Development Across the Life Span: Nature Versus Nurture

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Development Across the Life Span: Nature versus Nurture
Barry University

What is Nature versus Nurture?
Development across the lifespan is one of the most interesting areas of psychology. The word development refers to human development which can be defined as “the scientific study of changes that occur in people as they age from conception until death.” (Ciccarelli, & White, 2009)Psychologists study this developmental change over time through several different methods. The book highlights three: Longitudinal design, cross-sectional design and cross-sequential design. Longitudinal design is a research design “in which one participant or group of participants is studied over a long period of time.” Cross sectional design differs from longitudinal design because cross-sectional designed research studies “several different age-groups of participants are studied at one particular time.” (Ciccarelli, & White)Cross-sequential designed research is a combination of the other two types; the cross-sequential research design studies participants by means of a cross-sequential design but they are also followed and assessed for a period of time no more than six years. A controversial topic associated with development across the lifespan is the theory of “Nature versus Nurture”. Nature versus nurture refers to the relationship between development and heredity and environmental factors. The answer lies on a spectrum between environmental factors and heredity. Psychologists on the environmental side are called empiricists. Empiricists believe that human development is fully influenced by a person’s environment. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the nativists. Nativists are psychologists that believe a person’s development is based completely on genetic factors. The facts are divided in relation to the two theories; on one hand our DNA is “the instruction for all of an organisms traits” (Ciccarelli, & White, 2009). The DNA of a person is determined by their set of genes. The Dominant genes determine which traits a person will have including skin color, eye color, hair color and things of that nature. Also temperament is well established at birth. Temperament can be defined as the behavioral characteristics that are fairly well established at birth, such as easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. But environmental factors play a role in social aspects of development, such as gender development. Take into example the Social Learning Theory. The social learning theory emphasizes learning through observation and imitation of models; gender role development is the cause of those processes. Children make observations about their parents and mimic their behavior, such as a son helping his dad mow the lawn. This behavior is reinforced positively if the behavior satisfies the correct gender role, since the son is helping his dad with mowing the lawn he will most likely be rewarded. However if the young boy was helping his mother try on women’s clothes the behavior would most likely be discouraged. Another theory that supports the influence of environmental factors on development is The Gender Schema Theory. The Gender Schema theory is a “Theory of gender identity acquisition in which a child develops a mental pattern, or schema, for being male or female and then organizes observed and learned behavior around that schema.” (Ciccarelli, & White, 2009) Today most psychologist hold less radical beliefs; a person’s development is based both on environmental and genetic factors. Psychologists continue to investigate this relationship in the field of “Evolutionary developmental Psychology”.

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