Arnold L. Gesell: The Paradox of Nature and Nurture

Esther Thelen, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arnold Gesell (1880-1961) has had an important and lasting impact on the field of developmental psychology He is best remembered for his developmental norms, which were acquired from decades of detailed observations of infants and children and are still the basis of most early assessments of behavioral functioning. Gesell's influence as a theorist is less direct. His maturationism quickly lost favor in the intellectual climate of Piaget, behaviorism, and information-processing approaches. Nonetheless, nativism is still a dominant theme in contemporary developmental studies in the guise of neural determinism, innate knowledge, and genetic studies. Gesell is characterized as a man of paradoxes and contrasts. Although he acknowledged the contributions of the environment, he denied its agency. Although he was devoted to children and their welfare, he assigned their individuality to biological destiny. And although he remained a steadfast maturationist, he prefigured other more dynamic views of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-380
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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