Changes within our development- gradual or abrupt?

We all go through changes as we develop throughout our lives, but have you ever considered whether these changes happen over time or at sudden intervals? While reading about developmental psychology, I came across the continuity/discontinuity issue. This is an on-going debate among psychologists regarding whether changes within our development are continuous (quantitative) or discontinuous (qualitative).

Continuity theorists believe that human development is a gradual, addictive process which continuously occurs without any abrupt changes. Generally, these theorists hold the view that the nature of the changes in our development are quantitative which means that they change in amounts. An example of a quantitative change would be that children grow taller each year- they grow a certain amount of inches overtime.

On the other hand, discontinuity theorists hold the view that development progresses over several stages of change which occur suddenly, bringing the child to a greater developed level of functioning. According to these theorists, qualitative changes occur within human development meaning that these particular changes introduce a significant difference to the child every time they occur. An example of this could be the language ability acquired in the stage between an infant and a toddler.

I agree with the views of continuity theorists as I believe it makes more logical sense for a child to keep progressing continuously throughout their lives, as opposed to developing skills and abilities in big chunks throughout life. This is because children develop certain skills and abilities such as interaction and language through experience therefore it seems more sensible to assume that a child would gain and develop as a person as they continuously experience new interactions.

What do you think? Does human development progress gradually though experience or do we develop and change in different abrupt stages in life?


About Nathalie Lauren Joyce

19. First year @ Bangor University. Psychology Blogger.

4 responses to “Changes within our development- gradual or abrupt?

  1. Your post is so good to read. Amazing!!
    Thank you for sharing, I will post it on my Facebook to share to my friends?

  2. I actually believe there is reason to suggest a combination of the two. It is clear that for the most part we are gradual, continual developers (quantitative). However, the speed of that continual development appears to be variable, the same as ‘growth spurts’ are variable. Babies can progress very quickly from first sitting up, to crawling and then walking. Similarly the jump from babbling to speech, happens very quickly in terms of average human development. Also to be considered is the effect of puberty on each individual which you could argue is a milestone in human development that can be classed as qualitative or discontinuous development.

  3. I believe that human development is a gradual process where one learns over a long period of time and not all in one go. If we were to learn things at a greater speed over several stages (discontinuity theory), I think that we would be a pretty amazing species and that we would be able to walk and talk at a much greater rate that we can now. However, I can see how we can sometimes learn things at a much faster pace than we normally do; such as doing something wrong then realising that this action was totally wrong and irrelevant. We can learn from this experience in a fast time and sometimes have a change in opinion of things, and how we act and treat one another.

    So overall I believe that it is possible for both theories to exist. The continuity theory being the one that we will always have, otherwise why would we have to go to school if we could learn at a much faster rate. The discontinuity theory is also there, but I believe that it is a process that we use when we have no choice but to make split second decisions and learn from our actions and decisions.

    Shaffer, D. R., & Kipp, K. (2009). Developmental Psychology: Childhood & Adolescence. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company

  4. psue96

    I would say on a mind level that continuity is the answer. However, you must also consider the external and internal factors that influence development. The first thing that comes to mind is Puberty. A very sudden and radical change in the human body, particularly the brain, which undergoes great changes (Blakemore & Choudhury 2005). Secondly, the education system tends to teach and develop children in chunks, such as Key stages, and year groups. This year they learn this, and next year they can do this and so on. I would say these factors have changed the way we cognitively develop rather significantly

    – JC

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