A History of Developmental Psychology in Autobiography

By Dennis Thompson; John D. Hogano | Go to book overview

accepted on a par of importance with more traditional topics. Apparently it will take roughly a generation for organizational changes to occur that will support scholarship, research, and teaching about the course of adult life. Being convinced of the scientific importance as well as the practical implications of studying adult development and aging, I am impatient with systems and individuals that appear blind to the significance of the subject matter.

Perhaps one of the most convincing statements of this character was made to me by Phillip Handler, a distinguished biochemist at Duke University and later president of the National Academy of Science. He said that he had taught and done research in biochemistry during its building-block stage. His biochemistry book, used by medical students, described the components of the metabolic cycles of organic systems. He said that this was the biochemistry of the past and present, but that the biochemistry of the future was going to be the biochemistry of differentiation and aging. That is, the building blocks of the systems have to be placed in a dynamic context.

By analogy, I think that it is now time to say that the psychology of the future will be the psychology of development and aging. Already we are seeing the ending chapters of introductory psychology textbooks emphasizing development and aging. This trend will continue, I believe, and one will see the "building-block topics" of psychology placed in a dynamic context of how they differentiate, develop, and age. The essential point here is that research on elemental behavioral processes studied by psychology do not, in and of themselves, explain phenomena of development and aging or the dynamics of change. Studies of sensation, perception, learning, memory, intelligence, and so on, do not produce knowledge that contradicts development and aging, but they do not explain the dynamic processes. In this regard, I believe that in the future there will be a stronger organismic orientation, and we will take seriously that the organism is a self-regulating system and, to a considerable degree, a self-structuring system providing its own energy for change. With the growth of research, psychology will undoubtedly come to recognize patterns of adult change related to different outcomes and develop interventions to maximize productivity and the quality of life.


References

Birren, J. E. ( 1955). Age differences in startle reaction time of the rat to noise and electric shock. Journal of Gerontology, 10, 437-440.

Birren, J. E., Allen, W. R. & Landau, H. G. ( 1954). The relation of problem length in simple addition to time required, probability of success and age. Journal of Gerontology, 9, 150-161.

Birren, J. E. & Botwinick, J. ( 1951). Rate of addition as a function of difficulty and age. Psychometrika, 16, 219-232.

Birren, J. E. & Botwinick, J. ( 1955a). Age difference in finger, jaw, and foot reaction time in auditory stimuli. Journal of Gerontology, 10, 429-432.

Birren, J. E. & Botwinick, J. ( 1955b). Speed of responses as a function of perceptual difficulty and age. Journal of Gerontology, 10, 433-436.

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