The point where change occurs throughout the life cycle is critical. Traditional approaches to human development have emphasized change from birth to adolescence, stability in adulthood, and decline in old age. Sears and Feldman have captured the flavor of some of the most important adult changes. The changes in body, personality, and abilities may be great during these later decades. Strong developmental tasks are imposed by marriage and parenthood, by the waxing and waning of physical prowess and of some intellectual capacities, by the children’s exit from the nest, by the achievement of an occupational plateau, and by retirement and the prospect of death.
A number of stage-crisis theories have been developed to explain the change adults undergo, the best known being Erikson’s theory and, in the popular literature, Gail Sheehy’s Passages. Many theorists and researchers, however, have not been satisfied with the stage-crisis approaches to adult development. To obtain a more accurate view of adult development, many experts believe that the study of life events adds valuable information. Hultsch and Deutsch point out that our lives are punctuated by transitions defined by various events. Particular emphasis is placed on the stressful nature of these events. Events typically thought of as positive (marriage or being promoted at work), as well as events usually perceived as negative (death of spouse, being fired from work), are potentially stressful. Factors that can mediate such stressful life events include internal resources (physical health, intellectual abilities) and external resources (income, social supports). Adaptation involves the use of coping strategies that result in behavioral change.
Broadly speaking, there are two theoretical approaches to the study of personality development, one focusing on similarities and the other on differences. The stage theories all attempt to describe the universals—not the individual variation—in development.
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