Adult Development Theories Essay


Life has been described by many as journey that has not only a beginning but also an end and has to be travelled by everybody. This implies that there exists an array of courses of life which one takes. Based on the fact that human beings are socialized differently, it suffices to say that everybody is bound to follow a unique path. These paths are highly associated with what influences individuals, what they achieve and the kind of dreams which are never realized. It is however important to note that both success and failure are part of a person’s life and that the occurrence does not always determine ones fate (Victor 1987). What is so interesting is the course of life described by theorists and researchers. Most theories of adult development implicitly assume that the individual life course follows a curve or trajectory and then falling back. Some of the components of this life curve include but not limited to occupational success, social status, standard of living and positive self-image. This view of old age as “falling back” is backed by numerous psychologists whose ideas are extensively expounded in this synthesis.

Human development

As many would agree, the process of human development is a complex one with scientists facing countless questions about life. Perhaps one of the most challenging concerns is aging and why people never die young just the way they were born. Is it necessary to grow old? Is ageing a process? Is it possible to be considered old without going through certain stages in life? How do people prepare for old age? In deed these are some of the questions which revolve around the concept of aging and why the entire human life is considered as a curve or trajectory. In general, human development refers to the study of all ordered psychological stages which take place during an individual’s life span (Demick & Andreoletti, 2003). Although the field previously focused on young people and some of the mental changes surrounding them, it has expanded its boundaries to incorporate adolescents and the aging group with emphasis on the human life span which encompasses enormous changes. It therefore explores various issues ranging from motor skills, conceptual understanding, identity formation, and emotional and cognitive development among.  

Additionally, the field explains issues to do with acquisition of knowledge against step by step development, or comparison between being born with certain mental ability as opposed to obtaining these skills through life experiences. Most research analysis try to explain how the surrounding circumstances influence a person’s development process. What is clear is that human development occurs in an array of stages with every stage being associated with particular challenges. For instance, the manner in which young people view life is completely different as compared to elderly individuals (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2006). As young adults think of how securing stable jobs and live a standard life, ageing people are preoccupied with feelings of isolation with minimal or no imagination of what the future holds for them.

With reference to career performance, old people become less productive as a result of certain factors which catch up with them. This mostly forces majority to retire from employment or avoid being involved in demanding tasks. Like children, old people need to be taken care of; they are vulnerable to infections and are weak. It therefore means that old people may not be in a position to fully perform duties which they initially perfected and have a different view over life. From successful professionals to dependents, indeed life follows a curve which denotes rising and falling. This has been described by many psychologists like Erik Erickson, Freud and Piaget. These experts have developed models which give evidence as to why the course of life leads to a “falling back” scenario.

Psychosocial development

Opposing differences that occur in human personalities have well been described by Erik Erikson, a psychologist whose work has significantly contributed in the understanding of human development stages. As described by Erik, individuals exhibit parallel view points about themselves like optimism or pessimism, leader or follower emotional or unemotional among others. Although most of such traits are usually inborn, Erik’s theory of psychosocial development proves that people tend to learn some behaviour as a way of coping with the surrounding or existing circumstances. Most of what is learned is based on either support or challenges encountered during ones lifetime. As a result, individuals become who they are in terms of the content of their character as influenced by the environment. Like many other personalities who get influenced by colleagues, Erik’s psychological approach was significantly impacted by Sigmund Freud. The psychosocial theory expounded by Erik recognizes the role of the external world in shaping the behaviour of a person with main focus on wars and depression which are common in the society (Barbara & Newman, 2008). The course of life is therefore determined by the coordination between the mind, body and cultural aspect.

Unlike many psychological theorists who focus on childhood development, Erik views the course of life from childhood to death, with a myriad of concepts explaining eight stages of human development. These findings five evidence about “Falling Back” as experienced among adult people. Based on the fact a person’s lifespan is dominated by adulthood, he emphasizes this by dividing adulthood into three categories covering young, middle and older adults. It is important to note that ages for these groups may differ but most people find themselves covered (Barbara & Newman, 2008). Besides the eight stages cutting across the life of a human being, Erik’s ideas are considered to belong to two broad categories which later determine the course of life. He affirmed that many people find the world to grow bigger at every stage of life through changes and experiences encountered. Despite this expansion of the world in an individual’s life he notes that failure accompanies every step and becomes cumulative when older stages of life are attained. It is obvious that the world becomes bigger to most people as advances in age knock at the door. For instance career performance changes with time together with shift in goals and aspirations. Success also improves leading to reputable performance in many duties in life. As these changes take place, improved living standards and overall stature dominate daily life.

On the contrary, most people are never cautious about cumulative failure which takes place at every stage of life. This is to say that children who experience horrendous childhood are likely to find it hard to deal with future circumstances as compared to those who never had such encounters. Nevertheless, it has been assumed that human beings are likely to have their minds ignited in order to overcome certain situations which may otherwise have been considered impossible (Thomas, 1992). The first stage of development described by Erik is infancy. Because of the dependency of the baby mothers play a vital role through love and care with main focus on what children get in contact with. The need to successfully pass through the stage is to have trust and develop confidence which is necessary to face future challenges. Frustrations encountered during this stage lead to mistrust towards the world at large. Infancy stage ends at the age of eighteen months.

Early childhood ends at the age of three years. It is during this time that children learn and master simple skills like the use of the toilet and gaining autonomy over their bodies. Other traits which are learned during this age are courage, will and self control. Parental relationship however matters. The third stage ends at the age of five years and involves emulation of behaviour from parents (Baltes & Margret, 1993). Unlike earlier stages, the relationship with the basic family matters in the life of a child. Erik’s fourth stage is the school age which occurs between the age of six and twelve years. It is described as a social stage of development. During this time, children interact with the school and the neighbourhood. The adolescence stage is experienced up to the age of eighteen years during which life is complex. Individuals seek identity and are more concerned with what is done to them. It is believed that peer influence plays a major during this stage. Young adulthood is experienced up the age of thirty-five when love and intimate relationships take centre stage. During the middle adulthood which ends at the age of fifty five or sixty five, workplace relationships and the community matter in terms of relationships. The last stage of life as described by Erik ends when death occurs. He refers to it as late adulthood stage characterized by wisdom, contentment and despair (Gubrium, 2000). Some may experience fear of death with a deep reflection of how they spent their lives. Older people get detached from others through retirement and being dependent. They are no longer viewed as productive members but rather in need of support.

Disengagement theory

Although there are other factors which influence the life of elderly people, theorists believe that ageing involves gradual social withdrawal. This disengagement is usually in preparation for the ultimate detachment from the others through death. Besides individuals making personal decisions, the society also prepares one of their own for later stages in life (Morgan & Kunkel, 2011). This is mainly through minimum responsibilities assigned to the person to avoid putting a lot of pressure on him. It is worth noting that weather the society prepares an old person for future phases of life or he does it himself, the person performs minor social roles. As a result, elderly persons suffer deterioration in social relationships both in quantity and quality. In other words, the person becomes mentally disconnected from others and may derive almost zero satisfaction from a relationship.

Based on the manner of social disconnection, disengagement is therefore described as a triple loss. This is mainly because of three reasons as mentioned above. According to this theory, withdrawal from social roles is the one of the greatest loss since they are less productive and weak. Consequently, old people end up allowing the younger generation to take up productive roles in the society which were formerly held by them. Another loss experienced is the fact that they minimise social contacts and minimum commitment to family values. According to this theory, a person can be considered to be successfully ageing by gradual reduction of activity involvement until the person gets preoccupied with himself and eventual death (Sudbery, 2009). It can generally be noted that older people become socially unproductive with time. Despite the fact that they might be willing to continue participating in some social activities, most of them are usually faced with health problems like old age diseases, poor eye sight and physically weak among other factors which render them dependent. This can be viewed as a stage of “Falling Back” when one can no longer participate in most of the activities of life. Although they may have significantly contributed to development through successful career profile, their involvement activity is minimized.  

Continuity theory

It is more obvious than not that human life is made up of several developmental stages. These stages have been proved to be important in not only shaping ones character but also in helping individuals to cope with preceding levels of development. Sociologists argue that the approach taken in socialization of children usually prepares them for future roles in the society (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2006). These stages therefore augment continuity as one experience the future. According to the continuity theory, people try to gain stability in every stage of life. This means that ageing can be well explained using the interrelationships between social, psychological and biological changes in the life of an individual and prior behaviour trends. The theory further explains that individuals struggle to preserve preferred habits and lifestyle for future application in overcoming challenges.

The ageing process is therefore a process dominated with battles aimed at preserving the favourite lifestyle. As a result, most people find retirement to be quite problematic since no life experience prepares them to be jobless. It is during this time of retirement that most skills and career become superfluous and people are forced to replace work with leisure. Consequently, the drive to achieve success in performance departs due to lack of set goals witnessed during active working time. Other social roles which become problematic are widowhood and the issue of children spending most of their time out due to career commitment (Gubrium, 2000). This is so because most of the people are never prepared. Although this theory describes the relationship between different stages of development, old people find it hard to associate their stage with previous life experience. Due to lack of psychological preparation for the issues associated with this class of people, they are prone to stressful moments with isolation. This renders them less productive and promotes “Falling Back” as their ages advance.

Cognitive theory

The theory was developed by a Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget who divided the stages of cognitive development into four stages. This model illustrates how the mind receives information which is encountered in life. He noted that the four stages of the model are common among all children during the entire process of development. The first stage which takes two years from the time of birth is called the sensorimotor stage (Schneider, Schumann-Hengsteler & Sodian, 2006). During this process, the infant is able to develop and understanding of himself through continuous interaction with the environment. According to this approach, the child is able to differentiate itself from itself from other objects within the environment. Piaget further notes that the whole process takes place through assimilation and accommodation. Between the age of two and four, the child goes through the preoperational stage. At this time, a child prefers physical situations due to the inability to abstractly conceptualize. Most of the objectives are identified via their important properties (Taylor, 2005).

The third stage of the cognitive theory as it describes human development is the concrete operations stage which takes place between the age of seven and eleven years. At this stage, children are able to increase their accommodation and physical experience (Oakley, 2004). It is during this time that a child conceptualizes issues around and is able to make explanations concerning physical experiences. Notably, development of the mind reaches its final stage during the formal operations stage. This level of development starts at the age of eleven years and ends at fifteen when a person has the ability to make rational choices. It allows a child to make hypothetical decisions which require deductive approach. This theory systematically explains cognitive development in human beings which is supposed to be essential in dealing with future challenges (Eyetsemitan & Gire, 2003). This could be a basis as to why people become more productive and stable before old age overtakes them. It however fails to explain why old people find it hard to cope with issues like social withdrawal and physical weakness, rendering them feeble and dependent.

Activity theory

According to this theory, old age is associated with reduced active participation in most of the society activities. It further states that successful ageing calls for proper and balanced engagement in order to compensate for those activities lost and disconnected relationships (Heath & Schofield, 1999). Most old people become inactive as a result of external constrains which befall them. People in this stage are expected to find a point of equilibrium for satisfaction derived from life and loss of social responsibilities. It is however noted that life satisfaction mainly depends on favoured rather than real life activities. This theory advocates for the need to find satisfaction in life than challenging existing activities. By finding such equilibrium, one enjoys life even though he or she may not be productive to the nation or society. In other words, the ability for an individual to participate in various activities increases from childhood before reaching an optimum stage of middle old age (Schulz 2006). This optimum performance is helpful and promotes development. However, beyond this level, low participation in various activities and roles may render them dependent and non-productive. This ushers a state of “Falling Back” and these individuals can no longer get involved in society activities as before.


The question of why people grow old has been explored by a myriad of researchers throughout the world with no particular findings giving satisfactory evidence and explanation. Nevertheless, many psychologists have developed models which explain different stages during an individual’s lifespan. These theories explain why people behave differently at every stage until they die. Notably, old age is characterized by a number of challenges which make people within this class less productive and more dependent. It suffices to say that adult development implicitly assume that the individual life course follows a curve or trajectory and then falling back.