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The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development
     

The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

by Jerome Kagan
 

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What makes a human a human? In The Human Spark, pioneering psychologist Jerome Kagan offers an answer in a sweeping narrative of our personal, moral, and cultural development. In this extended meditation on human psychology as well as the methods, successes, and failures of the scientists who study it. Kagan calls out the shortcomings of the modern fad for

Overview

What makes a human a human? In The Human Spark, pioneering psychologist Jerome Kagan offers an answer in a sweeping narrative of our personal, moral, and cultural development. In this extended meditation on human psychology as well as the methods, successes, and failures of the scientists who study it. Kagan calls out the shortcomings of the modern fad for neuroscience, and questions psychiatry's quickness to pathologize the behavior of the young. More importantly, he reminds us that our lives, however influenced by biology and upbringing, are still a tapestry to be woven, not an outcome to be endured. Whether the reader is a first-time parent wondering what influence she, her genes, and the wider world will have on her child; an educator seeking insight into the development of her students; or simply a curious soul seeking self-knowledge, Kagan makes an expert and companionable guide.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As developmental psychologist Kagan (The Nature of the Child) so astutely points out, a great deal of what we “know” about human development isn’t firmly anchored in empirical science. He aims to correct that by encouraging readers to question received knowledge about “the forces that transform infants into children, children into adolescents, and adolescents into adults,” and he does so by presenting an insightful discussion of the epistemology of psychology, alongside biting critiques of the methodologies used in psychological research and the social applications of misinterpreted findings (he sees attachment parenting, for example, as woefully ill-advised). But Kagan, an emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard, does much more than merely naysay the misguided; he offers illuminating discussions of the impact of culture on childhood development, as when he analyzes the different responses of Japanese and American children when asked to describe an everyday cityscape, as well as intriguing arguments regarding emotions, mental illness, and the establishment of moral systems during adolescence. Kagan occasionally goes off topic, but this is nevertheless a fascinating summary of the current science behind human development from one of the leaders in the field. 26 b&w illus. (June 4)
From the Publisher
“[T]hought-provoking.... Authoritative and surprising, Kagan guides us through the most current research in the field, tracing its shifting intellectual fashions from emphasizing ‘nurture' to the current reliance on neuroscience and showing how these fashions play out culturally. This wise and affirming book is essential reading for anyone interested in what makes us human.”Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

“A vividly titled overview, by the pioneering developmental psychologist, of his current thinking about the answer to the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?' Reading him, one resonates to the kind of teacher he must have been.”Harvard Magazine

“Entertaining and intellectually engaging.”Library Journal

“An intriguing overview of many of the underlying assumptions guiding modern psychology.”Kirkus Reviews

“An insightful discussion of the epistemology of psychology…. [Kagan] offers illuminating discussions of the impact of culture on childhood development…. [A] fascinating summary of the current science behind human development from one of the leaders in the field.”Publishers Weekly

“In his masterful survey, Kagan filters findings in the field.... An authoritative study of the dance of genes and environment in each child as they grow in universally human, and profoundly individual, ways.”Nature

“Best known for his work exploring the persistence of inborn temperamental differences, Kagan here expands his inquiry into other areas, including the problems inherent in trying to understand something as complex as human nature by looking through as narrow a lens as neuroscience, genetics, or psychological research. The result is a wide-ranging book that...often offers astonishing details amid the research Kagan summarizes.”Boston Globe

“Kagan makes a strong case that personality is more elastic, and resilient, than we may think: Even toddlers who experience extreme abuse or deprivation can become well-adjusted adults.”Discover

“Kagan grapples manfully with the complexity of what it means to be human, and has a magnificent disregard for orthodoxy—questioning everything from attachment theory to the belief that animal emotions are comparable to our own.”New Scientist

Library Journal
Eminent psychologist Kagan (emeritus, Harvard) states that his 1984 seminal text, The Nature of the Child, was primarily concerned with three major themes: that significant changes in behavior occurring in the first years of life are mainly due to brain development; that the emotions and behavior of infants don't predict the psychological profiles of adolescents; and that a sense of right and wrong emerges in the second year. The vast majority of developmental psychologists concur with Kagan, whose third revision of his original ideas emphasizes three broader questions: What is the expected course of development for all children? How does variation in experience affect the rates at which children develop? What factors determine behavior variability among children and adults? VERDICT For readers who enjoyed Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate or Andrew Solomon's Far from the Tree. Both entertaining and intellectually engaging.—Mary Ann Hughes, Shelton, WA
Kirkus Reviews
Kagan (Emeritus, Psychology/Harvard Univ.; Psychology's Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back, 2012, etc.) takes up the cudgels against neuropsychologists and advocates of evolutionary psychology such as Steven Pinker, addressing the question, "What does it mean to be human?" Taking issue with those who would lump human and animal social behavior together, the author distinguishes between moral behavior such as altruism and the social behavior of bees, birds, monkeys, apes and other animals. In his view, conflating them prevents us from the "understanding of the human moral sense." Kagan also derides the idea that human behavior is guided by hidden genetic imperatives to reproduce, slyly asking how this would explain the use of contraception. The author cites the misguided notion that poor mothering is the cause of autism in order to debunk attachment theory (the notion that closeness of mother/child bonding is the crucial determinant of emotional development). He takes on the nature vs. nurture debate, pointing out that genetic proclivities are actually expressed and developed through life experience, with social class playing an important role. While agreeing that children who are born with an identifiable genetic predisposition to low reactivity makes them more likely to be risk takers, he notes that unconventional behavior can take many forms. Scientists and high school dropouts may share the same genetic disposition to unconventional behavior, but birth order is also a factor, with firstborn tending to be more rule-oriented. "Rather than assume that cultures are a defining feature of our species under the control of genes that contribute to fitness," he writes, "it remains possible that cultures might be by-products of the genes responsible for our large frontal lobe and the resulting abilities to infer the thoughts of others, possess a moral sense, be conscious of our traits, and identify with individuals with whom distinctive features are shared." An intriguing overview of many of the underlying assumptions guiding modern psychology.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465037735
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
06/04/2013
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,014,087
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Jerome Kagan is emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University and one of the pioneers of the field of developmental psychology. The author of numerous books including The Nature of the Child and Galen's Prophecy, he received the William James Award from American Psychological Association. In 2009 he was featured in a New York Times Magazine cover story about anxiety.

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