Educational Psychology, Department of



Tabula rasa

Date of this Version



Published in Encyclopedia of Human Development, ed. Neil J. Salkind (Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, 2006). Copyright © 2005 SAGE Publications. Used by permission. Online at


English philosopher John Locke proposed that the mind of the newborn infant is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, on which experience writes. Locke was an empiricist. Development, in the empiricist view, is the product of an active environment operating on a passive mind.
One alternative to empiricism is nativism. Nativists propose that the human genetic heritage includes knowledge accumulated over the course of evolution. Thus the mind of the newborn, far from being a blank slate, represents the knowledge of generations. Development, in the nativist view, is a maturational process directed by the genes. It is genes, not environments, that account for developmental change.