Is development a gradual process or is it a sequence of distinct stages?
One of the major controversies in developmental psychology centers on whether development is continuous or discontinuous. Stage theories of development rest on the assumption that development is a discontinuous process involving distinct stages which are characterized by qualitative differences in behavior. Stage theories can be contrasted with continuous theories, which posit that development is an incremental process. There are many stages (discontinuous) theories in developmental psychology including the well-known Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development described how children represent and reason about the world.
While some of these theories focus primarily on the healthy development of children, others propose stages that are characterized by a maturity rarely reached before old age.
There are a number of different views about the way in which psychological and physical development proceed throughout the life span. In addition to individual differences in development, developmental psychologists generally agree that development occurs in an orderly way and in different areas simultaneously. There remain, however, differing views on whether development is continuous or discontinuous.
Those psychologists who support the continuous view of development suggest that development involves gradual and ongoing changes throughout the life span, with behavior in the earlier stages of development providing the basis of skills and abilities required for the next stages.
Not all psychologists, however, agree that development is a continuous process. Some view development as a discontinuous process. They believe development involves distinct and separate stages with different kinds of behavior occurring in each stage. This suggests that the development of certain abilities in each stage, such as specific emotions or ways of thinking, have a definite starting and ending point. However,...