The life span perspective argues that significant modifications take place throughout development. It consists of the development of humans in multidimensional, multidirectional, plastic, multidisciplinary, and contextual factors. The development involves growth, maintenance and regulation.
Changes that occur are interpreted in terms of the requirements of the culture and context of the occurrences. According to Paul Baltes, humans have the capacity, plasticity and the ability for positive change to the environmental demands that are being made on the individual constantly. Throughout life, the individual learns ways and means to compensate for and overcome difficulties.
According to Baltes positive characteristics of growing old such as learning ways to compensate and overcome as an important characteristic of old age. These characteristics form a family of beliefs that specify a coherent view of the nature of development. It is the application of these beliefs as a coordinated whole that characterises the life-span approach.
The important characteristics of beliefs of the life span approach are given below:
1. Development is Lifelong
This belief has two separate aspects. First, the potential for development extends across the entire life span: there is no assumption that the life course must reach a plateau or decline during adulthood and old age. Second, development may involve processes that are not present at birth but emerge throughout the life span. No age period dominates during development. Researchers increasingly study the experiences and psychological orientations of adults at different points in their development. Gains and losses in development occur throughout the life cycle.
2. Development is Multidimensional
Multidimensionality refers to the fact that development cannot be described by a single criterion such as increases or decreases in a behaviour. It occurs in the biological, cognitive and social emotional domains.
3. Development is Multidirectional
The principle of multidirectional maintains that there is no single, normal path that development must or should take. In other words, healthy developmental outcomes are achieved in a wide variety of ways. Development is often comprised of multiple abilities which take different directions, showing different types of change or constancy. Some dimensions or aspects of development may be increasing while others are declining or not changing.
4. Development is Plastic
Plasticity refers to the within-person variability which is possible for a particular behaviour or development. For example,
infants who have a hemisphere of the brain removed shortly after birth (as a treatment for epilepsy) can recover the functions associated with that hemisphere as the brain reorganises itself and the remaining hemisphere takes over those functions. A key part of the research agendas in developmental psychology is to understand the nature and the limits of plasticity in various domains of functioning. Development can be modified by life circumstances to some extent. Plasticity involves the degree to which characteristics change or remain stable.
5. Development is Contextual
Development varies across the different contexts in which we live our lives. For example, social and rural environments are associated with different sets of factors that have the potential to impact development; understanding how development differs for individuals within these two settings requires an understanding of the differing contexts. It occurs in the context of a person’s biological make-up, the physical environment and social, historical and cultural contexts.
6. Development is Multidisciplinary
The study of developmental psychology is multidisciplinary. That is, the sources of age-related changes do not lie within the province of any one discipline. For example, psychological methodologies may not be appropriate for understanding factors that are sociological in nature. Rather, an understanding of human development will be achieved only by research conducted from the perspective of disciplines such as sociology, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, neuroscience
7. Development involves Growth, Maintenance, and Regulation
The mastery of life involves conflict and competition among three goals of human development: growth, maintenance and regulation.
8. Development is Embedded in History
Development is also historically situated and is always influenced by historical conditions. The historical time of the period in which we grow up affects our development.
9. Normative Age Graded Influences
Biological and environmental influences that are similar for individuals in a particular age group (example: Childhood, Puberty) also influences development.
10. Normative History Graded Influences
Biological and environmental influences that are associated with a history that is common to people of a particular generation (example: Depression, The AIDS epidemic) also influences.
11. Non-normative Events
Unusual occurrences that have a major impact on an individual’s life; the occurrence, the pattern, and sequence of these events are not applicable to most individuals (e.g. Death of a parent at a young age, getting a serious illness, winning a lottery).