Developmental Psychobiology: The Significance of Infancy

By Lewis P. Lipsitt | Go to book overview

Comments on "Genetic Determinants of Infant Development: An Overstated Case"

Philip R. Zelazo

Scarr-Salapatek evaluates the research on infancy to determine the degree to which infant behavioral development can be said to be canalized or genetically limited to a few possible phenotypes. She concludes that we know precious little about the causes of development and suggests that those of biological persuasion temper their strong claims about the genetic bases of development, particularly mental development. Her argument that the proponents of the genetic view have overstated their case is well taken. However, it probably applies equally to the proponents of the environmental position. The sad truth is that we know too little and are claiming too much.

The data on mental development in infants are as inconclusive as the results on IQ and social class in older children ( Allen & Pettigrew, 1973; Erlenmeyer-Kimling & Stern, 1973; Scarr-Salapatek, 1973). Moreover, not only are our models limited, as Scarr-Salapatek suggests, but we should perhaps be asking other questions. It appears that in the absence of sound empirical data there may be a tendency to resolve the uncertainty surrounding this issue by substituting our beliefs for facts. Admittedly, it is difficult to tell society, and especially those directly affected by our discoveries and pronouncements, that we must reserve judgment until the facts are in. If we are to avoid making unsubstantiated and perhaps erroneous proclamations with potentially great consequences, however, that is the responsible course to follow.

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