Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning and Cognition

One of the most studied components of human experience is the covert and unobservable process of learning. However, by studying its overt companion, the scientific study of learning takes an observable form in behavior. Behavior is a verifiable phenomenon from which science infers the nature of learning's secretive processes. Instrumental and classical conditioning assist in describing how behavioral modification takes place, and by these descriptions, learning is better understood (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Learning and cognition are inextricably intertwined in a relationship that demands the presence of both. Without cognition learning is relegated to reflexive and instinctual associations, yet without learning, cognition is mere unlocked potential.

Definition of Learning

Although learning is commonly defined as the process of gaining knowledge, comprehension or mastery through experience or study, psychologists believe this definition contains nebulous terms unacceptable in accommodating the science that studies observable behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). The preferred definition by many, suggested by Gregory Kimble is defined as "a relatively permanent change in behavioral potentiality that occurs because of reinforced practice" (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 3). Olson and Hergenhahn (2009), claim this change is one that cannot be attributed to transient physical or emotional states such as sickness, fatigue, or chemical substances.

The Role of Behavior in Learning

Learning is a tool used to accommodate adaptation by living organisms to their environment (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Learning is used by humans, animals, and some lower life forms, and it supplements evolutionary mechanisms, reflexive responses, and other adaptive behaviors. In the psychological paradigm, the observable product of learning is behavior. Behavior is a verifiable phenomenon by which to study learning processes otherwise unobservable. By studying behavior, inferences can be made concerning the processes by which learning transpires. Olson and Hergenhahn (2009) note many theorists agree these processes limit direct study and the characteristics of learning can be inferred only from the indirect study of behavioral changes. As such, the results of learning must first be identified in observable behavior. After learning, individuals must have the ability to produce a new and specific behavior, and the change in behavior must be relatively permanent, although it may not necessarily occur immediately after the learning experience (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). The relatively permanent change in behavior is the result of experience or practice and must be repeated or reinforced for learning to take place.

Two Types of Learning

Olson and Hergenhahn (2009) use the term conditioning to describe the procedures that modify behavior. The notion of conditioning was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov and later used by B. F. Skinner. The two types of conditioning - instrumental and classical - describe how behavioral modification transpires, and through which learning is understood. With instrumental conditioning, behavior is reinforced, and as stated by Olson and Hergenhahn (2009), "reinforcement is contingent on the organism's behavior" (p. 5). Classical conditioning involves associating an unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned response by repeatedly pairing a conditioned stimulus with an unconditioned response. This behavioral approach demonstrates how conditioning affects behavior. Instrumental or operant conditioning involves reinforcing behavior, increasing the likelihood that the same or similar behavior will recur. Both forms of conditioning influence behaviors, although classical conditioning assists in determining behavior most conducive to survival, and instrumental conditioning assists in gaining or avoiding specific effects, situations, or events. In both classical and instrumental conditioning, cognitive expectancy is an essential component (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Learning may occur by other means; however, conditioned learning creates a basic parameter by which other complex forms of learning are understood.

The Relationship between Learning and Cognition

Learning theories are based on cognitive associations between stimuli and responses. These associations are founded on the notion that cognitive processes produce anticipation of particular outcomes, and the process alters or causes behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
Learning in humans occurs because of conditioning, training, or habituation (Relationship between Learning and Cognition, n.d.), and these consequences are based on cognitive associations. For example, when a young child sees a dog for the first time, she does not have the cognitive experience to identify it. Once someone identifies the dog for her, she has the cognitive experience of "dog." Over time, as the child sees other dogs and other pictures of dogs, her cognitive experience is practiced and reinforced; she gains the ability to identify many types of dogs. She may even identify other furry four-legged animals of similar size until she has sufficient experience to identify other animals. Without cognitive associations, learning remains reflexive and associative, but without the complexity which occurs through cognitive processes.


In examining the relatively permanent change in behavioral potentiality that takes place in the process of learning, behavior provides a scientific and verifiable means by which to study learning. The two fundamental psychological paradigms of learning, classical and instrumental conditioning demonstrate the mechanisms by which cognitive associations enable learning. In their intertwined relationship, learning must be accompanied by cognition, or only fundamental associational attempts by the organism exist as a means toward adaptation to its environment. Advances in the understanding of cognition have made the study of learning a necessary component of psychological as well as educational research (Glaser, 1991). Additionally, a keener awareness of the learning process allows psychology the discerning perspective between normal and adaptive behavior versus that which is maladaptive and abnormal, and enables appropriate prevention, intervention, and treatment.

Glaser, R. (1991). The maturing of the relationship between the science of learning and cognition and educational practice. Learning and Instruction, 1(2), 129-144. doi: 10.1016/0959- 4752(91)90023-2

Olson, M. H. & Hergenhahn, B. R., (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Relationship between Learning and Cognition. (n.d.). Activities for the elderly. Retrieved February 24, 2011, from examination/mental-exam/cognition/Relationship-Between-Learning-And- Cognition.html

Thoughts on Emerging Adulthood

In emerging adulthood, many individuals continue to experience the sustained struggle of self-identification begun during adolescence. Although traditionally, developmentalists believed the struggle for self-identity was conquered during adolescence, however, the thinking has changed. This struggle may continue through the twenties for many young adults. As the social character of this age group changes with greater availability of educational options and the delay of traditional milestones, equally changed is the personal attainment of identity. Additionally, as our culture has become more diverse, this affects cultural affiliation which is a significant part of one's identity.

Some developmentalists suggest ethnic and vocational identity are the two most difficult parts of identity that may require further development during this stage. In the United States, almost half of the members of this life stage are children of immigrants or from ethnic descent, and for this group, identifying with their ethnicity becomes an important part of determining their self-identity. In the modern globalization now characteristic of this country, combining the many aspects of one's native culture (or that of the parents) is often an arduous task. One's ethnicity must be appropriately integrated for the successful attainment of personal identity.

Some psychologists question whether vocational identity is illusory given the current national financial environment. Another contemporary consideration is whether it is more realistic to have a job to satisfy financial needs while satisfying creative needs elsewhere as many emerging adults do. The traditional notion of steady, structured vocation may be neither realistic nor rational in our present economic climate. Considering these ideas, it changes the face of identifying a vocational identity. More people feel free to change this identity now more than any other time in history.

Middle Childhood and Adolescence Development

In Collaboration with M. Galarza-Garrett,  S. Staler, R. Taylor, P. Wilson

Adolescence and middle childhood, although a time for exploration and the excitement of freedom and gaining maturity, is also a time of struggle when teens work endlessly to identify themselves and come to terms with forthcoming adulthood and separation from family (Berger, 2008). Changes in the intensity of peer relationships help the adolescents in self-discovery and surmount the difficulties of their heightened sense of self. Peer pressure supports the adolescent, although the choice of friends can be either a help or a hindrance depending on the interests of the peers. Adolescence is a time of self-centeredness and self-consciousness when peer pressure can be immense. As teens face social pressures that include experimentation with drugs and other substances, sexuality, and a changing perspective on relationships, their strong social network and the guidance of familial alliances are powerful relationships that mitigate stress during this time.

Changes in Peer Relationships

Peer relationships establish a social connection in which individuals attempt to find their place within a specific social group (Berger, 2008). Peer relationships provide a positive climate for social and moral growth and foster peer interaction (Blume, 2006). Peer interaction leads to friendship and social support, which plays an important role in social development. Peers become the significant relationships maintained by adolescents.

Middle childhood marks significant change in the perspective of friendships, and relationships established during this time can last for many years. Usually by the age of four, children have friends and establish friendship preferences ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). During middle childhood, maturing peer relations depend upon a developing understanding of friendship (Blume, 2006). As children continue to interact within peer groups, their acceptance of friendship is an important part of the early stages of adolescence (Blume, 2006).

Changes in peer relationships during adolescence differ from middle childhood, as they are based on commonality rather than convenience (Blume, 2006) although they are also based on emotional connectivity (Berger, 2008). Members of peer groups often dress alike, have similar interests and music preferences, appreciate the same humor, and share secrets ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). Adolescents commonly experience betrayal when rejected by peers ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). As relationships develop, adolescents pay greater attention to social rules, and how teens are treated by their peers designates their social status (Blume, 2006).

The formation of cliques and clubs are venues where children bond together and often exclude others (Berger, 2008). Being ostracized by a group has a stronger effect during adolescence and can affect self-esteem (Berger, 2008, Blume, 2006). Maintaining the group's exclusivity is a typical phenomenon in adolescence that fuels their need for specialness (Blume, 2006). To help children foster good peer relationships, parents can create strong bonds with their children, build their self-esteem, assist in the development of their decision-making abilities, and take an interest in their activities and friendships.

Aspects of Adolescent Egocentrism

Adolescent egocentrism is a developmentally normal cognitive limitation in adolescents sustained by the belief others are interested in and attentive to their behavior and appearance (Rycek, Stuhr, McDermott, Benker, & Swartz, 1998). According to Berger (2008), adolescents construct an imaginary audience creating a heightened self-consciousness. Focus on oneself, to the exclusion of others is characteristic of this type of adolescent thinking (Berger, 2008). Unrealistic thinking characterizes the constant thought of how others see them, and they ruminate and analyze private thoughts and feelings and every aspect of their behavior, imagining the future and reflecting on previous experience (Rycek et al., 1998). Adolescent egocentrism creates a hyper vigilant and usually distorted self-consciousness and self-centeredness that limits the freedom of action.

According to Berger (2008), adolescent egocentrism leads to false conclusions including the invincibility fable which leads adolescents to act without consideration of consequence, and promotes the notion they are untouchable or invincible. Another false conclusion is the personal fable in which adolescents maintain an unrealistic, almost mythical perception of themselves and their experiences (Berger, 2008). Additionally, adolescent egocentrism leads to the creation of the imaginary audience when the teen imagines the intense interest and scrutiny of their behavior by others (Berger, 2008). Some research finds adolescent egocentrism more prevalent in females and it increases during early adolescence, peaks at about 14 to 16, and decreases during later adolescence (Rycek et al., 1998).

Common Pressures Faced in Adolescence

Peer Pressure

During adolescence, teens develop intense relationships with their peers in an effort to gain perspective and an understanding of their personal identity (Berger, 2008). The positive and negative aspects of peer pressure exert significant influence on the adolescent as they strive toward this goal (Oak, 2000). Although negative peer pressure is most commonly referenced, positive peer pressure can encourage adolescents to develop healthy values and positive attitudes, respect for others, and safe, yet challenging activities. Having positive peer relations is a constructive way to induce positive change in the adolescent's personality and lifestyle (Oak, 2000). On the contrary, negative peer pressure induces adolescents to please friends and take part in activities they may not necessarily choose by their own accord, and while working toward identifying the self, they tend to become lost in the identification of the group (Oak, 2000). Once a teen loses a sense of self, she may have a difficult time differentiating between herself and the group and experience identity confusion. Group decision making leaves the individual at the whim of the group (Oak, 2000).

Drug Use and Abuse

Experimentation with drugs is the product of peer pressure, curiosity, and the adolescent compulsion toward excitement and sensation ("Teens and Addiction," n.d.). Teens use drugs in an attempt to maintain status within the peer group, for personal enjoyment, to cope, relax, or relieve the stress of adolescent life (Berger, 2010). Although most teenagers do not become addicted to their drug of choice, many fail to address the needs that initially compel them toward experimentation with the drug. Peer pressure may promote continued use and within this cycle, the adolescent believes the drugs help them relax and relieve stress and other problems ("Teens and Addiction," n.d.).

Dating and Sexuality

During the teenage years sexual impulses are at their strongest (Berger, 2008). Changes in behavior occur, contrasting the childhood dislike of the opposite sex. Relationships begin to accommodate commonality and companionship, rather than sexual desire (Berger, 2008). During this period a teenager begins to explore sexuality and may begin relationships with the opposite sex. When the adolescent starts dating, balanced emotional support at home and with friends is essential (Berger, 2008). Peer support assists in the balance of emotions while they experience the positive and negative effects of teenage romance. Even though most romantic relationships begun during adolescence are short lived, they can cause the teen to experience rejection, sadness, depression, and anger (Berger, 2008). These experiences are usually manageable and are mitigated by a balanced and supportive family and social environment.

Changes within Family Relationships

As children become teens, they continue their search for independence, particularly from the family (Berger, 2008). Teens often argue with parents about daily decisions and other more significant issues, ethics, and beliefs. Family activities gradually change as adolescents choose to spend more time with peers than family. The pressures of complying with family activities can cause rebellious behavior when not handled properly by the parents (Berger, 2008).

Peer pressure is a common challenge faced by teenagers. The need to belong and connect to a group may cause an adjustment of behavior and physical appearance to accommodate the consensus of the group. Intense pressure occurs when teens compromise family values or religious beliefs for an opportunity to belong (Berger, 2008). Negative peer pressure can lead to the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs at an early age. Failure to inform teenagers of the consequences of such abuse can result in abusive behavior and future addiction issues.


Middle childhood and adolescence can be a difficult time fraught with acute self-consciousness, difficulties in peer and familial relationships, and the pressures of society, self, and culture (Berger, 2008). As teens continue to discover and create a personal identity, these pressures confuse and challenge adolescents with an unrealistic perception of scrutiny and judgment. Adolescent egocentrism produces faulty conclusions including the invincibility fable, personal fable, and the imaginary audience, all of which exert tremendous pressure on the child. Substance exploration and abuse cause critical issues with some teens and parental guidance and positive peer associations are essential for the success of this age group. Choices made by the teen during this time are consequential to their ultimate growth and development and may reflect their decisive nature to thrive or simply survive.

Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth


Blume, L.B. (2006)., Inc. Retrieved from

Oak, M. (2000). Negative and Positive Effects of Peer Pressure. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from pressure.html

Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it? (2008, February 5). Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development / Home. Retrieved January 16, 2011, from it.html

Rycek, R. F., Stuhr, S. L., McDermott, J., Benker, J., & Swartz, M. D. (1998). Adolescent egocentrism and cognitive functioning during late adolescence. Adolescence. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from;col1

Teens and Addiction. (n.d.). Teen Drug Abuse Home Page - Teen Drug Abuse and Addiction - Find Help for Teen Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from http://www.teen-drug-


Adolescence, although a time for exploration and the excitement of freedom and gaining maturity is also a time of struggle when teens work endlessly to identify self and come to terms with forthcoming adulthood and separation from family (Berger, 2008). Generally, adolescence is a time during which teens experience less confidence which can leave room for low self-esteem, depression, and other emotional conditions. It is also a time when adolescent individuals are prone to choices that may not benefit them and may add to the cycle of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and more seemingly insurmountable challenges. According to many, the sobering effects of self-awareness can cause clinical depression.

Successful prevention includes ongoing parental guidance and influence, and positive peer support and close relationships which help adolescents identify self and deal with cliques and other social challenges. Peers additionally help adolescents with self-esteem issues and easing maturity. Relationships with peers are crucial during this time, but parental guidance and ongoing communication and maintaining positive relationships with peers of both sexes and adults is crucial as social support provides comfort and reassurance. Berger's (2008) example of therapeutic foster care that provides intensive care giving to young troubled adolescents provides close monitoring by a foster parent who mentors the individual and builds a relationship with the child and other adults in the child's life. Through this relationship, delinquency is lessened.

Berger (2008) mentions massive ad campaigns in Florida and California for which teens helped to design the publicity. These campaigns cut adolescent smoking in half. Programs like these need to be carefully designed to avoid generational forgetting. In any program, designing a social network on which the individual can rely for support is ultimately necessary.

Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Infancy and Early Childhood Development

For children of all cultures, the care and nurturing available in the early childhood environment is significant and essential to biological and social growth (Berger, 2008). Family and caregiver involvement perpetuate neural processes, which may affect the lifelong cognitive processes of the human organism. Accordingly, styles of nurture and parenting have tremendous effects on the modeling of the child and contribute to the lifelong capacity to either flourish or simply survive. The prevailing perspective of the growing child is powerfully influenced by the environment, especially that of the family and those who have an intimate relationship to the child. Research suggests as the child moves into early education, appropriately organized programs are likely to advance both cognitive and social skills, although there are a variety of ideas regarding the appropriate educational experience. There is, however, consensus on the ability of the early environment to exert tremendous long-term influence on the growing child.

                                           Effect of Families on Development
The stunning growth and development that characterizes the first two years of a child's life is unparalleled throughout the balance of the life span as the infant brain triples in size during this time (Berger, 2008). In the first few months of life, brain growth is tremendous, and the neural environment in the cortex increases exponentially (Berger, 2008). Although some brain development during infancy and early childhood is the natural process of the maturing child, experience is essential for experience-expectant brain development. Growth is substantial in the domains of the body, mind, and social relationships, and parents, caregivers, and culture are pivotal to the success of the child's development (Berger, 2008). The child's personal experience of the environment plays an equally significant role in experience-dependent brain development (Kolb, 2000).

To accommodate the rapid growth of the neural system, experience is crucial for the communicative nature between the dendrites and synapses (Kolb, 2000). If the neurons remain undeveloped, they atrophy, and brain regions will be reappointed to other functions (Berger, 2008). According to Berger (2008), through the continual reflexive process of mental absorption and accommodation during the first four months, infants learn how to adapt to their environment and these reflexes provide the foundation for intelligence. According to the information-processing theory, the perceptions of a young infant are consistent with the opportunities for this reflexive action. When exposed to a wider range of experience, the infant brain uses the reflexive mental process and develops a broader foundation for neural processing and intelligence (Kolb, 2000).

                                          Parenting Styles and Their Influence

According to Berger (2008), parenting styles influence children's daily lives and can modify the fundamental character of their lifelong perspective. With the wide variety of parental beliefs regarding how children learn, thrive, and behave, there are an equal number of theories on parenting style and interaction (Berger, 2008). Diana Baumrind identified a variety of parental characteristics including the level of parental affection and warmth, differences in discipline strategies, and parental interaction (Berger, 2008). Additionally, she found significant differences in the communicative character between the parent and child, and in the parents' expectations for the child's age-appropriate behavior. Based upon these dimensions, Baumrind developed her theory of three patterns of parenting (Berger, 2008).

Authoritarian parenting has high behavioral standards, strict, and sometimes physical punishment, and uses less communication than other styles of parenting (Berger, 2008). These parents dictate rules clearly and hold the child to relatively high standards. They neither accept the opinions of children nor show them affection nor emotional attachment. Parents who use this style love their children although their aloof relationship may not make it apparent (Berger, 2008). Children raised under this strict form of parenting are more likely to be quiet, conscientious, and obedient, but tend to be unhappy, and may be prone to guilt or depression throughout their lives (Berger, 2008) They learn to internalize frustrations and tend to blame themselves during challenging situations. Often during adolescence, they rebel and leave home before age 20.

Permissive parenting is a much less demanding style partly because of the low expectations the parent has for the child's maturity (Berger, 2008). Permissive parents are nurturing and accepting, and accommodate and welcome the opinions of the child. They tend to show an abundance of affection to their children and refrain from showing impatience. They consider themselves friends to their children and do not acknowledge the powerful influence they have on their children's development (Berger, 2008). Children raised in this environment tend to be unhappy and ineffective in peer relationships (Baumrind, 1971). They may lack emotional regulation, which causes problems in maintaining mature relationships and can leave them isolated and unhappy (Baumrind, 1971). Frequently these children have difficulty separating from their parents even into early adulthood.

Authoritative parents set limits and enforce rules while showing respect and listening to children (Baumrind, 1971). Reasonable mature behavior is expected but parents do not punish harshly for non-compliant behavior (Baumrind, 1983). These parents provide guidance rather than authority, and consider themselves neither an authority nor friend to the child. Authoritative parents raise successful, articulate children, content with themselves, appreciative of others, and well liked by peers. Their characters are especially valued in individualist cultures where initiative is appreciated (Baumrind, 1971).

Authoritative parenting is definitively the most efficient, reasonable, and appropriate parenting style (Baumrind, 1971). It provides reasonable limitations in the child's developmental environment with enforced rules, and fosters a sense of self-respect while providing the child with guidance and the experience of developing respected opinions. It also teaches the child how to voice an opinion appropriately while rightfully acknowledging and respecting the opinions of others. This form of parenting teaches children appropriateness, which contributes to their fluid social abilities (Baumrind, 1971).

Baumrind identified a style she called harmonious, in which parents were nonconforming, provided a significantly enriched environment, and encouraged independence (Baumrind, 1983). Parents of this style lived parallel to mainstream society but not in opposition to it. "In their hierarchy of values, honesty, harmony, justice, and rationality in human relations took precedence over power, achievement, control, and order" (Baumrind, 1983, p. 101). Baumrind (1971) thought it would be interesting to study the effects of this humanistic style of parenting and its effect on childhood development.

                     Influences of Early Childhood Education in Cognitive Development
Research proves high quality programs during early childhood advance cognitive and social skills (Berger, 2008). Especially for low-income families, children show lasting improvements in language and social skills. Longitudinal studies on several programs for low-income children have shown that early childhood education reduces problematic behavior in the future. These students are less likely to need special education curriculum, and are more likely to become employed, law-abiding citizens (Berger, 2008).

Although there is no consensus on the best program for early childhood education, programs that emphasize learning and offer extensive practice in language, motor skills, and basic number skills seem to offer the best for most children (Berger, 2008). More research and longitudinal studies are necessary to determine the definitive benefits of early childhood education on children's growing cognitive abilities. Further information is necessary to provide appropriate strategies for the two to six-year-old age group. Research suggests the success of early childhood educational programs depends on quality. According to Berger (2008), children most easily learn with a clear curriculum and a low adult-child ratio. Continuity is important for children, and consistent teacher training is imperative.


The impressive biological changes and acquisition of learning during the first few years of life is remarkable. Although varying theories explain how this process transpires, the surrounding environment exerts powerful influence on the child's abilities during the first few years, and lays groundwork for the duration of the life span (Baumrind, 1971). Social interaction enables and promotes biological and neural changes that form the child's fundamental system for future cognitive processes, and the maturing child develops the biological readiness for learning. Cultures, learning styles, and social contexts vary around the world, although the basic premise of social interaction applies cross culturally. The quality of care in both the familial environment and in the child's early education influences lifelong patterns of mental health and happiness. These patterns continue to contribute to the prevailing quality of life, and as such, demand the attention and care of family, society, and culture.


Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology, 4(1, Pt.2), 1-103. doi: 10.1037/h0030372

Baumrind, D. (1983). Rejoinder to Lewis's reinterpretation of parental firm control effects: Are authoritative families really harmonious? Psychological Bulletin, 94(1), 132-142. doi: 10.1037//0033-2909.94.1.132

Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Kolb, B. (2000). Experience and the developing brain. Developmental Psychology, 39(4), 24-27. Retrieved January 4, 2011, from ProQuest.

Life Span Perspective

The life span perspective seeks to understand people and the dynamic nature of development and change throughout their lifetime (Berger, 2008). It not only seeks to address the constant change of life, but also how individuals process and accommodate the movement and evolution in their lives (Berger, 2008). Various theories offer a range of ideas regarding the effects and influences in the nature and nurture controversy. Contemporary psychological wisdom assumes a more comprehensive understanding of the two and believes that the combination influences, rather than determines development (Berger, 2008).

The Multi-Dimensional View

Rather than eveloping its basis in theory, the life span perspective is based on observation, experience, and experiment. It embraces the span of people's lives in all the various contexts, and observes them at various, and often critical points along the continuum of their lifetime. The wide spectrum of ages, financial status, ethnicities, sexual orientations, cultures, and nationalities give the life span perspective a highly dimensional viewpoint that seeks to identify similarities and differences that exist universally and naturally in all people (Berger, 2008).

Several facets characterize life span development. It is multidirectional in its embrace and acceptance of change as it evolves naturally in many directions, rather than from a mechanistic and linear perspective (Berger, 2008). It encompasses gains and losses, natural predictable growth and unexpected transformations (Berger, 2008). As it accommodates life in its myriad situations, events, and contexts, it is multi-contextual. Its multicultural nature applies the same fundamental parameters cross culturally, and accepts that many cultures affect how people develop (Berger, 2008). The lifespan perspective is a composite of informative contributions and insights from many fields other than psychology and as such, considered multidisciplinary. Human development is plastic and its primary characteristic is change and development, as individual traits may be changed or modified at any stage in the life span. According to Berger (2008), "Change is ongoing, although neither random nor easy" (p. 7). The lifespan perspective must accommodate these unique characterizations of the human psyche in its observation, practice, and study.

Theories of Lifespan Development

Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis

Two main theories are Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development (Berger, 2008). Both theories look inward at internal conflicts and the management of crisis and internal drives. Freud's perspective maintains human behavior begins with unconscious conflicts and drives. He developed the three stages in child development that include oral, anal, and phallic, and concluded that parental reaction to the child's erotic drives creates deep and lasting influence on the personality and lifelong development (Berger, 2008).

In Freud's theory, the three stages are characterized by parts of the body taking on an erotic nature (Berger, 2008). The first stage during infancy is the oral stage that centers on the mouth. In the early childhood years, the anus becomes the erotic center, and during the preschool years the phallic stage and the penis become the erotic focus. Freud claims the phallic stage produces pride in boys and envy in girls. Next is the latency stage, and then the genital stage begins at adolescence and lasts throughout the lifespan. Freud theorized that during the stages, developmental needs and challenges are associated with sensual satisfaction according to the erotic focal point of the body.

Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development
Erikson emphasized the interchange between the development of the human psyche in childhood and its social influences (Berger, 2008). His psychoanalytic theory addresses how the response of parents, society, history, and cultural patterns affect childhood development. Erikson perceived significance in cultural diversity and social change. He believed psychological crisis motivates growth and development, especially during the eight stages of psychosocial development that involve the resolution of a crisis as a prelude to entering the next stage of development (Berger, 2008).
Psychoanalytic and other theories have contributed to a broader perspective of human development, and have certainly brought to light the powerful influence exerted by early childhood experiences on development throughout the lifetime (Berger, 2008). Although incomplete on their own, the variety of theories contributes to a multi-dimensional perspective that enables psychologists to draw from more than one source or perspective (Berger, 2008). Various theories offer a wider perspective of genetic and environmental influences, and their many forms of effect on human development.

The Effects of Heredity and the Environment

According to Berger (2008), nature refers to inherited traits, and nurture to extrinsic affects that influence individuals from birth throughout the lifetime. The exchange between nature and nurture is complex and dynamic, as both exert constant influence on development. Although the unique composite of contributing genetic and environmental factors affect individuals in various ways, everyone is an amalgam of these influences ("Nature-nurture controversy," 2001). The exchange is somewhat indeterminable, although many times it is apparent which influences have exerted a more significant effect. The fundamental inherited temperament and the individual's biology is the starting point for influences and experiences that will mold the person throughout the life span. The exchange between this starting point and the various experiences and situations, combined with the universal tendencies of the culture and all of humanity combine to form the personally dynamic nature of the individual (Berger, 2008). Although severe genetic and biological situations may exert more influence on the individual, equally as powerful are extraordinary nurturing events and situations (Kempler, 2001). Both intrinsic states and environmental influences modify and affect development and present a variety of circumstances and experiences to which individuals must react, and limitations under which they must learn to function ("Nature-nurture controversy," 2001). These experiences and circumstances in which we develop affect the ongoing result of our development (Berger, 2008).


The life span perspective embraces the dynamic continuum of the human spirit, in both its universal and personally unique evolving nature (Berger, 2008). The interchange of genetics and the environment determine the direction and manner in which these changes mold the individual. Certain characteristics and situations weigh more heavily than others. The various theories of the life span perspective allow a multi-dimensional viewpoint by which to have a more accurate understanding of the universal and unique situations that challenge individuals across their lifetimes. From this perspective, psychologists unravel the complex character of the human condition in hopes of mending wounds and continually learning from its resilient nature.

Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Kempler, B. (2001). Jung Society of Atlanta - Resilience of the Human Spirit. Jung Society of Atlanta - Provides fellowship & education relating to the work of Carl Jung. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from

Nature-nurture controversy. (2001, April 6). Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved December 19, 2010, from

Late Adulthood and End of Life

Late adulthood is a time of reflection, enjoying friends, family, and grandchildren, and maintaining health in preparation for the final years of the lifespan. Although genetics play a significant role in the quality of life during these final years, individuals who modify destructive lifestyles and embark on healthier options will experience an improvement in their health and sense of wellbeing (Berger, 2008). During this stage of adulthood, older adults remain socially active and independent rather than subjecting themselves to isolation and withdrawal (Berger, 2008). As more aging adults continue to live healthy, socially active lives and maintain important family roles, it is important to refrain from stereotypical thought and the negativity of ageism, which can contribute to their premature decline. With technology and high quality medical care, aging adults continue to be a valuable resource for younger generations.

Promoting Health and Wellness into Late Adulthood

Healthy habits and daily routines are essential for promoting health and wellness into late adulthood. Smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, and overeating cost many individuals their ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle as they age (Berger, 2008). Exercise and a healthy diet avert many common diseases and increases energy in the elderly. Changing daily habits, even late in life can help diminish some of the effects of aging (Berger, 2008). According to Berger (2008), almost all diseases and chronic conditions normally associated with aging are powerfully influenced by one's daily routines and habits.

Mitigating Negative Aspects of Aging

Health habits are crucial to physical well-being (Berger, 2008). Other than positive changes in one's daily routines and habits, early detection and maintenance of chronic conditions and diseases and preventive medicine helps to mitigate the negative aspects of aging. When used in conjunction with maintaining a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and routine exercise, healthy choices during late adulthood make a significant difference in health and wellbeing. Preventive medicine and ongoing, high-quality medical care can maintain health and lessen the often harsh effects of aging. Genetics, cultural norms, levels of stress, available medical care, attitudes about preventive medicine, and social bias toward the elderly contribute to remarkable differences in aging populations (Berger, 2008).

Ageism and Stereotypes Associated with Late Adulthood

In American culture, late adulthood is fraught with stereotypes and the negative perceptions of older adults (Busse, 1968). Although some stereotypes are purely in jest, others maintain a negative portrayal of impotency and incompetency (Nuessel, 1983). Butler (1969) calls the use of negative bias against older adults ageism. Ageism and negative stereotypes threaten the elderly with cognitive decline directly rooted in the aging individual's surrounding social context. According to Berger (2008), societal and cultural attitudes toward the elderly have powerful and significant effects on their self-identification, sense of importance, and self-confidence.

Ageism makes the elderly appear less intelligent than they are, to the detriment of their cognitive abilities (Berger, 2008). When aging adults have fears rooted in stereotypes, there is a possibility that these fears will undermine normal thinking (Berger, 2008). Lack of confidence impairs memory, and negative expectations and responses can affect the cognition of aging adults. It is imperative for their health and wellbeing to avoid stereotypes and attitudes that reflect negative beliefs and biases toward the abilities of this age group.

Various Views of Death and Dying at Different Points in Human Development


According to Berger (2008), "the meaning assigned to death--either the person’s own death or the death of another person--depends partly on cognitive maturation and personal experience" (p. 755). Dying children often fear abandonment of loved ones, especially the parents, more than they fear the idea of death itself. Experts suggest parents and loved ones maintain constant vigil with sick children to eliminate this fear and loneliness (Berger, 2008). Children experience death and mourn in a variety of ways, so when they lose a parent, sibling, or other significant person or pet, any signs of mourning should be addressed (Berger, 2008). Even children at age two may have some understanding of death although with their limited experience of life, their perspective is unlike that of older children and adults. At any age, adults should be attentive to children's concerns and validate their experiences (Berger, 2008).


Death and dying are extremely sensitive issues during adolescence (Neuspiel & Kuller, 1985). Although many teens are morbidly fascinated by death, experiencing the death of a loved one die during this time, or facing death themselves can deeply impact their psychological state of mind and have a long-term effect on their fundamental perception of life. During this stage of development, when adolescents may appear fearless, risk-taking behavior increases, and death is romanticized, a direct experience of death or the prospect of dying, alters their sense of reality (Neuspiel & Kuller, 1985).


Once individuals enter responsible relationships with work and family, there is a major shift in attitudes of death and dying (Berger, 2008). Adults have no romantic notions concerning death, and it becomes a dreaded experience. Responsible adults leave risk-taking behavior behind and make changes in their lives, which will accommodate personal longevity. According to Berger (2008), between the ages of 25 and 60, even for the terminally ill, their worries are not because of the idea of dying, but the concern of leaving business and relationships incomplete. The death of friends and loved ones during this time is unacceptable and many have trouble realistically facing such losses.

Late Adulthood

According to many developmentalists, a healthy acceptance of one's own mortality is a sign of a positive and stable mental state during the later years of the lifespan. Completing affairs such as wills and health proxies is not a sign of giving up, but accepting the inevitable, and finding a sense of completion in worldly affairs. Once these matters have been finalized, many of the elderly continue to maintain their health and independence with a positive outlook. At any age, "it is important to remember that grieving is a constructive process that results in a transition from one set of roles to another" (Wass & Myers, 1982, p. 135). This transition, although normal can be painful whether one is grieving for oneself or for others.

Cultural Attitudes toward Death and Dying

Most of the world's religions and cultures have rituals and beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife (Berger, 2008). According to Berger (2008), "for all people throughout history, religious and spiritual concerns often become particularly important at death" (p. 762).

Not only for the dying individual, but also equally important for the dying person's family and friends, religious belief systems provide hope and lessen the helplessness commonly experienced during this time. Religious and spiritual beliefs help the dying make the transition between life and death without fear, and allows them to maintain a sense of worth and meaning in their existence throughout the transition.


Late adulthood is a definitive culmination of the stages of life. Although genetics plays a significant role in the health and wellbeing of the elderly, equally important is maintaining a positive outlook and healthy habits such as diet, exercise, routine physical examinations, and the care of diseases and conditions (Berger, 2008). Although ageism and ignorant and unfair stereotypes hasten the demise of some of the elderly (Nussel, 1982), many maintain happy, healthy, and rich lives until their final transition to death. It is important to maintain a positive perspective and treat older adults with the respect and care they deserve. Death and dying are significant experiences in every culture, and the rituals and beliefs that surround these ideas allow individuals to accomplish the transition fearlessly and help friends and relatives cope with their loss (Berger, 2008, Wass & Myers, 1982).


Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Busse, I. W. (1968). Viewpoint: prejudice and gerontology. The Gerontologist, 8(2), 268-290 doi:10.1093/geront/8.2.66

Butler, R. N. (1969). Age-ism: another form of bigotry. The Gerontologist, 9, 243-246. doi:10.1093/geront/9.4

Neuspiel, D. R., & Kuller, L. H. (1985). Sudden and Unexpected Natural Death in Childhood and Adolescence. Journal of the American Medical Association, 254(10), 1321-1325. doi: 10.1001/jama.1985.03360100071016

Nuessel, F. H. (1982). The language of ageism. The Gerontologist, 22, 273-276. doi: 10.1093/geront/22.3.273

Wass, H., & Myers, J. E. (1982). Psychological aspects of death among the elderly: a review of the literature. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 131-137.

Sources of Motivation

The variety of individual perceptions is equal to the number of sources of motivation and the amount of influence it has on the individual (Wernimont, Toren, & Kapell, 1970). Although there are distinct differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors, the degree to which individuals experience their weight cannot be neatly or generally categorized (Wernimont, et al., 1970). For some individuals, the intrinsic mechanism of spiritual discovery will overpower the drive to excel at work or attain mental prowess, wheras others find a physical challenge a substantial motivator (Deckers, 2010). The proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" continually motivates some individuals. Whatever the genesis of the motivation, it is the desired result that perpetuates the behavior in movement toward the accomplishment (Deckers, 2010).

Motivation Defined

According to Deckers (2010), motivation is the process by which a person is moved into action. The behavior associated with motivation is internally motivated or incented by external factors and may not be immediate or spontaneous (Deckers, 2010). Motives are inextricably linked to incentives as accomplishing the goal provides the attainment of the incentive, which is the motivating factor in the behavior (Deckers, 2010). Motivation is a process that begins with an unfulfilled need that causes tension that prompts drive and then behavior that results in the satisfaction of the original need, consequently reducing or eliminating the tension ("Motivation," 2003).

Sources of Motivation

Sources of motivation include internal cues such as biological and psychological states, emotional responses, and other intrinsic elements such as self-esteem developed over time from personal life experiences (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001), or from an evolutionary perspective, through common history as a species (Deckers, 2010). External or environmental sources are events and situations that are available from the environment and are referred to as incentives and goals (Deckers, 2010). Deckers (2010) defines environmental motivations as incentives and goals that pull an individual toward a specific result, and internal biological and psychological motivations push an individual into action. According to Becker, Mcelvany, and Kortenbruck (2010), there is a distinct difference in individual response to intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Some intrinsically motivated individuals will achieve deeper levels of understanding and accomplishment, although extrinsic motivating factors serve to accomplish a variety of goals for others (Becker et al., 2010). Emotions are a source of motivation as are external incentives such as money, desire for specific position, and positive regard by others.

The Relationship between Motivation and Behavior

Motivation is goal-oriented, and behavior is the vehicle by which one can meet or accomplish the goal (Deckers, 2005). When individuals are motivated, they initiate specific behavior to meet needs to reach their goal (Deckers, 2010). Behavior occurs from a desire to meet a perceived need that one is motivated to satisfy or fulfill, and the motivation is fulfilled by performing behavior aligned with accomplishing the specific goal (Deckers, 2010). For example, if the need is hunger, this need becomes the motivating factor, which is fulfilled or satisfied by a behavior that will result in eating. Need or desire is the prelude to behavior that motivates toward accomplishing the goal to quench the desire or need (Deckers, 2010).

Motivation Exhibited in Behavior

Several reasons exist for the extent to which motivation is exhibited in behavior (Becker et al., 2010). In some situations, a lack of self-control, misunderstanding the appropriate social protocol, the strength of the motivating emotion, and other mitigating factors determine the extent to which the motivation is apparent in behavior (Becker et al., 2010). Observable exhibition of motivation in behavior is apparent in a person working hard at a job because he is highly motivated by earning money. If a woman is motivated by the attention of attractive men, she will be motivated to act in a specific manner that she believes will draw their attention. If individuals are motivated by altruism, they will be inclined to seek out those in need. Emotions, especially when they are strong, are readily apparent in behavior (Crocker & Wolve, 2001). Duration and persistence are observable motivational attributes exhibited in the behavior of the man who spends many years learning his trade until he becomes a master (Deckers, 2010). The motivation becomes apparent in behavior as it is directly related to the motivation because it accomplishes the goal. Motivation moves a person into action, which becomes behavior that is aligned with the motivation (Deckers, 2010).


Sources of motivation are as varied as the individual from whom they emanate, as are the varying degrees and length of term in which they hold their incentive. In the continuum of neurological and other biological processes that enable and compel us to behave, there are emotional and other intrinsic and external motivating factors that drive us (Deckers, 2010). It is by these processes that humans motivate and are motivated to behave according to conscious and unconscious motives that maintain the species and meet evolutionary and personal needs and desires (Wickens, 2005). In the study of biological, psychological, and environmental variables that comprise motivation, psychology can determine the contributions of neurological, mental, and material incentives that motivate individuals (Deckers, 2010). In the application of understanding these fundamental drives, the psychological sciences can assist in alleviating dysfunction and quelling maladaptive behaviors that rob the human psyche of the normal and positive aspects of human motivation and behavior.


Becker, M., Mcelvany, N., & Kortenbruck, M. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation as predictors of reading literacy: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0020084

Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. T. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth. Psychological Review, 108(3), 593-623. doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.108.3.593
Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, Psychological, and Environmental. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Motivation. (2003). In The New Penguin Business Dictionary. Retrieved from

Wernimont, P. F., Toren, P., & Kapell, H. (1970). Comparison of sources of personal satisfaction and of work motivation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 54(1), 95-102. doi: 10.1037/h0028663

Wickens A.P. (2005). Foundations of Biopsychology (2nd ed.). New York: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Brain Structures and Functions Associated with Motivation

Several structures of the brain influence the initiation and maintenance of the motivation required for engaging in healthy eating (Deckers, 2010). Human food consumption implicates evolutionary factors such as the pleasurable reinforcement of endorphins and serotonin activity that produce a sense of fullness and well-being after eating (Placidi et al., 2004). To deny some of these reinforcing experiences, at least initially, there is often difficulty in maintaining changes in the diet. Many intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence the implementation of new and specific behavior such as maintaining a healthy diet (Deckers, 2010). Ultimately, success has its roots in the individual's capacity to maintain continual motivation to engage in the chosen behavior. Many brain structures contribute to that capacity.

Intrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating

Brain Structures Involved in Motivation

Maintaining motivation for healthy eating partly depends on a set of structures of the limbic system that includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, and the amygdala (Wickens, 2005). These structures affect the formation of new memories and regulate emotions that contribute to maintaining a positive attitude about diet changes (Wickens, 2005). The limbic system is connected to reward and motivation, which is a necessary factor in maintaining a new diet and feeling a sense of reward in its accomplishment (Adcock et al., 2006). Adcock et al. (2006) found that reward strengthened motivation and helped new memory formation when dopamine is released in the hippocampus. According to DeVietti and Kirkpatrick (1977), the stimulation of the amygdala was critical in recalling new learning and retaining new habits, such as engaging in healthy eating. The highly developed human prefrontal cortex exerts control over impulsive behavior and the ability to make good judgments regarding food choices (Spinks, n.d.).

Additional areas of the brain include the mesolimbic opioid and dopamine circuits implicated in abnormally increased appetite for and consumption of food (Placidi et al., 2004). Increased appetite is often associated with injury or dysfunction in the hypothalamus (Placidi et al., 2004). According to Deckers (2010), within brain structures, neurons send, receive, and transmit information through electrical and chemical stimulation. One of the chemical transmitters is dopamine, which is associated with reward and pleasurable sensations, and is implicated in the satisfaction experienced by maintaining a healthy diet (Wickens, 2010).

Evolutionary Factors

One of the first challenges of eating healthy is the intrinsic and sometimes indiscriminate need to eat (Deckers, 2010). When individuals are hungry, there is a natural tendency to eat whatever is most readily available (Deckers, 2010). The hypothalamus regulates the evolutionary response to hunger and thirst, and can signal hunger in response to radical changes in the diet (Wickens, 2005). According to Deckers (2010), the dopamine system powerfully affects the motivational aspects of thinking. From an evolutionary standpoint, the dopamine system functions to promote pleasure for survival activities like eating, drinking, and sex (Deckers, 2010). Dopamine is pleasure inducing, so people are motivated toward behaviors that cause dopamine to release into the system (Deckers, 2010). When embarking on a new eating regime, there may be some challenge to this system, as some of the pleasurable sensations of eating are temporarily withdrawn or modified.

Genetic Factors

Genetic and cultural factors may influence the ability to engage in healthy eating. These may include biological predispositions including allergies, food intolerances, and a predisposition to cultural flavors (Wickens, 2007). According to Hotelling and Liston (2004), disordered eating is a hereditary factor that can exert influence on maintaining a healthy diet, and is often a hereditary factor just as alcoholism, depression, and substance abuse.

The frontal lobes function as the control center of our personality and enable the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate food choices (Deckers, 2010). In the case of culturally acceptable choices, the individual may need to reprogram ideas of acceptable foods and habits (Lockyear, 2004). Additionally, the inherited quality of general intelligence, regulated by the prefrontal cortex, is involved in making more intelligent lifestyle and eating choices (Deckers, 2010).

In the central nervous system, differences in genetic makeup affect perception of taste, degree of satiation, and other considerations that affect food intake (Wickens, 2007). Perceptions are regulated by several brain structures such as the prefrontal cortex, but are also affected by personal preference and experience, which involves brain structures involved in memory (Deckers, 2010). Other psychological factors that may have some genetic basis include the inability to cope with stress, unhappiness, and boredom (Deckers, 2010, Wickens, 2007). These emotions can challenge the motivation required to maintain healthy eating (Deckers, 2010).

Serotonin System

Individuals with more serotonin in the synapse usually eat less and can be more discerning in food choices (Placidi et al., 2004). This may be because the serotonin in the neural system provides a sense of well-being without needing food to provide this sense (Placidi et al., 2004). Less serotonin in the synapse can cause depression, which can cause weight gain and less desire to maintain a healthy diet. According to Placidi et al. (2004), changes in serotonin levels are directly linked to dieting and binge eating. The more serotonin available in the synapse, the more sated the individual remains, and the more discerning the appetite (Placidi et al., 2004).

Extrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating

Social Encouragement and Other Environmental Conditions

Social expectation and perception is a heavy factor in an individual's desire to maintain a diet that includes healthy food choices (Deckers, 2010). Various views and opinions can alter the perception of a healthy diet (Lockyear, 2004). The opinions of one's close social circle will either help or hinder motivation in maintaining healthy options (Lockyear, 2004). Social acceptance is a known psychological need (Deckers, 2010), and food choices can isolate or associate individuals in some social circumstances. Both isolation and association are effective extrinsic motivators that may affect food choices (Deckers, 2010). Another extrinsic motivator for engaging in healthy eating may involve a doctor's warning that without an alternative diet, the individual's health may be in jeopardy.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement from family and friends accounts for a better prognosis for creating and maintaining new diets and healthy lifestyles (Eat Out, 2010). Individuals whose families eat according to cultural norms may have difficulty convincing the family to be a positive influence, especially if the diet is not consistent with cultural traditional (Lockyear, 2004). Motivation may be enhanced or decreased by the effects of the family or friend's perspective of the new diet. Alternately, the family and friends may already have healthy diets and the individual may be coerced into engaging in behavior similar to family and friends. Some of these extrinsic motivations may become intrinsic when the individual experiences the sense of reward and accomplishment from maintaining the new healthy diet (Deckers, 2010).


Intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors are influenced by a variety of biological states, brain structures and their efficient functioning, which consequently influences the decision-making ability of the individual (Wickens, 2007). Some motivating factors are more influential than others are, although the individual's biological state is most significant. Motivating factors, while highly influential, must be processed according to the capable functioning of the brain and nervous system (Wickens, 2007). These key components play a significant role in the individual's psychological state and perceptive abilities (Wickens, 2005). Additionally, the brain and nervous system affect how the individual processes the motivating factors (Wickens, 2005). Whatever the motivating elements, the biological state will ultimately determine the individual's ability to mobilize the motivation necessary to engage in initiating and maintaining a healthy diet.


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