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Personality and paths to successful development: an overview

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Lea Pulkkinen
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Avshalom Caspi
Institute of Psychiatry, London
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Research traditions in developmental psychology vary with respect to how much emphasis they give to successful development. Historically, most studies of personality development have been biased by the goal of seeking to understand maladjustment and behavioral problems, such as anxiety or aggression, and have tended to overlook the study of pathways to successful outcomes. Whereas the study of problem behavior is clearly oriented toward predicting, explaining, and preventing social and clinical problems, the study of successful development is made more difficult because the end point (success) is more elusive and thus more difficult to operationalize and to promote.

To study successful personality development one must first have a way of thinking about the course of lives and a way of assessing how adaptational processes are patterned over time. We can identify three general approaches to this conceptual problem: growth models, life-span models, and life-course models. Each of these social-developmental approaches provides a framework for understanding adaptational processes and the coherence of personality development by focusing on the distinctive ways individuals organize their behavior to meet new environmental demands and developmental challenges.

Growth and stage models

Growth models of personality development are not homogeneous in their orientation, but are based on different traditions and conceptual backgrounds. For example, humanistic theories of personality development are best known for emphasizing the potential for positive development. People can take charge of their lives and direct them toward creativity and self-actualization which involves self-fulfillment and the realization of one's potential (Maslow, 1954).

Paths to Successful Development
Personality in the Life Course
, pp. 1 - 16
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2002

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