One central idea of life span developmental psychology is that development concerns not only the biologically determined differentiation and growth of psychological factors in children. Development is rather seen as taking place from the very beginning until the end of human life, with any phase having its own specific importance for the entire course of development (e.g., Baltes & Baltes, 1990). For the life span development of prospective memory, this means that we need to describe and explain developmental differences and changes from childhood into old age and aim to identify mechanisms that drive these developmental processes.
Importantly, this includes both mechanisms that may be similar across the entire life span and mechanisms that may be specific to particular developmental phases.
A second principle is the multidimensionality of development. Multidimen-sionality describes the observation that development—even within one developmental domain—does not follow a parallel or unitary path but is different for many subdomains; for instance, free recall and recognition memory follow different developmental trajectories despite both being aspects of memory (e.g., Craik & McDowd, 1987). One other prominent example is the differentiation of fluid and crystallized intelligence in the developmental psychology of intelligence (e.g., Schaie, 2005). In consequence, when describing the development of cognitive functions, distinct developmental trends have to be specified for distinct subdomains. For the life span development of prospective memory, this means that we will need to decompose the process of prospective memory to accurately describe the various dimensions of prospective memory development across the life span.
In fact, within domains and subdomains there may even be opposite developmental trajectories involving growth, decline, and stability (Baltes et al., 1998). This concerns the third principle of life span developmental psychology and has been labeled multidirectionality. Importantly, it has been argued that growth, decline, and stability are present and possible at each phase of the human life span, with only the relative importance of these three processes changing over time (from growth being dominant in early phases and decline becoming dominant in late life). For the life span development of prospective memory this means that, in relation to the identified dimensions, we need to target all three potential developmental trends in those dimensions; in other words, where do we find growth, where decline, and where stability?
Finally, resting on the idea of growth being possible even very late in life, the fourth principle is the plasticity of developmental domains. Acknowledging that plasticity is a very broad concept comprising the possibility of change in neural structures as well as behavioral domains, we use the term plasticity to argue that one's cognitive (e.g., prospective memory) capacity is not entirely predetermined at any stage of the life span. Many skills can be trained or improved, even in very early or late life, although there are of course limits to the degree of potential improvement (e.g., Kliegl, Smith, & Baltes, 1989). For the life span development of prospective memory this means that we will particularly need to search for the processes where plasticity does happen; that is, where we can find ways of improving prospective memory performance across the life span.
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