About JPS 2018

48th Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society Amsterdam, The Netherlands, May 31 – June 2, 2018

The Dynamics of Development:
Process, (Inter-)Action, & Complexity
Paul van Geert, David Witherington, & Jan Boom

The question most central to developmental science is also the field’s most elusive: How does human development work? In brief, how do new structures, patterns and levels of organization arise in human development? This question of how—targeting as it does the dynamics of development and the means by which development proceeds—is one that classic systems approaches to psychological development (such as Piaget’s) began to address in the first decades of the 20th century. For much of the 20th century, however, developmental science routinely sidestepped dynamic questions, as the field grew increasingly reductionist in its orientation. Nonetheless, recent decades have witnessed a steady revival of emphasis on taking the question of dynamics seriously, yielding a focus on the embodied and embedded activity of individuals in time and context. This entails an understanding of how the real-time activities of people arise from the complex, dynamic relations of body, brain, and environment and of how these real-time activities yield developmental-time changes in people’s psychological organization. It involves, in other words, a focus on self-organization and emergence, on nonlinearity and variability. The invited program for JPS 2018 will provide a survey of perspectives on how to think about and study the dynamics of development.


Paul van Geert

Paul van Geert (1950) holds a doctoral degree from the University of Ghent (Belgium) and is currently honorary professor of developmental psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He has had a pioneering role in the application of dynamic systems and complexity theory to a broad range of developmental areas, including early language development and second language acquisition; cognitive development; learning-teaching processes; and social development including social interaction and identity. His main aim is to better understand the general nature of developmental dynamics, i.e. nature of the mechanism(s) that drive and shape a developmental process in an individual, as the individual, given his or her biological properties and potentialities interacts with his or her actively explored environment. He has held visiting professorships at the Unversities of Torino (Italy), Paris V and Reims (France), Trondheim (Norway) and Harvard University (Mind-Brain-Education program) and has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Paul van Geert is also an artist painter who paints life-size free-standing portraits of people in his environment.

With this link you can go to his personal website

  • Van Geert, P. (1991). A dynamic systems model of cognitive and language growth. Psychological Review, 98, 3-53.
  • Van Geert, P. (1994). Dynamic systems of development. Change between complexity and chaos. Harvester, New York, 1994, 300 pp.
  • Van Geert, P. (1998). A dynamic systems model of basic developmental mechanisms: Piaget, Vygotsky and beyond. Psychological Review, 105, Vol. 5, No. 4, 634–677
  • de Ruiter, N. M. P., van Geert, P. L. C., & Kunnen, E. S. (2017). Explaining the “How” of Self-Esteem Development: The Self-Organizing Self-Esteem Model. Review of General Psychology, 21(1), 49-68.
  • Den Hartigh, R. J. R., Van Dijk, M. W. G., Steenbeek, H. W., & Van Geert, P. L. C. (2016). A Dynamic Network Model to Explain the Development of Excellent Human Performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, [532]. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00532

Karen E. Adolp

Karen E. Adolp is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at New York University. She received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and Ph.D. from Emory University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Adolph leads the databrary.org project to enable open video data sharing, and maintains the datavyu.org computerized video coding tool. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science and Past-President of the International Congress on Infant Studies. She received a Cattell Sabbatical Award, the APF Fantz Memorial Award, the APA Boyd McCandless Award, the ICIS Young Investigator Award, FIRST and MERIT awards from NICHD, and five teaching awards from NYU. She chaired the NIH study section on Motor Function and Speech Rehabilitation and serves on the McDonnell Foundation advisory board and editorial boards of Developmental Psychobiology and Motor Learning and Development. Adolph’s research on perceptual-motor learning and development has been continually funded by NIH and NSF since 1991. Her lab innovated head-mounted eye tracking in freely mobile infants, instrumented floors and video tracking to record infants’ natural locomotor exploration, and psychophysical methods to index infants’ perception of affordances. She has over 150 publications.

With this link you can go to her personal website

  • Adolph, K. E., Gilmore, R. O., & Kennedy, J. L. (2017). Video data and documentation will improve psychological science. Psychological Science Agenda, (/science/about /psa/2017/10/index.aspx).
  • Lee, D. K., Cole, W. G., Golenia, L., & Adolph, K. E. (2017). The cost of simplifying complex developmental phenomena: A new perspective on learning to walk. Developmental Science.
  • Kretch, K. S. & Adolph, K. E. (2017). The organization of exploratory behaviors in infant locomotor planning. Developmental Science, 20, 1-17.
  • Adolph, K. E., & Kretch, K. S. (2015). Gibson’s theory of perceptual learning. In J. D. Wright (Ed.-in-chief), International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences, 2nd ed., Vol. 10 (pp. 127-134). Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Adolph, K. E. & Robinson, S. R. (2015). Motor development. In R. M. Lerner (Series Eds.) & L. Liben & U. Muller (Vol. Eds), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science: Vol. 2: Cognitive processes (7th ed.) New York: Wiley, pp. 114-157.
  • Adolph, K. E. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2014). The costs and benefits of development: The transition from crawling to walking. Child Development Perspectives, 8, 187-192.

Ezequiel Di Paolo

Ezequiel Di Paolo is a full-time Research Professor working at Ikerbasque, the Basque Science Foundation (San Sebastián, Spain). He has a background in physics and nuclear engineering and a DPhil in computer science and artificial intelligence from the University of Sussex (UK). He was Reader in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems at the University of Sussex and remains a member of the Sussex Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics (CCNR). His interdisciplinary work on the enactive approach to life, mind, and society integrates insights from cognitive science, phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and dynamical systems modelling. His recent research focus is on enactive theories of sensorimotor dynamics, the sense of agency, intersubjectivity, and language. Other research interests include dynamical systems, adaptive behaviour in natural and artificial systems, biological modelling, complexity, evolutionary robotics, and philosophy of science. He is the author of over 150 peer-reviewed publications, has been involved as principal investigator in several international research projects, and is an active member of the editorial board of various journals.

With this link you can go to his personal website

  • Di Paolo, E. A, Buhrmann, T., and Barandiaran, X. E. (2017). Sensorimotor life: An Enactive Proposal, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Di Paolo, E. A. (2016). Participatory object perception. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 23 (56), 228 – 258.
  • Di Paolo E. A., Barandiaran X.E., Beaton M., and Buhrmann T. (2014). Learning to perceive in the sensorimotor approach: Piaget’s theory of equilibration interpreted dynamically. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 551.
  • Di Paolo, E. A. and De Jaegher, H. (2012). The interactive brain hypothesis, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6:163.
  • De Jaegher, H., Di Paolo, E. A., and Gallagher, S. (2010). Can social interaction constitute social cognition? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14 (10), 441 – 447.

Mark Bickhard

Mark Bickhard is the Henry R. Luce Professor in Cognitive Robotics and the Philosophy of Knowledge at Lehigh University. He is affiliated with the Departments of Philosophy and Psychology, and is Director of the Institute for Interactivist Studies. His work ranges from process metaphysics and emergence to consciousness, cognition, language, and functional models of brain processes, to persons and social ontologies. Bickhard’s work on cognition features a model of cognition as emergent in agent processes for interacting with the world. The model has strong implications for the nature of developmental processes. This work has generated an integrated organization of models encompassing The Whole Person, which is the tentative title of a book in preparation.

With this link you can go to his personal website

  • Bickhard, M. H. (2005). Consciousness and Reflective Consciousness. Philosophical Psychology, 18(2), 205-218.
  • Bickhard, M. H. (2009). The Interactivist Model. Synthese 166(3), 547-591.
  • Bickhard, M. H. (2015). Toward a Model of Functional Brain Processes I: Central Nervous System Functional Micro-architecture. Axiomathes, 25(3), 217-238.
  • Bickhard, M. H. (2015). Toward a Model of Functional Brain Processes II: Central Nervous System Functional Macro-architecture. Axiomathes, 25(4), 377-407.
  • Bickhard, M. H. (2016). The Anticipatory Brain: Two Approaches. In V. C. Müller (Ed.) Fundamental Issues of Artificial Intelligence. (259-281). Switzerland: Springer.
  • Bickhard, M. H. (2016). Inter- and En- Activism: Some thoughts and comparisons. New Ideas in Psychology, 41, 23-32.

Invited Symposia:

1 Dynamic Skill Theory: Its Origin, Development and Contemporary Extensions

Organizers: Thomas Bidell, Independent Scholar, and Michael Mascolo, Merrimack College

Kurt Fischer’s dynamic skill theory has been one of the pioneering efforts to reformulate traditional static notions about developmental change in terms of an integrative, action-based dynamic perspective. Where others saw human psychological development in terms of uniform stages, isolated modular faculties and mechanistic computational routines, Fischer saw unified dynamic systems of living activity and offered a research-based theory to support it. In this symposium we review the origin and development of dynamic skill theory and present examples of its current applications and extensions.
Michael F. Mascolo. Dynamic Skill Theory: Trajectories in the Development of Integrative Action within in Socio-Cultural Contexts

Fischer’s dynamic skill theory started off, arguably, as a neo-Piagetian theory of cognitive development.  Fischer defined the concept of skill as a kind of contextualized control structure – the capacity to control action within particular contexts.  One of Fischer’s most important contributions – along with other neo-Piagetian scholars – was the formation of a developmental yardstick for making precise assessments of the structure of acting, thinking and feeling over time as they emerge in particular physical and social contexts.  Dynamic skill theory itself underwent a series of extensions and transformations over time as it engaged the evolving issues of developmental science. These included extending the model of the analysis of social-cognitive changes; the representation of self; brain-behavior relations and psychological change processes.  A second iteration occurred as the model embraced principles and methods related to dynamic systems theory. The model continued to be extended to analyzing the development of emotion; the analysis of culture in the organization of self and emotion; the development of affectively-charged relationships; and alternative trajectories in normative and non-normative development.  Most recently, dynamic skill theory has provided a framework for integrative work in mind, brain and education.  In this paper, I examine three major contributions of dynamic skill theory: (1) the integrative concept of skill or psychological structure; (2) the precise analysis of trajectories of skill development in different normative and non-normative domains and contexts; and (3) the coactive construction of skills in in relations between people.
Nira Granott. A Unified view of change in development.
This presentation focuses on uniting several theories about the process of change. In studies of two different unfamiliar problems, adults’ collaborative problem solving was analyzed using Fischer’s Dynamic skill theory. The same data sets are also analyzed using several other methods. Based on the results, a theoretical framework is proposed, interrelating Dynamic Skill Theory and several other theories and explanations of change (Siegler’s wave theory, Goldin-Meadow’s gesture-speech mismatch, Thelen & Smith’s dynamic reorganization during instability and the effect of context, and others). Implications for understanding change in development and learning are discussed.
Saskia Kunnen. Dynamic Skill Theory and Identity Development.
Starting from Fischer’s Skill Theory and Werner’s orthogenetic principle, I will describe identity development as a process in which commitments become more complex and at the same time more flexible over time as a result of a continuous process of differentiation and hierarchical integration. This process is triggered by emotionally relevant experiences, i.e. situations that trigger excitement and new insights, and, especially after the period of adolescence and emerging adulthood, by conflicts and situations that cannot be handled in a satisfying way by means of the existing commitments. I will argue that in the identity exploration phase differentiation of ideas, wishes, dreams and desires takes place, while the formation of new commitments can be seen as resulting from hierarchical integration.

2 Linking Real-time Dynamic Processes to Developmental Outcomes

Organizer: Tom Hollenstein

The fundamental quest of developmental science is to understand how moment-to-moment experiences of children relate to emergent and lasting structures of behavior. In this symposium, we present three methodological approaches to link real-time dynamic processes to normative and atypical developmental outcomes.
First, using state space grids Tom Hollenstein will review studies of real-time parent-child emotional dynamics that predict psychosocial well-being. These results will be framed within an emotion systems framework that construes these dynamics as indicative of emotion regulation and also emphasizes the importance of the interpersonal context for revealing individual differences in functioning.
Second, Anna Lichtwarck-Aschoff will examine longitudinal patterns of therapeutic change as a window into developmental processes. Using recurrence quantification analysis, she will show how a period of destabilization in parent-child dynamics is necessary for successful treatment change for children with behavior problems.
Finally, Mike Stoolmiller will examine the temporal contingencies within parent-child emotion dynamics using multivariate multilevel survival analysis. With this comprehensive approach, the probability of children’s or parents’ expression of one emotional state (e.g., anger) rather than competing states (e.g., sadness, fear, interest, affection) is used to differentiate those at greatest risk for developing psychopathology. Together, these three approaches provide a range of tools that are well-suited for directly testing long-standing theoretical predictions of the relations between behavioral dynamics in the moment and outcomes at the developmental-time scale.

3 New methods for studying intraindividual development

Organizer: Ellen Hamaker

Development is at its core an intraindividual phenomenon. However, the dominant approach in developmental research consists of taking a few repeated measurements from a large number of individuals, and determining the mean changes in this group. Even when research focuses on individual differences in developmental trajectories, the models are often static and describe deterministic developmental paths.  This practice does not do justice to the complex nature of development, which tends to be characterized by large individual differences, and by dynamic relationships between developmental processes. As a result, interventions and policy changes based on such research may be missing the mark. In this symposium we discuss alternative methods to study development, with intraindividual variability, changes, and dynamics as its centerpiece.
Ellen Hamaker.  Development as an intraindividual phenomenon: An introduction
Development can be defined as “the process in which someone grows or changes and becomes more advanced.” There are two key elements to this definition: Development takes place within an individual, and occurs over time. Hence, to study development at its core, we need to measure a person repeatedly, and we need a statistical technique that uncovers the key features of the intraindividual process unfolding over time. In this presentation, I will explain why we cannot use shortcuts such as cross-sectional data (based on a single measurement), and why many conventional longitudinal approaches (based on a few repeated measurements) are falling short. Moreover, I will discuss how recent methodological innovations have opened up a new horizon of research opportunities, which allow us to truly focus on intraindividual variability, changes, and dynamics. I will end by discussing some of the major challenges that the field now needs to face.
Lars-Erik Malmberg.  Intraindividual variability – a construct in its own right
In order to enhance our understanding of developmental dynamics we can apply an intraindividual perspective in which we focus on fluctuations in the shorter-term, termed variability. Intensive longitudinal data are well suited for this purpose. Taking an example from educational research, we observed adaptive educational processes characterised by stable (less variability), and maladaptive processes characterised by instable (more variability) learning experiences (e.g., task difficulty, competence evaluation and intrinsic motivation) from one learning situation to the next. We specified multilevel structural equation model of state, trait and individual differences in intraindividual variability constructs in a sample of 285 English primary school students’ (Years 5 and 6) who completed the Learning Experience Questionnaire using handheld computers, on average 13.6 learning episodes during one week (SD = 4.6; Range = 5-29; nepisodes = 3,433). We defined mean squared successive differences (MSSD) for manifest indicators of the variability constructs. Overall, we find support for intraindividual variability as a construct in its own right, which has the potential to provide novel insight into students’ learning processes.
Han L. J. van der Maas.  Intraindividual development: Theories and measurement
The human cognitive system, and especially its development in the first years, is inconceivably complex. The rich intraindividual variation in complex developmental processes requires the study of development at the level of the individual. Yet, the intraindividual approach is all but easy in practical research. One major challenge is the collection of short interval times series of reliable data on development. We present an measurement approach to this problem based on an innovative online learning system which is now used by thousands of Dutch primary school children on a daily or weekly basis, providing a new window on cognitive development. We will introduce the origin of this new instrument, called Math Garden, explain its setup, and discuss its potential in studying developmental processes.

4 Back to Alpbach: Reflecting on reductionism fifty years later

Organizer: Jeremy Burman

In 1968, a group of influential scientists — including Bruner, Inhelder, von Bertalanffy, Waddington, and Weiss — met in Alpbach to discuss how fundamental issues of science (including human science) could be reconsidered from the perspectives of process, dynamics, and interaction. We return to these concerns fifty years later with four historians who will reflect on the past as a way to see the future.
Jeremy Burman introduces the session by reflecting on the goals of the Alpbach meeting, taking advantage of archival documents from the Waddington archives. Harry Heft then considers the agenda of the Alpbach organizers, and shows that their concerns could be found even in the late 1890s in William James’ critique of “automaton theory” and his move toward field-theoretical thinking, as well as the related anti-mechanistic debates between Loeb and Jennings. Brady Wagoner, similarly, examines the interests and influence of Frederic Bartlett: schemas of memory were always more flexible than has been assumed, and Inhelder showed this in her experiments with Piaget. (“Memory and Intelligence” was published the same year as the Alpbach meeting, which itself included memory as a theme.) Marc Ratcliff shares archival documents discovered at the Piaget Villa showing that much of the Alpbach agenda was anticipated by Piaget, who had attempted to organize a similar meeting in Geneva — for 1965 — that would have brought many of the same attendees together to discuss similar issues (although in explicit connection to Genetic Epistemology). But that meeting never took place. Instead, Piaget returned “to [his] first loves as a biologist” alone, without the high-level interdisciplinary interactions that characterized many of his other theoretical projects. Burman then concludes the session with some discussion of the presented papers, and especially of the role history can play in advancing contemporary science.


The Jean Piaget Society Conference Meeting is held annually, usually in North America, but every now and then on other continents. In 2007 we had a very successful conference in Amsterdam in Krasnapolsky. See below. We are very happy to return to Amsterdam in 2018 in CASA.