Contextualism and Developmental Psychopathology

Cicchetti, D. & Aber, J.L. (Eds.)
Development and Psychopathology, 10(2), 137-141.

The field of developmental psychopathology has grown rapidly over the past several decades and research conducted within this framework has made substantial contributions to our understanding of human adaptation and maladaptation (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995a, 1995b; Cicchetti & Richters, 1997; Cicchetti & Toth, 1998a). Influenced by the theoretical expositions of several prominent developmentalists, including Jay Belsky (1984), Uri Bronfenbrenner (1979), Robert Emde (1994), Donald Ford and Richard Lerner (1992), Michael Lewis (1997), Patricia Minuchin (1985), Arnold Sameroff (1983; Sameroff & Emde, 1989), Alan Sroufe (Sroufe, Egeland, & Kreutzer, 1990), and Esther Thelen and Linda Smith (1994), theorists have called attention to the importance of viewing the development of psychopathology within a continuously unfolding, dynamic, and ever changing context (see, for example, Belsky, 1993; Cicchetti & Aber, 1986; Cicchetti & Lynch, 1993; Cicchetti & Toth, 1998b; Coie & Jacobs, 1993; Jensen & Hoagwood, 1997; Richters & Cicchetti, 1993; Susman, 1993). Moreover, we now know that social contexts exert effects not only on psychological processes but also on biological structures and processes (Boyce, Frank, Jensen, Kessler, Nelson, Steinberg, et al., 1998; Cicchetti & Tucker, 1994; Eisenberg, 1995; Nelson & Bloom, 1997).

Despite advances that have occurred, the full incorporation of a contextual focus into empirical research, even among developmental psychopathologists who are very sensitive to the importance of understanding contextual influences on children and families, has proven to be a challenging enterprise (Richters, 1997). In order to thoroughly investigate the development of psychopathology in context, researchers must be more precise in how they conceptualize, operationalize, and analyze context (see, for example, Boyce et al., 1998).


Wagner Faculty