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Stages of reason

DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY. Rob McIlveen and Richard Gross. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 10.99.

CHALLENGES IN PSYCHOLOGY. Richard Gross, Paul Humphreys and Bianca Petkova. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 13.99.

We all deal with developmental issues every day - why do babies get distressed when left with strangers? Why do our daughters insist on having a Barbie doll and our sons a Power Ranger when we treat them both alike? Is your best friend having a mid-life crisis? Is there life after retirement? Developmental Psychology looks at the research on these and many other questions.

It is organised into four parts - early socialisation; cognitive development; social behaviour, diversity and development; and adolescence, adulthood and old age. These follow the structure of the developmental section of the AEB syllabus, but are relevant to any course covering these issues.

The style is straightforward, but doesn't sacrifice depth and detail. The chapter on the effects of early experience provides a good overview of this complex issue, covering all the classic studies and providing references to recent research. This is a useful read for anyone with an interest in childcare issues.

The chapters on middle and late adulthood are also strong. Real-life and media characters are used to illustrate theoretical work: from those Men Behaving Badly, the adolescents who refuse to grow up, to One Foot in the Grave's Victor "I do not believe it" Meldrew, coping with the sense of uselessness often felt in retirement. Of course, these illustrations may make the book date quickly.

While Developmental Psychology covers mainstream ground, Challenges in Psychology examines critiques of topics such as memory, normality and abnormality, relationships, and aggression and violence.

The introductory chapter provides a useful overview of the roots of mainstream ideas in psychology and outlines the development of the "new paradigm". It examines the diversity of opinion among those challenging the centre ground.

Each chapter outlines the traditional arguments then presents a range of critical views. The "challenges" come from diverse perspectives, including feminist psychology and sociobiology - viewpoints that can conflict with each other as much as with the target of their criticism.

This challenging read should stretch A-level students. The more able ones will enjoy the complexity of the opinions put forward.

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