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As the individual develops as an integrated organism, contributions made to this process by maturation, experience or culture should not be analyzed separately. The conceptual framework described in developmental research has numerous implications. Firstly, systemic relativism is concerned with the external validity of investigation, and the possibility of generalizing the results Lerner, b; ; Lerner et al.

Consequently, investigations that focus on individual and contextual diversity are more widely accepted than those concentrating on "typical" individuals and "standard environments". As "experimental manipulations" in the "real world" they may provide data about person-context relations, and the plasticity that may be available to enhance human development.

Systemic dispersivity involves abandoning prediction as the final goal of scientific research. According to Magnusson and Stattin , this should be substituted by the comprehension and explanation of the processes that drive individual functioning and development. Bronfenbrenner and Morris , emphasize a type of investigation which, by adopting a discovery mode , would allow hypotheses to be created with sufficient explanatory power and precision to be able to be subjected to empirical testing.

However, perhaps the most direct implication of the holistic-systemic perspective is the way in which it gives little consideration to studies analyzing isolated aspects of the person-environment system, and values multidimensional studies Bronfenbrenner, ; Lerner, , b; ; Magnusson, , This call for collaboration which was present in the earliest work concerning the systemic perspective, the socio-cultural and life span movements, has gone from strength to strength, and has received institutional support.

We would also mention the appearance of the journal "Applied Developmental Science" edited by R. Lerner and C. On the contrary to this organizational response, the practical application in research of the methodological proposals inspired by the systemic perspective has not been as widespread as we would expect, judging by publications in Developmental Psychology journals. Some years ago, Thelen complained that any theoretical systemic considerations were usually relegated to the discussion section of articles, which paradoxically upheld the insufficiency of traditional explanations based on main and interaction effects.

The author affirmed that the systemic vision included a series of major obstacles for empirical analysis, and that for this reason most investigators remained firmly attached to the "old ways".

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In more moderate terms, Gottlieb denounced the insensitivity of investigators concerning human diversity and contextual variation. In turn, Bronfenbrenner called for researchers to give as much consideration to personal variables as that which he had previously demanded for contextual variables. Recently, Valsiner still denounced that "most of child psychology continues to thrive on the basis of reduction of complexity to averaged data and considering these averages as established general norms" p.

The slow acceptance of the system view in empirical research may be attributed to theoretical reasons and practical ones. Firstly, its suitability to interpretations of development that were previously incompatible may be interpreted as ambiguity, particularly with regard to its dispersive nature. Taken to extremes, adopting for example a perspective that Baltes refers to as radical contextualism, and Lerner and Kaufman as pure contextualism, the dispersiveness of the model may lead to a concept of development that is quite random.

The limits suggested for dispersiveness the internal logic of the organism and regularities of the environment are equally ambiguous, although it would be unreasonable to expect much precision in general theories about development. However, this does mean that investigators have to make their own decisions on where the limits are in each specific developmental phenomenon under study. As regarding to more clearly methodological concerns, the systemic model is eclectic, yet tremendously demanding. It does not reject the use of any type of design or technique, but places emphasis on the study of the different person-environment levels, and the consideration of interaction between them.

This is almost certainly an impossible task in its strictest sense. Criticism resulting from this matter from Plomin, Cronbach and Gergen was contested by Magnusson and Stattin , who stated that acceptance of the systemic model does not imply that the complete person-environment system has to be studied in every investigation. Instead, researchers should simply make sure that the level of complexity of the phenomenon studied is made explicit, with the plans for their work designed around a systemic analysis based on the observation of the phenomenon in a specific level.

Using the systemic model also guarantees a reference to a common space for scientific concepts when interpreting the results.


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In the same line, Witherington and Margett argue that "any empirical investigation of development necessarily compromise the complexity of the system as a whole by analyzing only some of the myriad of relationships that go toward establishing the whole. Studies of development involve choosing a viable — and therefore limited — set of relationships in a system to study. Magnusson and Stattin's and Witherington and Margett's comments take some of the pressure off of researchers faced with something as ambitious as the systemic model.

However, we would also mention one final cause for concern: the emphasis that has been placed on relativism. As the model accepts any possibility in the determination of development and its products, the applicability of the results from investigations becomes increasingly less reliable, and converts the intervention into a type of experiment. Without denying the transitory nature of our knowledge and of intervention strategies based on this knowledge, the formulation of the systemic model is extreme enough to create a feeling of despondency amongst developmental psychologists interested in the applied perspective of Developmental Psychology.

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We do not consider these controversial points as limitations, but instead as challenges to be met. As Magnusson and Stattin stated, the complexity of the systemic model corresponds to the complexity of the object of study in our discipline, and this is something that should not be overlooked. Baltes, P. Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: On the dynamics between growth and decline.


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Developmental Psychology, 23, Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization with compensation. Baltes Eds. New York: Cambridge University Press. Psychological aspects of aging: Facts and frontiers. Magnusson Ed. Lindenberger, U. Life span theory in developmental psychology.

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology | Home

Lerner Eds. Theoretical models of human development 6th ed. Life-span developmental psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 31, Bertalanffy, L. General system theory. New York: Braziller. Modern theories of development: An introduction to theoretical biology. New York: Harper. Bijou, S. Child development: A systematic and empirical theory. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Action perspectives on human development.

Bronfenbrenner, U. The bioecological model from a life course perspective: Reflections of a participant observer. Moen, G. The ecology of human development.

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Cole, M. Cultural psychology. A one and future discipline. Culture in development. E Lamb Eds. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Dannefer, D. Development as a multidimensional process: Individual and social constituents. Human Development, 33, Dent-Read, C. Introduction: Ecological realism, dynamic systems and epigenetic systems approaches to development. Zukow-Goldring Eds. Ecological approaches to organism-environment systems pp. Diamond, A. Interrelated and interdependent. Developmental Science, 10, Dong, W.

Plasticity of non-neural brain tissue: Roles in development disorders. Dowd, J. Ever since Durkheim: The socialization of human development. Fischer, K.

Dynamic development of action and thought. Fogel, A.