Issues in Studying Adult Development and Aging
• What four main forces shape development?
• What are normative age-graded influences, normative history-graded influences, and nonnormative influences?
• How do culture and ethnicity influence aging?
• What is the meaning of age?
• What are the nature-nurture, stability-change, continuity-discontinuity, and the "universal versus context-specific development" controversies?
evar Johnson smiled broadly as he held his newborn granddaughter for the first time. So many thoughts rushed into his mind. He could only imagine the kinds of things Devonna would experience growing up. He hoped that she would have a good neighborhood in which to play and explore her world. He hoped that she inherited the family genes for good health. He wondered how Devonna’s life growing up as an African American in the United States would be different from his experiences.
Like many grandparents, Levar wonders what the future holds for his granddaughter. The questions he considers are interesting in their own right, but they are important for another reason: They get to the heart of general issues of human development that have intrigued philosophers and scientists for centuries. You have probably wondered about many similar issues. How do some people manage to remain thin, whereas other people seem to gain weight merely by looking at food? Why do some people remain very active and mentally well into later life? How does growing up in a Spanish-speaking culture affect one’s views of family caregiving? Answering these questions requires us to consider the various forces that shape us as we mature. Developmentalists place special emphasis on four forces: biological,
psychological, sociocultural, and life cycle. These forces direct our development much as an artist’s hands direct the course of a painting or sculpture.
Following from the forces that shape adult development and aging are questions such as: What is the relative importance of genetics and environment on people’s behavior? Do people change gradually, or do they change more abruptly? Do all people change in the same way? These questions reflect controversies that historically underlie the study of human development (Lerner, 2001): the nature-nurture controversy, the change-stability controversy, the continuity-discontinuity controversy, and the “universal versus context-specific development” controversy.
Having a firm grasp on the forces and controversies of development is important because it provides a context for understanding why researchers and theorists believe certain things about aging or why some topics have been researched a great deal and others have been hardly studied at all. For example, someone who believes that a decline in intellectual ability is an innate and inevitable part of aging is unlikely to search for intervention techniques to raise performance. Similarly, someone who believes that personality characteristics change across adulthood would be likely to search for life transitions.