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Summary Article: Human Development
from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

The scientific study of emotional, physical, mental, and behavioral changes over a human's life span. The field of human development comprises various approaches and theories that attempt to explain universal truths of human development, as well as factors that can adversely affect normal human development from conception to death. The major human development theorists include Freud, Erikson, Pavlov, Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky. Considered as an interaction of both physical and cognitive growth as well as personality and social development, human development is addressed from the biological, cognitive, personality, and social perspectives.

The biological, or physical, perspective recognizes the influence of genes and physical conditions that affect development. This approach addresses the brain, nervous system, and other biological functions that affect behavior.

The cognitive perspective recognizes the importance of mental processes, such as memory, learning, and problem solving, as well as changes in intellect. Cognitive development considers both the growth and decline of verbal, spatial, and reasoning abilities as well as the structure of thought over the life span.

Personality development involves enduring individual characteristics that evolve over a human's life span and differentiate people from one another. The study of personality generally includes the acknowledgment of the Big Five personality traits—neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Although these traits are considered stable over the life span, they can be influenced by life circumstances and other factors.

Social development refers to the influence of social relationships on human growth and change. The social domain includes the recognition that individuals change as a result of their interactions with others. Increasingly, developmentalists recognize that people live and behave in distinct contexts—that is, unique physical and social environments. Some developmentalists view context as an important agent for individual change and human development and as unique to each person depending on one's culturally specific context. Cultural contexts can include meanings and values associated with one's home, family, school, and community settings as well as one's own background and historical time period.

Patterns of growth and broad human changes are typically associated with stages or developmental periods that are age related. This view of development is embraced by developmentalists who believe in continuity. Continuity is the persistence of characteristics over a lifetime. Change is seen as gradual and the culmination of a process. Conversely, those who see human development as discontinuous are more likely to believe that human experiences cause characteristic changes over a lifetime even though human change is biologically based with distinct characteristics. The discontinuous view sees human development as less likely to occur in continuous stages.

See also

Cognitive Development, Context, Developmental Psychology, Personality, Social Psychology

Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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