Average Expectable Environment

An important aside in this narrative about human sociability is an introduction to the concept of average expectable environment. Some developmental psychologists have framed pathology from the view that humans have evolved to face a wide range of environments. To some, psychopathology results when the environment encountered stands apart from a “species-normal” environment, referred to as an “average expectable environment” (e.g., Scarr, 1992). In considering potential causes of violence and antisocial behavior, understanding the distinction between an upbringing in the range of the average expectable environment, and an upbringing outside of it might help us to understand pathological violent behavior. Cicchetti and Valentino (2006) proposed that protective, nurturant caregivers, and the opportunity for exploration and mastery of the environment (also exposure to a large social group and involvement with a peer group) are part of the average expectable environment. This implies that those who do not receive protective and nurturant caring in early life, or whose ability to interact with the environment is curtailed, may develop significant deficits in developmental skills. This proposition leads us to suppose that parental rejection, lack of caregiver sensitivity, and abuse or neglect have the potential to cause significant pathology. We will discuss these later in this chapter.

The concept of the average expectable environment has been criticized, and we do not mean to imply that the field has embraced it. The criticisms of the construct center on the implication that a hard line exists between adequate parenting and adverse parenting, and that variations within the band of adequate parenting do not matter. Therefore, we see criticisms of the construct as a sign that critics want to quash the possible implication that parents do not need to try very hard. Baumrind (1993) emphasizes that “All nonabusive environments above the poverty line are not equally facilitative of healthy development, so that the self a child will become in one kind of ‘normal’ rearing environment is not the same self that child would become in another kind of rearing environment” (p. 1299). In recent years, most scientists are emphasizing the plasticity of the human brain in response to experience (e.g., Lerner, 1984), not categories of normal and abnormal. Nonetheless, in studying very serious pathology, such as persistently violent behavior, consideration of environments that depart very significantly from an “average expectable environment” may help us explain patterns of behavior that depart so much from the norm. We revisit this idea in Chapters 6, 7, and 12.

 
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