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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

24 - A dynamic systems approach to the life sciences


Each of the chapters in this book points to expanding our understanding of the multiple and complex relationships that surround development through the lifespan. In this chapter, we as the organizing committee of the Council for Human Development give a brief description and overview of the science of dynamic systems that is exemplified in the other chapters in this book. The goal of this chapter is to help people see how dynamic systems research helps us to understand human development and how it can assist in creating relevant policies and funding priorities.

The dynamic systems approach is fundamentally different from existing ideas about simple cause and effect. It begins with the realization that the living world is too complex for any one factor to have a significant effect on an outcome in the absence of many other competing and cooperating factors, all of which change over time. Dynamic systems scientists, such as the authors of the chapters in this book, seek to understand certain aspects of this constantly changing network of mutual influences according to their focus of study. The core of the notion of “system” is that it shows the relation of the “whole” and its “parts.” To think about dynamic systems means that we have always to consider the history of how the system under study – be this a single child with autism or an inner-city neighborhood – changes over time.

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Human Development in the Twenty-First Century
  • Online ISBN: 9780511489693
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Suggested readings
Bergman, L., Cairns, R., Nilssom, L., and Nystedt, L. (2000). Developmental science and the holistic approach. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Fogel, A., Garvey, A., Hsu, H., and West-Stroming, D. (2006). Change processes in relationships: relational–historical research on a dynamic system of communication. Cambridge University Press.
Granott, N., and Parziale, J. (2002). Microdevelopment: transition processes in development and learning. Cambridge University Press.
King, B. (2004). The dynamic dance. Harvard University Press.
Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. London: Sage.
Shanker, S., and King, B. (2002). The emergence of a new paradigm in ape language research. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25: 605–626.
Toren, C. (2002). Comparison and ontogeny. In Gingrich, A. and Fox, R. G. (eds.), Anthropology, by comparison. London: Routledge.