Applications of Nonlinear Dynamics to Developmental Process Modeling

Applications of Nonlinear Dynamics to Developmental Process Modeling

Applications of Nonlinear Dynamics to Developmental Process Modeling

Applications of Nonlinear Dynamics to Developmental Process Modeling


There has been an increasing interest in the application of dynamical systems to the study of development over the last decade. The explosion of the dynamical systems framework in the physical and biological sciences has opened the door to a new Zeitgeist for studying development. This appeal to dynamical systems by developmentalists is natural given the intuitive links between the established fundamental problems of development and the conceptual and operational scope of nonlinear dynamical systems. This promise of a new approach and framework within which to study development has led to some progress in recent years but also a growing appreciation of the difficulty of both fully examining the new metaphor and realizing its potential.

Divided into 4 parts, this book is a result of a recent conference on dynamical systems and development held at Pennsylvania State University. The first 3 parts focus on the content domains of development that have given most theoretical and empirical attention to the potential applications of dynamical systems--physical growth and movement, cognition, and communication. These parts show that a range of nonlinear models have been applied to a host of developmental phenomena. Part 4 highlights two particular methodological issues that hold important implications for the modeling of developmental phenomena with dynamical systems techniques.


This book is a product of a conference on dynamical systems and development held at University Park in October 1994. Penn State has a long and strong tradition in the study of development; there are many people currently on campus who have interest in the potential application of dynamical systems to development, an interest that ranges over a number of subdomains of development.

Our motivation for organizing the conference was driven to a large degree by the idea of bringing together people in various subdomains of development who were currently applying models of dynamical systems to their developmental data. There has been an explosion of interest in this field recently but the modeling of empirical work is lagging behind the claims of the potential of dynamical systems as a metaphor for development. This progression of theory leading data is a natural one, but it seemed a good time to take a harder look at the promise, progress, and problems of linking dynamical systems to developmental issues.

There appeared to be three major subdomain areas of development with ongoing use of the application of the techniques of nonlinear dynamics: cognition, physical growth and movement, and communication. Accordingly, we structured the conference and book around these three areas, plus a general methodological section as it pertained to nonlinear dynamics and development. Our major goal was to invite people who were actively modeling a particular developmental issue with the techniques of nonlinear dynamics. a subsidiary goal was to achieve diversity in the model applica-

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