Book reviews

The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness
Philip David Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch & Evan Thompson (Eds.)


Although a challenging read, the Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness is cleverly constructed around two main components of consciousness research; the cognitive scientific, and neuroscientific approaches. This book encompasses 31 substantial essays from almost fifty key authors covering a vast array of literature in the field. Within ‘The Cognitive Science of Consciousness’ section, essays cover topics from the philosophical foundations of consciousness to linguistic considerations and psychodynamic approaches. An essay highlighting the cognitive theories of consciousness is provided by McGovern and Baars, in which they draw distinctions between information-processing theories, network theories and globalist models (which combine the two). Carlo Umiltá also provides an interesting take on ‘consciousness and control of action’, which highlights the role of intentionality within consciousness for bodily movements.

The second section of the book, entitled ‘The Neuroscience of Consciousness’, offers articles on the neurophysiological mechanisms of consciousness, neuropsychological aspects from disorders and neuroimaging, affective neuroscience and social neuroscience. Stoerig begins this section with his own evidence towards a neural basis of state and trait consciousness, which is keenly contrasted with a later contribution from Kihlstrom on the dissociative phenomena of hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness.

The two schools of thought depicted within this book offer us an insight into the vast nature of consciousness research, whilst also serving to highlight the disparity between the numerous definitions of consciousness and conscious experience. Nevertheless, what sets this book apart from other textbooks in the area is that the final chapter (by Henry Stapp) concentrates on the highly controversial area of insights from quantum theory. It’s a thought-provoking perspective, by which the connection between mental effort (or ‘willful choices’), and physical action can be explained as a ‘causal consequence of the laws of quantum physics’. Whether or not you accept this, the chapter makes for an interesting and insightful read.

This is not a book which will readily be digested cover-to-cover by the mainstream psychologist, although the layout of the book does offer staggered engagement over time. However, there is no doubt that this extensive text will prove to be a valuable companion
to the consciousness researcher and, moreover, a perfect place for the amateur to become acquainted with the current literature.

Cambridge University Press; 2007; Pb £38.00/Hb £80.00
Reviewed by Helen Henshaw, who is a PhD candidate at Nottingham Trent University



See Inside Your Head, Alex Frith

This is a children’s book, filled with flaps and masses of mind-bending ‘proper’ psychology. My three-year-old son and I loved it. That’s my review: I thought it would be more interesting to fill the rest of my allocation with some insight from those involved. First, lead author Alex Frith, and then his ‘brain expert’ parents, Professors Chris and Uta Frith.

Alex: I wanted to include a really wide range of different things that scientists know about how the brain works. Anything that had a good visual way of being expressed was important. Because the book is entirely based around pictures, it was tricky to think of a different main image to have on each page. It was tempting to simply show a brain and have a flap to lift on different parts of it to explain what brain area controls what body/mind activities. Persuading my editor that it would make sense to show the brain as a large garden wasn’t easy!

I attempted to include a mixture of some things that people might already know about the brain – for example, that it is the control centre for our senses – with things that most people probably don’t know about the brain – for example, that emotion has more impact on decision making than logic. Virtually every label was a small challenge – try explaining consciousness or how memory works in a single sentence!

I was inspired by the fact that the brain is fascinating but seemingly not that often described for children. In my research I came across very few children’s books that focus on the brain, although many body books have great (if small) sections on it. I think it would be good if more people had a basic understanding of how the senses work, and in particular how easy it is for our senses and our memories to ‘lie’ to us. And there are lots of fun psychology experiments that children can try out.

Chris: I was keen to ensure that the book emphasised what the brain does at a psychological level, rather than what it looks like at the structural level. Adults have a lot of strange ideas about the relation between the brain and the mind. The earlier we discuss these problems the better.

Uta: This book is close to my heart. I am very keen to propagate the idea of psychology as a science, of science as an important and everyday tool for understanding the world. We are always talking about public engagement of scientists, but rarely about children in the role of the engaged and engager. I think children are the most important audience to reach. They are tomorrow’s scientists.

So what more do you need to know? If you have kids, go and buy it. You may inspire the next generation of psychologists. If not, it just makes a welcome break from Power Rangers.

Usborne; 2007; Hb £8.99
Reviewed by Jon Sutton




Safety at the Sharp End: A Guide to Non-Technical Skills
Rhona Flin, Paul O-Connor & Margaret Crichton


Rhona Flin has long been an expert in the field of human error and accidents, and this book addresses the skills of individuals that contribute to safe performance. These skills include situation awareness, decision-making, communication, teamwork, leadership, managing stress and coping with fatigue.

The emphasis of this book is on the individual, and although the influence of organisational factors on safety is acknowledged, these are not addressed. The chief intervention discussed for improving the skills revolves around training – a little frustrating, as in my experience training is only effective if the organisational systems also support a change in behaviour. However, I recognise that the purpose of this book is to address safety at the level of the individual.

This book is very well written, with the authors illustrating the theory with case studies that effectively illustrate where ‘non-technical skills’ have contributed to or prevented accidents in a range of industries including aviation, nuclear, petrochemical and health care. This helps to make the book highly readable, and
I have already recommended it to a safety manager.

Ashgate; 2008; Pb £25.00
Reviewed by Emily Hutchinson


Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers
Susan E. Gathercole & Tracy Packiam Alloway


Working memory is a fundamental but poorly understood concept that is essential for successful learning. This relatively short book is a clear and accessible account of current theory and research, which is then applied to children’s learning in the classroom. There is a clear explanation of the relationship between the different types of memories and related cognitive processes, which is well illustrated in the numerous observations of children’s learning. This helps to give a very practical focus and supports understanding of the theoretical principles.

The second half of the book outlines a model for support and intervention for children with working memory difficulties. This is based on the theory in the previous sections but is also informed by discussions with classroom practitioners. The result is a coherent and practical set of interrelated strategies that can be implemented by class teachers as part of their differentiated teaching alongside use of memory aids and children’s own support strategies. While the range of strategies is not comprehensive, they are well grounded in theory derived from research and sit within a coherent conceptual model.

Sage; 2008; Pb £18.99
Reviewed by Paul Riddick



The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach
Tammy D. Allen & Lillian T. Eby (Eds.)


This book, the first of its kind, brings together knowledge from the three classical domains of mentoring that have traditionally been largely kept separate, namely mentoring of youth, of students and in the workplace.

Over the last five decades, many organisations and educational institutions have developed a strong interest in mentoring, including the development of formal mentoring programmes, determined by the need to better understand and employ formal and proven processes.

The research assembled in this book highlights the numerous benefits associated with the promotion of effective mentoring relationships among individuals at all developmental stages of life. An impressive body of research has developed that has yielded insight into many aspects of the mentoring process. The editors have systematically and coherently organised that research into a useful resource for all interested in mentoring and to serve as a guide for charting new directions in the field.

The book is designed as a cross-disciplinary work that incorporates multiple perspectives of mentoring research. The audience includes a wide range of scholars  conducting research on all forms of mentoring relationships, and it sets the stage for increased collaboration between those in academia, programme planners and practitioners.

Blackwell; 2007; Hb £75.00
Reviewed by Ian Clancy

 

Leadership challenge
Women and Leadership: Transforming Visions and Diverse Voices
Jean Lau Chin, Bernice Lott, Joy Rice & Janice Sanchez-Hucles (Eds.)

While Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, one of the ironic comments about her made in the corridors of power, was that ‘she was the best man to be Prime Minister’.  This reflected the lack of serious analysis of gender differences in how leadership is practised. With the United States then evaluating its first female candidate for President, the appearance of this book represented perfect timing.  While many are questioning whether a woman can provide a different type of leadership, the book’s contents provide reassurance that there are alternatives.  Its subtitle, ‘Transforming Visions and Diverse Voices’ challenges the dominance of male leadership models, and hopefully this will motivate new leaders to read and take ideas from it.   

The current literature on leadership, and specific studies of particular leaders, mostly male, betray the dominance of the male view on how organisations and institutions should be run.  But the very abundance of books on male leadership also shows the need for a feminist perspective on leadership, and this book fills this need.   Several authors within the volume provide evidence that women leaders tend to be more collaborative in their leadership style, and seek greater inclusion of organisational members than has been common under male leaders.  However, many authors also acknowledge many similarities between male and female leaders, often shaped by the constraints of the role or their situation, so the reader should not approach the issue with an ‘either-or’ mindset.

The book raises the interesting challenge for feminist leaders of the future, whether they can be effective, yet true to their values.  And the answer to this question resonates with the latest leadership thinking about the importance of the leader’s authenticity, regardless of gender, so it may be that male and female leadership styles may be less important than the individual’s authenticity.  

Blackwell; 2007; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Robert Brown



Play’s the thing
Narrative Approaches in Play with Children
Ann Cattanach

In today’s world it often feels as though the value of play and story come secondary to ‘the real work’ and as one of the hats I wear is as a playwright I was delighted to find a book that demonstrates how play and story are the real work.

The book is based on the experience of a play and drama therapist working with children in care, being fostered and those having social difficulties for a number of reasons. It describes a collaborative approach where the therapist uses story to help a child make sense of their life experience and the particular world they find themselves in; and where the child uses story creatively to express or form their own sense of identity and to give an indication of their personal experience.

It’s a practical book with exercises to do and stories to use. It doesn’t require any specialist knowledge, and whilst its primary audience is play therapists, social workers, professionals and carers of children experiencing social difficulties, it has a lot to offer the parent who wants to improve communication with their child.

Reviewed by Nikki Schreiber
Jessica Kingsley; 2008; Pb £18.99



Shared perspectives on autism

Autism: An Integrated View from Neurocognitive, Clinical, and Intervention Research
Evelyn McGregor, Maria Núñez, Katie Cebula & Juan-Carlos Gómez (Eds.)

Research into autism is ever expanding; however, there is very little collaboration between research areas, with the result that there are limited opportunities to form a coherent model of autism utilising all available evidence. Ambitiously, this book aims to rectify this situation by drawing together research trends and drawing clear links between current perspectives.  

The book is divided into two main sections (neurocognitive and treatment), with each chapter ending with an ‘Integration’ section. This section helpfully identifies links with the themes and findings of other chapters, functioning as a forum to discuss the wider implications of each topic covered. This approach reflects the book’s overall aim of providing a platform for sharing different perspectives and successfully emphasises the need for interdisciplinary working.

Autism does not oversimplify the disorder, and, as a result, it can sometimes be hard work reading through the denser chapters – especially for those of us less conversant with neurocognitive issues. However, on the whole, the book is accessible and engaging and should be recommended for students and practitioners working with individuals with an aitism spectrum disorder. 

Blackwell; 2007; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Kathryn Newns



Appealing and practical

Treating Stress and Anxiety. A Practitioner’s Guide to Evidence-Based Approaches
Lillian Nejad & Katerina Volny

I had the pleasure to review this book around treating stress and anxiety, which provides information on well-established techniques and methods around coping and life changing. Any practitioner that works with clients wanting to make substantial changes in their life should consider recommending this book, not only for the comprehensive content, the simple language and the excellent presentation, but also for the fact that the book uses evidence-based techniques, which differentiates it from many previous textbooks in this area.

All the chapters are well structured, and the exercises and techniques are easy for the reader to use. The book also includes two CD-ROMs, one with worksheets and client handouts and another one with relaxation techniques (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation and abdominal breathing exercise), which makes the book even more appealing and practical. The authors have produced an excellent book for clinicians at any level of expertise.

Crown House Publishing Limited. 2008; Pb £29.50
Reviewed by Maria Fotiadou


A fantastic introduction

Biological Psychology (2nd edn)
Frederick Toates

Biological psychology is a subject that is often regarded as complex in nature. It is riddled with complicated language and intricate mechanisms. It must be understandable to a layperson while maintaining the testing scientific terminology. Thus, the writing of such a text is a difficult endeavour, but Toates achieves it perfectly.

The text covers an excellent range of material from the basic structure and formation of the human nervous system, axon potentials and behavioural genetics. Once the grounding has been set, the author then progresses to discuss an interesting range of topics in further detail. These include memory, emotion, eating habits, sleeping and human sexual behaviour. These are all clearly explained and support by excellent use of diagrams (ranging in their complexity). The book also adds real-world grounding by considering ‘personal angles’ throughout, in which actual cases and contexts are considered.

The text is a fantastic introduction to biological psychology. It provides a solid grounding for the potentially daunting field and allows readers to immerse themselves in the material effortlessly.  

Pearson Educational; 2007; Pb £38.99
Reviewed by Dan Clark


 


BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber