The work of Gottlieb and other comparative psychologists found a ready audience among many developmentalists across the last three decades of the twentieth century. This period was a teachable moment in the field of developmental psychology because many scholars were struggling to find a theoretically sound means to frame what were anomalous findings by the then-current split theoretical models (e.g., associated with either nature or nurture, mechanistic conceptions or predetermined epigenetic models; see Gottlieb, 1997; Lerner, 2002; Overton, 1973, 1998; and chapter by Overton in this volume, for discussion of these split approaches).
For example, these findings pertained to cohort or time-oftesting effects on human ontogenetic change, to the role of later life events in altering (creating discontinuities with) the trajectories of individual development, and to the presence of plasticity across life—even in the aged years— regarding biological, psychological, and social functioning (e.g., see Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998; Baltes,
Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999; Brim & Kagan, 1980; Elder, 1998, 1999; Lerner, 2002). These findings demonstrated that dynamic relations between individual characteristics and critical contextual events or nonnormative historical episodes shaped the character of change across the life span.
Several different developmental systems theories were developed in regard to such findings (e.g., Brandtstädter, 1998; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1998; Elder, 1998; Feldman, 2000; Fischer & Bidell, 1998; Ford & Lerner, 1992; Gottlieb, 1997, 1998, 1999; Lerner, 2002; Magnusson & Stattin, 1998; Overton, 1998; Thelen & Smith, 1998; Wapner & Demick, 1998). Across these different formulations there is a common emphasis on fused person-context relations and on the need to embed the study of human development within the actual settings of human life.
Such embeddedness may involve tests of theoretically predicated ideas that appraise whether changes in the relations within the system result in alterations in developmental trajectories that coincide with model-based predictions. Depending on their target level of organization, these changes may be construed as policies or programs, and the evaluation of these actions provides information about both the efficacy of these interventions in promoting positive human development and the basic, relational process of human development emphasized within developmental systems models.
As such, within contemporary developmental systems theory, there is a synthesis of basic and applied developmental science. That is, by studying integrated person-context relations as embedded in the actual ecology of human development, policies and programs represent both features of the cultural context of this ecology and methodological tools for understanding how variations in individual-context relations may impact the trajectory of human life. Thus, the application of developmental science (through policy and program innovations and evaluations) is part of—is synthesized with—the study of the basic relational processes of human development.
Was this article helpful?