Stages spanning a lifetime

Life-Span Development al Psychology - Human Development - Human Development - Life-Span Development - The Developing Person
May 7, 1999

There are a number of distinctive achievements that humans develop during their life span that sets them apart from other species in the animal world: talking, using sophisticated tools, engaging in social interactions, and developing long-term emotional attachments, to name but a few. The developmental process of these achievements is probably one of the most fascinating areas of psychology. In these five textbooks, the various authors have tried to illustrate the course of development throughout the life span.

This is the second edition of Helen Bee's Life-Span Development . It claims to include many new and expanded topics, and it does. One such topic is the importance of folic acid when one is planning to get pregnant. The topic, however, is covered in one short paragraph. Each of the new topics in this edition is covered only superficially. Of course, one could not expect a book that claims to cover the "life span" of development to go into great depth in all areas. It is, however, disconcerting to find that many major theories are covered in a single page or perhaps two at most. For example, learning theories get two pages, as does Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

Bee has four basic goals: to cover theory, research and practical application; to ensure that topics are relevant not just to psychologists and students, but to anyone working in fields connected with life-span development; to ensure that all discussions are up to date; and, finally, to guarantee that the book is accessible to any reader. Although these goals are admirable, I would be surprised if anyone other than A-level or first-year undergraduate students would find this book useful. This is not to say that there are no interesting aspects: I enjoyed the sections titled "The real world", where different topics are covered from a general-interest angle. In sum, though, this book is more akin to an expanded dictionary than a fully functional course textbook on life-span development.

The fourth edition of Kathleen Berger's The Developing Person: Through the Life Span sets out to reflect the importance of the social context in development, how theory about cognitive development suggests that Piagetian theory is no longer pre-eminent, looking at the influence of different generations on family life, and the interaction between development and public policy. This last inclusion distinguishes this book from other general textbooks on life-span development and is particularly worthwhile. In the section on memory development in young children, two pages are devoted to the role of such theories in making public policy with regard to children's testimony in court. Berger evaluates the consequences of appropriate and inappropriate questioning of children as witnesses. Similar expositions can be found in the book, which would be suitable for psychology students at first and second-year undergraduate level, as well as for students of other health-related disciplines. It is well laid out, easy to read, and has material of commendable depth for a single volume that covers life-span development.

In F. Philip Rice's third edition of Human Development: A Life-Span Approach , the emphasis is on providing as much information about life-span development as possible within the limitations of a textbook. In the first chapter, Rice gives a clear and concise outline of many of the issues involved in studying life-span development. Different aspects of development are discussed chronologically, as well as in the context of the entire life span. Such an eclectic approach provides a useful framework for locating the entire span of developmental processes, an approach often missing in other accounts. In general, there is as much depth as is possible in a textbook of this sort. The section on language development covers all of the relevant material, from the precursors of language to the nativism/ behaviourism debate. In addition, many new topics have been added covering a wide range of cognitive and emotional issues. It should be noted, however, that some of the areas would not be relevant to students outside the United States. Such is the case in part five, where euthanasia and making a living will are discussed in relation to US law and policy. But this should not put the reader off. This is a well-written textbook that offers first-year developmental psychology students a general understanding of many relevant topics and debates.

For Diane Papalia, Sally Wendkos Olds and Ruth Duskin Feldman in the seventh edition of Human Development , the emphasis is on the continuity of development throughout the life span. They take an interactionist approach, looking at the psycho-social, cognitive and physical influences on development. They examine the effect of nature versus nurture on each of the topics and their interaction in a theory of development. Their aim is to look at how different theories address different aspects within an area of development, and in doing so to unify theories and research findings. Their claim is that such an approach will equip students to evaluate controversial issues critically. Many new topics are covered, including discussions on methodology, learning disabilities, attention deficits in children and sudden infant death. Although none of these is covered in great depth, a general overview is provided and the content is adequate for first-year undergraduate level.

Human Development feels as if it has been written for US undergraduates, but this should not stop British students from dipping into the book. It is well written and appealing to anyone learning about developmental issues for the first time.

Life-Span Developmental Psychology , edited by Andreas Demetriou, Willem Doise and Cornelis van Lieshout, is the best of these books. It differs from the others in that there are no glossy pictures or diagrams and no attempt to cover every aspect of development from the cradle to the grave. Rather, different researchers have contributed chapters on their area of expertise. The book's structure, topic-based rather than chronological, allows the reader to get an integrated picture of the area while at the same time highlighting methodological and theoretical differences between different sub-fields. The focus is on developmental psychology.

What this book lacks in brevity, however, it more than makes up for in depth. For example, the relationship between brain and cognitive development, a focus of chapter two, stresses the importance of understanding the scope and limitations of the brain when theorising about cognitive performance. This book addresses cognitive, physical and social aspects of psychological development. The arguments and positions in each chapter manage to be current without losing sight of the discipline's history and the effect this history has had on the current theories. Here is an excellent book for anyone interested in developmental psychology; it should not be restricted to students.

Janine Spencer is lecturer in cognition and cognitive development, London Guildhall University.

Life-Span Development al Psychology

Editor - Andreas Demetriou, Willem Doise and Cornelis F. M. van Lieshout
ISBN - 0 471 97078 6
Publisher - Whurr
Price - £18.99
Pages - 518

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