Developmental psychopathology stands poised at the close of the 20th century on the horns of a major scientific dilemma. The essence of this dilemma lies in the contrast between its heuristically rich open system concepts on the one hand, and the closed system paradigm it adopted from mainstream psychology for investigating those models on the other. Many of the research methods, assessment strategies, and data analytic models of psychology's paradigm are predicated on closed system assumptions and explanatory models. Thus, they are fundamentally inadequate for studying humans, who are unparalleled among open systems in their wide ranging capacities for equifinal and multifinal functioning. Developmental psychopathology faces two challenges in successfully negotiating the developmentalist's dilemma. The first lies in recognizing how the current paradigm encourages research practices that are antithetical to developmental principles, yet continue to flourish. I argue that the developmentalist's dilemma is sustained by long standing, mutually enabling weaknesses in the paradigm's discovery methods and scientific standards. These interdependent weaknesses function like a distorted lens on the research process by variously sustaining the illusion of theoretical progress, obscuring the need for fundamental reforms, and both constraining and misguiding reform efforts. An understanding of how these influences arise and take their toll provides a foundation and rationale for engaging the second challenge. The essence of this challenge will be finding ways to resolve the developmentalist's dilemma outside the constraints of the existing paradigm by developing indigenous research strategies, methods, and standards with fidelity to the complexity of developmental phenomena.
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