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Chapter 1

PSYC 2P12 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Epigenetics, Menopause

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Cathy Mondloch

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PSYC 2P12 Chapter 1 – People and the Field
Who We Are and What We Study
Lifespan development, the scientific study of human growth throughout life, has its roots in
child development, the study of childhood and adolescence. Gerontology, the scientific study of
aging, was first studied following WWII. Along with adult development, these fields underwent
phenomenal growth during the final third of the twentieth century.
Lifespan development is multidisciplinary. A biologically oriented developmentalist may study the
role of hormones in various aspects of behaviour, while an anthropologist may study the impact of culture.
A social perspective may involve researching the influence of government.
Lifespan development explores the predictable milestones on the human journey, such as puberty,
menopause, and death. Lifespan development focuses on the individual differences that give variation to
human life. Developmentalists want to understand what causes striking differences between temperament,
talents, and traits.
Lifespan development explores the impact of life transitions and practices. It deals with
normative transitions (predictable; retirement, becoming parents, etc.) and non-normative
transitions (atypical; divorce, death of a child, etc.). Normative practices are normal relative to the time
in history.
Setting the Context
Contexts of development are fundamental markers, including cohort, SES, culture, and
gender. A cohort refers to our birth group; for instance, the baby boom cohort (people born
between 1946 to 1964) made a huge impact on the Western world.
John Locke believed that human beings were born as a tabula rasa and that the way we treat
children shaped their adult lives. Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that babies entered life innocent and that
these dependent creatures required love. One force that produced this gentler view of childhood was
universal education; once elementary school attendance became mandatory during the late nineteenth
century, childhood was deemed a dependent life phase.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, G. Stanley Hall identified adolescence as a stage of
“storm and stress” between childhood and adulthood. This developmental stage was officiated when a bill
was signed making high school mandatory during the 1930s. Emerging adulthood, lasting between
the ages of 18 to roughly the late twenties, is devoted to exploring our place in the world.
A person’s average life expectancy is their fifty-fifty chance at birth of living to any given
age. The twentieth-century life expectancy revolution is perhaps the most dramatic increase
in average life expectancy in the developed world. More people are capable of living to our maximum
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lifespan, the biological limit of human life (about age 105). The young-old are people in their sixties
and seventies who look and feel middle-aged, while the old-old are people in their eighties are more frail
and prone to illness.
Socioeconomic status (SES) refers to an individual’s income and education. Developed
world nations are defined by their wealth, or high median per-person incomes. In developing
countries, poverty is rampant and income inequities are extreme.
Collectivist cultures are societies that prize social harmony, obedience, and close family
connectedness over individualism. Individualistic cultures prize independence, competition, and
personal success.
In terms of gender, women are the hardier sex due to the need to survive to bear children and the
presence of an extra X chromosome.
Theories of the Lifespan
John Watson believed that nature (biological or genetic causes of development) were all
important. According to traditional behaviourists (monitoring only observable behaviours), a few
general laws of learning explain behaviour in every situation throughout life. According to B. F. Skinner,
operant conditioning is the law that governs behaviour; actions that are rewarded or reinforced
are repeated, while behaviours that are not rewarded become extinct.
Cognitive behaviourism (social learning theory) was proposed by Albert Bandura in
the 1970s, which emphasizes the importance of modeling, or learning by watching and imitating others.
Bandura suggested that we tend to model people who are nurturing or caring. Self-efficacy refers to an
internal belief in our competence that predicts whether we initiate activities, persistence in the face of
failure, and the goals we set. Although the concepts of behaviourism are simple (be consistent, reinforce
positive but not negative behaviour, use appropriate modeling and stimulate self-efficacy) many
developmentalists are unsatisfied with this theoretical perspective because it does not explain basic human
Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby and has the same basic scheme as
psychoanalytical theory. This viewpoint suggests that early experiences with caregivers shape the adult
ability to love, which he referred to as the attachment response. Bowlby argued that the attachment
response was biologically wired into our species to promote survival, providing support to both the nature
and nurture sides of development.
Evolutionary psychologists are the mirror image of behaviourists; they rely on biological
forces that have evolved to promote survival and explain how we develop and behave. Behavioural
genetics encompasses research that is devoted to examining the genetic contribution to the differences
seen in humans. Twin studies usually involve comparisons of monozygotic (identical) twins and
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