Book Reviews

Includes web-only reviews

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception
Claudia Hammond

A reviewer should properly start by telling the reader what a book is about, and not what it isn’t. Having said that, it’s worth emphasising that this isn’t a textbook about time perception, nor is it a general survey of contemporary research. Of course, it wasn’t intended to be either of these things. Rather, it’s a popular account of some phenomena in time perception that have attracted the author’s interest and, to be fair, the interest of others as well.

A thread running through most chapters is the malleability of time experiences, how what people feel about time, and sometimes their time judgements as well, can be altered by many factors. This is illustrated by results from a wide range of eye-catching studies, including those with experimental participants being heated up or cooled down, people rolling blindfolded on trollies towards a drop down a staircase (the drop never happens, you’ll be happy to hear), people (volunteers, I hasten to add) falling from towers into nets, and anecdotes from an individual in a falling glider without a parachute (not a volunteer), and those who suffer isolation after terrifying abduction, or spend many days in caves without any external indication of the passage of time.

There are six main sections. The first, ‘The Time Illusion’, introduces some of the situations in which distortions of time perception can occur. Then ‘Mind Clocks’ discusses some psychological and neuroscience-based approaches to time perception. Here there’s a surprising omission in that internal clock theory, the dominant approach to human time perception since the 1960s, barely gets a mention, a kind of Diplodocus in the room. This is all the more surprising as the essentials of clock theory are highly intuitive, and easily graspable by a ‘popular science’ audience, or at least that’s been my experience. Next, ‘Monday is Red’, discusses a wide range of material relating to how people conceive of the relation of months (linear? circular?) or longer periods of time, how they relate time and space, how the language they speak may influence how they imagine past, present, and future, and how it changes behaviour. French and English speakers use length metaphors for time (‘a long meeting’) whereas for Spanish speakers, and particularly for Greeks (as a Greek I know verified), volume/size metaphors dominate (‘a big meeting’). In experiments, members of the entente cordiale, if this still exists, find it difficult to dissociate the length of lines from their duration, whereas our Hellenic colleagues manage this easily, but struggle to separate volume and time. The fourth section, ‘Why Time Speeds Up As You Get Older’, has a self-explanatory title, and reviews various approaches to this question, in my view one of the most complex and subtle in the field. The fifth section, ‘Remembering the Future’, mainly discusses relations between time and memory, but also whether animals can imagine the future (if they’re scrub jays they can!). Finally, in ‘Changing Your Relationship with Time’, the author offers practical advice about common time problems (‘too much to do, too little time’, for example).

The book is engagingly written and discusses many interesting questions. Whether the quirky experiments mentioned produce replicable results, or have a single interpretation, is perhaps questionable, though. The book is refreshingly neuroscience-light, although the best-developed neural model of timing, the striatal beat-frequency model of Matell and Meck, is not mentioned. From a time-perception researcher’s viewpoint, the book inhabits a Fringe-style parallel universe, where Michel Treisman and John Gibbon never existed, but it’s important to remember that it was written not for me but for the general reader, who will find much to think about in it.

Canongate; 2012; Hb £14.99
Reviewed by John Wearden who is Professor of Psychology at Keele University (see interview in this month’s special feature on time, p.582) 

Evolutionary psychology and the real world
Applied Evolutionary Psychology
S. Craig Roberts (Ed.)

Finally a textbook that brings evolutionary psychology to real life! The book is a collection of individually authored chapters, all robustly researched, that can be of interest to the student, researcher, lecturer or applied professional.

The chapters are arranged in six broad sections: Business, Family, Society, Health, Marketing and Communication, and Technology. The issues covered are vast and varied, ranging from increasing drivers’ safety to fostering family law; or from mass politics to designing a sexually attractive eau de toilette. Throughout, considerable consideration is given to sex differences in the domains discussed and the different authors stress the need to provide ecologically sensible advice in this respect. This book is a testimony to how findings from evolutionary psychology can be translated into practical applications and solutions for the social, economic, ecological and political challenges facing our species.

Understanding the origins of our behaviour and its underlying psychological mechanisms could result in targeted behavioural modifications, with the goal of eventually achieving optimal prosocial behaviour, individual health and well-being.

OUP; 2011; Hb £49.99
Reviewed by Lara Eschler who holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge

Words that hurt

Cyberbullying in the Global Playground: Research from International Perspectives
Qing Li, Donna Cross & Peter K Smith

This book consists of 14 chapters, 12 of which discuss surveys of cyberbullying conducted in various countries during the past few years. However, that was largely before Facebook and trolling, and the number of children affected has almost certainly grown. What we learn is that cyberbullying is a poorly defined, cross-cultural phenomenon, that it can cause significant emotional distress and that there is an urgent need for more school-based initiatives aimed at prevention and improving management.

Of particular interest is the role of the bystander. Various authors suggest that doing nothing maintains and perpetuates bullying as it creates an ‘audience’ and provide the perpetrators with the status and power they seek. This is not just about venting anger or taking revenge, this is also a way to attract attention in a world that allows one to remain anonymous and escape retaliation. It’s about the bully’s lack of empathy, the different moral standards and social codes for online behaviour and an inadequate legal system.

A useful introduction but only covers the tip of a fast growing iceberg.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2012; Hb £75.00
Reviewed by Ellen Goudsmit who is a health psychologist and Fellow of the BPS


Potential to bounce!
Oxford Handbook of Reciprocal Adult Development and Learning (2nd edn)
Carol Hoare (Ed.)

Scholarship on adult development and learning is a fairly recent phenomenon. Early theorists like Freud and Piaget assumed that personality and cognitive development were psychological tasks completed in the early years. Hoare argues that this led to a misconception that developmental continuity stretches like a giant rubber band between infancy and old age with developmental traits and abilities fixed at the band’s beginning and always snapping back to those childhood origins. 

In a series of specially commissioned review papers this book challenges the ‘rubber band’ idea to present new understandings of a dynamic and complex adult developmental pathway. Contributors outline the link between development and learning to explore how learning leads to development of intelligence, self-efficacy, creativity, spirituality, wisdom (and others) and how positive changes in development result in greater learning.

As life spans increase and populations age, this reconception of our lives – not as rubber bands waiting to snap, but more as a rubber balls with potential to bounce – will be an attractive one for all academics and practitioners who promote optimal ageing.

OUP; 2011; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Wendy Cousins who is a Chartered Psychologist  at the University of Ulster School of Nursing 

Caste in Britain today

British Untouchables: A Study of Dalit Identity and Education Paul Ghuman
Caste in Britain has received little academic or policy attention but can have a profound impact on the lives of some South Asian people. ‘Caste’ has various meanings. As a religious concept, it labels some people as innately impure (untouchable), with consequent implications for self-perception and self-value. As a social system, caste divides people according to their ancestors’ occupations, defining suitable marriage partners and creating exclusive support structures, with consequent impacts on individuals’ lives.

Paul Ghuman’s book provides an excellent introduction to caste, describing the different concepts of caste, its historical and political development and its continuing, intimate relationship with religious movements, including those promising an escape from the stigma of ‘untouchability’. For this alone the book is worth reading.

However, the book also provides insight into the operation and impact of caste on people’s lives in the UK today. It focuses on pupils in two secondary schools and reports interviews with them, their teachers and parents. It also reports on a three-year study of five families. Religion, identity, caste awareness, gender, attitudes towards education and aculturalisation are all examined. Attitudes towards caste and its prominence vary.

It is clear that, for some, caste is not an issue. However, even amongst some who downplay the importance of caste, some ‘untouchables’ report suffering caste-based bullying at school, whilst other, higher-caste pupils place great importance on marriage within caste. Overall, the book helps the reader to understand this important influence on the psychological and social experience of some South Asians in Britain.

Ashgate; 2011; Hb £45.00
Reviewed by Hilary Metcalf  who is  Director of Employment and Social Policy Research, National Institute of Economic and Social Research

Web reviews

Demons in the Age of Light: A Memoir of Psychosis and Recovery

Whitney Robinson

Quite simply, Whitney Robinson provides an astoundingly honest and frank account of her experiences of psychosis. Throughout the book, she invites the reader on a journey of poetical and philosophical rigour, describing her experience of psychosis and her interactions with the ‘Other’. She describes her experience of psychiatric wards and all that comes with it, including the dynamics with fellow patients, staff and the challenges that anti-psychotic medication can bring. She really brings to life what it must be like to experience such a difficult entity and the effect it can have on other people. I felt very privileged to be allowed an insight into this and it gave a true sense of what psychosis looks like for an individual – away from generic medical manuscripts and textbooks that are far removed from any personal account.

 

This book is simply a must-have for professionals, students and individuals alike with an intrigue for a personal account of the inner workings of psychosis and the effect it can have on a person’s life.

 

Process Media; 2011; Pb 11.99

Reviewed by: Lisa Halpin, who is a Research Assistant, Ashworth Research Centre (Ashworth Hospital)

 

Strategies for Building Successful Relationships with People on the Autism Spectrum: Let’s Relate!

Brian R. King

The premise of this book is intriguing; the author is a social worker who, along with his immediate family, is on the autism spectrum. The book is divided into two parts serving a duality of purpose.

 

The first part focuses on what it feels like to be on the autism spectrum, with the author’s personal experience providing a sincere narrative, not just what one would notice as an outside observer. What really stood out for me were the descriptions of sensory difficulties associated with autism, helping the reader to imagine the ongoing experience of a disorganised nervous system.

 

The second part describes how to foster communication and create meaningful relationships with people on the autism spectrum. Sensible and practical advice is provided, which I find helpful as a clinician.

 

This book is aimed at those parenting or living with a person with autism, but it would be useful for trainees or less experienced professionals and care staff. Overall, a refreshing look at the experience of autism and how to work with those on the spectrum.

 

Jessica Kingsley; 2012; Pb £13.99

Reviewed by Laura Findlay, who is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Buckinghamshire Community Learning Disability Team

 

Treating PTSD in Military Personnel: A Clinical Handbook

Bret A. Moore & Walter E. Penk

Psychologists working with traumatised military personnel will find much of value in this excellent introduction to a huge breadth of literature. It is an American publication and predominantly focuses on the US military, so much of the terminology and some of the processes described will be inapplicable to UK forces. Its American roots are reflected in the breadth of the excellent first section which is made up of nine chapters summarising and appraising different therapeutic approaches to PTSD with military personnel, refreshingly including psychodynamic and family approaches, rather than merely the usual NICE-approved suspects. The authors emphasise the importance of clinicians working in this area developing their competence in working with this discrete cultural group, and summarise many of the pertinent features of military culture, which, as someone starting out in this field, I found helpful. The second section considers a range of important co-occurring issues, such as substance use, traumatic brain injury and suicidality, etc. Then the book ends rather abruptly, though this does not detract from what is a useful and solid overview of a complex subject.

 

Guilford Press; 2011; Hb £26.99

Reviewed by Rob Whittaker, Clinical Psychologist for Prosthetic Rehabilitation, Leeds

 

Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice (3rd edn)

David F. Marks, Michael Murray, Brian Evans & Emee Vida Estacio

Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice provides a comprehensive account of the current perspectives and approaches to health psychology. The book covers the five core aspects of health psychology from formation of health policy to understanding the psychological factors contributing to physical illness. This third edition includes new chapters on information and communication, health literacy, community within health psychology and theories, models and interventions applied to sexual health.

 

The book is divided into the four key areas of health psychology: clinical health psychology, public health psychology, community psychology and critical health psychology. Critical exploration of key research and theories surrounding issues such as health literacy, medication taking and stress, provides a balanced view of current perspectives within the health psychology field. Both national and international case studies of sexual health, alcohol and tobacco consumption, diet and physical activity interventions provide examples of health behaviour theory applied to improve health outcomes and change health behaviour. Each chapter provides an outline, summary and future research directions, prompting students to consider potential research projects.

 

Writing style is clear, concise and any terminology is explained. This allows the reader to follow and understand the key discussion points thus contributing to an unambiguous understanding of the field.

 

This textbook is a must for anybody who is interested in learning more about health psychology, particularly postgraduate health psychology students. The companion website and PowerPoint lecture slides provide additional resources to lecturers and health professionals who aim to increase understanding of this area.

 

Sage; 2011; Pb £34.99

Reviewed by Bronagh Raftery, who is an MSc Health Psychology student at the University of St Andrews

 

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

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