Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

6
The ContinuityDiscontinuity Issue

A second major issue in developmental psychology can be derived from the naturenurture issue. Granted that there are laws governing behavioral development and that these laws lie within the province of nature and nurture, how do they function across the life span of a species? Do the variables involved in determining behavioral development remain the same or do they change ontogenetically in their functioning? If the same laws, or variables, account for behavioral development at different times in the ontogeny of a species, this is continuity. Alternatively, if different laws account for behavioral development at different times in the ontogeny of a species, this is discontinuity. This, then, is the second central conceptual issue that pervades developmental psychology -- that is, the continuity-discontinuity issue.


DEFINING THE ISSUE

In a general way one may say that if things stay the same, continuity exists, and if things change, discontinuity exists. However, greater precision and clarification of the continuity-discontinuity issue are necessary. The continuity-discontinuity issue pertains to issues of the description and explanation of within-person change.


Description of Intraindividual Change

In seeking to systematically represent the changes a person goes through across time -- that is, in trying to describe intraindividual change -- one may ask if the behavior being described takes the same form across time. Simply, does the behavior look the same? When engaging in peer-group relations, when playing, do a child, an adolescent, and an adult do the same things? If behavior seen at one point in the life span can be described in the same way as behavior at another point, then descriptive continuity exists. If behavior seen at one point in the life span cannot be described in the same way as behavior at another point, then descriptive discontinuity exists.

The former situation would exist if what a person did with his or her peers in order to "have fun" were the same in adolescence and adulthood, while the latter situation would exist if the person engaged in different activities at these two times. Further illustration of descriptive continuity and discontinuity is seen in Figure 6.1. Part a of the figure illustrates no change in intraindividual status (continuity), while Part b shows change in intraindividual status (discontinuity).

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