Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development:
Concepts and Applications 5th Edition.
Jersey: Prentice Hall
Arnold Gesell’s theory of development places a large emphasis on the role of biology and genetics;
therefore, in terms of the nature versus nurture debate, Gesell’s theory would lend support to the
nature side of the debate in which innate factors such as genetics are thought to be largely responsible
for an individual’s development. In fact, a central concept of Arnold Gesell’s theory is
is defined as a genetically determined process of growth that occurs naturally.
lthough Gesell concedes that both a child’s environment and their genetics play
fundamental roles in a child’s development; the following quote appearing on page 23 of William
Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications
clearly illustrates that Gesell emphasizes
the role of nature over nurture:
Two major forces, Gesell said, influence the child’s growth or development. First, the child
is a product of his or her environment. But more fundamentally, Gesell believed, that the
child’s development is directed from within, by the action of genes. Gesell called this
Even when Gesell acknowledges the role of environment by specifically referring to aspects of the
prenatal environment such as temperature and oxygen, he specifically states that such environmental
factors “play no direct role in the sequential unfolding of structures and action patterns.” (Crain, 2011,
In regards to the debate of whether individuals are passive or active participants in their own
heavy emphasis on genetics and universal sequences of development clearly
suggest that according to his theory individuals are passive in their development. Gesell even posits
that variances in rates of development are “largely controlled by the internal genetic mechanism’
Gesell, 1945, p. 61” As an example Gesell refers to the fact that in prenatal development the heart
develops, then the CNS, then the arms and legs etc.
Furthermore, Gesell emphasizes the fact that a child’s development should not be hurried along
because a variety of abilities such as sitting, walking, talking all dependent on sufficient maturation.
“ Because of intrinsic self-regulating processes, children sometimes resist our efforts to teach them
new things. It is as if something inside tells them not to learn too much too soon. The integrity of the
organism must be preserved.” (Crain, 2010, p. 28)
Discontinuous vs. Continuous
Gesell’s theory of development can best be perceived as featuring a discontinuous process in which
change is qualitative rather than a continuous process in which change is quantitative.
For example, a defining feature discontinuous process of development is that development is thought