Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

10
The Ipsative Approach

In this chapter we turn to a consideration of the last of the three approaches to the study of human development described in Chapter 7. We learned there that the ipsative approach to developmental psychology assesses intraindividual consistencies and changes in the attribute repertoire and the attribute interrelation of a person over the course of development. As opposed to the relatively more nomothetically oriented stage and differential approaches, the ipsative approach is relatively more idiographic in orientation. That is, it seeks to understand the laws that govern an individual's behavior; it attempts to formulate highly specific generalizations, those potentially applicable to the development of a single individual.

However, in seeking to understand the variables involved in an individual's development, those taking an ipsative point of view are not necessarily formulating specific laws of development applicable only to that given person ( Block 1971). Rather, they stress that an understanding of the individual is a necessary basis for any more general understanding. Although developmental psychology must be concerned with ascertaining nomothetic, or group, laws as well as idiographic laws, those taking this point of view suggest that the science would suffer if the former were emphasized to the exclusion of the latter. As pointed out in Chapter 7, general laws of development may not apply equally (or at all) to all the individuals in a group. Hence one must also understand intraindividual laws if one wants to get a full account of development. In other words, one must understand the contributions that an organism's own individuality makes toward its own development in order to comprehend development more fully.

We see, then, that a basic, necessary orientation of the ipsative approach is an assessment of the role of the organism's own characteristics in its own development. An organism's lawful, systematic characteristics of individuality provide an important source of that organism's own development. This is a key reason why those taking an ipsative point of view seek to assess an individual's attribute repertoire and the concomitant interrelation of this repertoire over the course of the individual's development. From this perspective, ipsatively oriented developmentalists follow an organismic developmental point of view in focusing on how the organism itself contributes to its own development. While not necessarily denying the validity of other approaches to the study of psychological development (e.g., the stage approach), the ipsative approach suggests that these other orientations are incomplete because they do not pay sufficient attention to the organism's lawful (and potentially unique) characteristics of individuality and the contributions of this individuality to the organism's own development.

It may be concluded then, that the ipsative approach shares with other organismically oriented positions, such as those of Schneirla ( 1957), the idea that the organism's own characteristics play an active role in its own development. Yet, despite the similarities between the ipsative approach and other organismically oriented positions, little systematic developmental research has

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