The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development:
Volume 1: Basic Research

J. Gavin Bremner + Theodore D. Wachs (editors)

Wiley-Blackwell 2010
A book review by Danny Yee © 2013
Despite the general title, the material in The Handbook is narrowly focused on cognitive development, as studied by psychologists. So there is nothing on anatomical or physiological development and, though there is a short chapter "Functional Brain Development in Infancy", there's surprisingly little neurobiology.

Most of the chapters are what one expects in a handbook, attempts to survey the research on a topic, sometimes venturing into theoretical frameworks or hypotheses but not attempting anything original. The twenty one chapters cover, among other topics, vision, hearing, action, knowledge of the physical world, perceptual categorisation, learning and memory, self-concept, imitation, preverbal communication, early language, peer interactions, touch, emotion, and culture. There's some diversity in approach. A chapter on "Temperament" is a nice survey — good enough, though that was surely not the authors' intent, to convince me that the concept of temperament is at best pre-scientific. A chapter on "Attachment in Infancy" takes a historical approach, describing the work by Bowlby and Ainsworth and their successors. And so forth.

Other chapters offer narrower views, sometimes becoming vehicles for the authors to push their own ideas. The chapter on "Perception and Attention to Intersensory Redundancy", for example, focuses on a particular hypothesis of the author. The opening chapter, "Historical Reflections on Infancy" is the worst in this regard: its prehistory seems to have been cobbled together from dubious popular works, with a mix of platitudes and outright errors, and it simplistically divides later ideas about childhood into empiricist (bad) and romantic (good).

The presentation of the material is academic but not technical. Attention is paid not just to how infants develop, but to how we know about that, and a general familiarity with experimental methodologies is assumed. No domain-specific knowledge is required, however, so anyone with a basic science background should find the Handbook perfectly accessible. It aims to be a reference for graduates and academics but could be read by curious parents, though it's not organised for tracking chronological milestones and there's very little that's of any direct practical relevance.

Note: This first volume of the Handbook contains most of the general material; the second volume concentrates on various risks and disorders and on policy implications.

December 2013

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%T The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development
%S Volume 1: Basic Research
%E Bremner, J. Gavin
%E Wachs, Theodore D.
%I Wiley-Blackwell
%D 2010
%O hardcover, bibliographies, index
%G ISBN-13 9781444332735
%P 704pp