Defining Applied Developmental Science

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Over the last two decades increasing numbers of developmental psychologists have identified themselves professionally as applied developmental scientists. Joining them under this umbrella are colleagues from allied disciplines and specialties in the biological, social, and behavioral sciences and the helping professions, all sharing common goals and visions captured in some of the more formal definitions of the ADS fields. Certainly an early milestone in the staking out of the field's territory occurred with the founding of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology in 1980, an international multidisciplinary life-span journal. The masthead proclaimed a "forum for communication between researchers and practitioners working in life-span human development fields, a forum for the presentation of the conceptual, methodological, policy, and related issues involved in the application of behavioral science research in developmental psychology to social action and social problem solving" (Sigel & Cocking, 1980, p. i). In welcoming the new journal in an inaugural editorial, Zigler (1980) narrowed the definition of the journal's purview to what he called a "field within a field" (i.e., presumably, applied developmental psychology within developmental psychology) but set high and broad expectations that "these pages shall attest to the synergistic relationship between basic and applied research" (p. 1).

Almost 20 years later, Zigler (1998) issued a similar note of hope, celebration, and welcome in a significant essay called "A Place of Value for Applied and Policy Studies," this time in the pages of Child Development, the prestigious archival journal of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). Child Development had been singularly devoted to "theory-driven, basic research. Now, after more than six decades of advancing science as a means to expand our understanding of human development, SRCD has formally welcomed into its major journal research that uses this knowledge on children's behalf... the result of a very gradual transformation within SRCD from a scientist's science toward a more public science" (Zigler, 1998, p. 532). The continuing vicissitudes of the gaps and synergies between applied and basic research will be a theme of the historical sketch offered in the next section (see also Garner, 1972).

In 1991 a National Task Force on Applied Developmental Science convened representatives from abroad, but not an exhaustive range of professional scientific organizations concerned with the application of the knowledge base of developmental psychology to societal problems. Organizations represented included the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society of America, the International Society for Infant Studies, the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Council on Family Relations, the Society for Research on Adolescence, and the Society for Research in Child Development. Goals included the articulation of the definition and scope of ADS along with guidelines for graduate training in this emergent, interdisciplinary field. A consensus process produced a complex four-point definition of ADS, quoted here at length to document the current parameters of content, process, methods, and values:

1.1 Applied developmental science involves the programmatic synthesis of research and applications to describe, explain, intervene, and provide preventive and enhancing uses of knowledge about human development. The conceptual base of ADS reflects the view that individual and family functioning is a combined and interactive product of biology and the physical and social environments that continuously evolve and change over time. ADS emphasizes the nature of reciprocal person-environment interactions among people, across settings, and within a multidisciplinary approach stressing individual and cultural diversity. This orientation is defined by three conjoint emphases:

Applied: Direct implications for what individuals, families, practitioners, and policymakers do.

Developmental: Systematic and successive changes within human systems that occur across the life span. Science: Grounded in a range of research methods designed to collect reliable and objective information systematically that can be used to test the validity of theory and application.

1.2 ADS recognizes that valid applications of our knowledge of human development depend upon scientifically based understanding of multilevel normative and atypical processes that continually change and emerge over the life cycle.

1.3 ADS reflects an integration of perspectives from relevant biological, social, and behavioral sciences disciplines in the service of promoting development in various populations.

1.4 The nature of work in ADS is reciprocal in that science drives application and application drives science. ADS emphasizes the bidirectional relationship between those who generate empirically based knowledge about developmental phenomena and those who pursue professional practices, services, and policies that affect the well-being of members of society. Accordingly, research and theory guide intervention strategies, and evaluations of outcomes of developmental interventions provide the basis for the reformulation of theory and for modification of future interventions. (Fisher et al., 1993, pp. 4-5)

By 1997 these parameters defining ADS were adopted as the editorial scope of a new journal, Applied Developmental Science, with further explication of a more inclusive range of methodologies and audiences. The journal publishes research employing any of a diverse array of methodologies— multivariate longitudinal studies, demographic analyses, evaluation research, intensive measurement studies, ethnographic analyses, laboratory experiments, analyses of policy and/or policy-engagement studies, or animal comparative studies— when they have important implications for the application of developmental science across the life span. Manuscripts pertinent to the diversity of development throughout the life-span— cross-national and cross-cultural studies; systematic studies of psychopathology; and studies pertinent to gender, ethnic and racial diversity-are particularly welcome [The audience includes] developmental, clinical, school, counseling, aging, educational, and community psychologists; lifecourse, family and demographic sociologists; health professionals; family and consumer scientists; human evolution and ecological biologists; [and] practitioners in child and youth governmental and nongovernmental organizations. (Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 1997, p. 1)

This amplified definition of ADS postulates a number of hallmarks of ADS key to the discussion of its history, content, and special concerns. Among these hallmarks are

1. A historical context and perspective reflecting the perennial balancing of related constructs such as basic and applied research or science and practice or knowledge generation and utilization. This includes a sensitivity to historical and sociopolitical contexts captured in the notion of ADS as

Scholarship for our times. . . . As we enter the 21st century, there is growing recognition that traditional and artificial distinctions between science and service and between knowledge generation and knowledge application need to be reconceptualized if society is to successfully address the harrowing developmental sequelae of the social, economic, and geo-political legacies of the 20th century. Scholars, practitioners and policymakers are increasingly recognizing the role that developmental science can play in stemming the tide of life-chance destruction caused by poverty, premature births, school failure, child abuse, crime, adolescent pregnancy, substance abuse, unemployment, welfare dependency, discrimination, ethnic conflict, and inadequate health and social resources. (Lerner et al., 1997, p. 2)

2. A broadened and deepened awareness of the ethical challenges and imperatives involved in implementing the scope of ADS. This awareness evolves from challenges in the use of scientific methods in new ways such that protection of the autonomy and well-being research of participants is increasingly complex. Research participants become partners in the inquiry process and new, more complicated collaborations among diverse multidiscipli-nary professionals and communities become key elements of defining research questions and problems and seeking answers and solutions.

More recently, some leaders have broadened the potential scope of ADS even further, suggesting elements of a blueprint for promoting civil society and social justice, a provocative and compelling elaboration of both the substance and the ethical orientation of the field (Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 2000). Others have focused on more traditional academic or incremental stocktaking for defining ADS with attention to advancing the numerous knowledge bases and methodologies (e.g., Schwebel, Plumert, & Pick, 2000; Shonkoff, 2000; Sigel & Renninger, 1998). ADS is now considered an "established discipline" (Fisher, Murray, & Sigel, 1996), defined with the parameters just outlined. Our survey of this discipline moves now to a more detailed historical analysis, with attention to earlier roots as well as appreciation for the contemporary ferment evident in the definitional emergence of the last few years.

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