What Is Development?


Development is a general term that refers to changes in the way people think, act, and live. It includes improvements in the quality of human life, as well as growth in a country’s economy and society. Unlike economic growth, which is usually measured as increases in a nation’s wealth or GDP, development focuses on the ways in which those gains are shared among its citizens.

The study of development is guided by a set of assumptions about the nature of humans and their developmental change called meta-theories. These are like world views, cosmologies or perspectives about the nature of human life and evolution that provide a framework for research.

One assumption is that human development is caused by a combination of nature and nurture, or that the causes are essentially mechanical. This is known as a mechanistic meta-theory because it assumes that people change in the same way that machines do. The other assumption is that development is context specific, meaning that different pathways of developmental change are possible depending on the individual’s unique experiences and environmental conditions.

Another assumption is that successful development depends on the ability to cope with challenges and crises, which Erikson described as psychosocial crises. These include the developmental challenges of early childhood and the transition to adulthood, as well as mid-life issues such as aging and death. Finally, the assumption is that development takes place incrementally, with each challenge or crisis fostering growth and further development.