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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

1 - Biological and Experiential Influences on Psychological Development



Over recent decades there have been major developments in our understanding of the various ways in which biological and experiential factors influence psychological development (Rutter & Rutter, 1993; Rutter 2000a, 2006a; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). In this chapter, I focus on the conceptual issues that are involved, on possible causal mechanisms, on effects on abnormal or suboptimal functioning, and on implications for intervention. Throughout, the arguments are based on empirical research findings (placing most emphasis on those that have been replicated by independent research groups) and, when dealing with causal mechanisms, reference is made to studies in biology and medicine, as well as in psychology, to draw conclusions on likely processes.


In much of the literature, there has been a tendency to seek to partition influences into those that are genetic (G) and those that are environmental (E), as if between them they accounted for all possibilities. This is a seriously misleading oversimplification because it focuses exclusively on individual differences without taking account of the universals of development (see Rutter, 2002). Also, it wrongly assumes that G and E are separate and involve no co-action (see Rutter, 2006a) and ignores the role of chance. Accordingly, I start with a consideration of some of the key features of developmental processes.

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