Book reviews

how science works; predicting and changing behaviour; research methods; the psychological contract; living with voices; communication disorders; and web-only extras

The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew about Human Vision
Mark Changizi                                                                                    BenBella Books; 2010; Pb £11.99

The Vision Revolution is a dangerously opinionated book. Changizi doesn’t overturn everything we thought we knew about human vision, as the subtitle promises, but he does give us an insight into the perpetually evolving nature of science.

Changizi is a theoretical neuroscientist, looking at the brain
– and particularly vision – through computational and evolutionary lenses. In this book The Vision Revolution he presents four radical reinterpretations of aspects of vision that we thought we understood. Did you think colour vision was for seeing coloured fruit against green trees? Think again – Changizi argues that colour vision is optimised for detecting changes in skin tone that can indicate health or illness, rage or shame (perhaps why we don’t have an adequate word for skin colour). Did you think forward-facing eyes are for producing stereo-depth? Think again – the main advantage may be the ability to ‘see through’ objects that obscure only one eye.

Changizi also has a grand unified theory of visual illusions, connecting them to a deep problem the visual system faces – that of predicting how the world is, based on information that, due to neural delays, is out of date. Finally, there is a theory about how writing systems around the world have evolved to take advantage of object-processing capacities in the visual brain. Together these four ideas make up Changizi’s vision (r)evolution. He calls these abilities ‘superpowers’. It is not that they are supernatural, but that the brain is ‘super, naturally’.
Lots of science writing is inspired by a textbook model, where an authority, either the science writer or the scientists they channel, lays out ‘how the world is’. So prevalent is this model that most of the news and entertainment media seems to have swallowed the idea that science is a body of knowledge or set of facts about the world rather than a process. There are myriad problems with this model of science – for example, scientists are expected to provide definitive answers about inherently uncertain issues, and popular representations of scientific debates tend to reduce to distracting questions of authority. It also makes science seem boring. By contrast, readers of Changizi’s book may get the impression that science is an exciting and unstable process, whereby scientists make theoretical proposals and then seek the evidence to confirm or refute them.

The Vision Revolution is essential science writing, not because the ideas are definitely correct, but because the book can give the ordinary reader an glimpse of how science can work. Changizi is unusual in the range and quality of his ideas, and the clarity and humour with which he can lay them out; but the real value of this book is in the excitement of the scientific process that it conveys.

Reviewed by Tom Stafford

 

Predicting and Changing Behavior
Martin Fishbein & Icek AjzenI                                                    Psychology Press; 2010; Hb £33.75

The reasoned action approach is one of the most popular and extensively used theoretical frameworks in the science
of behaviour and behaviour change. In Predicting and Changing Behavior the authors outline all the relevant constructs of the approach, giving a detailed account of how the theory has been developed and used to predict intentions and subsequent behaviour across many different domains. It also describes challenges to the approach that have been identified in the literature.

The later part of the book deals with the ultimate challenge of behavioural theories: Does it help to change behaviour? The authors outline considerations for using their theory to inform intervention development, supplemented by illustrative examples.

Readers will find that the reasoned action approach to behaviour change is less well developed compared to the impressive amount of predictive work. The book therefore provides a fantastic resource and guide for predicting behaviour within the reasoned action framework, in addition to outlining potential avenues for further development of this theory to guide and explain successful behaviour change.

Reviewed by Stephan U. Dombrowski who is a Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen

 

Introduction to Research Methods and Data Analysis in Psychology (2nd edn)Darren Langdridge & Gareth Hagger-Johnson Pearson Education; 2009; Pb £30.99
Getting undergraduates passionate about research (while trying to engage them with philosophy of research and ethics, research methodologies, and data analysis) is not a task savoured by many – especially the students! A helping hand is always a good textbook, and an entry-level student would be hard pressed to find a book that covers more than Langdridge and Hagger-Johnson’s latest. It is impressively broad, discussing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods in great depth.

The emphasis is on providing maximum practical information, where statistical and non-statistical analysis are given equal space, including chapters on R, a free statistical software package, alongside SPSS and NVivo. Further reading points are given at the end of each chapter, which area jump-off point for the more advanced researcher.

The authors’ ability to make complex methods (such as triangulation) intuitive and accessible is commendable. My only criticism is that the first two-thirds of the book are text heavy, and practical examples could have been used to greater effect, but this is a great value-for-money starting point.

Reviewed by Debbora Hall
who is in the School of Psychology, Newcastle University

 

The Psychological Contract: Managing and Developing Professional Groups Christeen George                                                                                              Open University Press; 2009;
Pb £19.99

In a useful extension to previous texts in the area, Christeen George applies current thinking about the psychological contract to its impact upon the management and development of the careers of professional workers. Within the framework of  the notion that professionals have dual psychological contracts (with their profession and with their employing organisation), she charts the career progress of the professional from early socialisation, education, entry into the profession to the mature career.

Case studies, anecdotes and reflective exercises help bring the concepts to life; however, this is an academic text and, contrary to the suggestion in the title, has not been written with the practitioner in mind.

A lack of follow-through from theory to practice is likely to leave the reader feeling a little short-changed.

However, this well-written text provides some thought-provoking insights, including the role of media portrayal of professions in early psychological contract formation, and the application of social identity theory in framing and understanding organisational socialisation.

Reviewed by Jane Arthur
who is a researcher at the Centre for People at Work, University of Worcester

 

Theory and applicationPhonology for Communication Disorders
Martin J. Ball, Nicole Müller & Ben Rutter                             Psychology Press; 2010;  Pb £24.99

Phonology for Communication Disorders provides a review of various schools of thought in theoretical phonology, and their relevance to clinical explanation and remediation. It is a companion to Ball and Müller’s Phonetics for Communication Disorders and aims to set out the most relevant approaches to phonology for describing patterns of error in speech and offering possibilities for clinical intervention.

Each chapter deals with one theoretical school of thought, with practical exercises, suggestions for further reading, summary and review questions. The final chapter draws together many of the main phonological approaches, together with their application to clinical data. It is concluded that approaches such as natural or cognitive phonology may have important clinical insights. Nevertheless, the requirement for further development in the field of clinical phonology is stressed.

Although the book is heavy on detail, the writing style provides a clear portrayal of the theoretical concepts. It would be most valuable for students or practitioners of speech-language pathology.

Reviewed by Helen Henshaw
who is a Research Fellow with the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing, University of Nottingham


Living with Voices: 50 Stories of RecoveryMarius Romme, Sandra Escher, Jacqui Dillon, Dirk Corstens & Mervyn Morris                 PCCS Books; 2009; Pb £20.00

From the founders of the Hearing Voices Movement – a movement redirecting thinking from the medical model towards an acceptance of voices and empowerment of the individual – comes the third in a series of books exploring the hearing voices experience.

Based on an analysis of 50 recovery stories, the first half of this book outlines the theoretical explanations of such experiences and the steps to recovery, using personal extracts to corroborate. It considers how debilitating the traditional psychiatric system can be and the sense of hopelessness a ‘schizophrenia’ diagnosis can cause. The book describes voices as being a reaction to stress rather than a symptom of an illness. It offers ways to make sense of the voices and to shift one’s relationship with them – a frequent feature of recovery.

The second part of the book consists of the voice hearers’ anthologies: eye-opening accounts which contextualise their voices with their own experiences.

Written in an engaging and accessible format, this is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand the concept of hearing voices. For professionals who work with voice hearers, it offers a platform to become one step closer to their client, and for voice hearers and carers, it offers hope of recovery. A nice break from the often construed ‘oppressive’ psychiatric system, this book will come as a breath of fresh air to many.

Reviewed by Eleanor Parker
who is Clinical Studies Officer with the Mental Health Research Network, Institute of Psychiatry

Web-only reviews

Development of Professional Expertise: Toward Measurement of Expert Performance and Design of Optimal Learning Environments
K. Anders Ericsson (Ed.)

This is an important book for psychologists given our emphasis on continuing professional development and the often untested assumption of increasing competence through experience and training. This edited volume challenges these assumptions in a variety of domains and instead focuses on the evidence for measurable improvement of individual performance – the so-called expert performance approach.

There are a variety of chapters on military, medical and leadership training and a strong emphasis on the necessary constituents of the optimal learning environment. This emphasis on objective measurement and deliberate practice appears to be most predictive of improved performance when the professional expertise in question can best be conceptualised as the acquisition and maintenance of individual and technical skills e.g. chess. However with more complex skill sets with significant situational and systemic influences e.g. leadership, the approach can appear overly parsimonious and inattentive of key outcomes at the team and organisational levels of performance.

There are some curious omissions including a more detailed discussion of coaching, despite the growing body of evidence to suggest its superior efficacy over training as a means of accelerating the development of professional competence. Nonetheless, this is an excellent compendium and core reference for all those involved in developing expert performance.

Cambridge University Press; 2009; Pb £21.99
Reviewed by Doug MacKie, who is Director CSA Consulting and Associate Program Director, Melbourne Business School

 

How Fantasy Becomes Reality
Karen E. Dill

The book successfully takes an enthusiastic and scientific route using models of social psychology to explain how we can be affected so greatly by the media vice, yet also be unaware. Written for an American audience some examples are culture-specific, however the point is always clear. By using a range of examples from political campaigns to the beauty industry Dill delivers some very important evidenced-based messages, for example the impact of the beauty industry on young girls’ opinions of themselves.

Messages are delivered in a personalised, engaging fashion raising awareness of the media as an immensely persuasive and prevailing tool. The book, however, does not stop there as it goes on to empower the reader to utilise this information, importantly bridging the gap between research and practice. By providing ways to obtain some control in a relationship in which we are often passive the book suggests clear ways to a healthier relationship with the media.

Oxford University Press; 2009; Hb £15.99
Reviewed by Jessica Holmes, who is an assistant psychologist, Derbyshire County PCT & Research Associate, University of Nottingham 

 

Forensic Neuropsychology in Practice: A Guide to Assessment and Legal Processes
Susan Young, Michael Kopelman and Gisli Gudjonsson (Eds.)

This book is an easy-to-use reference guide for anyone working in forensic settings. The topics in the book were chosen based on the editors’ experience of the most common issues arising in criminal and civil cases. Many of the chapters are dedicated to specific conditions such as traumatic brain injury, autistic spectrum disorders or ADHD. Each chapter provides a succinct overview of the specific condition or disorder and research findings relevant to legal issues related to them. These chapters also include extremely useful case studies that identify some of the important points commonly encountered when writing reports for court and provide readers with a clearer understanding of specific issues involved in the assessment process. It is clear that the authors have tried to provide a wide range of information relevant to each topic. For example, the chapter on intellectual disabilities, which is divided into two sections: one looking at issues arising when individuals act as witnesses and another for defendants. Both this chapter and the one on ADHD also highlight the main factors that increase the vulnerability of individuals with these conditions within the legal system.

The book also includes chapters on patterns of behaviour that commonly lead people to come into contact with the legal system, for example, aggression and violence, automatism and substance misuse. These chapters are particularly useful in providing an understanding of the relationship between these behaviours and offending, as well as medico-legal issues such as criminal responsibility. The final three chapters of the book focus on factors that are specific to forensic neuropsychology such as sub-optimal effort, ethical practice and professional issues. These chapters are useful in supporting practitioners to think through some of the practical problems that may arise when conducting evaluations, writing reports and testifying in court. They cover topics such as the availability of important policies and guidelines, common difficulties associated with disclosure of information and issues of capacity. Practitioners with more limited experience may find some of these sections particularly useful. For example, how to respond to cross-examination and advice in managing pressure from lawyers to bias the assessments and opinions that they present to court.

In general this book is well written, although it can be heavy going at times with some paragraphs consisting simply of lists of research findings. This book makes for a very practical, quick-reference guide with many tables that indicate the most widely accepted psychometric tools for assessing each condition or behaviour. At times it can be tempting to go straight to these lists; however, it should be remembered that the text often provides very salient points about the importance of looking beyond the tests results to fairly interpret behaviour and the importance of the neuropsychological assessment taking place in the context of wider clinical appraisal.

Oxford University Press; 2009; Pb £29.95
Reviewed by Evelyn Gibson, who is a clinical psychologist with West London Mental Health Trust

 

Your Psychology Project Handbook: Becoming A Researcher
Clare Wood, David Giles & Carol Percy

Your Psychology Project Handbook: Becoming A Researcher does exactly what it says on the tin! Wood, Giles and Percy have developed this insightful text to guide all those students approaching their dissertation. Through years of their own extensive experience, in-depth research knowledge and broad academic backgrounds the authors achieve a highly accessible and resourceful book.

Historically ‘dissertation time’ is filled with much excitement, stress and procrastination. This text provides a calming, highly focused and structured step-by-step approach for every aspect of developing a research project. The reader finds themselves on a journey from generating ideas of research to completion and dissemination of findings, whilst also being pointed towards any potential problems (and resolutions!) along the way. At the same time, the authors have helpfully provided labelled subsections of text, chapter summaries and highlighted font as reference features as well as highlighting other literature and web-based resources to access.

I wish this text had been around when I was doing my undergraduate degree it would have saved a lot of time, questions and anxiety!

Pearson Education; 2009; Pb £17.99
Reviewed by Hannah Butler, who is an assistant psychologist for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Psychology Service for Children, Young People and Their Families

 

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence
Andrew Linzey (Ed.)

How many serial killers hurt animals before committing their crimes against humans? Levin and Arluke have trawled the true crime shelves so you don't have to, and they suggest about 70 per cent. This book shows clearly that animal abuse features in many criminal careers, but how can this knowledge be put to use? Petersen and Farrington argue persuasively that more good-quality longitudinal research is needed before to improve our understanding of animal abuse as a risk factor.

Five of the 27 papers address the ethics of animal welfare. Conor Gearty asks whether human rights are 'speciesist', and Mark H. Bernstein seems in dialogue with a number of other contributors when he argues against that animal abuse deserves our attention intrinsically, not as a signpost to human harm.

Authors writing from social work, legal and animal welfare perspectives make a case for thinking about interactions with pets when trying to understand abusive family systems. In this vein, Hawkworth and Balen's three health visitor case studies of co-occuring animal and child neglect will be instructive for practitioners.

Sussex Academic Press; 2009; Pb £19.95
Reviewed by Joe Hickey, who is an assistant psychologist, Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

 

Handbook of Violence Risk Assessment
Randy K. Otto & Kevin S. Douglas (Eds.)

In producing this text, the aim of the authors was to consolidate what is currently known about, some of the most frequently used, violence risk assessment tools into one ‘easy to access’ volume. As a result, each of the main chapters contains a detailed description of a contemporary violence risk assessment tool, an overview of related research and a case example. This format allows the clinician/researcher to fully understand both the utility, as well as the limitations of the given instrument and allows for comparisons to be made between tools.

The volume considers the two main approaches to risk assessment, (actuarial and structured professional judgment – SPJ) and incorporates tools used to assess general, sexual and domestic forms of violence, across both adult and child offenders.

This book would be a major resource for any psychology practitioner who deals with the criminal justice system, as well as researchers in this field. At a cost of £50, it may be beyond the reach of many individual clinicians, but a copy for the departmental library would be highly recommended.

Routledge; 2010; Hb £50.00
Reviewed by Sarah Keen, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Broadmoor Hospital (High Secure Hospital for Mentally Disordered Offenders)

 

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