Ages of reason and rift

How Children Develop - An Introduction to Developmental Psychology
March 26, 2004

There seems to be a plethora of developmental psychology textbooks, each larger and heavier than the last, with little to distinguish between them. But my scepticism when asked to review these two new books proved unfounded. They are written in very different styles, both are good and both have a lot to offer their target audiences.

How Children Develop is elegantly written and explains many difficult concepts clearly, with little use of the redundant jargon so common in much of psychology. I particularly like the way the authors discuss historical theories, bringing them up to date with modern examples.

For instance, they demonstrate instrumental learning using both new and older studies, which shows the reader that historical accounts of development have an impact on modern theories.

The book is set out thematically, making it relatively easy to follow. It covers the usual topics of language, perception, cognition and motor development in a fair amount of detail. Particularly absorbing is the first chapter on prenatal development, but the chapters on biology and brain development, and on conceptual development, are excellent too. It also introduces students to different brain-imaging techniques being used to map the mind, such as electro-encephalograms (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), discussing each technique fairly briefly - but that they are discussed at all is to the authors' credit.

At the end of each chapter there is a summary section, as well as critical thinking questions. I know that most textbooks have chapter summaries, but in this book they are quite extensive and students may be tempted to read the summary only. This would be a shame as there is much to learn from the whole book.

Nevertheless, the depth of content of the first 11 chapters is absent in some of the later ones. In chapter 12, for example, where the focus moves from the child to the family, much of the information is specific to American families. Although the chapter includes interesting information, it may not seem that relevant to UK students. In addition, I was disappointed not to find mention of Judith Rich Harris' work in the chapter on peer relationships, although she is mentioned in passing earlier in the book.

These criticisms do not detract from the overall appeal of the book, which is enhanced by beautiful illustrations. How Children Develop will appeal to a wide readership and I recommend it to both students and parents.

An Introduction to Developmental Psychology is a serious textbook. Unlike How Children Develop , each topic is written by a specialist. This has advantages and drawbacks. The advantage is that the authors obviously know their stuff. For example, the excellent chapter on perception, knowledge and action by Gavin Bremner is clearly written and up to date. The disadvantage is that the authors have different writing styles, which can give the impression of discontinuity. Nevertheless, one can learn a great deal from their accumulated knowledge.

It is split into five parts: introduction, infancy, childhood, adolescence and practical issues. The introduction examines methods and the scope of these in developmental psychology; theories and issues in child development; and the genetics versus environment debate. It covers well many major topics and some less well-known ones. The section on infancy has chapters on perception, emotional development and social development, although it noticeably lacks a chapter devoted to motor development. The childhood section covers many of the usual topics: cognitive development, language development, theory of mind, reading and mathematics, memory development, peer relations and moral development - there is a lot of information and the authors manage to explain it clearly and concisely.

Occasionally, clarity becomes stating the obvious. In trying to explain why children often have more in common with their peers and siblings than with parents, Peter Smith states: "Parents are much older than their infants."

The section on adolescence is divided into two well-written chapters covering cognitive and social development, while the final section addresses practical problems, such as the educational implications of developmental research. Informative as these are, I feel the space could have been put to better use. For example, there is no discussion of developmental disorders. While autism, Asperger's syndrome and Down's syndrome are mentioned in the theory of mind chapter, given that many developmental psychologists devote their career to studying developmental disorders - and their relevance to so many issues in psychology - I feel the book could have focused more on them.

These points aside, this is an informative textbook that undergraduates and postgraduates would benefit from. As a teaching guide, it does not do enough to cover a complete course of developmental psychology, but I would not really expect this from a single textbook. It is a definite choice for my reading list.

Janine Spencer is lecturer in developmental psychology, Brunel University.

How Children Develop

Author - Robert S. Siegler, Judy S. Deloache and Nancy Eisenberg
Publisher - Worth
Pages - 600
Price - £34.99
ISBN - 1 57259 249 4

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