How Do We Develop?
Human Development is the pattern of change in human capabilities, including both growth and decline. It manifests in our physical, cognitive and socioemotional processes. Physical development is the maturation of our biological nature; cognitive development includes the development of our thought, intelligence and language; and socioemotional development involves the changes in the course of our relationships, emotions and personality.
Human development is oftentimes divided into 5 stages - childhood (0-12 years old), adolescence (10-21 years old), early adulthood (20s and 30s), middle adulthood (40s and 50s) and late adulthood (60s onwards).
Early- versus Later-Experience Doctrine
Some psychologists believe that human development is relatively fixated on the childhood stage. This belief is called the Early-Experience Doctrine. It assumes that life is an unbroken trail that can be traced back from its origin. During the ancient times, Plato taught that frequently rocking a child leads to the development of superior athletic abilities. 19th-century New England ministers preached that how parents handle their children determines their future. And recently, it was found out that girls' adolescent depression is linked to negative parental relationship at 3 to 5 years old. Sigmund Freud, the developer of psychoanalysis, also held this belief when he crafted his famous psychosexual stages of development.
The Later-Experience Doctrine, on the other hand, emphasizes that there had been little attention given to adult development. Alice Walker, as an example, grew up to become a productive member of the society despite setbacks she faced early in life. Born on 1844, Alice Walker is the 8th child of two Georgia sharecroppers who earn $300 a year. At 8 years old, her brother accidentally shot her eyes with a BB gun. Her parents strove to bring her to the nearest hospital, but after a week of traveling, damage to Alice Walker's eyes got worse and she became permanently blind. As she grew older, she became aware of rampant racial discrimination against her and her family. She joined the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s as a social activist. These experiences gave her foundation for having a compassionate view on humanity. Later as an essayist, a poet, a novelist and a short story writer, Alice Walker consistently touched on the theme of overcoming pain and anger. One of her books, "The Color Purple", won the Pulitzer Prize. The case of Alice Walker implies that development is not particularly centered on early experiences, but that later experiences are much better predictor of future capabilities. Because of this emphasis, psychological research also found out that adolescent girls' depression is not only linked to early parental relationship, but also to the recent problems they face, such as having low grades, breaking up with their boyfriends, and parents' death.
The debate between the early- and later-experience doctrines has lead to a newer perspective - the lifespan perspective. This developmental perspective states that life should be taken as a whole, running through all the stages until death. It assumes that each stage provides significant contribution and challenges to every individual's life.
Nature versus Nurture
Psychologists also argue about the cause or the source of development. The "Nature" side claims that who we are is what we inherit from our parents - our genetic heritage (or the genotype). On the other hand, the "Nurture" side asserts that who we are is not the totality of our genotypes per se, but the expression of our genetic heritage (or the phenotype). Which genes are expressed, the "nurture" side says, depends upon the experiences, hence environmental influences, that trigger genes to manifest.
Some psychologists, however, do not take extreme position on this issue. Although they acknowledge that both sides are right to some degree, they talk about finding and measuring the degree of influence of both sides. Some say that more should be attributed to the nature side, while some say otherwise. Some even say that nature places a limit on what nurture can change. But this debate is not anymore productive. Studying about heredity and environmental issues, William Greenough (2001) said:
"The interaction of heredity and environment is so extensive that to ask which one is more important, nature or nurture, is like asking which is more important to a rectangle, height or width."
Another problem with the nature versus nurture debate is that the arguments they pose are both deterministic. They predominantly shuns off the will of the individual to shape his or her development in the picture. As with the case of Alice Walker, humans have the capacity to actively construct their life according to their own themes, encourage optimal experiences for themselves, and go beyond the effects of both nature and nurture.
So what's with all these Developmental Issues?
Human development is a very complex phenomenon. What the early-later-experience and the nature-nurture debates tell us is that developmental psychologists are still uncovering the ramifications of the various factors involved in human development.