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Plasticity - The Concept Of Plasticity

developmental social development human biological psychological

The term plasticity first appeared in the psychological and biological literature over a century ago. For example, in the 1901 Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, James Mark Baldwin and E. B. Poulton defined plasticity as "that property of living substance or of an organism whereby it alters its form under changed conditions of life" (Baldwin and Poulton, p. 302). Several well-developed characteristics of human plasticity were annotated. These included the following still-relevant points: (1) seemingly fixed organic structures may exhibit some plasticity; (2) the plasticity of the brain and nervous system may allow "newer. . . intelligent accommodations" (p. 303); (3) there are limits to plasticity in certain realms; and (4) plasticity underlies much motor and cognitive learning.

In the intervening century, plasticity has been a featured element of several perspectives on human functioning and change. Two of the broadest reviews of plasticity were published in the 1980s. In an edited volume entitled Developmental Plasticity (1981), E. S. Gollin invited scholars to discuss plasticity in the domains of biological and psychological development. Gollin's own contribution referred to plasticity in terms of the range of possible variations that can occur throughout individual development. R. M. Lerner's 1984 monograph, On the Nature of Human Plasticity, covered plasticity as it functions in development at the biological, neurological, psychological, and social levels of analysis. Here, plasticity referred to changes in either structure or function, and could occur throughout life.

Plasticity - Plasticity At The Neuronal Level [next]

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