45 Years of Influence of the Lifespan Developmental Approach

Past, Present and Future
Forty-Five Years of Influence of the Lifespan Developmental Approach: Past, Present and Future

The information provided here was originally presented at a three-part symposium series as part of an APA Interdivisional Grant Program awarded to Div. 20 (Adult Development & Aging) and co-sponsored by Divs. 3 (Experimental Psychology) and 7 (Developmental). The overarching goal of the information is to provide a review, examination and discussion of the influence of the Lifespan Developmental Approach across the past 45 years in the following areas:

Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches to the Lifespan Developmental Approach in Psychology

Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches

A history of lifespan psychology, origins of the Lifespan Developmental Approach.

Methodological issues

Methodological Issues

A review of methodological paradigms and interdisciplinary approaches to geropsychology.

Intervention, Modifiability and Plasticity

Intervention, Modifiability and Plasticity

Applied lifespan developmental psychology and memory care units.

About the Lifespan Developmental Approach

The Lifespan Developmental Approach has provided an overarching framework for understanding human development from conception to death. As outlined and discussed by Staudinger and Bluck (2001), the Lifespan Development Approach encompasses the following tenets:

  • Lifespan development is a continuous process influenced jointly by biology and environment.
  • Development unfolds as a process that includes both gains and losses across the lifespan that results in a multidimensional, multidirectional and multifunctional perspective.
  • Development across the lifespan results in changes in the interaction between biological and environmental influences that impact the allocation of resources.
  • Lifespan development is a modifiable process that is amenable to intervention.
  • Biological and environmental influences are embedded in age-graded, history-graded and non-normative contexts.

Interestingly, however, the Lifespan Developmental Approach has not been widely disseminated or implemented across the other subspecialties within psychology. For example, findings from developmental research designs may provide important information for other areas of study, such as the advantages of using sequential research designs that enable a more precise examination in disentangling the effects of age, cohort and time of measurement. Additional studies using the Lifespan Developmental Approach have significant implications for informing the process of translating basic research to applied or real-world contexts. Examples include the role and impact of interventions and plasticity across the lifespan as evidenced in the areas of mental health, developmental disabilities, neurodegenerative disorders, cognitive aging and epigenetics.

Goal of the Interdivisional Grant and the Lifespan Developmental Approach

The goal of the proposed grant is to review, examine and discuss the merits and contributions of the Lifespan Developmental Approach. Specifically, the aforementioned tenets will be used to address the following key areas within Lifespan Development:

  1. Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches 
  2. Methodological Issues
  3. Intervention, Modifiability and Plasticity 

These three areas were selected as the Lifespan Developmental Approach has introduced significant and novel theoretical and conceptual approaches for understanding human development, key methodological advances in research design and statistical procedures and an in-depth examination of the role and implications of intervention, modifiability and plasticity across the lifespan. The following topic areas and key questions identified by our initial workgroup may be helpful when considering the Lifespan Development Approach.

Topic Area: Conceptual Issues

Key questions for guiding content and development of professional and instructional materials:

  • How have new technologies contributed to understanding development at all points of the lifespan?
  • How can it contribute to evaluating theoretical models, such as:
     - Selective Optimization and Compensation (SOC)
     - training paradigms
     - maintaining/facilitating competency across the lifespan
     - reconceptualization of decrement models/biological-based models of development
     - reconceptualization of normal and non-normative lifespan development (i.e., intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, dementia, mental health, etc).
  • What are the best of the old and best of the new theoretical and conceptual approaches?

Topic Area: Methodological Issues

Key questions for guiding content and development of professional and instructional materials:

  • How has developmental methodology evolved?
  • How has developmental methodology influenced the field?
  • What are the special methodological issues that arise across the lifespan (infancy, childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, mid-life and later life), such as: factor invariance, inter- and intra-individual variability, trajectory analysis and age-related influences on performance, organismic, mechanistic and contextual worldviews?

Topic Area: Intervention, Modifiability and Plasticity

Key questions for guiding content and development of professional and instructional materials:

  • How has our thinking and theories changed?
  • What are the best practices/evidence-based programming across the lifespan?
  • What are cutting edge examples?
  • What are the current barriers in developing, implementing and evaluation best practices/evidence-based programming across the lifespan?

Materials from the Symposium Series

The following materials from the symposium series may provide an overview of the presentations about the Lifespan Developmental Approach: