The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

Synopsis

As infants we are rife with potential. For a short time, we have before us a seemingly infinite number of developmental paths. Soon, however, we become limited to certain paths as we grow into unique products of our genetics and experience. But what factors account for the variation-in skills, personalities, values-that results? How do experiences shape what we bring into the world?In The Human Spark, pioneering psychologist Jerome Kagan offers an unflinching examination of personal, moral, and cultural development that solidifies his place as one of the most influential psychologists of the past century. In this definitive analysis of the factors that shape the human mind, Kagan explores the tension between biology and the environment. He reviews major advances in the science of development over the past three decades and offers pointed critiques and new syntheses. In so doing, Kagan calls out the shortcomings of the modern fad for neuroscience, shows why theories of so-called attachment parenting are based on a misinterpretation of research, and questions the field's reflexive tendency to pathologize the behavior of the young. Most importantly, he reminds us that a life, however influenced by biology and upbringing, is still a tapestry to be woven, not an outcome to be endured.A profound exploration of what is universal and what is individual in human development, The Human Spark is the result of a scientist's lifelong quest to discover how we become who we are. 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.

Excerpt

Social scientists who were trained in American universities during the first half of the twentieth century found it hard to escape the assumptions about human nature that history had bestowed on them. As that century began, large numbers of children from impoverished, illiterate immigrant families living in densely populated neighborhoods were doing poorly in school and disrupting civic harmony. The social scientists’ preferred explanation of such facts emphasized the power of experience to create these and other profiles. This unquestioned faith in the malleability of the mind, an idea not yet documented by research, sustained the hope that proper rearing within the family and proper instruction by conscientious teachers in the schools could transform all children into productive citizens.

Only a few decades earlier, many experts had assumed that the less-than-adequate adjustment of the children born to poor immigrants was attributable to inherited biological defects. This pessimistic explanation bothered liberal Americans who, believing in the power of experience to conquer all but the most serious deficiencies, hungered for scientific support of their belief. Freud and the behaviorists supplied the reassurance by announcing that variation in experience could account for most of the variation in children’s competences and behaviors. By the 1950s, a large majority of developmental psychologists were certain that the events of early childhood, especially in the home, were the primary determinants of adolescent and adult profiles. Each child’s biological features, which the psychologists did not deny, could essentially be ignored.

A rash of unexpected scientific discoveries after 1960 challenged this optimistic position. Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas described the contribution of infant temperaments to later personality at the same time that others were finding . . .

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