Developmental psychologists study the life cycle, from conception to death, examining how we develop physically, cognitively, and socially. Three issues pervade this study: (1) the relative impact of genes and experience on behavior, (2) whether development is best described as gradual and continuous or as a sequence of predetermined stages, and (3) whether the individual’s personality remains stable or changes over the life span.
The life cycle begins when one sperm unites with a mature egg to form a zygote. Attached to the uterine wall, the developing embryo begins to form body organs and by 9 weeks, the fetus becomes recognizably human. With the aid of new methods of studying babies, researchers have discovered that newborns are surprisingly competent. Infants develop skills of sitting, standing,
and walking in a predictable sequence; their actual timing is a function of individual maturation rate.
Jean Piaget theorized that the mind develops by forming schemas that help us assimilate our experiences and that must occasionally be altered to accommodate new information. In this way, children progress from the simplicity of the sensorimotor stage through the increasingly complexpreoperational and concrete operational stages to abstract formal operational thought.
Infants become attached to their parents largely because they are comfortable, familiar, and responsive. Denied such care, children may become withdrawn, anxious, and eventually abusive. Self-concept develops gradually, but by age 10, children’s self-images are quite stable and are linked with their independence, optimism, and sociability. Children who develop a positive selfimage tend to have been reared by parents who are authoritative but at the same time allow their children a sense of control over their own lives. Child-rearing practices also reflect cultural values that vary across time and place.
Among the ways we classify people one stands out: our gender, the biological and social characteristics by which people define male or female. Under the influence of our culture, our gender influences our social development. Differing sex chromosomes and differing concentrations of sex hormones lead to significant physiological sex differences. Yet, gender differences vary widely depending on culture. Both social and cultural factors contribute to gender identity and gender typing.
Parents and peers influence development in different, but usually complementary, ways. Parents influence children’s manners as well as their political and religious beliefs. Peers are important in learning cooperation, for finding the road to popularity, and for inventing styles of
interaction among people of the same age.
Adolescence typically begins at puberty with the onset of rapid growth and sexual maturity. Jean Piaget theorized that adolescents develop the capacity to reason abstractly. Following Piaget’s lead, Lawrence Kohlberg contended that moral thinking likewise proceeds through
stages, from a morality of self-interest to a morality of universal ethical principles. Erik Erikson theorized that a chief task of adolescence is to form one’s identity. This struggle may continue into the adult years as new relationships emerge and new roles are assumed.
The time from 18 tothe mid-twenties is an increasingly not-yet-settled phase of life called emerging adulthood. The barely perceptible physical declines of early adulthood begin to accelerate during middle adulthood. For women, a significant change is menopause. After 65, declining perceptual acuity, strength, and stamina are evident, but short-term ailments are fewer. Fluid intelligence declines in later life, whereas crystallized intelligence does not.
Research suggests that people are not as predictable as some stage theorists have argued. Life events and even chance occurrences influence adult life in unanticipated ways. Two basic aspects of our lives—love and work—dominate adulthood. Most people retain a sense of wellbeing throughout life.
The normal range of reactions to a loved one’s death, or to our own impending death, is wider than most suppose. Those who face death with a sense of integrity, according to Erikson, feel that their lives have been meaningful and worthwhile.
Although the major stage theories have been modified in the light of later research, they continue to alert us to differences among people of different ages. Researchers who have followed lives through time have found evidence for both stability and change.
Developmental psychologists study physical, cognitive, and social changes throughout the life span. Three issues pervade this study: (1) the relative impact of genes and experience on development, (2) whether development is best described as gradual and continuous or as a sequence of separate stages, and (3) whether personality traits remain stable or change over the life span.
Prenatal Development and the Newborn
A total of 200 million or more sperm deposited during intercourse approach an egg 85,000 times their own size. The few that make it to the egg release digestive enzymes that eat away the egg’s protective coating, allowing a sperm to penetrate. The egg’s surface blocks out all others and within a half day, the egg nucleus and the sperm nucleus fuse.
Fewer than half of all fertilized eggs, called zygotes, survive. In the first week, cell division produces a zygote of some 100 cells. Then the cells begin to differentiate, that is, to specialize in structure and function. About 10 days after conception, the zygote’s outer cells attach to the mother’s uterine wall. The inner cells become the embryo.
By 9 weeks after conception, the embryo looks unmistakably human and is now a fetus. During the sixth month, internal organs such as the stomach have become sufficiently formed and functional to allow a prematurely born fetus a chance of survival. At each prenatal stage, genetic and environmental factors affect development. The placenta, which formed as the zygote’s outer cells attached to the uterine wall, transfers nutrients and oxygen from mother to fetus. Along with nutrients, teratogens ingested by the mother can reach the developing child and place it at risk. If the mother drinks heavily, the effects may be visible as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Newborns are surprisingly competent. They are born with sensory equipment and reflexes that facilitate their interacting with adults and securing nourishment. Touched on its cheek, a baby opens its mouth and roots for a nipple. Newborns turn their heads in the direction of human voices and gaze longer at a drawing of a facelike image than at a bull’s-eye pattern. They prefer to look at objects 8 to 12 inches away, the approximate distance between a nursing infant’s eyes and the mother’s. Within days of birth, the newborn distinguishes its mother’s odor, and at 3 weeks, the newborn prefers its mother’s voice.
A simple form of learning called habituation, a decrease in responding with repeated stimulation, enables researchers to assess what infants see and remember. Using a novelty-preference procedure, researchers have learned that infants, like adults, focus first on the face, not the body.
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Infancy and Childhood
Within the brain, nerve cells form before birth. After birth, the neural networks that enable us to walk, talk, and remember have a wild growth spurt. From ages 3 to 6, growth occurs most rapidly in the frontal lobes, which enable rational planning. The association areas linked with thinking, memory, and language are the last cortical areas to develop. Maturation, the biological growth processes that enable orderly changes in behavior, sets the basic course of development; experience adjusts it. Maturation accounts for commonalities, from standing before walking to using nouns before adjectives.
As the infant’s muscles and nervous system mature, ever more complicated skills emerge. The sequence is universal; the timing varies. Babies roll over before they sit unsupported, and they usually creep before they walk. Genes play a major role. Identical twins typically begin sitting up and walking on nearly the same day. Experience has a limited effect for other physical skills as well, including those that enable bowel and bladder control.
The average age of earliest conscious memory is 3.5 years. By 4 to 5 years, this infantile amnesia is giving way to remembered experiences. Experiments do show, however, that infants can retain learning over time. For example, 3-month-olds who learn to propel a mobile by moving their legs retain the association for at least a month. Studies of older children indicate that sometimes what the conscious mind cannot recall in words from the earliest years, the nervous system somehow remembers.
Cognition refers to all the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, remembering, and communicating. Jean Piaget maintained that the mind of the child is not a miniature model of the adult’s. He theorized that the mind tries to make sense of experience by forming schemas, concepts or frameworks that organize and interpret information. We assimilate new experiences, that is, interpret them in terms of our current understandings. But we also sometimes adjust, or accommodate, our current understanding to incorporate new information.
During the sensorimotor stage (birth to age 2) of cognitive development, children experience the world through their senses and actions. By about 8 months, an infant exhibits object permanence, an awareness that things still exist even when they are out of sight.
Piaget maintained that up to about age 6 or 7, children are in a preoperational stage—too young to perform mental operations. They are egocentric, that is, they cannot perceive things from another’s point of view and lack a theory of mind. (Autism is also marked by impaired ability to infer others’ mental states.) Piaget thought that at about age 6 or 7, children become capable of performing concrete operations, for example, those required to comprehend the principle of conservation. They think logically about concrete events, grasp concrete analogies, and comprehend mathematical transformations. By age 12, reasoning expands from the purely concrete to encompass
abstract thinking, which Piaget called formal operational thinking.
Complementing Piaget’s emphasis on how the child’s mind grows through interaction with the physical environment, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky emphasized how the child’s mind grows through interaction with the social environment. He noted that children internalize their culture’s language and rely on inner speech, making them increasingly capable of thinking in words and of using words to work out solutions to problems.
Today’s researchers have shown that young children are more capable and their development more continuous than Piaget believed. The cognitive abilities that emerge at each stage have begun developing at earlier ages. Today’s researchers also see formal logic as a smaller part of cognition than Piaget did. Nonetheless, studies support his idea that human cognition unfolds basically in the sequence he proposed.
Stranger anxiety is the fear of unfamiliar faces that infants commonly display, beginning by about 8 months of age (soon after object permanence emerges). They greet strangers by crying and reaching for their familiar caregivers. The attachment bond is a survival impulse that keeps infants close to their caregivers. Infants become attached to their parents or primary caregivers not simply because they gratify biological needs (nourishment) but because they provide body contact that is soft and warm. Familiarity provides another key to attachment. In animals, attachments based on familiarity often form during a critical period shortly after birth. This rigid attachment process is called imprinting. Although humans do not imprint, they do become attached to what they have known. Clearly, familiarity
provides a safety signal.
Watch video posted to see a summary of Harlow's work on contact comfort:
When placed in a strange situation such as a laboratory playroom, about 60 percent of children display secure attachment; they play comfortably in their mother’s presence, are distressed when she leaves, and seek contact when she returns. Other infants, who are insecurely attached, are less likely to explore their surroundings, and when their mother leaves, cry loudly and remain upset, or
seem indifferent to her going and returning. Sensitive, responsive parents tend to have securely attached children. Insensitive, unresponsive parents have infants who often become insecurely attached.
Although genetically influenced temperament (the infant’s characteristic emotional excitability and intensity) may elicit responsive parenting, parental sensitivity has been taught and does increase secure attachment to some extent. From the first weeks of life, some babies are easy (more relaxed and cheerful), while others are difficult (more tense and irritable). Still others are slow to warm up. These differences in temperament tend to persist. For example, the most emotionally intense preschoolers tend to be relatively intense young adults. Compared with fraternal twins, identical twins have more similar temperaments, indicating that heredity may predispose
Most research focuses on mother’s nurturing, but across nearly 100 studies worldwide, a father’s love and acceptance have been comparable to a mother’s love in predicting their offspring’s health and well-being. Erik Erikson attributed the child’s development of basic trust—a sense that the world is predictable and reliable—to sensitive, loving caregivers. Adult relationships tend to reflect
the attachment styles of early childhood.
Infants who experience abuse or extreme neglect often become withdrawn, frightened, even speechless. Young monkeys who are deprived of attachment may, as adults, cower in fright or lash out in aggression when placed with other monkeys their age. In humans, too, the unloved sometimes become the unloving.
Although most children who grow up under adversity are resilient and become normal adults, those who suffer severe and prolonged sexual abuse are at increased risk for health problems, psychological disorders, substance abuse, and criminality.
Both monkeys and infants who are temporarily deprived of attachment may become upset, and before long, even despairing. However, if placed in a more positive and stable environment, infants generally recover from the distress of separation. Children who are prevented from forming attachments by age 2 may be at risk for attachment problems.
Early research uncovered no negative impact of maternal employment on the child’s development. More recent research has investigated the effects of differing quality of day care on different types and ages of children. Children who have spent the most time in day care seem to have slightly advanced thinking and language skills but also have an increased rate of aggressiveness and defiance. But the child’s temperament, the mother’s sensitivity, and the family’s economic and educational level matter more than time spent in day care.
Self-concept, our understanding and evaluation of who we are, develops gradually. At about 15 to 18 months, infants will recognize themselves in a mirror. By school age, children start to describe themselves in terms of their gender, group memberships, and psychological traits. They also compare themselves with other children. By age 8 or 10, children’s self-images are quite stable. Children with a positive self-concept are more confident, independent, optimistic, assertive, and sociable.
Authoritarian parents impose rules and expect obedience. Permissive parents submit to their children’s desires, make few demands, and use little punishment. Authoritative parents are both demanding and responsive. Children with the highest self-esteem, self-reliance, and social competence usually have warm, concerned, and authoritative parents. Studies in cultures worldwide reflect the positive correlates of authoritative parenting. The effects are stronger when children are embedded in authoritative communities with connected adults who model a good life.
However, correlation is not causation. Socially mature and agreeable children may evoke authoritative parenting, or competent parents and their competent children may share genes that predispose social competence.
Child-rearing practices reflect cultural values that vary across time and place. In Westernized cultures, parents prefer independence in their children. Many Asians and Africans live in cultures that value emotional closeness. Whatever the cultural preference, children across place and time have thrived under various child-rearing systems. The diversity in child-rearing cautions us against presuming that our culture’s way is the only way to rear children successfully.
Males and females are similar in genetic makeup as well as levels of intelligence, vocabulary, and happiness. Males and females differ in body fat, muscle, height, and life expectancy. Females are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. In contrast, males are more likely to commit suicide and suffer alcohol dependence. They are also much more likely to be diagnosed with autism, color-blindness, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as children and antisocial personalities as adults.
In surveys, men admit to more aggression than women, and experiments confirm that men tend to behave more aggressively, such as by delivering what they believe are painful shocks. The same difference in physical aggression is reflected in violent crime rates. The gender gap in physical aggression appears in many cultures and across various ages.
Throughout the world, men are perceived as more dominant, forceful, and independent, while women are viewed as more deferential, nurturant, and affiliative. In groups, leadership tends to go to males. In everyday behavior, men are more likely to talk assertively, to interrupt, to initiate touching, to smile less, and to stare.
In comparison to men, women are more concerned with making social connections. This gender difference surfaces early, in children’s play. As teens, girls spend more time with friends and less time alone. Both in play and other settings, females are more open and responsive to feedback than are males. Asked difficult questions, men are more likely than women to hazard answers rather than admit they don’t know, a phenomenon called the male answer syndrome. Women emphasize caring, often assuming responsibility for the very young and very old. Both men and women indicate that their friendships with women tend to be more intimate, enjoyable, and nurturing.
In coping with stress, women more often turn to others for support—they tend and befriend.
Biological sex is determined by the twenty-third pair of chromosomes, the sex chromosomes. The member of the pair inherited from the mother is an X chromosome. The X (female) or Y (male) chromosome that comes from the father determines the child’s sex. The Y chromosome triggers the production of the principal male sex hormone, testosterone, which in turn triggers the development
of external male sex organs.
During the fourth and fifth prenatal months, the male’s greater testosterone and the female’s ovarian hormones have an impact on the brain’s wiring. Recent research confirms male-female differences in brain areas with abundant sex hormone receptors during development. For example, during adulthood the part of the frontal lobes involved in verbal fluency is thicker in women, and the part of the parietal cortex involved in space perception is thicker in men.
Although biology influences our gender, gender is also socially constructed, as the biopsychosocial approach reminds us. Culture shapes our roles: A role is a cluster of prescribed actions. For example, gender roles—our expectations about the way men and women should behave—vary across cultures and time, as well as across generations. For instance, in nomadic societies of foodgathering
people, there is little division of labor by sex. Thus, boys and girls receive much the same upbringing. In agricultural societies, women stay close to home, while men often roam more freely. Such societies typically socialize children into more distinct gender roles. Even among
industrialized countries, gender roles vary greatly, for example, in the expectation that life will be more satisfying when both spouses work and share child care.
Society assigns each of us to the social category of male and female. The result is our gender identity, our sense of being male or female. To varying degrees, we also become gender typed, acquiring a traditional male or female role. Social learning theory assumes that children learn gender-linked behaviors by observing and imitating significant others and by being rewarded and punished. Thinking also matters. From their culture, children learn a concept or gender schema of what it means to be male or female and adjust their behavior accordingly.
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Parents and Peers
In the womb, embryos receive different nutrition and varying levels of exposure to toxic agents. Normal stimulation during the early years is critical for optimal brain development. After brain maturation provides us with an abundance of neural connections, experience preserves our activated connections and unused connections degenerate through the process of pruning. Throughout life, our actions strengthen some neural pathways, while others weaken from disuse. We learn to keyboard or skateboard with increasing skill as our brain incorporates the learning.
Parental influence is clearest at the extremes, for example, in the abused who become abusive and in the loved but firmly handled children who become self-confident and socially competent. Parental influence is also reflected in children’s political attitudes, religious beliefs, and personal manners. However, environmental influences typically account for less than 10 percent of children’s personality differences. This finding suggests that parents be given less credit for their children’s successes as well as less blame for their failures.
Parental and peer influences are complementary. Parents are more influential when it comes to education, discipline, responsibility, orderliness, charitableness, and ways of interacting with authority figures. Peers are more important for learning cooperation, for finding the road to popularity, and for inventing styles of interaction among people of the same age. Parents can influence the culture that shapes the peer group by helping to select their children’s neighborhood and schools.
Adolescence, the transition period from childhood to adulthood, typically begins at puberty with the onset of rapid growth and developing sexual maturity. A surge of hormones triggers a two-year period of growth that begins in girls at about age 11 and in boys at about age 13. During the growth spurt, the reproductive organs, or primary sex characteristics, develop dramatically. So do the secondary sex characteristics, such as the breasts and hips in girls, facial hair and a deepened voice in boys, and pubic and underarm hair in both sexes. The landmarks of puberty are the first ejaculation (spermarche) in boys, which usually occurs by about age 14, and the first menstrual
period (menarche) in girls, usually within a year of age 12. As in earlier life stages, the sequence of physical changes is more predictable than the timing. Early maturation is good for boys but may be stressful for girls, depending on how people react to their maturity.
Brain development includes a selective pruning of unused neurons and connections. The growth of myelin, the fatty tissue that forms around axons and speeds neurotransmission, enables better communication with other brain regions. Frontal lobe maturation that improves judgment, impulse control, and the ability to plan for the long term lags the emotional limbic system. The pubertal hormonal surge, early development of the emotional limbic system, and later maturation of the frontal lobe help explain teens’ occasional impulsiveness, risky behaviors, and emotional storms.
During the early teen years, reasoning is often self-focused. Adolescents may think their private experiences are unique. Gradually, adolescents develop the capacity for what Piaget called formal operations, the capacity to reason abstractly. This includes the ability to test hypotheses and deduce consequences. The new reasoning power is evident in adolescents’ pondering and debating such abstract topics as human nature, good and evil, and truth and justice.
Lawrence Kohlberg contended that moral thinking likewise proceeds through a series of stages, from a preconventional morality of self-interest, to a conventional morality that cares for others and upholds laws and rules, to (in some people) a postconventional morality of agreed-upon rights or basic ethical principles. Kohlberg’s critics argue that the postconventional level represents
morality from the perspective of the European and North American educated middle class, which prizes individualism—giving priority to one’s own goals rather than to group goals—and is biased against the moral reasoning of those in collectivist societies, whose morality may be based more on a sensitivity to group goals. Jonathan Haidt’s social intuitionist explanation is that moral feelings precede moral reasoning, and so moral judgment involves quick gut feelings. Character education programs teach children to empathize with others and to delay gratification. As thinking matures, behavior also becomes less selfish and more caring.
A chief task of adolescence is to solidify one’s sense of self—one’s identity. Adolescents usually try out different “selves” in different situations. Often, this role confusion gets resolved by the gradual reshaping of a self-definition that unifies the various selves into a consistent and comfortable sense of who one is. The part of our self-concept that comes from group memberships is our
social identity. In some cases, adolescents may form their identity early, simply by taking on their parents’ values and expectations. Others may adopt an identity defined in opposition to parents but in conformity with a particular peer group. Erikson believed that forging a clear and comfortable identity is a precondition for establishing close relationships.
For young adults (twenties to early forties), the issue is intimacy, the ability to form emotionally close relationships, versus isolation, and for middle-aged adults (forties to sixties), generativity versus stagnation. The challenge of late adulthood (late sixties and older) is integrity versus despair.
As adolescents in Western cultures form their own identities, they become increasingly independent of their parents. Nonetheless, researchers have found that most teenagers relate to their parents reasonably well. Positive relations with parents support positive peer relations. Teens are herd animals and they talk, dress, and act more like their peers than their parents. Although adolescence is
a time of increasing peer influence, parents continue to influence teens in shaping their religious faith as as well as college and career choices.
Clearly, the graduation from adolescence to adulthood is now taking longer. In the United States, the average age at first marriage has increased more than 4 years since 1960. The time from 18 to the mid-twenties is an increasingly not-yet-settled phase of life, which some now call emerging adulthood. During this time, many young people attend college or work but continue to live in their parents’ home.
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Muscular strength, reaction time, sensory keenness, and cardiac output crest in the mid-twenties and then slowly begin to decline. These barely perceptible physical declines of early adulthood begin to accelerate during middle adulthood. For women, a significant physical change of adult life is menopause, the ending of the menstrual cycle. A woman’s attitudes and expectations influence the emotional impact of menopause. Men experience no equivalent of menopause and no sharp drop in sex hormones. After middle age, most men and women remain capable of satisfying sexual activity.
Life expectancy is affected by several factors. For example, with age, people’s chromosome tips, called telomeres, wear down. As this happens, aging cells die without being replaced. Also, the human spirit affects life expectancy, as evidenced by the death-deferral phenomenon.
In later life, declining perceptual acuity, muscle strength, reaction time, stamina, hearing, and the sense of smell are evident. Short-term ailments are fewer, but a weakened immune system makes life-threatening ailments more likely. Neural processes slow, and compared with teens and young adults, older people take a bit longer time to react, to solve perceptual puzzles, and even to remember names. Exercising the body feeds the brain and helps compensate for the loss of brain cells. And exercise helps maintain the telomeres protecting the ends of chromosomes. Some adults do suffer a substantial loss of brain cells, and up to age 95 the incidence of mental disintegration
doubles roughly every 5 years. Alzheimer’s disease strikes 3 percent of the world’s population by age 75.
As the years pass, recognition memory remains strong, although recall begins to decline, especially for meaningless information. Older adults may take longer than younger adults to produce the words and things they know. Older people’s capacity to learn and remember skills declines less than their verbal recall. Prospective memory (“remember to . . .”) remains strong when events help trigger memories. Without reminder cues, time-based tasks (“Remember the 8 A.M. meeting”) and habitual tasks, such as remembering to take medications, can be especially challenging.
Cross-sectional studies, in which people of different ages are compared with one another, suggested that intelligence declines after early adulthood. Later, longitudinal studies, in which the same people are restudied and retested over a long period, reported that intelligence remained stable until late in life. While the cross-sectional studies failed to consider generational differences in income and life experience, longitudinal studies failed to account for those who dropped out of studies and who may have been less intelligent than the survivors. Furthermore, intelligence is not a single trait, and tests that assess speed of thinking may place older adults at a disadvantage
because of their slower neural mechanisms for processing information.
Today’s view is that crystallized intelligence—one’s accumulated knowledge and verbal skills as reflected in vocabulary and analogies tests—increases up to old age. Fluid intelligence—one’s ability to reason speedily and abstractly, as when solving novel logic problems—declines slowly up to age 75 and then more rapidly, especially after age 85.
Some psychologists have suggested that adults progress through an orderly sequence of life stages. They argue, for example, that as people enter their forties, they undergo a midlife transition to middle adulthood, which, for many, is a crisis. However, research has failed to support the idea that distress peaks anywhere in the midlife range. Moreover, critics suspect that, given variations in the social clock and individual experience, any proposed timetable of adult ages and stages will have limited applicability. Marriage, parenthood, retirement, and other life events that make transitions to new life stages are occurring at unpredictable ages. Even chance encounters and events can have lasting significance and, as a result, adults may change far more, and far less predictably, than stage theories suggest.
Two basic aspects of our lives dominate adulthood. Erik Erikson called them intimacy (forming close relationships) and generativity (being productive and supporting future generations). Evolutionary psychologists suggest that marriage had survival value for our ancestors in that parents who stayed together and raised children to a child-bearing age had a greater chance of passing their genes on to posterity. Compared with their counterparts of 40 years ago, people in Western countries are better educated and marrying later. Yet they are nearly twice as likely to divorce. Does cohabiting before marriage lessen the likelihood of divorce? No. In Europe, Canada, and the United States, those who cohabit before marriage have had higher rates of divorce and marital dys-function than those who did not cohabit. Nonetheless, more than 9 in 10 heterosexual adults marry, and research indicates that married people are generally happier when compared with the
unmarried. Often, love bears children. As children begin to absorb more and more time, money, and emotional energy, satisfaction with the marriage may decline. Most parents are happy to see their children grow up, leave home, marry, and have careers.
For adults, a large part of the answer to “Who are you?” is the answer to “What do you do?” Choosing a career path is difficult, especially in today’s changing work environment. It frequently takes time for people to settle into an occupation. Most people shift from their initially intended majors, many find their postcollege employment in fields not directly related to their majors, and most will change careers. Happiness is having work that fits your interests and provides a sense of competence and accomplishment.
Although the over-65 years are not totally unhappy, newer surveys of 2 million people worldwide suggest happiness is slightly higher among both young and older adults than among those middleaged. If anything, positive feelings grow after midlife and negative feelings subside. Older adults increasingly use words that convey positive emotions. Moreover, the bad feelings we associate with negative events fade faster than do the good feelings we associate with positive events. As the years pass, feelings mellow and the highs become less high and the lows less low. More and more people flourish into later life, thanks to biological, psychological, and social-cultural influences.
Usually, the most difficult separation is from one’s spouse. Grief is especially severe when the death of a loved one comes before its expected time on the social clock. The normal range of reactions to a loved one’s death is wider than most people suppose. Some cultures encourage public weeping and wailing; others hide grief. Within any culture, some individuals grieve more intensely and openly. Research discounts the popular idea that terminally ill and bereaved people go through predictable stages. Life itself can be affirmed even at death, especially if one’s life has been meaningful and worthwhile.
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Reflections on Three Major Developmental Issues
The first issue, the relative influence of nature and nurture on human development, is discussed in Unit 3C. Regarding continuity versus stages, researchers who emphasize experience and learning tend to see development as a slow continuous process. Those who emphasize biological maturation tend to see development as a series of genetically predisposed stages. Although the stage theories
of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson have been modified in the light of later research, each theory usefully alerts us to differences among people of different ages and helps us to keep the life-span perspective in view. Research also suggests that lifelong development includes stability and change. The first two years provide a poor predictor of a person’s eventual traits; older children and adolescents also change. As people grow older, however, personality does stabilize. There is also an underlying consistency to most people’s temperaments and emotionality.