Pepper''s [1942] conceptualization of `root metaphors´ offers developmentalists a scheme for organizing theories of child behavior held by both parents and professionals. In this paper, we identify the root metaphors underlying current perspectives on human develoment, and present evidence for their role in interpretations of child behavior by parents and mental health professionals. Study 1 demonstrates that there are stable individual differences in root metaphor preference among US parents (n = 224), and these differences are influenced by experience in predictable ways. Study 2 describes similar differences among 32 mental health professionals at a US psychiatric clinic, and confirms relationships expected on the basis of theoretical analysis between metaphoric orientation and therapeutic specialization. Study 3 replicates these findings with a broader sample of 55 mental health professionals at a Dutch psychiatric treatment center and further relates metaphoric orientation to the daily task demands of their occupational roles. Thus the studies reported here provide strong support for the proposition that Pepper''s metaphoric analysis of philosophical systems can be applied meaningfully to the cognitive systems used by both parents and professionals in interpreting children''s behavior. We discuss the implications for understanding the socially regulated nature of partents'' belief systems, the origins of individual variation, the `goodness of fit´ between mental health practitioners and their clients, and the role of theory in the developmental sciences.

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