1.4 Development of Human Behaviour

Syllabus: Growth & development; Principles of development, Role of genetic & environmental factors in determining human behaviour;Influence of cultural factors in socialization; Life span development - Characteristics, development tasks, promoting psychological well-being across major stages of the life span.

Previous Years’ Questions


Q. Identify the most important changes that occur during adolescence. 10 marks [2016]

Q. Critically evaluate Erikson's stages of Psychosocial development. 15 marks [2016]

Q. Describe the parenting styles that are used in raising a normal child. 15 marks [2016]


Q. Discuss the role of socio-cultural factors in promotion of well-being across major stages of life-span. 10 marks [2015]

Q. Describe Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. Critique his theory. 15 marks [2015]


Q. Present an outline of the ecological perspective as an innovative approach to facilitate developmental outcomes. 10 marks [2014]

Q. Discuss the main aspects of cognitive & moral development during adolescence.  15 marks [2014]


Q. How flow of genes affect development? 10 marks [2013]

Q. Discuss the importance of early relationship for developmental outcomes in the light of researches by Bowlby & Ainsworth. 20 marks [2013]

Q. Bring out the key developmental challenges faced by adolescents in the cognitive & social domains. 25 marks [2013]

Q. Every function in the child’s development appears twice: first on social level & later on the individual level.” Vygotsky. Discuss the above statement & indicate your own position on this proposition.  10 marks [2013]


Q. Describe the role of epigenetic model in determining human behavior. 12 marks [2012]

Q. Examine the impact of cultural factors on socialising process among children 20 marks [2012]


Q. What is social constructionism? How does it challenge the mainstream psychology? (not sure whether to place here or in Ch-13 or Ch-6) 20 marks [2011]

Q. How does the brain mediate between the genotype and the phenotype for psychological characteristics? 10 marks [2011]

Q. Critically evaluate the role of parenting style, peer group & media in identity formation during adolescence. 30 marks [2011]


Q. What are the stages of cognitive development according to Piaget ? 10 marks [2010]

Q. Briefly suggest how well-being of the elderly can be promoted. 10 marks [2010]

Q. How can biological aging be modified with the help of environmental factors ? 30 marks [2010]


Q. What is psychological well being? Discuss various methods in promoting psychological well being across major stages of the life span. 60 marks [2009]


Q. Bring out the diffs in the concepts of growth, maturation & development in human behavior. Use suitable example in your answers. 20 marks [2008]

1.4.1 Growth & development

Growth : refers to an increase in the size of body parts or of the organism as a whole. It can be measured or quantified, for example, growth in height, weight, etc.

Development : a process influenced by an interplay of biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional processes which an individual grows and changes throughout the life cycle. The term development applies to the changes that
A temporary change for ex :  caused by a brief illness, is not considered a part of development. Development however, includes growth as one of its aspects.

Development is influenced by an interplay of biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional processes.
Development due to genes inherited from parents, such as in height and weight, brain, heart, and lungs development, etc. all point towards the role of biological processes.

The role of cognitive processes in development relate to mental activities associated with the processes of knowing, and experiencing, such as thought, perception, attention, problem solving, etc.

Socio-emotional processes that influence development refer to changes in an individual’s interactions with other people, changes in emotions, and in personality. A child’s hug to her/his mother, a young girl’s affectionate gesture to her/his sibling, or an adolescent’s sorrow at losing a match are all reflections of socio-emotional processes deeply involved in human development.

Maturation refers to the changes that
e.g. most children can sit without support by 7 months of age, stand with support by 8 months and walk by 1 year. Once the underlying physical structure is sufficiently developed, proficiency in these behaviours requires adequate environment and little practice. However, special efforts to accelerate these behaviours do not help if the infant is maturationally not ready. These processes seem to “unfold from within”: following an inner, genetically determined timetable that is characteristic of the species.

Evolution refers to species-specific changes. Natural selection is an evolutionary process that favours individuals or a species that are best adapted to survive and reproduce. Evolution passes from one generation to next and is very slow paced.

1.4.2 Principles of development (I am guessing it's the same as assumptions in life-span perspective of dev.)

  1. Development is lifelong, i.e. it takes place across all age groups starting from conception to old age. It includes both gains and losses, which interact in dynamic (change in one aspect goes with changes in others) ways throughout the life-span.

  1. The various processes of human development, i.e. biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional are interwoven in the development of a person throughout the life-span.

  1. Development is multi-directional. Some dimensions or components of a given dimension of development may increase, while others show decrement. e.g. experiences of adults may make them wiser and guide their decisions. However, with an increase in age, one’s performance is likely to decrease on tasks requiring speed, such as running.

  1. Development is highly plastic, i.e. within person, modifiability is found in psychological development, though plasticity varies among individuals. This means skills and abilities can be improved or developed throughout the life-span

  1. Development is influenced by historical conditions. e.g. the experiences of 20-year olds who lived through the freedom struggle in India would be very different from the experiences of 20 year olds of today. The career orientation of school students today is very different from those students who were in schools 50 years ago.

  1. Development is the concern of a number of disciplines. Different disciplines like psychology, anthropology, sociology, and neuro-sciences study human development, each trying to provide answers to development throughout the life-span.

  1. An individual responds and acts on contexts, which include what was inherited, the physical environment, social, historical, and cultural contexts. e.g. the life events in everyone’s life are not the same, such as, death of a parent, accident, earthquake, etc., affect the course of one’s life as also the positive influences such as winning an award or getting a good job. People keep on changing with changing contexts.

1.4.3 Role of genetic & environmental factors in determining human behaviour

Genes and Growth 

Genotype : The actual genetic material or a person’s genetic heritage. 

Phenotype : Not all of the genetic material that is inherited is apparent or distinctly identifiable in our observable characteristics. The way an individual’s genotype is expressed in observable and measurable characteristics e.g. physical traits, such as height, weight, eye and skin colour, and many of the psychological characteristics such as intelligence, creativity & personality is called a phenotype which is the result of the interaction between inherited traits and environment.

Role of Genetic factors in development: Nature

Role of environmental factors in development: Nurture

Urie Bronfenbrenner's Contextual View of Development /Brofenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory : emphasises the role of  environmental factors in the development of  an individual.

Ecological System
Consists of 
settings in which a person directly interacts with people and objects
home, work, school, neighbourhood
relation b/w settings in which individual participates
what happens at work might affect home events &vice versa
settings which aren't experienced directly but still influence life
spouse's company, mass media , child's school
widely shared cultural values, beliefs and laws which affect all inner systems
majority religion, type of society (capitalist or communism)
events in individual's life & socio-historical circumstances of the time
divorce of parents or parents' economic setback

Thus, Brofenbrenner suggested that development (specifically that of a child) is affected by a complex world that envelops her and hence cannot be easily explained by the simplistic stage models.

Durganand Sinha'sEcological Model for development of children in Indian context

Ecology of a child can be viewed in 2 concentric layers:

The visible and the surrounding layers interact with one another and may have diff consequences for development in diff people. Also, the ecological environment can change or alter during anytime of the individual's life-span Thus to understand the development of an individual, it is imp.to see her in the context of her experience (applies to Brofenbrenner as well).

1.4.4 Influence of cultural factors in socialization

Socialisation is a process by which individuals acquire knowledge, skills and dispositions, which enable them to participate as effective members of groups and society. Therefore, the specific nature of how we are socialized is determined by our culture and its values.

Each culture is tries to pass its own values on to the next generation. Therefore, each culture socializes its young differently. For example, American society will socialize its young people to believe in individualism whereas Japanese society will put more of an emphasis on getting along with the group.

Due to the processes of enculturation and socialisation we find behavioural similarities and differences within societies and behavioural differences across societies. Both processes involve learning from other people. In the case of socialisation, the learning involves deliberate teaching. In the case of enculturation, teaching is not necessary for learning to take place. Enculturation means engagement of people in their culture. Since most of the learning takes place with our engagement in our culture, socialisation can be easily subsumed under the process of enculturation.

Socialisation Agents : Many people related to us possess power to socialise us. Such people are called “socialisation agents”. Most imp. among them are : peer groups, mass media, parents and family members are the most significant socialisation agents. The conditions of life in which parents live (poverty, illness, job stress, nature of family) also influence the styles they adopt in socialising children. Grandparental proximity and network of social relationships play considerable role in child socialisation directly or through parental influences.

Acculturation : refers to cultural and psychological changes resulting from contact with other cultures. Contact may be direct (e.g., when one moves and settles in a new culture) or indirect (e.g., through media or other means). It may be voluntary (e.g., when one goes abroad for higher studies, training,job, or trade) or involuntary (e.g., through colonial experience, invasion, political refuge). In both cases, people often need to learn (and they do learn) something new to negotiate life with people of other cultural groups.

e.g. during the British rule in India many individuals and groups adopted several aspects of British lifestyle. They preferred to go to the English schools, take up salaried jobs, dress in English clothes, speak English language, and change their religion.

Re-socialisation : Acculturation requires re-learning of norms, values, dispositions, and patterns of behaviour. Such changes require re-socialisation. Sometimes people find it easy to learn these new things, and if their learning has been successful, shifts in their behaviour easily take place in the direction of the group that brings in acculturation. In this situation transition to a new life is relatively smooth and free from problems. On the other hand, if it becomes difficult to re-socialise, people are thrown into a state of conflict. This situation is relatively painful as it leads to experience of stress and other behavioural difficulties by acculturating individuals and groups.

Psychologists have widely studied how people psychologically change during acculturation. For any acculturation to take place, contact with another cultural group is essential. This often generates some sort of conflict. Since people cannot live in a state of conflict for a long time, they often resort to certain strategies to resolve their conflicts. For a long time it was felt that social or cultural change oriented towards modernity was unidirectional, which meant that all people confronting the problem of change would move from a traditional state to a state of modernity. However, studies carried out with immigrants to western countries and native or tribal people in different parts of the world have revealed that people have various options to deal with the problem of acculturative changes. Thus, the course of acculturative change is multidirectional.

Changes due to acculturation may be examined at
1. Objective level : changes are reflected in people’s day-to-day behaviours and activities. These are referred to as acculturation strategies. Changes observed in language, dressing style, means of livelihood, housing and household goods, ornaments, furniture, means of entertainment, use of technology, travel experience, and exposure to movies, etc. can provide clear indications of change that individuals and groups might have accepted in their life. Based on these indicators, we can easily identify the degree to which acculturative change has entered into an individual’s or a group’s life. The only problem is that these indicators do not always indicate conscious acceptance of change by individuals or groups; they are held by people because they are easily available and economically affordable. Thus, in some cases, these indicators appear somewhat deceptive.

2. Subjective level : Changes are often reflected in people’s attitudes towards change. They are referred to as acculturation attitudes. In order to place some confidence in conscious acceptance of change, we need to analyse them at the subjective level. John Berry, well-known for his studies on psychological acculturation argues that there are 2 important issues that all acculturating individuals and groups face in culture-contact situations :

(i) Degree to which there is a desire to maintain one’s culture and identity.

(ii) Degree to which there is a desire to engage in daily interactions with members of other cultural group(s).

Based on people’s positive or negative answer to these issues, 4 acculturative strategies have been derived:

1. Integration : an attitude in which there is an interest in both, maintaining one’s original culture and identity, while staying in daily interaction with other cultural groups. In this case, there is some degree of cultural integrity maintained while interacting with other cultural groups.

2. Assimilation : an attitude in which people do not wish to maintain their cultural identity, and they move to become an integral part of the other culture. In this case, there is loss of one’s culture and identity.

3. Separation : an attitude in which people seem to place a value on holding on to their original culture, and wish to avoid interaction with other cultural groups. In this case, people often tend to glorify their cultural identity.

4. Marginalisation : an attitude in which there is little possibility or interest in one’s cultural maintenance, and little interest in having relations with other cultural groups. In this case, people generally remain undecided about what they should do, and continue to stay with a great deal of stress. 

1.4.5 Life span development

Stage Theories 

Prenatal Development 

Teratogens : Environmental factors that can damage the foetus and interfere with normal patterns of growth. e.g.
  1. Prescription and over the counter drugs.  e.g. overuse of aspirin can harm foetus's circulatory system.
  2. Caffeine found in coffee, tea and many soft drinks can slow down foetus's growth and can contribute to premature birth, and also cause irritability in newborns.
  3. Cocaine : premature birth, brain lesions , impaired sensory functioning, heart deformities, increased inrritability.
  4. Alcohol : fetal alcohol syndrome (small than normal head-size, deformities of face, iritability, hyperactivity, retarded motor and mental development, heart defects, limb and joint abnormalities, feeding problems, short attention spans, behavioural problems as children grow up.)
  5. Smoking : decreased birth weight and size, increased risk for miscarriage and stillbirth (dead baby born)


Some reflexes present in the newborn — coughing, blinking, and yawning persist throughout their lives. Others such as the ones mentioned in the table below disappear as the brain functions mature and voluntary control over behaviour starts developing.
Developmental Course
Turning the head and opening the mouth when touched on the cheek
Disappears between 3 and 6 months
If there is a loud noise, the baby will throw her arms outward while arching her back then bring the arms together as if grasping something
Disappears in 6-7 months (although reaction to loud noises is permanent)
a.k.a palmar grasping reflex. When a finger or some other object is pressed against the baby’s palm, baby’s fingers close around it
Disappears in 3-4 months; replaced by voluntary grasping
When the bottom of baby's foot is stroked, the toes fan out and then curl
Disappears by 8-12 months
Baby closes eyes in response to light

When nipple or other object is placed in mouth, baby sucks

Tonic Neck
When placed on back with head turned to one side, baby stretches out arm and leg on the facing side.

Baby makes stepping motions if held upright so one foot just touches a surface.

The newborn is not as helpless as we might think. The activities needed to sustain life functions are present in the newborn

Q. Can locomotor development in infancy and early childhood be affected due to cultural factors ? Substantiate.

Cross-cultural studies indicate that motor-development is not just a function of maturation, rather it can be speeded up or slowed by various child rearing practices.

e.g. :
  1. Mothers in Uganda and Kenya start early to teach their babies to sit and the babies learn to do so at an earlier age than children in several Western countries like U.S. (Super, 1981)
  2. Mothers in West Indies massage their babies and exercise their motor skills frequently (throwing them up in air, holding them upside down etc.). Such practices seem to speed up motor development.
  3. In contrast,  infants living in nomadic tribes in Paraguay are carried everywhere and prevented from exploring their environments; as a result, they show delayed motor development and don't begin to walk till they are > 2 years of age.

Q. "Babies from birth are social creatures". Elucidate and substantiate.

Regardless of whether they were fed by the wire or the cloth mother the baby monkeys showed a preference for the cloth mother and spent a lot more time with her. This study clearly demonstrates that providing nourishment or feeding was not crucial for attachment and contact-comfort is important. 

Human babies also form an attachment with their parents or caregivers who consistently and appropriately reciprocate to their signals of love and affection.

Piaget's theory of cognitive development
Central assumption :

Constructivism : The assumption that children are active thinkers who are constantly trying to construct more accurate & advanced understanding of the world around them i.e. children construct their knowledge about world by interacting with it.

A/c to Piaget, children build such knowledge through 2 basic processes :
Assimilation : incorporation of new info or knowledge into existing knowledge structures called schemas
Accommodation : modifications in existing schemas due to exposure to new info or knowledge.

Stage 1 : Sensorimotor Stage (0-18/24 months)
Infants learn that there is a relation b/w their actions & the external world e.g. they can manipulate objects & produce effects. (Cause-Effect concept)

Throughout this stage infants discover the world only through their sensory impressions &motor activities; use of mental images or symbols to represent objects or events is unknown to them.

Object Permanence - the idea that objects continue to exist even when hidden from view, only develops by 9 months of age, not before that.

Stage 2 :Preoperational Stage (1.5/2 to 6/7 years)
Toddlers acquire the ability to form mental images of objects &events
Language starts to develop
Children demonstrate symbolic play (pretending that one object is another e.g. pencil is a rocket)
Maturing cognition :

Still Immature traits : 

Stage 3 : Stage of Concrete Operations(6/7-11/12)

Stage 4 : Stage of Formal Operations (>11/12)

Criticism of Piaget's theory 
Under-estimation of cognitive abilities
In later research (e.g. Siegal & Peterson, 1996) it was found that cognitive abilities of infants & preschoolers is considerably greater than what Piaget believed. Specific e.g. are :

Baillargeon (1987)- 
6.5 months old infants looked longer at the
impossible event
of an object being pushed by a hand glove even when it was off the surface (suspended in air !) as compared to the event when the object was only pushed till it was on surface. In the control condition, a hand was shown
the object instead of pushing it & children showed no marked diff. in observation times in the two analogous events, showing that they understood that objects can be
even when they are off the surface (but can't continue to be pushed).

Criticism on the ground of discreteness ofstages  of cognitive development : development is a more continuous and gradual process and can be diff. in diff. domains (high in one and low in other)

Importance of social interactions b/w children & caregivers in their cognitive development is ignored. (Vygotsky stressed on role of these)

Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory of development (also relevant for paper-2 : ch 5: Educational psychology/pedagogy)

Main Ideas:

 Contribution of Vygotsky's Theory

Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development
Age Duration
Description (read along with the age duration name)
Existential Question 
Trust vs Mistrust 
Infants (0-2 yrs.)
learn to either trust the environment (if needs are met) or to mistrust it.
Can I trust the world ?
Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt
Toddlers (2-3 yrs.)
acquire self-confidence if they learn to regulate their bodies and act independently. If they fail or are labeled as inadequate, they experience shame and doubt.
Is it OK to be me ?
Initiative vs Guilt
Preschoolers (3-5)
acquire new physical and mental skills but must learn to control their impulses because unless a good balance is struck, they either become unruly or inhibited.
Is it OK for me to do,move and act ?
Industry vs Inferiority
Children (6-11 yrs.)
acquire many skill and competencies. If they take pride in these, they acquire high self-esteem but if they compare themselves unfavourably to others, they develop low self esteem
Can I make it in the world of people and things ?
Identity vs Role Confusion
Adolescents (13-20)
must integrate various roles into a consistent self identity. If they fail to do so, they may experience confusion over who they really are.
Who am I ? Who can I be ?
Intimacy vs Isolation
Young Adults (20-40)
must develop the ability to form deep, intimate relationships with others. If they do not, they may become socially or emotionally isolated.
 Can I love ?

Generativity vs Stagnation/Self-Absorption
Adults (40-65)
must take active interest in their work and in helping and guiding younger persons. If they do not, they may become preoccupied with purely selfish needs.
Can I make my life count ?
Integrity vs Despair
"whether my life had a meaning ?"-If the answer to this question is yes, a sense of integrity appears otherwise despair is experienced. 
Was it alright to have been me ?

Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development(Highly relevant for GS-IV)

Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences; solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner. A child with pre-conventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society's conventions regarding what is right or wrong but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions may bring.

1. Obedience and punishment orientation (How can I avoid punishment?)
Individuals focus on the direct consequences of their actions on themselves. e.g. an action is perceived as morally wrong because the perpetrator is punished. "The last time I did that I got spanked, so I will not do it again." The worse the punishment for the act is, the more "bad" the act is perceived to be This can give rise to an inference that even innocent victims are guilty in proportion to their suffering.There is "deference (polite submission or respect) to superior power or prestige." 

e.g.  a child's classmate tries to dare the child to skip school. The child would apply obedience and punishment driven morality by refusing to skip school because he would get punished.

2. Self-interest orientation (What's in it for me?) (Paying for a benefit)
Right behavior is defined by whatever the individual believes to be in their best interest but understood in a narrow way which does not consider one's reputation or relationships to groups of people; limited interest in the needs of others. 

e.g. when a child is asked by his parents to do a chore. The child asks, "what's in it for me?" The parents offer the child an incentive by giving a child an allowance to pay them for their chores. The child is motivated by self-interest to do chores.

Level 2 (Conventional)
Typical of adolescents and adults; characterized by an acceptance of society's conventions concerning right and wrong; a rule's appropriateness or fairness is seldom questioned.

3. Interpersonal accord and conformity (Social norms) (The good boy/girl attitude)
Individuals are receptive to approval or disapproval from others as it reflects society's views. 

4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation (Law and order morality)
Reasoning in stage four is beyond the need for individual approval exhibited in stage three. There is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones. Most active members of society remain at stage four, where morality is still predominantly dictated by an outside force

Level 3 (Post-Conventional aka Principled Level)
Post-conventional moralists live by their own ethical principles—principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice. Individual’s own perspective may take precedence over society’s view; individuals may disobey rules inconsistent with their own principles. Some theorists have speculated that many people may never reach this level of abstract moral reasoning.

5. Social contract orientation
the world is viewed as holding different opinions, rights, and values. Such perspectives should be mutually respected as unique to each person or community. Laws are regarded as social contracts rather than rigid edicts. Those that do not promote the general welfare should be changed when necessary to meet “the greatest good for the greatest number of people" (utilitarianism). This is achieved through majority decision and inevitable compromise. Democratic government is ostensibly based on stage five reasoning.

6. Universal ethical principles (Principled conscience) (universal ethical principles driven)
Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes. The individual acts because it is right, and not because it avoids punishment, is in their best interest, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon. Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that level

Kohlberg suggested that there may be a 7th stage—Transcendental Morality, or Morality of Cosmic Orientation—which linked religion with moral reasoning. Kohlberg's difficulties in obtaining empirical evidence for even a sixth stage,however, led him to emphasize the speculative nature of his seventh stage.

Criticisms of Kohlberg's theory

Contextual/Ecological Models of Development 

Contextual theories suggest that since life events & conditions may vary from culture to culture and over diff. periods of time, adult development must be viewed against this backdrop of social and historical factors. e.g. in ancient culture of India, aged persons were treated as sources of wisdom, were highly respected but in contemporary times, ageism  has become a negatively stereotyped word.

Theory of Mind of Adolescents 

It is their understanding of how they or others think. It continues to change and develop. 

Younger Children : Realist Approach : They believe that knowledge is a property of the real world and that there are definite truths or facts that can be acquired. 

Older Children and pre-adolescents : Relativist Approach : They become aware of the fact that experts often disagree. This approach thus realizes that people may interpret the same information in contrasting ways.

Older Preadolescents : Defended Realism Approach : They recognize the difference between facts and opinions. Yet they continue to believe that there is a set of facts about the world that are completely true, and that differences in opinion stem from differences in available information. 

Adolescents: Dogmatic-Skepticism : They realise that there is no secure basis for knowledge or for making decisions. They alternate between blind faith in some authority and doubting everything.

Some older adolescents : Post-skeptical rationalism :  Finally some adolesccents realize that while there are no absolute truths, there are better or worse reasons for holding certain views. This is the kind of thinking democrat

Levinson's Theory of Adult Development (Baron Pg-356)

Psychologist Daniel Levinson developed a comprehensive theory of adult development, referred to as the Seasons of Life theory, which identified stages and growth that occur well into the adult years.
His theory is comprised of sequence-like stages. Each stage is shaped by an event or action that leads into the next stage. The stages are:
1. Early Adult Transition (Age 17-22). This is the stage in which a person leaves adolescence and begins to make choices about adult life. These include choosing to go to college or enter the workforce, choosing to enter a serious relationship, and choosing to leave home.
2. Entering the Adult World (Age 22-28). This is the stage in which a person makes more concrete decisions regarding their occupation, friendships, values, and lifestyles.
3. Age 30 Transitions (Age 28-33). In this stage, there are often lifestyle changes that could be mild or more severe. For example, marriage or having children impact one's lifestyle, and these changes have differing consequences on how a person develops depending on how they embrace the event.
4. Settling Down (Age 33-40). In this stage, one often begins to establish a routine, makes progress on goals for the future, and begins behaving like an adult. People in this stage are often parents or have more responsibilities.
5. Mid-Life Transition (Age 40-45). This time period is sometimes one of crisis. A person begins to evaluate his or her life. Values may change, and how society views these people may change also. Some people make drastic life changes, such as divorce or a career change. At this point, people begin thinking about death and begin to think about leaving a legacy.
6. Entering Middle Adulthood (Age 45-50). In this stage, choices must be made about the future and possibly retirement. People begin to commit to new tasks and continue to think about the legacy they are leaving.
7. Late Adulthood (Age 60+). In this stage, one begins to reflect on life and the decisions they have made.
Levinson also indicated that each stage consists of two types of periods:

Vaillant's Theory

Psychiatrist George Vaillant spent most of his career researching and charting adult development. His work is based on research of over 800 men and women spanning 60 years.
Vaillant identified six adult life tasks that must be successfully accomplished in order for a person to mature as an adult.
The tasks are:
1. Developing an Identity. Vaillant explained that an adolescent must establish an identity that allows a separation from parents. This identity is made up of one's values, passions, and beliefs.
2. Development of Intimacy. This allows a person to have reciprocal relationships with another person. This task involves expanding one's sense of self to include another person.
3. Career Consolidation. In this task, the person finds a career that is valuable to society and to him or herself. According to Vaillant, a job turns into a career once one has contentment, compensation, competence, and commitment. He notes that such a career could be that of a spouse or stay-at-home parent as well.
4. Generativity. This involves the unselfish will and capacity to give. Generativity means being in a relationship in which one gives up much of the control. For example, serving as a consultant or mentor to others would help establish generativity.
5. Becoming Keeper of the Meaning. This task involves passing on the traditions of the past to the next generation.
6. Achieving Integrity. This task involves achieving a sense of peace and unity with respect to one's life and to the world itself.

Neugarten's Theory

The psychologist Bernice Neugarten was one of the first to research and teach adult development. She proposed The Social Clock Theory in which there are age-graded expectations for life events. Being on-time or off-time from these major life events, such as beginning a first job, getting married, or retiring, can profoundly affect self-esteem.
The type of society that a person lives in will also set the expectations for the landmark events. For example, one society may promote early marriage, while another may promote waiting until a career is established to have children or get married. Think about the major landmark events our society promotes. Going to college immediately after high school is one of those societal expectations.
Individuals who keep pace with the social clock are more likely to be accepted and engaged with society. Those who either choose to lag behind or choose to ignore the clock completely may be ostracized because they are not fitting in with the established norms of the community. This could lead to feelings of low self-esteem.


Each of the three theories we discussed view the development of adults as an important area of research.
Both Vaillant and Levinson agree that developing quality relationships with others is important for shaping future development. Neugarten emphasizes these types of relationships, too, but says the relationships may look differently and occur at different times according to societal norms.
Both Vaillant and Levinson agree that there is a mid-life stage in which conflict, confusion, and turmoil typically occurs. The successful navigation and resolution of this stage leads to a calmer, more established adult life.
Finally, Vaillant's and Levinson's theories are both limited in the fact that their research was largely based off interviews with people born in the first few decades of the 20th century. Different types of relationships, the economy, and different family structures make these theories less applicable to today's society.
The major difference in these three theories deals with how each researcher viewed development. Levinson's theory proposed a series of sequential stages, while Valliant proposed tasks that act as a cumulative guide for building a satisfying life. Neugarten proposed that the social clock guided development for adults.


In psychology and ethology, imprinting is any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject. Imprinting is hypothesized to have a critical period.