In the wake of prominent theoreticians in developmental science, whose contributions we review in this article, many developmental psychologists came to endorse a systems approach to understanding how the individual, as it develops, establishes functional relationships to social ecological contexts that from birth to school entry rapidly increase in complexity. The concept of developmental cascade has been introduced in this context to describe lawful processes by which antecedent conditions may be related with varying probabilities to specified outcomes. These are understood as processes by which function at one level or in one domain of behavior affect the organization of competency in later developing domains of general adaptation. Here we propose a developmental sequence by which the developing child acquires regulative capacities that are key to adjustment to a society that demands considerable control of emotional and cognitive functions early in life. We report empirical evidence showing that the acquisition of regulative capacities may be understood as a cascade of shifts in control parameters induced by the progressive integration of biological, transactional, and socioaffective systems over development. We conclude by suggesting how the developmental process may be accessed for effective intervention in populations deemed “at risk” for later problems of psychosocial adjustment.
c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Martha J. Cox, Psychology Department and Center for Developmental Sciences, 216 Davie Hall, CB 3270, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.