"From Stability to Resilience: Lessons for Development from Ecology"

G. Barker (Under Review: Phenomenology & the Cognitive Sciences)

Abstract: Ecosystem ecology, developmental biology and developmental psychology share a concern with stability, with how things stay the same despite changes in the surrounding conditions, and how processes of change can lead reliably to similar outcomes despite environmental variability. Recently, both ecosystem ecologists and developmental psychologists have begun to recognize that their earlier simple assumptions about the sources of stability were mistaken, and to explore new conceptions of resilience: a system’s ability to “bounce back” from a shock or disturbance, to absorb change without harm, or to overcome threats or obstacles to achieve good adaptive functioning. Developmental biologists, meanwhile, have explored related issues through conceptions of developmental plasticity and canalization. Quite different theoretical frameworks for resilience have emerged in these different fields, yet the phenomena that they treat are closely intertwined. Ecological work on resilience has focused on the relationships between resilience, chaotic change, and adaptive function across multiple scales of nested systems, and implications for intervention or management. With some assistance from developmental biology, this body of work offers rich theoretical resources and important lessons for related thinking about cognitive development.