Contributions of dynamic systems theory to cognitive development

John P. Spencer, Andrew Austin, Anne R. Schutte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


We examine the contributions of dynamic systems theory to the field of cognitive development, focusing on modeling using dynamic neural fields. After introducing central concepts of dynamic field theory (DFT), we probe empirical predictions and findings around two examples—the DFT of infant perseverative reaching that explains Piaget's A-not-B error and the DFT of spatial memory that explain changes in spatial cognition in early development. Review of the literature around these examples reveals that computational modeling is having an impact on empirical research in cognitive development; however, this impact does not extend to neural and clinical research. Moreover, there is a tendency for researchers to interpret models narrowly, anchoring them to specific tasks. We conclude on an optimistic note, encouraging both theoreticians and experimentalists to work toward a more theory-driven future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-418
Number of pages18
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Dynamic systems theory
  • Spatial memory
  • Perseveration
  • Neural networks
  • Object concept

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