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6.2: What did Reese and Overton think was going on?

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  • The resulting chapter—Models of Development and Theories of Development (Reese & Overton, 1970) and its accompanying methodological chapter (Overton & Reese, 1973) were not the first discussions of paradigms and paradigm shifts in psychology and science (e.g., Kuhn, 1962; Pepper, 1942), but they were the first to lay out the issues for developmental psychologists. They argued that the state of mutual incomprehension exhibited in these empirical exchanges was based on the fundamental incompatibility of the underlying assumptions about human nature and human development that each side unintentionally brought to the discussion. Each side had its own “model” of humans and of reality.

    As explained by Reese and Overton,

    The most general models, variously designated as “paradigms” (Kuhn, 1962), “presuppositions” (Pap, 1949), “world views” (Kuhn, 1962, Seeger, 1954), and“world hypotheses” (Pepper, 1942), have a pervasive influence throughout the more specific levels, as noted by Kessen (1966) and others before him (Black, 1962; Peppper, 1942; Toulmin, 1962). The different levels of models are characterized by different levels of generality, openness, and vagueness. At one extreme are implicit and psychologically submerged models of such generality as to be capable of incorporating every phenomenon. These metaphysical systems are … basic models of the essential characteristics of [humans] and indeed of the nature of reality” (1970, p. 117).

    Such models, which we refer to as “meta-theories,” have advantages and disadvantages.

    Such models, which we refer to as “meta-theories,” have advantages and disadvantages. As Reese and Overton go on to explain, “any model limits the world of experience and presents the person with a tunnel vision. Being committed to a particular model may make a person blond to its faults… However, a good model increases the horizon, since one of its functions is to aid in the deployment or extension of a theory… A good model acts like a pair of binoculars ... Models provide rules of inference through which new relations are discovered, and provide suggestions about how the scope of the theory can be increased” (1970, p. 120). The most important feature of meta-theories is that they are sets of assumptions that are often hidden from our own awareness. They help us as scientists, but they also create a filter that forces us to “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The first step in recognizing our own assumptive world views is to understand what meta-theories are, to become familiar with the kinds of assumptions they contain, and see the different families of theories that are derived from them. In this chapter and the next, we draw heavily on a piece we created for another class on human development (Skinner, Richardson, Pitzer, & Taylor, 2011).