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Dr. Michael Mascolo

March 30, 2015
Everything that exists had to develop

Nothing is; everything becomes.   Really – it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about.   Everything that exists had to develop.  A tree starts off as an acorn.  The automobile started off as a Model T.  And you started off as, well, a fertilized egg.   (Well, you started even before that, but we’ll leave that alone for now…)

When something develops, it takes shape gradually over time.  It undergoes a series of changes in form over time.   The acorn looks nothing like the tree it will eventually become. The Model T looked nothing the BMW of today.  And, of course, you don’t look anything like the egg you used to be.

But there’s more!    It is not just that “everything becomes”.  In fact, everything that has become could have turned out differently!   Change the conditions under which something develops and you’ll change the outcome.

Take two genetically identical acorns.  Plant one on the bottom of a mountain, and the other at the top.  What will happen?   The one at the bottom will grow into a spacious spruce with an abundance of branches.  The one at the top will turn into a squat and gnarled little shrub, barely recognizable as a tree.  Their structures will be very different.  Why?   Because of the difference in the conditions of their development.    The tree on the bottom had the benefit of rich soil, water and sunlight.  The one at the top?  Not so much.

The same is true of you and your behavior.  There is no single pathway through which human behavior develops.    Different people develop along different pathways.   And you yourself could have developed along a different pathway under different circumstances.  

Michael F. Mascolo, Professor of Psychology, studies how we develop – that is, how we become who we are today, and how we continue to develop into the person that we will become tomorrow.  Dr. Mascolo studies the how structures of thinking, feeling and acting develop through different developmental pathways as a product of complex interplay between individuals and their physical, social and cultural environments.   He has developed a model of human psychological development (Coactive Systems Theory) and a corresponding series of methodological tools for tracking how novel structures of behavior emerge and change in moment-by-moment social interactions.   He has applied these tools to the analysis of development in a variety of areas, including the development self-evaluative emotions (pride, shame, guilt), the development of academic and everyday skills (e.g., learning to compose essays; learning to tie shoes), the social construction of self in different cultures (USA, India, China), and development that occurs over the course of psychotherapy.  

Dr. Mascolo is the co-author of Psychotherapy as a Developmental Process (Basseches & Mascolo, 2010, Taylor & Francis).  He is co-editor (and contributor) to Culture and Self(Mascolo & Li, 2004, Jossey-Bass) and What Develops in Emotional Development?  (Mascolo & Griffin, 1998).  He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on issues related to human development.  He is the founding editor ofPedagogy and the Human Sciences(  He also is Editor and Senior Contributor to North Shore Children & Families(, a free monthly newspaper on parenting that serves families on Boston’s North Shore.    He currently teaches in Merrimack College’s Compass program, where he applies his approach to development to the process of teaching and assessing reading, writing and critical thinking skills in his students.

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