Person-Centered Approaches to Studying Development in Context

Person-Centered Approaches to Studying Development in Context

Person-Centered Approaches to Studying Development in Context

Person-Centered Approaches to Studying Development in Context


This volume introduces readers to theoretical and methodological discussions, along with empirical illustrations, of using pattern-centered analyses in studying development in context. Pattern-centered analytic techniques refer to a family of research tools that identify patterns or profiles of variables within individuals and thereby classify individuals into homogeneous subgroups based on their similarity of profile. These techniques find their theoretical foundation in holistic, developmental systems theories in which notions of organization, process dynamics, interactions and transactions, context, and life course development are focal. The term person-centered is used to contrast with the traditional emphasis on variables; the term pattern-centered is used to extend the principles of person-centered approaches to other levels of analysis (for example, social context).

Contributors present the theoretical foundations of pattern-centered analytic techniques, describe specific tools that may be of use to developmentalists interested in using such techniques and provide four empirical illustrations of their use in relation to educational achievement and attainments, aggressive behavior and social popularity, and alcohol use during the childhood and adolescent periods.

This is the 101st volume of the quarterly journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.


David Magnusson

This chapter discusses the person approach to studying
developmental processes by focusing on the distinction
and complementarity between this holistic—
interactionistic framework and what has become
designated as the variable approach

Since the term person approach was launched by Block (1971) and further discussed in Magnusson and Allen (1983) and Magnusson (1985) in the framework of the holistic-interactionistic perspective, two things have occurred. First, an increasingly large number of empirical studies (too many to be listed here) have been presented referring explicitly to the person approach. Second, the theoretical basis has been deepened and the methodological and research strategy implications for the application of the person approach in empirical research strengthened. An analysis of articles referring to the concept, however, demonstrates the need for clarification of the content and boundaries of a person approach.

Against this background, the main aim of this chapter is to discuss the distinction between, and complementarity of, the person approach and the variable approach. I will propose that the person approach rests on the combination of a holistic-interactionistic theoretical perspective on developmental processes and a specific measurement model that considers the main properties of the dynamic, complex character of the developmental processes of the individual as an integrated psychological, biological, and social being. (The methodological implications of the person approach represent the main theme of Chapter Two in this volume and are more comprehensively discussed by Bergman, Magnusson, and El-Khouri, 2003.) . . .

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