Lifespan Perspective Theory

The point at which life  begins is a huge topic of debate.  Some believe it begins at the point of conception, when the sperm meets the egg, others believe life begins with the first breath of air taken.  Either way life span is just as it implies: The duration of existence from beginning to end.  The life span perspective claims that there is a continuity of development and change throughout an individual’s life (Berger, 2011).     There are several theoretical positions on the human life span.  Sigmund Freud took the psychoanalytical and psychosexual standpoint, and Erik Erikson focused on the psychosocial aspect of development.  Lifespan development establishes behavior patterns in individuals.  These behaviors develop through the interaction of heredity and environment, which, combined, create the uniqueness individuals possesses.

Life Span Perspective Defined

Through the use of observation and experimentation, the lifespan perspective declares human development as multi-dimensional rather than a continuous and consistent cycle (Berger, 2011).  There is not one specific theory to explain how a person develops and changes over a lifetime.  Instead, it is a combination of theories initially developed from philosophical views that have evolved into the theories used today (Berger, 2011). There are four aspects of life that play key roles in an individual’s development.

Human development is multi-directional, meaning  that developmental changes occur naturally and in all directions, not in a solid path (Berger, 2011).  Development is embraced as a continuity of change that produces gains or losses which will prove to enhance future change (Berger, 2011).  It is multi-contextual proving adaptations from the physical and social environments an individual is subjected to throughout their lifespan (Berger, 2011).  Socioeconomic status, family patterns and historical conditions are a few of the contexts that cause human adaptation throughout the life span(Berger, 2011).  Human development is multi-cultural and embraces that the world is diverse and contains numerous cultures which also are a part of an individual’s development (Berger, 2011). A culture does not contain a certain race or ethnicity, but rather a group of individuals who share a set of commonalities among themselves (Berger, 2011). There can be several cultures within one community.

Additionally, human development is multidisciplinary.  There are so many aspects of life that affect human develop; it is necessary to use several disciplines of science for a full and thorough understanding of human development (Berger, 2011).  Studies of human development occur through social, cognitive and biological factors researched at specific age and developmental milestone periods (Berger, 2011).  It is important to keep the life span segmented.  Each segment affects another and can be combined accurately to tell the story of human development over the entire life span (Berger, 2011).

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is notorious for his development of controversial theories.  His psychoanalytic theory of human development took a sexual standpoint by declaring the division of life into stages, and each stage of life was centered on a body part affirmed with pleasure and sex (McLeod, 2008).  Additionally, Freud thought that in each stage, sexually driven conflict arises and resolves before successfully moving on to the next stage of development.  These conflicts aid in the development of the ego and superego in order for successful development of self-control and the ability to properly conduct sexual gratification into the right area (McLeod, 2008).

He theorized that infancy is the oral stage in which a baby obtains satisfaction by putting various objects in the mouth to obtain pleasure thus developing and ego (McLeod, 2008).  In early childhood, the child is aware that they are individuals separate from others. The anal stage describes the time in which the child finds pleasure in defecation leading to a conflict of potty training (McLeod, 2008).  Early childhood is the phallic stage in which the child is aware of anatomical differences of sexes.  The child becomes fixated on sexual pleasure through masturbation as a way of dealing with the conflict of eroticism on all levels (McLeod, 2008).  During the latency stage psychosexual development lays dormant as the child is developing social and cognitive skills (McLeod, 2008).  Freud’s theory identified the final stage of development as the genital stage in which the individual begins sexual experimentation and deals with the unresolved conflicts of the previous stages (McLeod, 2008).

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson adopted Freud’s theory that human development occurred at different stages; however, he elaborated that the development took place throughout the entire lifespan.  He also adopted Freud’s conflict theories, but rather than focusing on identification and the superego; Erikson believed the conflicts arose from culture and society and took place within the ego (McLeod, 2008).  Erikson took the view that human development was psychosocial and focused on the cultural and societal roles of development (McLeod, 2008).

Erikson theorized there are eight stages of development, beginning with trust, autonomy, and guilt in the earliest years that developed hope, will, and purpose in a child.  During adolescence, the stages of inferiority and identity developed confidence and fidelity in an individual (McLeod, 2008).  In the adult years, the stages of intimacy, stagnation, and integrity developed the virtues of love, care and wisdom (McLeod, 2008).  During each of these stages, Erikson believed that a conflict arise between the psychological needs of the  individual and the societal needs of acceptance.  If the conflicts do not successfully resolve, the potential of later development being hindered is possible, but does can resolve itself in other stages of later development (McLeod, 2008).

Heredity and Environment

The notorious nature versus nurture debate greatly impacts human develop.  Nature, or heredity is responsible for the physical aspect of development, as well as certain behavioral traits found in the genes, passed down for unaccountable generations ((Berger, 2011). Genes contain the predispositions of an individual that cannot be influenced by the environment,  making them set in stone ((Berger, 2011).  Nurture are the outside influences of environment, society, culture, and physical forces that affect the development of an individual (Berger, 2011).  The first five years of life are the most critical for development.  The individual is exploring through the five senses to create infinite cognitive representations in the brain for use throughout all aspects of development (Berger, 2011). The amount or extent of human development from nature and nurture indeterminable, however both are the primary causes of human development (Berger, 2011).


Human development has intrigued researchers since the beginning of time when philosophers were inferring how mankind evolves.  Over time, it has been noted that human development occurs through stages throughout the span of life and the same development patterns are consistent in the majority of individuals (McLeod, 2008).  Theorists such as Freud and Erikson have agreed that development occurs through the resolution of inner conflict that allow development to continue throughout life (McLeod, 2008).  There are many aspects of life that assist in human development; however, the most fundamental are nature and nurture which deviate the direction an individual will take in life.


Berger, K. S. (2011). The Developing Person Through the Life Span (8th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database..

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Psychosexual Stages. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/psychosexual.html


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