Contribution to the Nature Nurture Debate From a western

Contribution to the Nature
Nurture Debate

From
a western tradition, Bronfenbrenner was also among the first theoreticians to
underscore the need to take into account both the complex, reciprocal and
subtle interactions among each individual’s biological and personal
characteristics and also the significant social and ecological contexts that
influence development (Rosa & Tudge, 2013). In addition, he underscored the
intricate interrelations holding among person, process, context, and time,
arguing that more important than the various ecological systems per se are the
transactions and synergies among them.

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Bronfenbrenner’s
emphasised that a failure to appreciate this bidirectionality of human
development engenders missed opportunities to test explanations of
developmental change in ecologically valid ways (Brunswik, 1955; Lerner &
Callina, 2014). This understanding contributed greatly to the enduring
“nature-nurture” controversy over human development (Sameroff, 2010).  Before 1970, the main concerns of many
researchers in the field of human development was to discover the extent of
nature and nurture’s specific influences, with only a small number of studies
designed to emphasize the interactions between nature and nurture. The
nurturist shift in the 1980s was driven by three advances in the social science
– the war on poverty, the concept of a social ecology, and cultural
deconstruction. Where behaviourist research focused on proximal connections
between reinforcements and performance, scientists in other social disciplines
were arguing that economic circumstance was a major constraint on the
availability of reinforcements, such that the developmental environments of the
poor were deprived in contrast with those of the affluent. Among these emerging
new perspectives was the ecological approach, which offered a more
differentiated model than provided by economics alone. Bronfenbrenner (1977)
identified the distal influences of family, school, work, and culture on the
availability of reinforcements to the child, providing a more comprehensive
empirical model for predicting individual differences in development. The
emphasis here was on studying how people accommodate throughout their lives to
the changing environments where they grow and live (Clarke-Steward et al.,
1985).  His contextual model delineated
the ways in which how dimensions of experience can augment or constrain human
development. Although we may have a strong desire for straightforward
explanations of life, Bronfenbrenner understood that development is complicated
and models for explaining it need to be complicated enough to usefully inform
our understanding. 

Time

One
of the most enduring contributions this bioecological model has made to the
developmental field was having the idea that the human life span is marked by
the presence of relative plasticity. This element, time, was highlighted
increasingly during the 1980s, until being formally attached to the PPCT model
in the third and final phase of the theory’s development, as comprising three
different layers(micro-meso-, and macrotime). 
Bronfenbrenner stressed that human development involves both continuity
and change. There is a progressive change in the person’s characteristics over
time and space (1975, 1978, 1979), which signifies continuity both in the
person and in the environment (1975). This is a significant contribution to the
field of developmental research as he understood how increasingly complex
proximal and distal ecological systems, including historical time, influence
and expand human development throughout the life span (Tudge, Mokrova,
Hatfield, & Karnik, 2009). He identified the key role played by temporal
variables (both in ontogenesis and throughout history) in developmental processes,
highlighting the need for researchers to carry out longitudinal studies,
ultimately transforming the generalizability of many of the findings in
developmental research. He also asserted that time ordered variation within the
individual must be assessed in order to obtain valid information about the
developmental process.

Confused with mechanistic
paradigm

The
PPCT model is particularly prone to misrepresentation and lack of appropriate
evaluations in the literature, given that it is a contextualist theory that is
too often treated as though it fits within a mechanist paradigm (Tudge et al.
2009). Overton (Overton, 1984; Overton & Reese, 1973) has argued that
contextualism, lacking the idea of a developmental end point, is not an appropriate
paradigm for developmental science, and that in its “strict contextualist” form,
it should be linked with mechanism or linked with organicism -“relational
organicism-contextualism,” (e.g., Overton, 2013; Overton & Ennis, 2006). Overton
has thus treated the PPCT model as thought it is a mechanistic model, although providing
no direct evidence supporting his placement. In addition, hat Overton (2013)
termed the “five defining features” of the development process are
(non-linearity , order and sequence, direction, relative permanence and
relative irreversibility, and epigenesist and emergence) (p.53,originalemphasis)
are not included in Bronfenbrenner’s theories and he consigned it to the
mechanist camp. As Tudge et al. (2009) and Rosa and Tudge (2013) made clear, particularly
with the introduction of proximal processes into the PPCT model, there is no reason
to view the theory as one of independent effects (as required by mechanist
theories). Furthermore, Overton (2013, 2015)

Misuse of Bronfenbrenner’s PPCT
Model

As
a result the PPCT model has fell short of its potential. In 2009, Tudge,
Mokrova, Hatfield and Karnik evaluated the extent to which scholars were using
the theory correctly and concluded that very few of the papers published beyond
the year 2000 represented the most up- to date versions of the theory (PPCT)
correctly. These findings were substantiated by their follow up study which
found that out of 25 studies published between 2001 and 2008 who stated that
their research was based on Bronfenbrenner’s theory, only four were based on
the most recent form of the theory, and most described the theory simply as one
of contextual influences on development, completely ignoring the centrepiece of
the theory in its final incarnation: proximal processes. Importantly, the
purpose of employing a theory as the foundation for one’s research should be
not only to determine the variables on which to focus and the methods to employ
but also to provide some critical evaluation of that theory. As Meehl (1978)
wrote: “Theories in ‘soft’ areas of psychology lack the cumulative character of
scientific knowledge. They tend neither to be refuted nor to be corroborated,
but instead merely fade away as people lose interest” (p. 806). Neither
refutation nor corroboration is possible either when the theory is
misrepresented or when inappropriate methods are used.