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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: Theories

Given that human development is the outcome of changes in this developmental system, then, for individual ontogeny, the essential process of development involves changing relations between the developing person and his or her changing context. Similarly, for any unit of analysis with the system (for example. for the family, studied over its life cycle, or the classroom, studied over the course of a school year). the same developmental process exists. In other words, development involves changing relations between that unit and variables from the other levels of organization within the human development system. Accordingly, the concept of development is a relational one. Development is a concept denoting systemic changes-that is, organized, successive, multilevel, and integrated changes-across the course of life of an individual (or other unit of analysis).

Gottlieb defined this process as being

characterized by an increase of complexity or organization-that is, the emergence of new structural and functional properties and competencies-at all levels of analysis (molecular, subcellular. cellular, organismic) as a consequence of horizontal and vertical coactions among its parts, including organism-environment coactions. (1997, p. 90)

As such, the forefront of contemporary developmental theory and research is represented by theories of process, of how structures function and how functions are structured over time.

The cutting ledge of contemporary theory moves beyond the simplistic division of sources of development in to nature-related and nurture-related variables or processes; instead the multiple levels of organization that exist within the ecology of human development are seen as part of an inextricably fused developmental system.

In sum, since historical change is continuous, temporality is infused in all levels of organization. This infusion may be associated with different patterns of continuity and discontinuity across people. The potential array of such patterns has implications for understanding the importance of human diversity.

The temporality of the changing relations among levels of organization means that changes that are seen within one historical period (or time of measurement), and/or with one set of instances of variables from the multiple levels of the ecology of human development, may not be seen at other points in time (Baltes, 1987: Bronfenbrenner, 1979

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