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Tabula Rasa

English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) proposed that the mind of the newborn infant is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, on which experience writes. Although research on infant cognition has shown that this view is too extreme, some psychologists (known as empiricists) continue to believe that development is primarily a process of learning from the environment. Other psychologists (known as nativists) believe that knowledge emerges through a developmental process directed primarily by the genes.

Most contemporary psychologists, however, are interactionists. Rejecting the nativist/empiricist (or nature-nurture) dichotomy, interactionists argue that development is an ongoing interaction of genetic and environmental forces. Psychologists known as constructivists, moreover, acknowledging the interactive roles of genes and environment, add that the mind itself is an active agent in the construction of knowledge. Thus psychologists continue to debate how much knowledge we should attribute to the infant at birth and how development proceeds from there.

See also: INFANCY


Moshman, David. Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

Spelke, Elizabeth, and Elissa Newport. "Nativism, Empiricism, and the Development of Knowledge." In William Damon ed., Handbook of Child Psychology, 5th edition, Vol. 1:Theoretical Models of Human Development, edited by Richard Lerner. New York: Wiley, 1998.

David Moshman

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