Developmental theories can be affirmed, challenged, and augmented by incorporating knowledge about atypical ontogenesis. Because investigations of human behavior are restricted by difficulties associated with compromising the integrity of the individual’s biological and psychological functioning, it becomes valuable to draw on the potential afforded by ‘experiments of nature’. Examination of individuals with high-risk conditions and psychopathological disorders can provide an entrée into the study of system organization, disorganization, and reorganization. In this article, child maltreatment is examined to illustrate the benefit that can be derived from the study of individuals subjected to nonnormative caregiving experiences. The relevance of research on maltreatment to several important aspects of developmental theory is explicated.

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