Reviews

the usual mix of books and other media reviews, including Future Bright: A Transforming Vision of Human Intelligence by Michael E. Martinez, Jan Diederen’s documentary Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidences and BBC?Four’s The Dark Matter of Love

Heritability no limit to educability

Future Bright: A Transforming Vision of Human Intelligence

IQ and its heritability are in the news again, thanks to a well-publicised valedictory missive from the adviser to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, which claimed that 70 per cent of the variance in IQ in the population is genetic in origin, and hence that compensatory education is largely a waste of effort. Against this Michael Martinez’s posthumous book comes as a powerful corrective. Martinez, a professor of education at Irvine, California, was in many ways a fairly orthodox IQ theorist, but one committed to the view that intelligence – not just IQ, but social and emotional intelligence too – can be enhanced through optimal diet and exercise, educational programmes focused on problem solving, book reading and developing expertise, along with parental support and charismatic teachers.

Before concluding with a list of 10 such strategies, ranging from characteristically American self-help recipes to ‘what world leaders can do’, the book trawls through the familiar history of IQ theory.  Martinez’ route runs from Galton and Binet through Spearman, Terman and Wechsler to Raven’s matrices, his favoured, supposedly ‘culture-fair’ test. He rejects Gardner’s theories of multiple intelligence, though he is more sympathetic to Sternberg’s ‘successful intelligence.’ However, he avoids mention of any of IQ theory’s more fundamental critics such as Leo Kamin. In the end he settles for the standard division of intelligence into problem solving, or ‘fluid,’ and knowledge, or ‘crystallised’. It is the latter that was scientised as g by Spearman, thus making it sound as firmly measurable an entity as any of the constants of physics.  Martinez does not address this reification  of the IQ construct as a unitary measure, which many neurobiologists, myself included, find so unsatisfactory.

Having opted firmly for the unitary model, he then reviews the evidence relating IQ to brain structures and genes. The more molecular he gets, the weaker his grasp, misstating the numbers of neurons in the brain and genes in human DNA, but his grip on the problems with that much-misunderstood term heritability – that is, the proportion of the variance in a population that can be attributed to genetics – is firmer. Thus he is at pains to point out that, as a population measure, heritability says nothing about any individual, and that the figure itself will vary with the environment. Unlike Gove’s adviser, Martinez settles for a figure of 50 per cent, but points out that it correlates with social and economic status – thus the best predictor of IQ is parental economic and cultural wealth. Furthermore, and once more pointing to the lability and indeed inutility of the measure, amongst the children of wealthy parents heritability may rise to 70 per cent but is as low as 10 per cent amongst the poor. Nor does heritability imply fixity, and Martinez points to the secular rise in average IQ scores in the population over the past several decades of about 15 points– the so-called Flynn effect. It is this rise that anchors the main claim of the book, that heritability does not limit educability.

Clearly written and accessible, Future Bright was completed by his colleagues after Martinez’ premature death. Psychologists probably won’t find much new here, but educators may come to rely on it as an antidote to the advice given to Mr Gove.

Oxford University Press; 2013; Hb £22.99
Reviewed by Steven Rose who is Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience, Open University
 

Art As Therapy

Alain de Botton
The release of Alain de Botton's new book, Art As Therapy, is accompanied by the release of a free app of the same name.

The app is described as ‘a tool to put you in contact with particular works of art that are helpful to look at when facing certain problems’. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that includes art-making as part of the therapeutic conversation. The Art As Therapy app encourages you to pick from different categories, e.g. love, self, work…, and then select a problem, e.g. ‘I wish I could be more creative’. You are then presented with an image and some text related to the life dilemma you have chosen.

Rose Hall, art therapist, gave her opinion on the app: ‘It's definitely art as therapy rather than art therapy. It uses images to start people thinking, but it’s not a conversation, it's more someone telling you something to prompt you to think.’ Rose felt that the app was too directive in telling her how to look at the pictures. ‘I would have liked it to be more open. I liked choosing one option and following the question or comment that might relate.

I would have liked it to carry on going though, more like a tree of questions with art along the way.’ Rose Hall also thought the app design itself was ‘a bit sloppy – you don't always get taken to the full image’.

Oli Lan, app developer, agreed: ‘In terms of the design and user interface, it's pretty basic. It doesn't look like much effort's gone into adapting it to work well on phones or tablets. The text is pretty tiny, especially on a phone, and most annoying you can't make the pictures of the art any bigger, so it's hard to appreciate it.’

So whilst the app is an interesting attempt at using images therapeutically on a phone, this first version falls short both in terms of content and design.

Reviewed by Lucy Maddox who is Associate Editor for Reviews and a clinical psychologist in the NHS 

 

The Shock of the Fall

Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall is a gripping but easy-to-read and relatively short novel portraying the unique journey of a teenager living and coming to terms with schizophrenia. Nineteen-year-old Matthew Homes tells the story of his life, thoughts and experiences stemming from the death of his elder brother as a child. Matthew’s account is made up of diary-like entries and is fragmented, hopping in and out of different stories from separate times. It also often wanders off in imagination, which makes the read that bit more interesting, forcing the reader to stay attentive. What was best about this novel was how genuine and easy it was to relate to.

The book is cleverly written in a very honest, sometimes awkward and informal way, managing to evoke an array of emotions from sadness to empathy to humour. There are hints of cynicism about mental health staff and services – relevant and often quite humorous – as well as hints of features or symptoms of schizophrenia coming through in the writing. The author is a psychiatric nurse who is able to give due attention to the common features regularly accounted by individuals and staff at psychiatric services.

The story is neither positive nor negative but instead gives a very realistic portrayal of the experiences, relationships and beliefs of someone learning to cope and accept a psychiatric diagnosis and early traumatic experience.

HarperCollins; 2013; Hb £14.99
Reviewed by Nia Sheppard who is an assistant psychologist with Priory Group Healthcare in Abergavenny


How to Study Psychology

Warren Davies
This book provides a good overview of the basic skills required for studying psychology. It covers the fundamentals of qualitative and quantitative methods, the value of journal articles and books, how to structure essays and lab reports, and the importance of evidence for building theory. It also teaches some skills to help optimise studying time including effective reading, memory techniques and mind mapping. I particularly liked the section about how to carry out research by looking at key theories and their authors and using social media to identify current debates rather than just focusing on textbooks and journal articles.

Psychology Press; 2013;
Pb £14.99
Reviewed by Sarah Brooks who is a Management Business and Development Fellow, Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield


Minds for Business

Association for Psychological Science

The internet contains no end of blogs on leadership or better working habits. In recent years these have been joined by sites that focus more on evidence, not least the BPS's own Occupational Digest, which takes peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations and cooks them down to their essence. 

Now in the US the Association for Psychological Science has entered this area with their 'Minds for Business' blog. 

Similar to the BPS Digests, most posts feature recent research, with a particular focus on APS content. The accounts are very readable and highlight the main research take-aways. As well as reporting on new research, the blog also curates highlights from other online sources, such as an excerpted interview with Professor Teresa Amabile on the pace of modern work. A nice feature is 'At The End of The Day', a sidebar exclusively devoted to work–life balance issues.

Scott Sleek, who leads the news team responsible for the articles, says 'We believe business professionals are hungry for this information as they strive to understand their own goals, challenges, relationships with colleagues, and  their work environments, just to name a few. And we know that psychological science has so much to share in this respect.'

There is so much great information being curated on the internet, and the more systematic, psychology-based approach to the workplace is gaining ground, from practitioner-based blogs such as the Manage Develop Inspire group blog (http://managedevelopinspire.com) (I am an occasional contributor) to mainstream online magazines that feature psychologists, such as 99U (http://99u.com).
Minds for Business is certainly another to add to your favourites.

www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/minds-business
Reviewed by Dr Alex Fradera who is editor of the BPS Occupational Digest –a blog and monthly newsletter (www.occdigest.org.uk)

 

The Dark Matter of Love                                                              

BBC Four
Cheryl and Claudio always dreamed of a big family; however, they were only able to conceive one child – Cami, now a teenager. They make the brave decision to adopt not one, but three children from a Russian orphanage: 11-year-old Masha and five-year-old twin boys. The documentary sensitively follows the family as they are supported by Dr Robert Marvin, a developmental psychologist, who has created an intervention programme for adoptive families.

The parents ‘Disney’ dream of a big family soon becomes the reality of a stable family unit being irrevocably shaken and having to be rebuilt to encompass new ways of relating. This is illustrated by raw and poignant moments such as how birth daughter Cami feels displaced by the new arrivals and the envy that mother Cheryl feels at the children’s blossoming attachments to her husband.

The emotional journey that this family makes is cleverly woven together with a history of the changes and discoveries in developmental and neuro-psychology fields that contribute to our current understanding of how to support adoptive families. Using video clips of family interactions and counselling, the parents are supported to reflect on how their family histories impact on their own parenting styles and to notice subtle communications in the children’s behaviour towards them. 

I tired to watch this documentary through purely professional eyes but was often moved to tears. Above all it gave hope and proof that such children can learn to love, if they are loved themselves.

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Seymour who is an educational psychologist 

 

Breakthrough Athletes’ Careers Across Cultures.
Natalia B. Stambulova & Tatiana V. Ryba

With football still coming to terms with the suicides of the German national team goalkeeper Robert Enke and Welsh coach Gary Speed, this book represents something of a breakthrough in the subject of career transitions in sport.

It forms the inaugural text in the International Perspectives on Key Issues in Sport Psychology series and as such includes a global spread of literature on the topic.

With a chapter devoted to each nation, Stambulova and Ryba review the athletic career literature of 19 countries in great detail. They suggest that, traditionally, practitioners have erred in focusing on performance enhancement over long-term athlete well-being and provide bleak quotes from maladjusted post-career athletes to serve as a cautionary tale. Fortunately, the book focuses on the considerable advancements in the area, and the authors provide an extensive review of current career assistance practice worldwide. Some welcome attention is also paid to talent identification and talent development research.

The book’s subtlety lies in its reluctance to identify ‘best practice’ per se. The authors remind us that no career research can be generalisable to all people and that the decisions athletes make are, in part, defined by the culture they operate in. On this point it was fascinating to read about how Buddhist thought influences Chinese career support and how so-called ‘Jante Law’ may affect behaviour in Swedish athletes.
Given the vast amount of ground covered, the clearly presented final chapter is beneficial. In addition to drawing comparisons between research findings across cultures, it provides suggestions about future research and ideas about the provision of support for athletes. In this regard, Stambulova and Ryba have produced a text that is likely to become the point of departure for students, researchers, and practitioners interested in the area for many years to come.  

Routledge; 2013; Pb £29.99          
Reviewed by Alastair Storie who is a sport and exercise psychologist and former professional cricketer


For your human factors reading list…The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Engineering

John D. Lee & Alex Kirlik (Eds.)
If terms such as adaptive automation and ecological design mean nothing to you, then you need to learn more about cognitive engineering. To help you out, Lee and Kirlik have brought together contributions from the various disciplines that make up this field – including psychology, engineering and computer science – to produce a comprehensive overview.

It opens with an introductory chapter on the history and key themes of cognitive engineering. True to the adage that a picture paints a thousand words, this chapter quickly turns into a demonstration of some daring feats with R’s text mining and data visualisation packages. Don’t try this at home, kids. The chapters that follow cover a range of contemporary topics related to cognitive engineering. The breadth of this coverage is impressive: it includes topics that you would expect to find (for example, attention and situational awareness), but also emerging lines of inquiry such as neuroergonomics. In addition, the chapters describing different aspects of cognitive performance are complemented by others that place it in its sociotechnical context, such as one on organisational design. Across the chapters there is a good balance between theoretical, methodological and practice-related content.

The authors present their material in a clear and concise manner, which will be well received by those who are looking to brush up on a particular subject. Its emphasis on conveying the basic ideas about each subject, though, means that little space is given over to the critiques and debates about them that can be found elsewhere in the literature. That aside, it makes an ideal encyclopaedia on cognitive engineering, and hence a useful resource for work design and human factors courses.

Oxford University Press; 2013; Hb £110.00
Reviewed by Denham Phipps who is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester

 
CBT for Anxiety Disorders: A Practitioner Book

Gregoris Simos & Stefan G. Hofmann (Eds.)

This collection of excellent chapters unfortunately doesn’t quite hang together as a coherent book. The chapter on OCD and related disorders is a thorough literature review; the GAD chapter, a step-by-step treatment plan; PTSD, an in-depth exploration of treatment strategies supported by a case study. Each is interesting and useful in its own right, but for any reader looking for particular information it does make the book feel a little like a lucky dip.

I enjoyed the chapter on culturally-appropriate CBT, with examples of culturally specific disorders and the authors’ experiences of, for example, proverbs and healing rituals that have supported their clients in therapy. However, it does rely on the assumption that the authors and readers are somehow 'culturally neutral', while culture is only relevant for 'refugees and ethnic minorities'; the focus is on giving the reader information about particular cultures rather than looking at how the therapist might make use of the client’s own expertise.

For a book so reliant on diagnostic categorisation, the timing of the publication seems strange, as all chapters were written before DSM-5 so the book is already out of date. There are also some simple errors that should have been picked up by a proofreader. Small matters, but they add to the impression that the book could have been better than it is; there is a lot of good writing here but the book somehow adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2013;
Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Emma Taylor who is a Clinical Psychologist, North East Essex Partnership Foundation Trust


Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

Glenn E. Smith & Mark W. Bondi

The ageing population concerns have sparked estimates that over a million people will suffer from dementia by 2021. Dementia has been at the heart of recent campaigns and initiatives to improve the treatment and care provided to dementia patients including changes to legislation and the launch of important findings from the national audit of dementia.

This book offers a great overview of what constitutes normal ageing compared with mild cognitive impairments and the various types of dementia. However, it is released at a time where substantial changes have been made to the diagnostic classifications in the DSM-5, which now refer to minor and major neurocognitive disorders. In light of and related to findings reported by the Alzheimer’s Society that only 44 per cent of people receive a diagnosis of dementia, the author of this book provides interesting criticisms of the new DSM-5 classificatory system and concludes that diagnosing major neurocognitive disorders in the very elderly population will be more of a challenge.

Oxford University Press; 2013; Pb £35.99
Reviewed by Melissa Clapp who is a Project Worker at the Royal College of Psychiatrists


Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidences

Jan Diederen (Director)

The documentary film Synchronicity: Meaningful Coincidences by Jan Diederen is designed to be accessible by the lay person. You do not need to be an expert by any means to get a full comprehension of this subject. 

The message Diederen wants to get across to the audience is that, coincidences happen all the time. We have all experienced them many times. But do they actually mean something more than just a chance happening?

Carl Gustav Jung (1920) argued that they do and he described this concept as synchronicity: the occurrence of two incidents being related to a higher degree than just mere chance. The theoretical relationship between ideas is intricately structured in its own rational and coherent way that dismisses the notion that these relationships are uncorrelated in nature. These relationships reveal themselves as occurrences that are meaningfully related.

I had come across this concept while studying for my psychology degree at university, although only briefly, and I was curious to discover what the film explored. Diederen’s documentary presents French quantum physicist François Martin who has embraced synchronicity as an ‘enriching gift’ and states that he lives in accordance with this concept, much the same as scientists lives in harmony with science.

Within the film Martin meets with ordinary people from Finland, France and Britain who have all experienced synchronicity in its finest form. You get to meet Laura Buxton from Stoke-on-Trent who at the age of 10 released a balloon into the sky with a note attached asking if anybody found the balloon, could they please write to her. A week later, 140 miles away in Wiltshire, the balloon was found by another 10-year-old, also called Laura Buxton. A lifelong friendship was formed and both girls begun to realise how much they had in common, down to their guinea pigs having the same coloured patches. This is a perfect example of synchronicity.

Diederen portrays a thought-provoking and impressive argument within this documentary and gives us the opportunity to revisit coincidences in our own lives that could be explained by the concept of synchronicity.

Reviewed by Matilda Wren who is a psychology graduate and author

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