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The Lifespan Development of Individuals: Behavioral, Neurobiological, and Psychosocial Perspectives: A Synthesis
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:151-152.
View Author and Article Information
Lebanon, N.H.

edited by David Magnusson, Bengt Winblad, Torgny Greitz, Lars Terenius, and Thomas Hokfelt. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1996, 526 pp., $100.00; $44.95 (paper).

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To cover all the material to which the title of this book alludes one would expect a multiple-volume series; after all, individual development is a complex, multidetermined, and integrated process that takes place progressively from conception to death. Influential factors occur both within the individual (biological, mental, behavioral) and in the environment (social, physical), and their interaction requires a systems approach that integrates the role of experience, learning, genetic predispositions, and unique vulnerabilities on the changing character of individuals through the life cycle. In just over 500 pages, however, the various authors who participated in the Nobel symposium presented in Stockholm in June 1994 whose manuscripts generated this book provide a comprehensive overview using cross-disciplinary research to better understand the developmental process of individuals. Their goal was to move toward an integrated science of human development. Their model was that complex processing cannot be understood or explained by the study of single variables considered separately out of context from other factors that operate simultaneously. Their strategy was to integrate contributions from a number of traditional scientific disciplines, including developmental biology, developmental psychology, physiology, neuropsychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other related disciplines.

There is an introductory chapter designed to place the rest of the book within an evolutionary perspective. The other contributions are divided into six sections. The first and last sections deal specifically with life stages (part 1 is Early Development, and part 6 is Aging), and the middle sections focus more on specific aspects of neural, cognitive, behavioral, and social factors that influence individual development. Each section is introduced briefly and then contains three chapters and a "commentary" that either discusses, integrates, or extends the information from the other chapters.

The Early Development section deals mainly with the prenatal and perinatal periods, and the main issues relate primarily to the relative influences of genes, environment, and their interactions; individual variations caused by damage to the developing brain are also considered. The Changing Brain section deals with fundamental neural mechanisms, including structures underlying chemical signaling in the brain, synaptic plasticity, neurotransmission, and a global theory of higher neural functions. The relationship between brain size and intelligence is also considered.

In the Cognition and Behavior section, classic questions in developmental research are reconsidered in the light of technological developments, recent empirical findings, and new theoretical conceptualizations. Longitudinal work is considered, as well as studies of children with genetic disorders, and gender and cross-cultural differences are examined with an emphasis on the integration of psychological and neurobiological factors. The Biology and Socialization section attempts to address the ability of humans to develop complex social structures and to account for deviances such as aggression in terms of both biological factors and early childhood experiences. The model for this section clearly embraces a biosocial integration and includes discussion of the role of steroid hormones and potential morphological differences in males and females.

In the section on Social Competence, chapters focus on the basic proposition that the individual and the environment function and change as a complex integrated system. Temperament and psychopathology are discussed from this perspective, and the commentary focuses on techniques that can be used in early life to influence the development of individuals who can contribute to a peaceful world. Finally, in the section on Aging, issues related to plasticity, molecular genetics, and causal mechanisms related to aging are considered.

As noted above, the topic of lifespan development is a broad one, and the efforts of this panel of authors, through both the Nobel symposium and this book, to summarize their discussions and integrate multiple domains of cognitive and behavioral neuroscience in the attempt to better understand the developmental process of individuals are to be applauded. Although the scope of this topic is too large to be covered exhaustively, this book provides a relatively comprehensive review of data related to the biological, cognitive behavioral, and psychosocial factors that have systemic impacts on the development of individuals across the lifespan.




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