Case study: lifespan development

What two areas do you think will be particularly important to you in your specialization? Find two research articles-one for each area-that support your thinking. Finally, because each area of lifespan development depends on the other areas of lifespan development, show how your chosen areas are connected to other lifespan development areas.

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My specialization is in general psychology. What attracted me to this specialization is that it allows me the opportunity to create an individualized, academic-track program designed to meet my professional goals and research interests. Given this opportunity I have been able to blend my interest in psychology with courses in marriage and family and social psychology.

It was of particular interest to me to learn that the roots of developmental psychology lie in the need to solve practical issues and continued to progress due the demand to improve the education, health, welfare and legal status of children and their families (Hetherington, 1998). I currently teach a course which focuses on analyzing and assessing the capabilities and predispositions of a youth offender and victim. This includes the youths’ genetic and physical makeup, perceptual and cognitive skills, and the emotional and social manner in which they interact with their family and community.

Consequently, the areas of late childhood and adolescents are of particular interest to me. It was encouraging to learn that the development of aggression and antisocial behavior and competent, socially constructive behaviors represent some of the long-standing and current concerns in developmental psychology (Hetherington, 1998). These are some of the very issues I highlight in my class in relation to late childhood and adolescents.

In keeping with the development of aggression and antisocial behaviors the article I have selected focus on the development of the negative emotion of fear and anger. The development of these emotions is multifaceted at all stages of an individuals’ lifespan and therefore not easily explained by research. Nevertheless this type of research is the key to our understanding of developmental relations, frequency, intensity, and duration of these emotions.

The research in the area of late childhood and adolescence indicate that the emotional development during these stages is marked by first time experiences. These stages in life differ from the previous and the next developmental stage, in dimensions of intensity, frequency and persistence of emotion. The research suggests that due to biological, psychological and social changes, the stage of adolescence, in particular, is highlighted by insecurities and ambivalences that support development of age-specific contents of fear (Jelinke, 2009).

Throughout an individual’s lifespan, fear takes different forms, with specific forms of fear associated with specific periods of development. According to the research fears of physical danger and punishment decreased with age while social fears (fear of evaluation) increased with age. That is, social fears become more differentiated with age. Gender differences have also been noted where older boys and girls report more fears of intimidating social settings (Jelinke, 2009).

Jelinek (2009) was interested in determining the prevalence and describe contents of subjectively experienced fears of fifteen year old adolescent. The results of the study indicated that fear represents an important part of an adolescents’ inner experiential world. In terms of gender differences girls reported higher numbers of fears compared to boys.

The author concluded that the contents of fear can be quite different during the developmental stage of adolescence. The most commonly reported fear of fifteen-year old subject was associated to loss of someone, fear for somebody/something. The author added that due to the adolescents’ developing mental functions, they were able to comprehend a threatening situation better than before and therefore can anticipate it. This deeper understanding of potential threats to oneself and to significant others fosters a greater appreciation of their vulnerability or morality (Jelinek, 2009).

The author noted that the behaviors observed in response to the fear of feeling vulnerable included distance, devaluation with humor, cynicism, provocation and hazardous games. Another coping strategy was idealization and mysticism of death. This strategy was further demonstrated by an increase in highly spiritualized philosophical consideration on the meaning of life and death (Jelinek, 2009).

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The results of this study support the contextualist point of view. They indicate that there are broader environmental influences and depict the historical and social context of the time period in which the adolescents are developing into young adults (Jelinek, 2009; Steenbarger, 1991). This type of research is paramount to our understanding not only of the developmental relations, frequency, intensity and duration of this emotion but also of pathological fears and phobias (Jelinek, 2009).

Understanding negative emotions also encompasses also entails the observation and study of an individuals’ ability to interpret facial expressions. This ability is crucial for social functioning across the lifespan. According to the research facial expression recognition develops rapidly during infancy and improves with age during the preschool years. However, our understanding of the developmental processes of this ability during late childhood to adulthood is not as transparent (Thomas, Bellis, Graham, & LaBar, 2007)

Thomas, Bellis, Graham, and LaBar, (2007) tested older children, adolescents and adults on two- alternative forced-choice discrimination task using morphed faces that varied in emotional content. The authors used actors who appeared to pose expressions that changed incrementally along three progressions: neutral-to-fear, neutral-to-anger, and fear-to-anger. The results of this study indicated that across all three morphs types, adults where more sensitive to subtle changes in emotional expression than children and adolescents. Furthermore, fear morphs and fear-to-anger blends showed a linear developmental trajectory, whereas anger morphs showed an exponential trend, increasing sharply from adolescents to adults.

These findings suggest that although older children and adolescents are capable of recognizing and labeling prototypical category exemplars of emotions, they might not be as sensitive to nuances in facial expression communicated in blends of emotions or emotions of lesser intensity. This also indicates that emotional face recognition continues to develop from late childhood through adulthood for negative emotions (Thomas, Bellis, Graham, & LaBar, 2007).

The authors suggest that culture may explain why sensitivity to anger develops later than fear. Within our society there exist cultural guidelines for expressing anger, and children continue to learn these social rules and norms throughout adolescence. According to the research anger represents a self-conscious and social emotion. The expression of fear continues to develop and alter throughout childhood. This change is due to cognitive development and the recognition and understanding of perilous situations. The emotion of fear is therefore seen as an instinctual reaction to an external threatening stimulus. The emotion of anger is cognitively driven and socially influenced (Thomas, Bellis, Graham, & LaBar, 2007).

Research in the area of emotional facial recognition is the key to our understanding of how children and adults differ in their interpretation of emotional information in interpersonal relationships and their ability to socially communicate internal feelings. Continued replication of these studies will help in determining the normal developmental path for facial emotion recognition and enhance our awareness and diagnosis of affective disorders associated with social dysfunction in mood disorder.

Both these studies highlight the current interest of developmental scientist as well as my academic and professional goal of conducting research which can be applied to the design and implementation of prevention and intervention programs that will help in improving our understanding of youth violence (Hetherington, 1998).


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