What Is Physical Development? - Definition and Examples
- Track Progress
- 0:01 Physical Development
- 0:56 Childhood & Adolescence
- 3:27 Aging
- 4:36 Lesson Summary
Everyone grows and changes throughout their lives. In this lesson, we'll look at some important times in physical development, including childhood and old age, and how physical development contributes to other types of development.
Matthew recently retired, and he's spending all his spare time with his great-nephew Johnny, who is in preschool. Though their ages are far apart, Matthew has discovered that he and Johnny have a lot in common. They are both dealing with new developmental milestones. That is, they are growing and changing every day and have to deal with new physical changes.
Human development is the way that people change and grow across their life span. There are many types of development that people go through. As children learn problem-solving skills, their cognitive (or thinking) development grows. When people age, they often develop wisdom, which means they are better able to handle stress, a process that is part of emotional development.
Let's look closer at one aspect of human development, physical development, and what it means for different people at different points in their lives.
Childhood and Adolescence
Remember Johnny? He's Matthew's great-nephew, and he's at an age where his physical development is rapid. Every day, it seems like he's grown more, and his parents have to keep buying him new clothes because he keeps outgrowing them!
Childhood and adolescence are times of great physical changes. Children grow taller and become better at controlling their bodies. Adolescents develop body hair and other adult features as they make their way into full adulthood. These changes seem pretty straightforward. If Johnny is two inches taller or his hat size goes up, it means that he's physically growing. What could be more simple than that?
What many people miss is that physical development is closely linked to other types of development as well. For example, Johnny's brain is developing, growing and changing every day. That's physical development, but it is tied to other skills that he develops, including motor skills (like how coordinated he is) and eventually reasoning and problem-solving skills.
A child's motor skills develop before their higher cognitive skills, like reasoning or problem solving. To see why, think about Johnny. When he was a baby, he couldn't do much of anything except lie down and stare off into space. He didn't have the ability to hold his head up or to grab onto something and hold it.
But as he developed these motor skills, something else began to happen. When he could control the movement of his own head, he was able to look around. When he could grab something and hold onto it, he could explore it further, testing what it felt like, tasted like and what it looked like way up close.
As he developed the skill of crawling, Johnny was able to explore even more of his environment, taking a trip across the living room to check out what the curtains on the windows were like, for example. All of these explorations are part of Johnny learning. He's learning about the world around him, but he's also learning how to find answers to things. His cognitive development is springing from his motor development, which came from the physical development of his brain and body to be able to allow him to control himself in relation to his environment.
Later, when Johnny is a teenager and young adult, the prefrontal cortex of his brain will develop, which will allow him to have higher thinking skills, like reasoning and problem solving. In essence, every type of development springs first from physical development.
It's pretty clear that children and adolescents develop physically. After all, they are growing out of clothes and their body shape is changing as they age. But once you get to adulthood, you're pretty much done with development, right?
That's what people used to think, but more and more research shows that people continue to develop (physically and mentally) throughout adulthood. This makes sense to Matthew: as his brain and body ages, he faces new hurdles. Many people Matthew's age find that their cognitive ability declines, as does their physical ability. Older adults often feel like they've lost the mental sharpness they once had. Not only that, many of them aren't as physically spry as they used to be.
While no one can completely stop time, research shows that there are certain things that can be done for older adults who want to stave off physical and mental decline. Exercise can keep older people physically strong and capable, but it can also help keep them mentally sharp. In addition, mental 'workouts,' like doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles or taking a class, can help avoid cognitive decay.
Human development is the process of growth and change that all humans go through. Physical development impacts many other types of development, including cognitive (or mental) development. As children's brains and bodies develop, so do their motor skills, which allow them to develop cognitively as they explore their environment. Older adults face challenges with the slow breakdown of the brain and body, which has an impact on cognitive development. But physical and mental workouts can help slow the process of aging and help older adults live full and happy lives.
Ask Our Experts
Response times may vary by topic.
Our experts can answer your question related to:
- Requirements for Different Careers
- Enrolling in College
- Transferring Credit
- And More…
Chapters in Psychology 107: Life Span Developmental Psychology
- 1. Domains of Development (12 lessons)
- 2. Research Methods and the Study of Life Span Development (4 lessons)
- 3. Theoretical Foundations for Life Span Developmental... (15 lessons)
- 4. Basic Concepts of Genetics (9 lessons)
- 5. Prenatal Development Concepts (6 lessons)
- 6. Childbirth and Newborn Characteristics (12 lessons)
- 7. Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood (17 lessons)
- 8. Development in Early Childhood (22 lessons)
- 9. Development in Middle Childhood (23 lessons)
- 10. Development in Adolescence (4 lessons)
- 11. Development in Early Adulthood (16 lessons)
- 12. Development in Middle Adulthood (5 lessons)
- 13. Development in Late Adulthood (3 lessons)
- 14. Death and Dying (2 lessons)
People are saying…
"This just saved me about $2,000 and 1 year of my life." — Student
"I learned in 20 minutes what it took 3 months to learn in class." — Student