What Is Development?

Development is the process of improving or changing something. It can apply to a physical object, like an office building or road, or it can be a human quality, such as growth or maturity. A company might have a goal of developing its sales in a new market, or someone can be described as being in a developmental stage in a relationship. The term also applies to an academic subject, as it can mean growing into a more sophisticated thinker or learner.

A key feature of development is that it is embedded in a variety of historical and cultural contexts. Lifespan researchers believe that different people experience developmental change in a wide range of ways. For example, different social circumstances and environmental conditions influence what experiences a person will have, which influences how they will develop.

Continuity versus Discontinuity

Some theorists, such as Freud and Erikson, believed that developmental change occurs in distinct stages that unfold in a specific sequence. Their theories, which are called stage theories or discontinuous development, have been contrasted with other theorists who emphasize a more continuous process.

Some researchers, such as those who favor interactionist meta-theories, hold that a combination of both nature and nurture contribute to human development. Others argue that human development is a complex, dynamic process that involves many interrelated factors. It is difficult to identify which aspects of human development are caused by both nature and nurture, or by other factors, such as culture.