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The nature (and nurture?) of plasticity in early human development

Belsky, Jay and Pluess, Michael (2009) The nature (and nurture?) of plasticity in early human development. Perspectives on Psychological Science 4 (4), pp. 345-351. ISSN 1745-6916.

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The effect of early experience is a long-standing concern in developmental psychology. Gaining further insight into the nature of human plasticity is central to efforts to prevent problems in development from arising and promote positive functioning. Evolutionary reasoning suggests that children should vary in their susceptibility to environmental influences, including parenting. Evidence indicates that rather than some children, such as those with negatively emotional temperaments or certain genotypes, being simply more vulnerable to the adverse effects of negative experiences, as commonly assumed, they may actually be more susceptible to both positive and negative experiences. In addition to raising questions about the nature of plasticity in human development, this article highlights unknowns regarding the role of nature and nurture in shaping individual differences in plasticity, including whether recent research linking maternal stress during pregnancy with child behavior problems illuminates a process whereby fetal programming shapes the child's susceptibility to postnatal environmental influences. Throughout this article, we raise concern about the potentially distorting influence that psychology's disproportionate focus on the adverse effect of negative experiences on developmental problems has on our understanding of human plasticity, and we propose that researchers should pay more attention to the positive side of the plasticity equation.

Item Type: Article
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Science > Psychological Sciences
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2011 11:25
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:18

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