What Is Development?

Development is a process that creates growth and progress. The term can be used to describe economic growth, a new idea or product, and even social progress such as literacy or the availability of public services. The word can also be applied to human development, which is the process of growing up from infancy to adulthood. People who are interested in human development may study topics like child psychology, adolescent development, and lifespan developmental theory.

The goal of international development is to support efforts, as promoted by the UN Development Program, to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. This global development initiative grew out of a rich and complex history of wealthy nations supporting economic gains in poorer countries to help advance their own interests.

Meta-theories of development are broad assumptions about the nature of human development that guide researchers in their studies. These include whether development is determined by “nature” (genes, biology) or “nurture” (environment, learning). The mechanistic assumption of a maturational model holds that humans change the same way machines do: People become adults by reacting to their environment in the same way cars respond to gas pedals and brakes.

Other development theories hold that human development takes place in a variety of different ways, depending on the cultural context in which it occurs. For example, Erikson’s lifespan development theory held that individuals move through a series of psychosocial crises, or periods of challenge that need to be successfully overcome, to achieve their full potential. Other theorists, such as behavioral geneticists, sociobiology, Vygotsky, and information processing theorists, assume that human development is a continuous process that does not occur in isolation, but rather in close connection with other people, environments, and cultures.