Theoretical Perspectives Relevant to Developmental Psychology

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A discussion of the structural, information processing, and developmental dimensions approaches to the analysis of age/development/life course trends. Developmental psychology, as a discipline, is currently undergoing a paradigmatic/world view change. Consequently, several different theoretical approaches to the study of development and the life course have been proposed and advocated. The three primary approaches currently being debated include the structural, information processing/cognitive, and life-span developmental/developmental dimensions approaches. The purpose of this paper is to examine the differences and similarities between these three broad approaches. However, this exposition would be incomplete without a discussion of the concept of world views (Kuhn, 1970; Pepper, 1942). An individual's theoretical position is affected by their world views. This world view not only affects how an individual conceptualizes a particular field of study but also influences the questions they ask within that field of study. Therefore, this paper will also include a discussion of the three major world views influencing developmental psychology: the organismic, mechanistic,, and contextual world views (Pepper, 1942).

World Views
There are three major world views which influence developmental psychology. They are the organismic, mechanistic, and contextual world views (Pepper, 1942). Each of these world views will be briefly discussed below. This will be followed by an analysis of five developmental issues as they relate to the concept of world view.

The first world view to be discussed is the organismic world view (Pepper, 1942). The basic metaphor of this world view is the biological organism (Fischer & Silvern, 1985; Reese & Overton, 1970). According to this metaphor, the organism is composed of interconnected, interrelated parts which constitute a complex, organized system. This system, while composed of parts, can only be understood as a whole. In other words, only by examining the system as a whole does it have meaning; the whole is equal to more than the sum of the parts. Additionally, the biological organism is seen as active rather than passive. Thus, according to this world view, change and movement come from within rather than in response to environmental or external influences.

The influence of the organismic world view on the conceptualization of the individual in relation to developmental psychology can be described as follows: First, according to this view, the individual can be conceptualized and understood only as a whole entity; a gestalt. A developmental psychologist operating from an organismic world view would examine individual as a whole and the parts as they relate to the whole. Second the individual is seen as the source of their acts. Development comes from within as opposed to being in response to external forces; development is genetically prewired. Third, change is qualitative and unidirectional. Developmental psychologists operating from this perspective define development as a series of progressive changes in structure. This structural change is assumed to be directed toward some end point or goal; a teleological perspective. The structuralist approach is an example of the influence of the organismic world view on developmental psychology (Fischer & Silvern, 1985). Specific theoretical perspectives would include Piaget's early structuralist approach, and Gessell's theory of infant development.

The basic metaphor for the mechanistic world view is the machine (Fischer & Silvern, 1985; Reese & Overton, 1970). According to this metaphor, the organism is primarily reactive by nature; the organism does not serve as the source of its own acts. The computer metaphor is a good example. The computer does not create its own output but rather only responds to the input of data or, in other words external forces. Thus, according to the mechanistic world view, the organism is passive. In addition,...
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