in the study of mental health, developmental psychopathology (Masten, Faden, et al., 2008), and prevention science (Kellam and Rebok, 1992; Weisz, Sandler, et al., 2005).

Developmental Tasks

Individuals encounter specific expectations for behavior in a given social context. These expectations have been referred to as social task demands or developmental tasks (Kellam and Rebok, 1992; Masten, Burt, and Coatsworth, 2006). Developmental tasks change across phases of development and may also differ by culture, gender, and historical period. Success or failure in meeting these developmental tasks is judged by natural raters (e.g., parents, teachers) as well as by young people themselves. Success with one developmental task can have serious consequences for success or difficulty in others and for the development of later problems and disorders. Developmental competence, discussed below, is strongly influenced by the concept of developmental tasks.

Interactions Among Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors

How young people develop—whether they develop mental, emotional, or behavioral problems or experience healthy development—is a function of complex interactions among genetic and other biological processes (discussed in more detail in Chapter 5), individual psychological processes, and multiple levels of social contexts. Although the precise biopsychosocial processes leading to most disorders are not fully understood, considerable progress has been made in identifying the risk factors and protective factors that predict increased or decreased likelihood of developing disorders. Understanding the pathways of development enables prevention researchers to identify opportunities to change pathological developmental trajectories.


Mental health promotion includes efforts to enhance individuals’ ability to achieve developmentally appropriate tasks (developmental competence) and a positive sense of self-esteem, mastery, well-being, and social inclusion and to strengthen their ability to cope with adversity. Understanding the reciprocal pathways by which failures of competence contribute to psychopathology and by which psychopathology undermines healthy development (Masten, Burt, and Coatsworth, 2005) is needed to design promotion activities aimed at strengthening developmental competencies.

Research on mental health promotion is not as fully developed as that

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