What Is Development?

Development is a broad concept that encompasses improvements in quality of life, economic growth, wealth distribution, and better health and education opportunities. It can also be a process of increasing the ability to solve problems. This includes the ability to learn from mistakes and to adapt and change in the face of new challenges.

Development is also the scientific study of how people change and remain the same over the course of their lives. It includes physical and neurophysiological changes, cognition, language, personality, and emotions. Lifespan development (also known as human development) has many implications for individuals, families, and societies.

Different meta-theories of development differ in their assumptions about what causes people to grow and change. Some theories, called mechanistic meta-theories, assume that development is a process of linear incremental change and that people cannot influence their own growth. Other meta-theories, like the organic model based on the caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly metaphor, assume that people develop through discontinuous qualitatively different stages (like the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly).

Some developmental theorists have criticized this approach by emphasizing the role of certain aspects of culture in a person’s development. For example, Erikson’s theory of lifespan development focuses on specific psychosocial crises that people must overcome at each stage of life. These are sometimes referred to as the “eight developmental tasks”. These stages were derived from a combination of Freud’s emphasis on sexuality and Piaget’s idea that people move through a series of cognitive and emotional maturations in an unchanging order.