Book reviews

Including consumer culture, PowerPoint, physical attraction and more - including online-only reviews

Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being:
The Search for the ‘Good Life’ and the ‘Body Perfect’
Helga Dittmar

Do size zero models really help to sell products? Why do some people get such intense pleasure from shopping that they get into serious debt? What impact is our consumer culture having on our well-being? These questions are increasingly important, and you get both theory and evidence-based answers in this book. The central construct is identity as a social product. It considers both the desire for a perfect bodily form (for men and women) and affluence or ‘the good life’ promoted in our society, highlighting the complexity of interactions and the overall links to ‘ideal identities’.

A range of theories are used to help explain and understand the impact of this search, and multiple methods are discussed including experiments and qualitative studies, eschewing any over-reliance on surveys. Also, a number of countries are included in the studies, as well as a range of ages, therefore helping to assess influences on young children, adolescents and adults. The myths and assumptions of consumerism are highlighted – not surprisingly perhaps, there are a number of negative aspects of this culture, but what is welcome here is the clarity of the evidence and the practical suggestions for interventions.

The book is very well edited, and with a logical flow. Despite the complexity of the arguments it is accessible, and can be read as a whole or ‘dipped into’ to consider specific aspects. Each chapter includes a synopsis and a conclusion, and Helga Dittmar brings the entire book together in the final chapter to really clarify the impact of our materialism and consumerism on what she terms ‘the cage within’. If you want to assess how you can resist the alienation and negative affect that this cage can generate, have a look here.
Hopefully, we may feel we are capable of avoiding the dangers of ‘I shop, therefore I am’ ourselves, but perhaps we can help others who are struggling to achieve an impossible perfect self. By the way, the answer to the question regarding size zero models is ‘no’ (in comparison to the same model modified to be an average size). I just hope a few advertising agency staff read this book as well.

I    Psychology Press; 2008; Hb £29.99
Reviewed by Stephanie J. Morgan
who is in the Department of Organizational Psychology, School of Management, Birkbeck College, University of London


Creative possibilities

Clear and to the Point:8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations
Stephen M. Kosslyn
As Kosslyn says, PowerPoint is like the weather: everyone complains about it but nobody does anything about it. Using psychological principles drawn from studies in perception, memory, cognition motivation and emotion, Kosslyn, a leading authority on the visual brain, demonstrates how PowerPoint presentations can be made clear, compelling and memorable. Kosslyn provides a wealth of suggestions for structuring effective presentations and for avoiding common pitfalls. As would be expected, he is particularly good on how visual information can be organised to ensure that it is effectively processed (for example, how
to emphasise salient features within complex data) and how effective use of size, colour, position and emphasis can assist in processing text (for example, never emphasise text by underlining as this obscures descenders and thus interferes with the brain’s efficient processing of text). While not the final word on PowerPoint, Kosslyn has succeeded, through the application of neuropsychology, in demonstrating how to make best use of some of its creative possibilities while avoiding some of the excesses that it easily lends itself to.

I    Oxford University Press; 2007; Pb £11.99
Reviewed by Paul Riddick


Practising what we preach
The Resilient Clinician , Robert J. Wicks

I approached this book as a newly qualified clinician wondering whether developing more resilience would be a good idea. It seems my timing was good, since the author recommends we take a proactive approach to thinking about issues of self-care. Wicks argues that when faced with stress, unprepared clinicians will slip into inactivity, unhealthy coping strategies and burnout. The book begins by describing the various ways we can run into difficulties before inviting the reader to use the suggestions provided to develop a personal self-care protocol. There is a discussion of the benefits to clinical practice of deepening our inner life through silence, solitude and mindfulness, and then a consideration of how positive psychology can be used to build on our personal strengths.

This brief volume is an easy read, littered with personal anecdotes and non-academic quotes that give a human touch. Each section includes questionnaires and checklists to help make the material more personally relevant. This book would be a useful resource for any practitioners wanting some fresh ideas to help them better practise what they preach.

I    Oxford University Press; 2007; Hb £17.99
Reviewed by Phil Arthington

Evolutionary Models
The Psychology of Physical Attraction
Viren Swami & Adrian Furnham

Why are we attracted to particular people? The Psychology of Physical Attraction uses evolutionary and social psychological perspectives in trying to answer this question. The book begins with a basic introduction to Darwinian theory, and then leads the reader through an evolutionary explanation as to why certain physical features are cross-culturally considered attractive. The authors then discuss social factors and contexts in relationship formation.

The authors are keen to stress the importance of studying appearance, citing the social benefits of being considered attractive and potential discrimination faced by those who are not. Like the majority of research into physical appearance, much of the focus is on women’s bodies in terms of what is considered attractive to men (although the authors do acknowledge the increasing salience of men’s appearance). Readers predominantly interested in the social aspect should be aware that primacy is given to the evolutionary explanations.
Written in a very accessible style, the book is a good overview of the research in the area, and would be useful for anyone with an interest in beauty, appearance ideals and relationship formation.

I    Routledge; 2008; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Caroline Huxley


Vygotsky’s Legacy:
A Foundation for Research and Practice
Margaret E. Gredler & Carolyn Claytor Shields
Guilford Press; 2008

The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky
Harry Daniels, Michael Cole & James V. Wertsch (Eds.)
Cambridge University Press; 2007

Ygotsky’s social theory on the development of the mind was suppressed in his native Soviet Union for decades, but since its eventual translation it has exerted increasing influence on psychological thinking throughout the world. Having attended the international research conference ‘Exploring Vygotsky’s Ideas: Crossing Borders’ in Prague last year, I was eager to read these two new books.

Vygotsky’s Legacy is an authoritative yet accessible text, designed to give researchers, students and teacher educators an overview of Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development. It takes the reader far beyond the familiar ‘zone of proximal development’, exploring Vygotsky’s views on research methods, cultural signs and symbols, and the development of the higher psychological functions.

The authors, who hold professorships in educational psychology and human development in South Carolina, begin by describing Vygotsky’s socio-historical context and early influences, and work systematically through the development of speech and cognition and of concepts, and the cycle of child development. Each chapter concludes by discussing implications for educational practice.
 
In contrast, The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky is a compilation of critical perspectives on Vygotsky’s work, edited by three well-known names in psychology, pedagogy and Russian studies. Although similarly aimed at ‘students, academics and practitioners’, a good academic understanding of Vygotsky’s theory and terminology is presumed.

Chapters cover context, readings and applications of Vygotsky’s work; one example is a comparative analysis of Vygotsky and G.G. Shpet’s theories of cognition and language. As an educational psychologist, I found particularly enlightening and thought-provoking the discussion on dynamic assessment by Alex Kozulin and Boris Gindis in their chapter on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and the education of children with special needs.

However, not all the chapters were as accessible
as this, as the Cambridge Companion suffers from a lack of proof-reading. The many typographical and grammatical errors – ‘As they notes…’ one sentence starts – were frustrating when grappling with new concepts and language, as this is an academic work that is demanding of its reader. A novice in Vygotskian theory may gain more from Vygotsky’s Legacy; without ‘dumbing down’ it succeeds in its ambitious aim of rendering his complex thinking comprehensible to a broad audience.

I    Reviewed by Miriam Landor

Online-only extras 

Evolutionary psychology coming of age
Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters
Alan S. Miller & Satoshi Kanazawa
Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanazawi have written an excellent book on evolutionary psychology. The basic message is that humans have genetically programmed propensities to think, feel and behave in certain ways that evolved during the course of several million years of our hunter-gatherer life style in equatorial Africa. This is a paradigm shift from the environmentalist ‘blank slate’ assumptions that have prevailed for so many decades in psychology and throughout the social sciences, and that will surely come to be regarded as the wilderness years. 
  
The authors offer evolutionary explanations for a number of interesting phenomena.  These include the question posed in the book’s title, and the problems of why handsome men make bad husbands, why family is more important to women than for men, why having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce, why almost all violent criminals are men, why some men beat up their wives and girlfriends, why men generally earn more than women, why most neurosurgeons are men and most kindergarten teachers are women, why women are more religious than men, and why ‘women are from Venus and men are from Mars’. 

Although evolutionary psychology is sometimes dismissed as nothing more than a series of just-so stories that can explain everything, the authors show it can generate predictions and that many of these have been verified. The authors make a convincing case that evolutionary psychology has now come of age and should be accepted as one of the major subdisciplines of psychology.

Penguin; 2007;  Hb US$23.95
Reviewed by Richard Lynn, University of Ulster

Reader-friendly sport psychology
Mental Toughness  for Golf: The Minds of Winners
Brian Hemmings, Hugh Mantle & Jeremy Ellwood

Despite having no experiences of playing golf, teaching golf, or working with golfers, I think this book is an absolute gem for all those interested psychological aspects of performance. The authors have cleverly encapsulated the individual stories of top golfers, and despite linking them with psychological theories, the book has managed to maintain a non-academic writing style. I believe the book should be a joy for all to read, as it provides insightful and honest stories of those at the very top, and portrays them as they really are – real people with real feelings and emotions.
For those working in academia, the book can also be of great use. My students enjoyed greatly when I illustrated the importance of setting performance goals and focusing on your own game by reading them an excerpt from Gary Wolstenholme’s experiences in taming the Tiger, or when Zane Scotland talked about using imagery at the Open Championships at Carnoustie.
This book is without a doubt one of the most reader-friendly sport psychology books I have ever read, and most importantly, its contents are of great interest. It will surely continue to be of frequent use for me, both professionally and personally.

Green Umbrella Publishing; Hb £16.99
Reviewed by Monna M. Arvinen-Barrow, University of Northampton


Helpful and constructive
Managing Personality Disordered Offenders in the Community: A Psychological Approach 
John Dowsett & Jackie Craissati
The introduction brings the reader right up to date with current frameworks for the management of personality disordered offenders, and I found its early synopsis of MAPPA and MAPPP very helpful.  It was followed by a useful chapter summarising theories of personality disorder.
Practitioners will appreciate the chapter on assessment – surely one of the most challenging areas for most of us.  Replete with concepts, and brief but effective summaries regarding the psychometric assessment of offender risks, it also includes details of assessment tools that can be used, any training required, and ‘where to get them’ suggestions.
A range of treatment approaches is described; and the book then takes off again with more succinct comments on MAPPA.  This is followed by a most helpful chapter on personality traits and strategic approaches.
Finally, there is a chapter with a constructively critical review of the very few centres already established for managing this challenging population.  It will be most helpful for anyone contemplating such a development. 
This ground-breaking book should be read by all practitioners involved in this exciting, but challenging field.

Routledge; 2008; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Ian Patterson

Integrating theory and literature
Cognition and Emotion: From Order to Disorder (2nd edn)
Mick Power & Tim Dalgleish

This second edition textbook offers a generous coverage of the basic literature surrounding cognition and emotion. Within Part 1 the authors offer a broad view of the literature, encompassing historical, philosophical and theoretical foundations of cognition and emotion, which serves to ground this book in a solid and logical framework. The findings of key researchers in emotion and cognition, and emotional disorder, are discussed in detail, together with an overview of cognitive theories of emotion.

The authors then utilise this background research to propose their own theory of psychological processes underlying emotional experience, namely the ‘Schematic Propositional Analogical Associative Representation Systems’ (SPAARS) model of emotion. The model draws on components of emotional experience from the philosophical literature, and proposes four basic levels of representation: analogical, propositional, schematic model and associative. In this multi-level model, the authors suggest that all complex emotions can be derived from just five basic emotions (fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness), and that each basic emotion has a key appraisal. For example, the appraisal for sadness would be the loss or failure (actual or possible) of a valued role or goal, whereas that for fear would be a physical or social threat to self or valued role or goal.

Part 2 offers a progressive look at the five basic emotions and their disorders in detail. The SPAARS theory is applied to each of the emotions in turn, offering an account of both successful emotion generation, and associated emotion disorders. The integration of theory and literature is clever and engaging, offering an alternative understanding of emotion research. Although this second part of the book is segregated into five chapters concerned with the five basic emotions, the authors present a range of associated composite emotions within the section, complemented by a range of theoretical perspectives and previous research. Diagrams are often used to clearly illustrate theory, and clear subheadings divide the text into easily digestible sections.

Overall, the level of detail contained within this book would ultimately suit undergraduate course requirements for an understanding of cognition and emotion, but would also be a good place to begin for the active researcher, particularly those interested in the authors’ theoretical approach.

Psychology Press; 2008; Pb £22.50
Reviewed by Helen Henshaw


Risk – the big picture
The Psychology of Risk
Glynis M. Breakwell
This extensive and readable survey demonstrates convincingly that psychology has a lot to offer to the broad fields of risk assessment, risk communication and crisis management. Sociological studies are influential in the national debate on these concerns, but Breakwell does an excellent promotional job of linking psychological research findings to them. Her panoramic assessment of current theory and knowledge is impressive for its firm grounding in empirical evidence and conceptual precision.

Students looking for a research topic will find a lot of good ideas here and the guidance on methodology is exemplary, particularly the probing of the underlying mechanism of Douglas’s popular cultural theory of risk perception. Readers will have personal quibbles that some prominent case studies (e.g. Hillsborough) and contributors are missing (e.g. Flin on the leadership of incident response teams, and Quarantelli on evacuation behaviour). Also several sections draw on only one journal article, and, for example, the piece on organisational learning from incidents could have been strengthened with the model presented by Toft and Reynolds in their 1997 book.

Whilst this is an academic text, the accessible presentation makes it useful across the whole of the professional emergency planning community. However, they will be disappointed that no attention is given to the radical changes in UK practice that have flowed from the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Nationwide Local Resilience Forums now have a statutory duty to compile a Community Risk Register and this book could have explicitly tied psychology into this tricky work!

Cambridge University Press; 2007; Pb £23.99
Reviewed by Roger Miles


Accessible sport psychology
Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology
John Kremer & Aidan P. Moran
Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology returns to the roots of the field in succinctly distilling basic principles and tenets in an easily absorbed and well-organized text. Adopting a conversational writing style that is occasionally informal, the authors broadly apply numerous psychological elements to sport. Clearly explained theories are enlivened through application and utilisation in the context of sport. Some points may have been enhanced by including additional principles; for example, discussing enjoyment of the sport could use references to the positive psychology concept of flow as championed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. However, limits exist as to the number of principles that could be attributed to a specific sport psychology concept.

Structurally, the text is well sectioned with frequent headings to delineate each chunk of information. Furthermore, these chunks are relatively short, allowing for easier understanding and facilitating searches when using the text as a reference. Clear summary boxes solidify the major concepts of a chapter. As an introduction to basic sport psychology, this book serves as essential reading for researchers, psychologists, athletes, coaches, or just the interested reader.

Routledge; 2008; Pb £12.95
Reviewed by Andrew J. Wawrzyniak

A user-friendly medium
Overcoming Depression: Talks with Your Therapist
Paul Gilbert
Concise and well informed; the audio CD Talks with Your Therapist educates the listener presenting established cognitive behavioural techniques in an open and accessible fashion. Each of the eight talks offers and empathetic and insightful exploration of depressive feelings and thoughts, explaining their relation to each other and to the common behaviours which sufferers of depression exhibit.

The talks are delivered with a kindness and humility, which puts the listener at ease allowing him or her to focus on cultivating self-kindness, balance and compassion to battle one’s self-criticism. Professor Gilbert encourages the listener to imagine a compassionate individual, an ideal way of being. Inviting them to ‘become’ this individual, the (listener’s) goal is to develop a compassionate self, thereby regaining the emotional balance destabilised by negative thoughts and cognitive processes.

Compared to the book in the ‘Overcoming’ series of the same title, Talks with Your Therapist is a more user-friendly, compressed product, providing a stepping-stone for those individuals whose pathways to recovery remain uncertain. It constructs a necessary platform for recovery, upon which the individual may build, using the cognitive behavioural techniques taught throughout.

Constable & Robinson; 2007; Audio CD £9.99
Reviewed by Christopher Moss


Expert help
The Expert Witness: A Practical Guide (3rd edn)
Catherine Bond, Mark Solon, Penny Harper & Gill Davies

The spectre of cross-examination in court haunts many a legal report. As anxiety rises a traditional line of defence among psychologists has been to seek further information, both to reassure and to arm against unsettling developments. Enter The Expert Witness: A Practical Guide. The strengths of this text lie in its clear outline of the court system and the role of the expert witness therein. Those new to court work will find particularly helpful practical elements such as the pro forma of a court report and the section on being paid.

This is not, however, a book on specific issues faced by psychologists, and further reading would be required for more bespoke guidance (e.g. on defending psychometrics). Similarly, due to differing legal jurisdictions, this guide is of greater relevance to psychologists working in England and Wales than elsewhere in the UK. Nonetheless, while unable to assuage all the concerns of the psychologist venturing into court work, it does map out the basics of the legal landscape. As such, it is a valuable guide for those acting as ‘the expert witness’.

Shaw & Sons; 2007; Pb £29.50
Reviewed by Pádraig Collins

 


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