Moving toward a grand theory of development: In memory of esther thelen

John P. Spencer, Daniela Corbetta, Patricia Buchanan, Melissa Clearfield, Beverly Ulrich, Gregor Schöner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


This paper is in memory of Esther Thelen, who passed away while President of the Society for Research in Child Development. A survey of Esther Thelen's career reveals a trajectory from early work on simple movements like stepping, to the study of goal-directed reaching, to work on the embodiment of cognition, and, ultimately, to a grand theory of development-dynamic systems theory. Four central concepts emerged during her career: (1) a new emphasis on time; (2) the proposal that behavior is softly assembled from the interaction of multiple subsystems; (3) the embodiment of perception, action, and cognition; and (4) a new respect for individuality. Esther Thelen communicated these ideas to scientists and practitioners alike, so the ultimate benefactors of her work were children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1521-1538
Number of pages18
JournalChild Development
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006

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