Twenty years and going strong: A dynamic systems revolution in motor and cognitive development

John P. Spencer, Sammy Perone, Aaron T. Buss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


This article reviews the major contributions of dynamic systems theory in advancing thinking about development, the empirical insights the theory has generated, and the key challenges for the theory on the horizon. The first section discusses the emergence of dynamic systems theory in developmental science, the core concepts of the theory, and the resonance it has with other approaches that adopt a systems metatheory. The second section reviews the work of Esther Thelen and colleagues, who revolutionized how researchers think about the field of motor development. It also reviews recent extensions of this work to the domain of cognitive development. Here, the focus is on dynamic field theory, a formal, neurally grounded approach that has yielded novel insights into the embodied nature of cognition. The final section proposes that the key challenge on the horizon is to formally specify how interactions among multiple levels of analysis interact across multiple time scales to create developmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
JournalChild Development Perspectives
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011

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