Chapter 1: the Study of Human Development

Chapter 1: the Study of Human Development

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Chapter 1: The Study of Human Development


The primary goal for Chapter One is to introduce primary concepts in the field of human growth and development. In addition to detailing how the field has developed historically, the chapter stresses the practical applications of the discipline. The authors introduce key principles of a life span approach, emphasizing that the study of human development is an ever-evolving endeavor with influences from genetics, the environment and social differences including social class and ethnicity. These differences can be normative or nonnormative and vary due to the timing of events around us and our context.

The three domains of development: physical, cognitive, and psychosocial, serve to introduce the periods of the life span, which are notably different in different societies. Cultural differences introduce the concept of social construction which explains why some cultures do not have stages of adolescence or middle age.

The chapter concludes with a description of the life-span developmental perspective proposed by Paul Baltes.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe human development and how its study has evolved.
  1. Describe the domains and periods of human development.
  1. Give examples of the influences that make one person different from another.
  2. Discuss the principles of the life-span perspective.

The Total Teaching Package Outline: Chapter 1

The Study of Human Development




Research in Action: Is There a Critical
Period for Language Acquisition? /

Learning Objective 1.3

Videos: Secrets of the Wild Child

Activity: 1.3
Window on the World: Children of Immigrant Families / Learning Objective 1.3
Lecture Opener: 1.1
Human Development: An Ever-
Evolving Field / Learning Objective 1.1
Checkpoint: 1-1
Critical Thinking Exercise: 1.2
Studying the Life Span / Learning Objective 1.1
Checkpoint: 1-2
Activity: 1.5
Human Development Today / Learning Objective 1.1
Checkpoint: 1-3
The Study of Human Development:
Basic Concepts / Learning Objective 1.2
Lecture Opener: 1.5
Domains of Development / Learning Objective 1.2
Checkpoint: 1-4
Essay Questions: 1.1, 1.3
Periods of the Life Span / Learning Objective 1.2
Lecture Openers: 1.4
Checkpoint: 1-5
Critical Thinking Exercise: 1.1
Activity: 1.4, 1.8
Video Developmental Characteristics from Video Collection

Influences on Development

/ Learning Objective 1.2
Checkpoint: 1-6
Activity: 1.6
Heredity, Environment, and Maturation / Learning Objective 1.2
Lecture Opener: 1.3
Contexts of Development / Learning Objective 1.3
Essay Question: 1.2, 1.4
Activity: 1.1, 1.7
Normative and Nonnormative Influences / Checkpoint: 1-7
Activity: 1.2
Lecture Opener: 1.2
Critical Thinking Exercise: 1.3
Timing of Influences: Critical or Sensitive
Periods / Learning Objective 1.3
Checkpoint: 1-8
Paul B. Baltes’s Life-Span
Developmental Approach / Learning Objective 1.4
Checkpoint: 1-9

Detailed Chapter Outline with Key Terms

Chapter 1: The Study of Human Development

Research in Action: Is There a Critical Period for Language Acquisition?

Window on the World: Children of Immigrant Families



Human development: Scientific study of processes of change and stability throughout the human life span.

Studying the Life Span

Life-span development: Concept of development as a lifelong process, which can be studied scientifically.

Human Development Today

●Describe: Goal in the study of human development in which scientists observe behavior in order to describe what happens in the lives of children and adults.

●Explain: Goal in which scientists attempt to understand, or explain, why observed behavior occurs—the cause of observed behavior.

●Predict: Goal in which scientists make educated guesses about what might happen in the future to behavior.

●Intervene: Goal in which scientists use the knowledge of causes of behavior to change or control behavior.


Domains of Development

●Domain: An aspect of the self, such as physical, cognitive, or psychosocial.

Physical development: Growth of the body and brain and change or stability in sensory capacities, motor skills, and health.

Cognitive development: Change or stability in mental abilities, such as learning, memory, language, thinking, moral reasoning, and creativity.

Psychosocial development: Change and stability in emotions, personality, and social relationships.

Periods of the Life Span

Social construction: Concept about the nature of reality, based on societally shared perceptions or assumptions.


Individual differences: Differences in characteristics, influences, or developmental outcomes.

Heredity, Environment, and Maturation

●Heredity: Inborn characteristics inherited from the biological parents at conception.

●Environment: Totality of nonhereditary, or experiential, influences on development.

●Maturation: Unfolding of a natural sequence of physical and behavioral changes, including readiness to master new abilities.

●Inherited characteristics: The influence of heredity on development

●Environmental factors:The influence of environment on development



●Nuclear family: Kinship and household unit made up of one or two parents and their natural, adopted, or stepchildren.

●Extended family: Kinship network of parents, children, and other relatives, sometimes living together in an extended-family household.

Socioeconomic Status and Neighborhood

●Socioeconomic status (SES): Combination of economic and social factors describing an individual or family, including income, education, and occupation.

●Risk factors: Conditions that increase the likelihood of a negative developmental outcome.

Culture and Race/Ethnicity

●Culture: A society’s or group’s total way of life, including customs, traditions, beliefs, values, language, and physical products—all learned behavior passed on from parents to children.

●Ethnic group: Group united by ancestry, race, religion, language, and/or national origins, which contribute to a sense of shared identity.

The Historical Context

Normative and Nonnormative Influences

●Normative: Characteristic of an event that occurs in a similar way for most people in a group.

●Normative age-graded influences: Event or influence that is highly similar for people in a particular age group-includes biological (puberty, menopause) and social (marriage, retirement) events.

Normative history-graded influences: Event or influence common to a particular cohort. In this section, the concept of historical generations is defined as a group of people who experience the event at a formative time in their lives.

●Cohort: Group of people growing up at about the same time.

●Historical generation: A group of people strongly influenced by a major historical event during their formative period.

●Nonnormative: Characteristic of an unusual event that happens to a particular person, or a typical event that happens at an unusual time of life.

Timing of Influences: Critical or Sensitive Periods

●Imprinting: Phenomenon in which newly hatched birds will instinctively follow the first moving object they see- the result of the readiness of the nervous system of the organism to acquire certain information during a brief critical period in early life.

●Predisposition toward learning: The readiness of an organism’s nervous system to acquire certain information.

●Critical period: Specific time when a given event, or its absence, has the greatest impact on development.

●Plasticity: Range of modifiability of performance.

●Sensitive periods: Times in development when a person is particularly open to certain kinds of experiences.


●Baltes’s Seven Principles of the Life-Span Approach:

  • Development is lifelong.
  • Development is multidimensional.
  • Development is multidirectional.
  • Relative influences of biology and culture shift over the lifespan.
  • Development involves changing resource allocations.
  • Development shows plasticity.
  • Development is influenced by the historical and cultural context.

Suggested Lecture Openers

1.1“Everything you always wanted to know about human development but were afraid

to ask…”

Objective: To have students engage in the course material. To create a classroom atmosphere of inquiry and acceptance. To assist in identifying and matching student and instructor course goals.

Time necessary: 15 minutes

Directions: This exercise works well for a first day class opener. Give each student a blank 3” x 5” note card. Begin by having students take a moment or two to think of several questions they have about childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or old age but “were afraid to ask.” Have them submit these questions anonymously. The questions can then be categorized by topic and used as potential discussion starters later in the course to be sure the information and materials are being addressed appropriately.

Wrap-Up: These questions can be used throughout the semester or by topic, depending on the responses. You can also repeat the exercise several times throughout the semester to be sure students have the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns.

1.2 Defining Your Generation

Objective: To increase student interaction and to illustrate the concepts of normative history-graded influences on development and historical generations. NOTE: This exercise works best in classes that include a wide range of ages.

Time necessary: 15-30 minutes, depending on whether the exercise is shared in small groups or in a larger discussion

Directions: Divide the class into groups by age, placing students of similar age together. Have each group make a list of defining historical and cultural events that characterized their pre-teen and adolescent years. Events might include popular songs, movies, books, pop culture figures, as well as political and historical events that they witnessed. Have each group share its completed list with the entire class.

Wrap-Up: Use the groups’ examples of defining characteristics to help reinforce the concept of normative history-graded influences. You can also have the students label their age-group using the current terms of baby-boomers, X-generation, millennials to demonstrate social construction of terms.

Jean Twenge has written a book, Generation Me, that is an excellent summary of the characteristics of the current cohort of college students called millennials. This is easily incorporated into the exercise.

1.3 Nature/Nurture Debate

Objective: To develop more awareness of how heredity and environment interact to shape human development. To illustrate the concepts of the three domains of development: physical, cognitive, and psychosocial.

Time necessary: 15-30 minutes, depending on whether the exercise is shared in small groups or in a larger discussion

Directions: Have small groups or the entire class list five characteristics that fall under each of the three domains: physical, cognitive, and psychosocial. Encourage students to consider, for example, traits like weight, height, hair color, intelligence, mathematical ability, friendliness, or shyness. Once the list of fifteen characteristics is complete, guide students to discuss whether environment or heredity more strongly influences each trait. This discussion lends itself to a debate-like format in which students on one side of the argument are assigned to present ways heredity influences the characteristic, while the other side is assigned to present ways that environment might influence it.

Wrap-Up: Present some research-generated information about the relative influence of heredity and environment on some of the characteristics that were included in the debate. Conclude the activity with a discussion of how heredity and environment most often work together in shaping our development.

1.4 Memory and Social Constructions

Objective: To develop more awareness of social constructions.

Time necessary: 15-30 minutes, depending on whether the exercise is shared in small groups or in a larger discussion

Directions:Ask the students to think about their earliest memory, either in small groups or as a class. A few students can be called upon to share their memories on a voluntary basis if the exercise is done with the class as a whole.They may share with each other if it is done in small groups. Encourage them to analyze their memories by considering the following questions: How do you know if this event actually happened? Do you have personal memories of the event? Do you have memories of people telling you about the event? How might other family members recall the event? Does it matter if the event actually happened or not? How is the event woven into the fabric of your ideas about your past? Has your description of the event changed at all over time?

Wrap-Up: You may be able to tie the concept of social constructions to the examples of memories generated by the students.If done in small groups, this exercise can also serve as a “bonding” experience for students. In addition, it is a good exercise to refer back to when discussing theories during the next chapter. This exercise can also be used to demonstrate how research might use data provided from memory and how bias and error can be a significant problem.

1.5 Social Construction of Childhood

Objective: To illustrate social constructionist theory by examining the construct of childhood from a historical perspective.

Time necessary: 20 minutes, variable

Directions: Illustrate for students how childhood as a construct has changed historically. You may do this either through traditional lecture format or in a visual format, using PowerPoint or other projection/multimedia tools. You can find many effective visual images in the sources listed below. Discuss images in the context of such variables as infant mortality, birth rate, economics, value placed on children or even childhood clothing. Tracing one or more of these variables through several historical periods provides an effective way to demonstrate how the concept of childhood has been socially constructed and is embedded in a historical context.

Wrap-Up: Sometimes the complexity of social constructionism is initially difficult for students to grasp. Placing concrete visual images before them seems to help communicate more abstract concepts.

Internet Resources:

Society for the History of Children and Youth

The “Useful Links” page on this site provides excellent primary and secondary resources for the history of childhood.

A Google search for images from childhood can also provide a wealth of illustrations for a PowerPoint slide show to highlight this topic.

Published Resources:

Hwang, C.P., Lamb, M.E., Sigel, I.E. (Eds.). (1996). Images of childhood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mintz, S. & Kellogg, S. (1989). Domestic revolutions: A social history of American family life. New York: Free Press. Simpson, J. (1976). The American family: A history in photographs. New York: Viking.

Mintz, S. (2004). Huck's Raft: A history of American childhood. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Critical Thinking Exercises

1.1 Challenging Stereotypes of Developmental Stages

Objective: To identify and challenge preconceived ideas students may have about developmental stages.

Type/Length of activity: Whole-class or small group discussion

Time to complete: 30-45 minutes

Directions: Either on a handout, overhead transparency or on the board, create a list of age bracketed decades (0-9, 10-19, 20-29 etc.). Students should list, as quickly as possible, at least three words that describe each of the age groups. Identify which were the easiest and hardest decades to describe and discuss why this was the case. If working in small groups, each group might list their choices on the board.This canalso be done in a larger group discussion. Discuss whether students had a particular person in mind, whether gender was relevant, or whether there were common associations with particular periods. Have students think about the sources for their perceptions. This exercise can also be used as an introduction to stage theories described later in the textbook.


Rebelsky, F.G. (1981). Life-span development. In L. Benjamin & K. Lowman (Eds.), Activities handbook for the teaching of psychology (pp. 131-132). Washington, DC: APA.

1.2 Back to the Future

Objective: To demonstrate social constructionist theory and potential media influences on these constructions. To serve as an introduction to research methods, particularly content analysis

Type/Length of activity: Can be done as an in-class demonstration or an out-of-class project

Time to complete: Varies

Directions: Divide the class into small groups. Have students assume the role of a researcher in human development from some time in the future. They have traveled back in time to the current year to investigate media portrayals of a particular age group. (Assign age groups or let students select a group of their choice.) Using a specific media type (news, sit-coms, cartoons, MTV, magazines), have each group bring in three videotapes or magazine articles that portray images of its assigned age group. Ask students what they might conclude about people in this age group in the current year if this were the only information available to them. This demonstration also works well as a PowerPoint presentation, where video or still images, such as those from magazines, can be inserted into a lecture format.

1.3 Identifying Current Life Adjustments

Objective: To help students become more aware of their own developmental stage and place current developmental challenges into a socio-historical context.

Type/Length of activity: Small groups

Time to complete: 20-30 minutes

Directions: Distribute a life adjustments scale, such as The Holmes-Rahe Social Adjustment Scale, to each group. The Holmes-Rahe Social Adjustment Scale can be found on the Internet at:

Have students create personal lists of life challenges that they either face currently or have met and overcome recently. Then students should be asked to consider how each of these challenges might have been faced differently by their parents and their grandparents. Have students discuss whether they think challenges faced by their parents or grandparents were more or less difficult than those they face today.

Essay Questions

1.1 Provide an example of a critical period for each of the domains of development: physical, cognitive, and psychosocial. Explain how plasticity would be related to each of your examples.

Sample Answers:

  • physical —the drug Thalidomide’s influence upon development of arms and legs
  • cognitive—the development of language in the first three years
  • psychosocial—the development of attachment in infancy
  • Plasticity in each example would include the impact based upon timing along with other influences in both biological and social areas.

1.2 Compare and contrast nuclear and extended families in terms of their differences in privacy, rules, and authority. Would one type be more “child friendly” than the other? If so, how? How would the two types of families manage resources, such as income, room allocation or space, and distribution of chores? What aspects of your development would be most influenced by the type of family you grew up in?