The Lifespan Perspective in Development


Studying human development, the various theories, and perspectives devoted to such a subject share one aspect in common, which can be understood through the term development. Development is defined as the progress through changes, and in that regard, the common characteristics of human development can be seen through tracing such changes. In that regard, teaming the term development with lifespan, results in the perspective in development, outlining the approach taken in such perspective. The points in the life cycle, at which changes occur, were considered critical. In that regard, the traditional approaches to human development outlined only these stages, e.g. “adulthood as long period of stability followed by a short span of unstable years immediately preceding death” (Boyd & Bee, 2009). The lifespan perspective, on the other hand, views development as occurring in every period of human life, i.e. through the human lifespan. In that regard, this paper provides an overview of the lifespan perspective in human development, the changes this perspective brought as well as the importance of such changes.

Lifespan Perspective

The key term in defining the lifespan perspective is lifelong, in which the emphasis is put on changes occurring through the whole life, with no age dominating the development. In that regard, the definition of such perspective focuses on the way changes occur “throughout life because of reciprocal influences between the individual and the environment” (Duncan, 2008). The development in such a perspective is “systematic changes and continuities over the lifespan, involving gains, losses, and neutral changes in physical, cognitive and psychological functioning” (Sigelman & Rider, 2008).


The acknowledgment of major changes taking place through the adult period of life, a period that was previously considered stable, was the driving force in the changes brought by the lifespan perspective. In that regard, such changes as career changes, divorce, marriage, etc, contribute to that the development continues through such stage. Additionally, the increase in life expectancy resulted in that older adults comprise a larger part of the population. Accordingly, lifespan theorists reconsidered and interpreted the changes at the stages of development, which were relatively ignored, in terms of the culture and the context, in which they occur (Boyd & Bee, 2009).

The changes brought by this view can be seen through the key elements emphasized in the lifespan perspective, which include plasticity, interdisciplinary research, and the multi-contextual nature of development. In other words, the changes imply the acknowledgment that there is a capacity at all ages for positive change, different perspectives should be applied to understand such changes, and the occurrence of such changes within interrelated contexts (Boyd & Bee, 2009).

Accordingly, the context of the lifespan perspective redefined the process of development, in which according to the new approach, development is a process that is open, situational, and observed as a successive sequence (Duncan, 2008). In terms of openness, the lifespan perspective perceives development as an open-ended process, which is individually shaped through people structuring their own environment and playing an active role in developing themselves. The situational process implies that socio-historical context the individuals through imposing such aspects as roles, expectations, measurements of intelligence and wisdom, etc (Duncan, 2008).

The Importance

The importance of the changes acknowledged by the lifespan perspective can be seen through the nature of the changes themselves. In that regard, the emphasis on the environment and the conceptuality might help in studying the role each of them plays in shaping human development, and accordingly, the factors and the possibility of their modification in the process, to optimize the development. Accordingly, the consideration of such individual differences that influencing the variations in development might help in identifying the role of each of nature and nurture in the development. In the latter, it can be seen that the lifespan perspective contributes to the explanation of the “internal models of experience” (Boyd & Bee, 2009), i.e. the individual interpretations of the same experiences differently affecting the individual.

In terms of the future, it is already apparent that the previous theories of development cannot explain constant changes in society and the external environment. In that regard, it can be assumed that changes and shifts in various factors will continue, and the shift to life expectancy might not be the last one. Accordingly, the lifespan perspective I better suited to explain the influence of such changes on human development and the consequent trends that might occur in the process.


It can be seen that the lifespan perspective in development acknowledges the changes as an inseparable aspect of human lives. This perspective allows considering the stages of the lifespan, which other theories and perspectives previously ignored, and accordingly, considering the factors that play a role in their development. Additionally, the acknowledgment of the individuality of the human experience can be added to the advantages of such a perspective, which makes this perspective a better aid in describing, explaining, and optimizing human development.


Boyd, D. R., & Bee, H. L. (2009). Lifespan development (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Duncan, B. (2008). Lifespan Developmental Perspective. Web.

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2008). Life-span human development (6th Ed. ed.): Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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