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16. Canalization and Malleability Reconsidered The developmental basis of phenotypic stability and variability

Robert Lickliter and Christopher Harshaw

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405187824.2010.00018.x


Evolution is a striking tapestry in which conservation and innovation, permanence and change, and necessity and contingency are thoroughly intertwined . ( Evan Thompson, 2007 , p. 195 ) A long-standing problem for both developmental and evolutionary theory has been how to account for the stability and variability of phenotypes observed within and across generations of any given species. For most of the last century, genes were thought to be the answer to this problem. Genes were proposed to contain all the information necessary for the development of phenotypic traits, and moreover, circumstances during individual development were not thought to influence genes or directly influence the traits or characteristics of offspring (e.g., Ayala & Valentine, 1979 ; Mayr, 1982 ; Williams, 1966 ). As a result, most 20th-century biologists believed that the influence of development on evolution was minimal. The stability and variability of phenotypes within and across generations was assumed to be determined by an organism's genes, with minimal contribution from the physical, biological, or social features of its environment. As we review in this chapter, the last several decades have seen a different account of phenotypic stability and variability take shape in developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and developmental psychology. This new account is based on a relatively simple ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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