Monday, February 28, 2011

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

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