Lifespan Developmental Systems : Meta-theory, Methodology and the Study of Applied Problems book cover
1st Edition

Lifespan Developmental Systems
Meta-theory, Methodology and the Study of Applied Problems

ISBN 9781138316652
Published May 21, 2019 by Routledge
402 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Everything you always wanted to know about theories, meta-theories, methods, and interventions but didn’t realize you needed to ask.

This innovative textbook takes advanced undergraduate and graduate students "behind the curtain" of standard developmental science, so they can begin to appreciate the generative value and methodological challenges of a lifespan developmental systems perspective.

It envisions applied developmental science as focused on ways to use knowledge about human development to help solve societal problems in real-life contexts, and considers applied developmental research to be purpose driven, field based, community engaged, and oriented toward efforts to optimize development. Based on the authors’ more than 25 years of teaching, this text is designed to help researchers and their students intentionally create a cooperative learning community, full of arguments, doubts, and insights, that can facilitate their own internal paradigm shifts, one student at a time.

With the aid of extensive online supplementary materials, students of developmental psychology as well as students in other psychological subdisciplines (such as industrial-organizational, social, and community psychology) and applied professions that rely on developmental training (such as education, social work, counseling, nursing, health care, and business) will find this to be an invaluable guidebook and toolbox for conceptualizing and studying applied problems from a lifespan developmental systems perspective.

Table of Contents

Preface: Welcome to the Journey

1 Getting Straight on the Goals of Developmental Science


Section I: How Are Unexamined Assumptions Shaping Developmental Science?

2 "Understanding" Theories: Why It’s Important and How to Do It

3 Dueling Theories of Attachment and Why They Are Fighting

4 Uncovering Assumptions We Hold about Human Development

5 Is Human Development a Tree, a Machine, a Butterfly, or a Dance?

6 Contrasting Meta-theories: Friends or Enemies?

Section II: How Can Contextual Approaches Enrich Our Understanding of Development?

7 Lifespan Developmental Paradigm Shift: Developing People in Changing Contexts

8 Ecological Revolutions: Alive and Well and Living in Multi-level Partially Nested Contexts

9 The Bioecological Model Reinvented: Proximal Processes as the Engines of Development

10 Transactional Dialectical Advice: Qualitative Shifts and the Ice Cream Cone in a Can

Section III: What More Does a Lifespan Developmental Systems Perspective Have to Offer?

11 Relational Developmental Systems Meta-theories: Walking with Complementarities

12 Nonlinear Dynamic Systems Meta-theories: Much Convergence but Still Feuding?

13 Putting It All Together I: The Big Developmental Systems Ideas of Levels and Engines

14 Putting It All Together II: The Big Developmental Systems Idea of Dynamics


Section IV: What Tools Can We Use to Study Developmental Systems? Description

15 The Assumptions in Your Hammer: How Meta-theories Shape Methods and Vice Versa

16 Adding Development to Designs: Cross-sectional, Longitudinal, and Cross-sequential Designs

17 Crossing Developmental Boundaries I: Sampling Equivalence and Selection

18 Crossing Developmental Boundaries II: Measurement Equivalence and "Developmentally-friendly" Conceptualizations

Section V: What Tools Can We Use to Study Developmental Systems? Explanation

19 Building a Time Machine I: Lab and Field Experimental Designs

20 Building a Time Machine II: Naturalistic Designs and Causal Inferences

21 Looking under the Hood I: Proximal Processes and Sequential Observations

22 Looking under the Hood II: Intra-individual Time Series, Episodes, and Trajectories

23 Whole Persons in Complex Contexts: Person-centered Approaches

Section VI: What Tools Can We Use to Study Developmental Systems? Optimization

24 Developing Contexts: Weather, Co-adaptation, and Attunement

25 Developing Brains: Experience and Neuroplasticity

26 Developing Individuals: Transformations and Branching Cascades

27 Multiple Lines of Sight: Converging Operations and Open Minds

Afterword: The Journey Continues


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Ellen A. Skinner, trained as a lifespan developmentalist, is a leading expert on the development of children’s motivation, coping, and academic identity in school. She is a Professor of Human Development and Chair of the Psychology Department at Portland State University.

Thomas A. Kindermann is a lifespan developmental psychologist and Professor in the Psychology Department at Portland State University. He is a leading expert on children’s peer affiliations in school and how they can foster or undermine children’s academic development.

Andrew J. Mashburn, a Professor of Developmental Psychology at Portland State University, is a leading expert on the transition to kindergarten. He conducts research to describe, explain, and promote young children’s school readiness and long-term academic success.


Developmental science has moved irrevocably away from reductionist and mechanist conceptions and embraced dynamic, relational developmental systems models and methods as cutting-edge means to describe, explain, and optimize development across life. Professors Skinner, Kindermann, and Mashburn have written a singularly timely, important, creative and masterful work that provides a compelling roadmap for traversing from the developmental science of the past to its dynamic systems present and future. Their book should be required reading for developmental scientists and students seeking to understand and to enhance the life-span development of the diverse people of our world.

Richard M. Lerner, Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and Director, Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, Tufts University

This is a superb contribution to the lifespan literature. I believe that my late friend and colleague, Paul Baltes, would also be proud of the volume for a number of reasons. Paul played a direct role in the training of the authors and he took his teaching responsibilities very seriously. The authors have captured "basic Baltes" and brought it into developmental systems science with understanding, panache, and no small amount of humor. The authors’ metaphorical journey extends the notion of a trajectory; a concept often invoked by Baltes and other lifespan scientists. Appropriate for both advanced undergraduates and graduate students, this text will be instrumental in realizing the hopes early generation lifespan developmental scientists held for the advances to come from later generations.

John R. Nesselroade, Hugh Scott Hamilton Professor of Psychology Emeritus, University of Virginia

In this incisive advanced textbook, Skinner, Kindermann, and Mashburn systematically articulate and evaluate the deep-seated assumptions behind theory and method in developmental science. They not only map out, in cogent and clear-cut fashion, the metatheoretical and metamethodological landscape of developmental science, but they do so without ever losing sight of the nuanced complexity that characterizes such terrain. With humor and cutting edge sensibilities, their textbook provides a treasure trove of insights and pedagogical resources perfectly suited to fostering substantive, critical thinking about what it means to adopt a truly developmental perspective.

David C. Witherington, University of New Mexico, USA