Generally, development refers to a process where society improves its capacity to take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges. It involves harnessing all available knowledge, resources and human skills. In practice, it usually means a rise in economic growth or income per capita that exceeds population growth. This is often accompanied by improvements in health and education.
Historically, the idea of development has had a number of different meanings. At the individual level, it has referred to personal growth such as increased freedom, creativity and self-discipline. At the societal level, it has meant increasing ability to regulate internal and external relationships. Historically, the term has also been used to refer to an increase in a nation’s per capita gross national product (GNP).
The field of study known as human development or lifespan development studies changes and stability across multiple areas of functioning, including physical and neurophysiological processes, cognition, language, emotions, personality, morality, and psychosocial skills. It is a complex scientific endeavor that is often guided by the assumptions of researchers, which are called meta-theories.
A meta-theory is a set of assumptions about how the world works and the nature of humans, such as the belief that people change in a similar way to machines. There are various kinds of meta-theories, including interactionist, cognitive and behavioral, mechanistic and ecological. Depending on which meta-theory researchers subscribe to, they may focus on specific areas of development or ignore them altogether. In the past, researchers have tended to work within certain meta-theories, though this has changed in recent years.