The history of the scientific study of human development shows that conventional portrayals of development tend to be maintained until newer, better models emerge to take their place. This paradigmatic shift is much clearer in hindsight than at the time it occurs, during which the potential benefits of new formulations and their heuristic potential are explored, scrutinized, and debated. When this occurs, traditional ideas may be maintained (albeit in altered form) or integrated with new formulations, or more comprehensive changes may occur in how developmentalists fundamentally view familiar phenomena as a result of alternative models.
Are we in the midst of such a shift in thinking because of the emergence of dynamic systems views of development? At present, it is difficult to say. While many of the heuristic possibilities of dynamic systems approaches are becoming apparent, their broader utility for a comprehensive developmental formulation is yet unclear, and their empirical testability is even more obscure. One way of assessing the potential value of a dynamic systems approach as a framework for developmental thinking is to apply it to a well-developed body of research in order to explore whether it offers valuable new insights, enables researchers to ask new questions, and explains perplexing findings in a manner that suggests its broader value for developmental theory.
This chapter is concerned with the relevance of dynamic systems formulations to attachment theory, a field of research that has dominated the study of early sociopersonality development for more than a quarter of a century (Thompson, 1998).