ABSTRACT

In the previous chapter we sketched the basics of our approach as compared to related dynamic systems approaches. In this chapter we will discuss the general characteristics of a dynamic system. Dynamic systems theory conceptualizes a developmental process as a non-linear dynamic system. This system consists of various interconnected elements, and the behavior of the system is determined by these elementsʼ interactions over time, with such interaction resulting in order behavior of the system. This sounds very general and abstract, so let us give some examples. In a new situation, a person’s thoughts, emotions and perceptions of that situation interact. Perceptions affect emotions that affect thoughts, and vice versa, and this interaction results in an emerging appraisal of the situation. Or take a group of adolescents: they interact and infl uence each other and a group organization emerges. Or take a student who starts a new task: the characteristics of task and teacher and the competence, motivation and history of the adolescent interact, and from this interaction the task behavior of the student emerges. All these systems have in common that from the interacting elements something more organized emerges – an appraisal, a group or a coherent behavior. In all these examples, it is clear that whatever emerges is not there for eternity, but may be subject to change over time. In a dynamic systems approach we study how, from the interactions of the elements, higher, order phenomena emerge, how these phenomena may affect the interacting elements and how, over time, they may change themselves. In this chapter we will discuss the characteristics of this dynamic process and we will show how and why these characteristics are relevant in studying (adolescent) development.