable [5]. Extending developmental research to life-span theories entailing adulthood and old age, as already proposed by Erikson’s identity development model from 1959 [7], causes a shift towards increased importance of culture. Developmental neurobiological processes that are more influential in early life stages give way to increased effects from culture and social learning at later life stages [2]. Regarding child development there are increasingly calls for inclusion of, for example, native cultures in research [8].

Towards Holistic Lifespan Development Psychology Approaches

Jean Piaget’s (1896 – 1994) view that meaning results from physical interaction with the environment could not hinder psychology’s tendential development of an inconsideration of brain and body in mental processes. However, the modern enactivist approach is (again) conceptualizing a close link between organism and environment [9]. Today a more holistic perspective follows earlier research that has focused either internal or exogenic elements in identity development [10]. Contemporary research emphasizes the need to better understand the complex human environment [11], to examine individual (e.g., gender-specific, but controlled for culture) within-person developmental processes in longitudinal studies [4], and to capture the more granular day-to-day events’ influence on crucial lifespan factors [12].

Interdisciplinary Globalization of Lifespan Development Research

Economically developed regions, sometimes referred to as Western countries, make up only 20 percent of the world population while developing economies’ population is even disproportionately continuing to grow. At the same time, economic development in the Non-Western, often collectivist societies are likely to influence the development of related cultures dramatically. Therefore, to understand human developmental, psychology needs to focus more on where the big changes and populations are [13].

To further integrate all relevant aspects of human development, a closer collaboration between the life course sociology and life span psychology seems to be a promising aspiration [14]. Like the emergence of culture and art marked a new era of Homo sapiens some ten thousand years ago [13], maybe breakthroughs in understanding human lifespan development related to culture may define next evolutionary steps of humanity.



[1] Thomas, J. E. (2015). Developmental Psychology. Research Starters: Education (Online Edition),

[2] Švancara, J. (2012). The emergence of life span developmental psychology – approaches, theories, models, methods, implementation. E-Psychologie, 6(1), 24-41.

[3] Tuladhar, C. T., & Commons, M. L. (2014). Correspondence between some life-span, stage theory developmental sequences of stages and levels. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 19(3), 24-27. doi:10.1037/h0100586

[4] Morack, J., Ram, N., Fauth, E. B., & Gerstorf, D. (2013). Multidomain trajectories of psychological functioning in old age: A longitudinal perspective on (uneven) successful aging. Developmental Psychology, 49(12), 2309-2324. doi:10.1037/a0032267

[5] Nielsen, M., & Haun, D. (2016). Why developmental psychology is incomplete without comparative and cross-cultural perspectives. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society Of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 371(1686), 20150071. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0071

[6] Dedios Sanguineti, M. C. (2015). Interwoven explorations: Culture and mind (in context): Introduction to the special issue. Psychology & Society, 7(1), 1-11.

[7] Walters, K. A., & Auton-Cuff, F. P. (2009). A story to tell: the identity development of women growing up as third culture kids. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 12(7), 755-772. doi:10.1080/13674670903029153

[8] Fitzgerald, H., & Farrell, P. (2012). Fulfilling the Promise: Creating a Child Development Research Agenda With Native Communities. Child Development Perspectives, 6(1), 75-78.

[9] Marshall, P. J. (2016). Embodiment and Human Development. Child Development Perspectives, 10(4), 245. doi:10.1111/cdep.12190

[10] Robinson, O. C., & Smith, J. A. (2010). Investigating the Form and Dynamics of Crisis Episodes in Early Adulthood: The Application of a Composite Qualitative Method. Qualitative Research In Psychology, 7(2), 170-191. doi:10.1080/14780880802699084

[11] Allik, J., Massoudi, K., Realo, A., & Rossier, J. (2012). Personality and culture: Cross-cultural psychology at the next crossroads. Swiss Journal Of Psychology, 71(1), 5-12. doi:10.1024/1421-0185/a000069

[12] Hofer, S. M., & Piccinin, A. M. (2010). Toward an integrative science of life-span development and aging. The Journals Of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences And Social Sciences, 65(3), 269-278. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbq017

[13] Arnett, J. J. (2012). Human development: A cultural approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

[14] Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2016). Connecting Life Span Development with the Sociology of the Life Course: A New Direction. Sociology, 50(2), 301-315. doi:10.1177/0038038515577906

About mathias sager

Thinking and writing for happiness, painting colorfully, and enabling personal growth for all. Fostering co-operative and humanitarian principles, economic and social equality, as well as environmental sustainability. Using broad international experience and progressive, egalitarian and global outlook to promote care for the next generation.
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