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Love and Friendship Across the Lifespan  

Saeideh Heshmati, Ezra Isabel Cabreros, Olivia Ellis, and M. Betsy Blackard

Humans are innately social, and this disposition motivates us to build relationships. In particular, close relationships such as romantic love relationships and friendships have a unique bidirectional influence on development. These close relationships influence individuals’ overall well-being in addition to giving purpose and meaning to people’s lives. They also have implications for the development of identity, promoting better mental health, and increasing life satisfaction. Love and friendships are unique in their voluntary and bidirectional nature, and it is this very nature that puts them into the spotlight of interest and makes them prone to change across the lifespan. In the earliest stages of life, the most significant relationships are those with caregivers, although such relationships lay the groundwork for future non-familial relationships. As children begin going to school and interacting with people outside of the home, social connections expand to include friendships during childhood and adolescence. While peer relations teach children and adolescents many of the social skills that are required to maintain close relationships later in life, love relationships, which tend to emerge in adolescence, also contribute to their development and cognitions about social bonds. Love relationships gain a great deal of importance in young adulthood, as young adults strive for intimacy and strong social support. As individuals grow older, they tend to be more selective about the people they spend time with; consequently, middle-aged and older adults’ social circles reduce to the most meaningful connections. These patterns in close relationships provide a deeper understanding of how social connections influence development and, conversely, how development influences social connections.


Social Development Across the Lifespan  

Kendall Cotton Bronk, Elyse Postlewaite, Betsy Blackard, Jordan Boeder, and Hannah Lucas

Social development refers to the process through which individuals learn to get along with others. It encompasses the formation of friendships and romantic relationships as well as experiences of bullying and loneliness. Across the life span, cognitive development enables increasingly complex social interactions, and the most important contexts for social development expand. Early in life, family is the primary context for social development, but in adulthood the social world grows to include peers, colleagues, and others. Social development is critical for well-being. Research finds that the lasting social bonds that individuals form are perhaps the most important ingredient in a life well lived.


Developing Athletes in the Context of Sport and Performance Psychology  

Luc J. Martin, David J. Hancock, and Jean Côté

Talent development in sport is achieved through years of preparation and requires constant interaction between personal and contextual resources. Accordingly, extensive research has been dedicated to understanding factors that contribute to sport performance. Literature suggests the factors influencing athletic development can be classified in terms of the physical environment, the social environment, and engaging learning activities. Investigations pertaining to the physical environment suggest the importance of appropriate settings, which can relate to the sport organization or the larger community. Researchers must also cogitate the activities in which athletes take part. These considerations involve the maturational status of athletes, the volume of deliberate practice and play, and early specialization versus diversification. Finally, the salience of the social environment in relation to sport performance cannot be overlooked. Not surprisingly, the relations established with social agents (i.e., coaches, peers/teammates, parents) can facilitate or impede the developmental process. Consequently, the development of athletes in the context of sport and performance psychology extends past the individual and is influenced by several factors that must be discussed.


Social Relationships Across Adulthood and Old Age  

Cornelia Wrzus and Jenny Wagner

Over the entire life span, social relationships are essential ingredients of human life. Social relationships describe regular interactions with other people over a certain period and generally include a mental representation of the relationship and the relationship partner. Social relationships cover diverse types, such as those with family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, as well as with other unrelated people. In general, most of these relationships change in number, contact frequency, and relationship quality during adulthood and old age. For example, both the number of and contact with friends and other unrelated people generally decrease with advancing age, whereas the number of and contact with family members remain rather stable. Relatively little is known about longitudinal changes in the quality of relationships, apart from romantic relationships, because few longitudinal studies have tracked specific relationships. Some explanatory factors, which are discussed in the literature, are (a) motivational changes, (b) reduced time due to work and family demands during adulthood, and (c) resource constraints in older age. Future work on social relationships would benefit from increasingly applying dyadic and network approaches to include the perspective of relationship partners as well as from examining online and offline contact in social relationships, which has already proved important among younger adults.


Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination  

Rhiannon N. Turner

Scholars have developed a plethora of approaches to reducing prejudice and discrimination, many of which have been successfully applied in schools, workplaces, and community settings. Research on intergroup contact suggests that contact between members of different groups, particularly when that contact is warm and positive (for example through friendships) reduces negative emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety) and promotes positive emotions (e.g., empathy), results in more positive attitudes toward members of that group. One might expect that, in an increasingly connected world characterized by global mobility and diversity, higher levels of contact would be associated with a significant lessening of prejudice and discrimination. However, critics have pointed out that changes in attitudes at the individual level do not necessarily translate into reduced prejudice and discrimination at a societal level. Moreover, not everyone has the opportunity to engage in meaningful contact with members of other groups, and even when they do, these opportunities are not always capitalized on. One solution to lack of opportunities for contact is to capitalize on “indirect contact.” These are interventions based on the principles of contact, but which do not involve a face-to-face encounter. Extended contact, which refers to knowing in-group members who have out-group friends, and vicarious contact, which involves learning about the positive contact experiences of our fellow group members, for example via the media, online intergroup contact, and imagining intergroup contact, have each been shown to promote more positive intergroup attitudes. Another way to reduce prejudice and discrimination is to change the way people categorize social groups. When people perceive members of their own group and another group to belong to the same overarching group—that is, they hold a common in-group identity—there is evidence of reduced intergroup bias. However, when our group membership is important to us, this may constitute a threat to our identity, and lead to a reactive increase in bias in order to reassert the distinctiveness of our group. One solution to this is to encourage a dual identity, whereby an individual holds both the original group membership and a common in-group identity that encompasses both groups simultaneously. Alternatively, given the many and varied group memberships that individuals hold, social categories become less useful as a way of categorizing people. There is also evidence that taking a multicultural approach, where differences are acknowledged, rather than a color-blind approach, where differences are ignored, is less likely to result in prejudice and discrimination. Finally, there is evidence that teaching people about other groups, and about the biases they hold but perhaps are not aware of, can help to reduce prejudice and discrimination.