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Leach, P. (2003). The Myth of the First Three Years John T. Bruer New York: The Free Press, 1999. 244 pp., $25.00/£l4.05. J. Child Psychother., 29(2):257-259.

(2003). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 29(2):257-259


The Myth of the First Three Years John T. Bruer New York: The Free Press, 1999. 244 pp., $25.00/£l4.05

Review by:
Penelope Leach

Belief in the irreversible lifelong impact of early childhood experience is deeply rooted in our cultural beliefs about childhood and parenting. Jerome Kagan, who counts infant determinism amongst his ‘Three Seductive Ideas’ (1998), dates it back to the early 18th century: to Rousseau's emphasis on early enrichment, and to the more leisured lifestyle of an emergent middle class which made new approaches to mothering possible. However, it was in the early twentieth century that deterministic ideas pervaded the teaching of developmental psychology as well as childcare. And it was with the publication of ‘An Outline of Psychoanalysis’ (Freud 1940) that mothers’ close and loving bonds with their infants-‘unique, without parallel, established unalterably for a whole lifetime as the first and strongest love-object and the prototype of all later love-relations’ (p. 45) — began to be widely seen as John Bowlby would soon present them: the sine qua non of healthy development.

John Bowlby's formulation of attachment theory (1969, 1973, 1980) included ideas derived not only from psychoanalysis but also from animal behaviour, evolutionary biology, information processing and psychology. It became (and arguably remains) the most influential body of ideas in the psychological and psychiatric literature. However, in this book, after a selective review of its vast literature, John Bruer comments on the inadequacy of research evidence from Strange Situation studies to support the idea that early influences are deterministic, rather than commenting on the evidence for their predispositional power: ‘… we should be wary of any strong, unqualified claims that the first years last forever.

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