Contextual role in lifespan dvelopment

Lifespan development is the process by which individuals go through a series of stages that unfold one after the other. Development applies to both the physical and non-physical dimensions. Almost all individuals agree that physical growth stops at certain points. However, there is a lot of contention about where the issue of personality development stops. Many authors have used descriptions such as adulthood, inner unity and self actualization in attempts to describe where this development ends. However, these definitions are all linked to certain cultural or historical aspects of a person’s life. This then brings out the importance of context within the field of lifespan development. The essay shall look at cultural, historical, spiritual aspects that affect how an individual’s lifespan development occurs. (Pogson and Tennant, 1995)

Role of context

Many books address the stages that human beings go through as they grow but few of them pay attention to the forces or power that one’s social surrounding can have upon their lives.  It should be noted that the environment can influence ones’ development both physical and intellectually. This is because the environment can interact with ones genes and change the way they grow.

Many theories exist about the stage of development. Some experts suggested seven stages; others suggested six while others believe that human beings go through five stages. While these stages may be common among certain individuals, one cannot ignore the fact that they are not applicable to all individuals. By establishing a system of theories that generalize developmental stages, these experts were ignoring one of the most crucial facts in development; the individual. Each and every person is exposed to different cultural or social aspects; consequently, that person is bound to turn out differently in comparison to their counterparts. (Jarvis, 1997)

When one examines the nature of stages that their own lives have undergone, one can see that none of them actually fit ideally into the latter mentioned life stages. There are some delays in certain instances and there may also be some skips. One must therefore ask themselves why this is occurring. The answer is that human beings are creatures of their surrounding. Every single person is exposed to different experiences. This affects them both physically and otherwise and it can therefore affect the nature of their developmental process.

Life development should not be mechanized in such a manner that one can assume that they can predict growth phases. Life is not clear cut and sometimes, one’s experiences can either cause that person to retrogress (in that they depict signs characteristics of an earlier stage), in other instances, experiences may propel individuals to enter into stages that may not be predicted for their age. Sometimes, one can undergo a certain stage twice and these are all as a result of people’s interaction with their environment. (Humphries, 1988)

Some of the stages created by experts on lifespan development may not necessarily be prevalent in all parts of the world. The authors mentioned include

·  Erikson

·   Piaget

·   Kohlberg

·    Etc

These experts conducted their studies only in certain parts of the world while the rest were left out. Sometimes, some communities may not depict the characteristics laid out in their theories. For instance, stages such as mid life crisis may not prevalent in all parts of the world. Some people may assume that this is a western notion.

Another important issue that affects development is one’s gender in relation to their surrounding. Because of the roles laid out by society with respect to gender issues, then one cannot assume that all societies will have individuals who go through similar stages as do other women in the rest of the world.

Certain psychologists and sociologists came up with a series of factors that can affect the nature of one’s life outcome. An example of such an author was Holmes and Rahe. The latter authors described some forty three items that can alter one’s perception of the world around them, these included

SA spouse death-100


Separation from a spouse-65

A close family member’s death—63

Detention in jail-63




Job retirement-45

Others included reconciliation with a spouse, changes in health etc. (Rutter and Rutter, 1992)

The latter ratings were in order of the event’s ability to alter one’s development. The authors explained that when these events occurred, then one had to succumb to overwhelming emotional burdens. It should be noted that the list largely contained a number of adult related issues. It was also explained that the degree to which he events alter one’s life is largely dependent on whether they were expected in one’s lifespan. Also the sequence within which those events occur also matters because when the events follow one another, then they can cause a crisis which eventually changes one life course.


It should be noted that development largely depends on one’s experiences and environment. In other words, context is crucial. This is the reason why many developmental stages are not linear and vary from individual to individual.


Rutter, B. and Rutter, M. (1992): Developing Minds. Challenge and continuity across the life span; Penguin

Pogson, P. and Tennant, M. (1995): Learning and Change in the Adult Years; Jossey-Bass

Humphries, B. (1988): Adult learning in social work education; Critical Social Policy No. 23: 4-21

Jarvis, P. (1997): Adult Learning in the Social Context; Croom Helm