An old adage says that "standing on the shoulders of giants we can see forever." For scholars of human development— especially contemporary developmentalists who eschew the split conceptions of the past—many of these giants came from the fields of biological-comparative psychology (e.g., Gottlieb, 1983, 1997; Gottlieb, Wahlsten, & Lickliter, 1998; Kuo, 1976; Lehrman, 1953; Maier & Schneirla, 1935; Novikoff, 1945a, 1945b; Schneirla, 1957; Tobach, 1981; von Bertalanffy, 1933). Through the cumulative impact of the theory and research of such scholars, by the early years of the twenty-first century scientists studying human development have come to view the reductionist and split conceptions that dominated conceptual debates in developmental psychology during the first seven to eight decades of the twentieth century as almost quaint historical artifacts. The few contemporary remnants of these split conceptions (e.g., Plomin, 2000; Rushton, 2000; Spelke & Newport, 1998) are regarded as theoretically atavistic and as conceptually and methodologically flawed (e.g., see Hirsch, 1997; Lerner, 2002).
Within the context of the contemporary understanding of the theoretical flaws of past and, in some cases, present (e.g., Plomin, 2000; Rowe, 1994; Rushton, 2000), contemporary contributions to the literature of human development derive from ideas that stress that an integrative, reciprocal relation, fusion, or dynamic interaction of variables from multiple levels of organization provides the core process of development. These relational ideas—summarized in the concepts associated with developmental systems models of human development (Ford & Lerner, 1992; Sameroff, 1983; Thelen & Smith,
1998)—are found in the theoretical ideas associated with the work of the comparative psychologists just noted.
To illustrate, the comparative work of Gilbert Gottlieb (1983,1997; Gottlieb et al., 1998) has been a central influence on contemporary developmental psychology, providing a rigorous, compelling theoretical and empirical basis for viewing human development as involving changes in a person-context developmental system across the life span. Gottlieb's scholarship has documented the probabilistic epigenetic character of developmental changes, that is, alterations that result from variation in the timing of the integrated or fused relations—or the coactions—among levels of organization ranging from biology through the macroecological influences of culture and history. Using examples drawn from a variety of species— and involving, for instance, variation in morphological outcomes of development in the minute parasitic wasp, the emergence of enameled molar teeth resulting from chick oral epithelial cells being placed in contact with mouse cell mesenchyme, dominant frequencies in the vocalizations of mallard duck embryos and hatchlings, phenotypic variation in the body builds of human monozygotic twins reared apart, and secular trends from 1860 to 1970 in the age at menarche of European and United States females—Gottlieb (1997,
1999) provided evidence of a probabilistic epigenetic view of bidirectional structure-function development. This view (Gottlieb, 1997,1999) may be summarized as
Genetic activity (DNA <--> RNA <--> Protein)
Function, Activity, or Experience
Thus, Gottlieb's (1983) theoretical work is coupled with rich and convincing empirical documentation that biology-ecology coactions provide a basis of plasticity—of the potential for systematic change—across the course of life (e.g., see Gottlieb, 1997).
Gottlieb's (1997, 1999; Gottlieb et al., 1998) scholarship underscores the importance of focusing developmental analysis on the multilevel, integrated matrix of covariation— on the dynamic developmental system—that constitutes human development. Moreover, in forwarding a systems view of human development, this scholarship necessitates that developmental psychologists transcend a psychogenic view of their field. This scholarship leads developmentalists to embrace a perspective that includes contributions from the multiple—biological, behavioral, and social—sciences that afford understanding of the several coacting levels of organization integrated in the developmental system.
In a similar vein, scholars building on Vygotsky's (1978) sociocultural perspective on human development also emphasized the need to transcend the boundaries of psychological science. Cole (1990, 1996) and Werstch (1985, 1991) explicated Vygotsky's description of the genetic method for the study of human development, stating that a complete theory of human development for the study of human development must be able to explain development at the phyloge-netic, sociohistorical, ontogenetic, and microgenetic levels. The assumption is that such an endeavor requires the integration of perspectives from biology, sociology, anthropology, history, and psychology.
In short, to understand human development, developmental psychologists must become developmental scientists. They must become multidisciplinary collaborators seeking to describe, explain, and optimize the changing interlevel relations that constitute the basic process of development within a developmental systems perspective (Lerner, 1998a, 1998b, 2002).
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