Book reviews, November 2016

A selection including web-only reviews.

Thinking of children
Cognitive Development in Museum Settings: Relating Research and Practice
David M. Sobel & Jennifer L. Jipson (Eds.)

Academic research so often informs other researchers and practitioners within a field, but when there is a crossover between disciplines, real-life discoveries and progress can be made. Psychology professors Sobel and Jipson have made an extensive study of research projects within museum settings, showing more often than not that it is the contrasting partnerships that are the most fruitful.

This book summarises diverse projects in several museums, mainly in North America, pairing child development researchers within exhibition departments designed for families and children. Although models vary considerably throughout institutions, Sobel and Jipson typically found through interview that researchers and museum professionals gained insight from each other, and developed practice and results that could not have existed otherwise. The key is genuine and respectful relationships. For example, some researchers were surprised that interactive exhibits were set up almost by intuition as to what would appeal to youngsters, without reference to best practice gleaned from research findings. Through discussion and sharing of expertise, collaborating practitioners found ways to apply more effective methodologies to their approach and displays. Other benefits to practitioners included paring analysis and findings to their own anecdotal and local experiences, thus deepening understanding of children’s behaviour within museums.

Researchers found being able to observe behaviour in a more natural family setting away from laboratory conditions gave them both quality and quantity of data. The steady stream of visitors provided high numbers of subjects, and they could trial situations and experimental conditions rapidly, basically having the freedom to try things out spontaneously.

In any field of practice there are assumptions and omissions. Practitioners working directly with children have expertise that educationalists do not. Collaboration proved particularly fruitful in the area of communication, with museum professionals adept at translating text and ideas in creative ways to engage audiences both in exhibits and in research projects.

This readable book is valuable to psychologists, teachers and those interested in the cognitive development of children and how it can be researched. It’s a thorough examination of different possibilities and models of collaborations between any diverse fields, sharing research and practice, and gaining from the perspective and paradigm shifts that offers.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £34.99
Reviewed by Eleanor MacFarlane who is an artist, writer and MSc psychology conversion student at the University of Hertfordshire

 

A science for the human condition
Wiley Handbook of Contextual Behavioral Science
Robert D. Zettle, Steven C. Hayes, Dermot Barnes-Holmes & Anthony Biglan (Eds.)

Early on in this book you are asked – reflexive of the approach – to ‘doubt everything and hold it lightly – even doubt itself’. No place for unquestioning acolytes here!  

Across 554 pages the 30-plus years development, research and application of contextual behavioural science (CBS) is set out with its stated goal of the prediction and influence of behaviour with precision, scope and depth.

CBS’s initial development came from the application of behaviour analysis to the complexities found in clinical psychology, specifically understanding verbal behaviour. This led to the development of a contextualist account of language, relational frame theory (RFT), that established new forms of behavioural regulation not accounted for by other approaches (e.g. classically conditioned stimuli could be altered by these relational frames). These developments were so distinct – and not readily accepted by other wings of behavioural psychology – that CBS was established as a separate approach within the field.

Clinical applications are covered, with acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) being the most well known. Alongside the research supporting effectiveness the differences in the underpinning principles emphasised the fundamental differences to the cognitive therapies to which ACT will be compared.

The scope of thinking is impressive with a section of the book devoted to applying contextual approaches to areas including economics, organisations, and public health. So this is not a light, breezy book, but rather one that reflects the scientific rigour of its authors as it brings a large body of research together. I valued the clarity of the philosophical position, coherence of argument and accompanying research. I came away with a clear understanding of what the position was. My reservations revolve around the realms of complexity and chaos that the natural sciences are starting to address, and maybe a concern that if doubt is lost these areas could be neglected.

So, while holding that other worldviews and understanding exist, this handbook offers a thorough grounding in CBS as a way of progressing the science of human behaviour and a fine example of applied science.

Wiley; 2016; Hb £120.00
Reviewed by Matthew Selman who is with Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

 

Valuable tool for the advanced statistician
Applied Multivariate Statistics for the Social Sciences (6th ed)
Keenan A. Pituch & James P. Stevens

This is definitely not a book for beginners, more suited to those at postgraduate level or beyond. As stated by the authors, readers should have some experience in statistics to fully appreciate the content.

An unusual touch for a statistics guide is the focus on two different software packages, SPSS and SAS, removing the need for separate books for many researchers and students. This edition contains many updates from previous versions, along with extensively revised and new chapters, including multivariate multilevel modelling and structural equation modelling. Applied Multivariate Statistics for the Social Sciences has a free companion website, where data used in the examples found throughout the chapters can be found, along with SPSS and SAS syntax. Unlike with many popular applied statistics guides and manuals, Pituch and Stevens have included exercises for the reader, with detailed answers on the website. These are all excellent additions, making the book a valuable interactive learning tool and reference guide.

Each chapter covers a different statistical concept or method, following a logical and easy-to-follow layout with plenty of examples. The reader is provided with the procedures and syntax for each covered task in both SPSS and SAS, along with examples of outputs. There are no alternative step-by-step instructions provided to run tests without syntax. This would be beneficial in some cases where syntax is not always necessary and may overcomplicate things for some readers, for instance running a three group MANOVA or factorial ANOVA. That being said, this book is aimed at the more advanced statistician who will be required to use and understand syntax for many of the more complex methodologies discussed.

Pituch and Stevens provide resources for complex statistical analyses which in many cases cannot be found without using a specific specialist text for a particular type of method. Each chapter contains concise summary lists and analysis summaries, giving the reader easy to access information and overviews. This results in a highly detailed but easy-to-navigate book.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £62.99
Reviewed by Stacey A. Bedwell who is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at Nottingham Trent University

 

To do or not to do
Motivation and Cognitive Control
Todd S. Braver (Ed.)

Whether an organism acts or not in a particular situation entails a complex interplay of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. In Motivation and Cognition, the authors look at the neuropsychology of the affective factors that drive behaviour. The book, edited by Todd S. Braver, is delineated into three parts. The first examines the relationship between rewards and cognitive processes. The papers aim to understand how rewards shape our attentional and visual processing capabilities. While we are aware that rewards serve as extrinsic reinforcers for volitional behaviour, they can also bias attention at a more automatic and possibly subliminal level.

The second section deals with the affective factors that underpin self-regulation. The relationship between rewards and positive affect and conflicts and negative affect are examined. The third part takes a developmental perspective on cognitive motivation and includes a discussion on the neuropsychology of the teenage brain. It relates mechanisms of brain maturation to concomitant changes in an individual’s ability to self-regulate behaviour.

The book serves as a compendium of studies that examine the interplay between cognitive and motivational factors. While the book includes interdisciplinary studies, it has a strong neuroscience slant and does not cover sociocultural aspects that also play an important role in people’s motivational stances. It is a great resource for scholars who are studying the neuropsychology of motivation. However, by not including the social and cultural forces that shape motivation and cognition, the book is not as comprehensive in scope as it could be.  

Routledge; 2016; Pb £39.99
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan who is Director, PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India

 

More colour on my canvas of understanding
Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self
Allan N. Schore

Having myself worked with and approached issues of emotional crisis with clients in the acute care pathway of the National Health Service, I found Dr Schore’s writing on the neurobiological basis of affect regulation illuminating. Schore effortlessly weaves together the threads of neurobiology, psychoanalysis and socio-environmental factors contributing to the fabric that is affect regulation. From short, sharp background and overview chapters to ideas of integration of neurobiological aspects with that of psychology, separating ideas according to the relevant development stages from early infancy to late infancy, Schore is adept at fleshing out how neurobiology and psychoanalysis together can lead to a better understanding of how clinical presentations develop. This provides an illuminating background on which interventions can be set.

The introduction and thoroughness in explanation, such as on the idea of early imprinting influencing maturation of the neurobiological system and the role of maternal stimulation of the neuro-mechanisms that ultimately forms the blueprint of affect regulation, set the necessary scene that is at once an apt reflection of the sheer complexity of our brains. I was particularly struck by the chapters concerning morality, shame and the developmental psychopathology of personality disorders as these concepts were discussed in neurobiological terms of the limbic system, the interaction of this with attachment, and the necessity for maturation of the frontolimbic system that is experience-dependent. This was like throwing another colour of paint on my pre-existing psychological canvas of understanding, an unexpected yet welcome pot of colour, I might add.

Refreshingly, this book does not read like a dichotomous debate on the nature–nurture scenario. It moves beyond that through descriptive and enriching text. The transactions between our neuro-networks, our behaviours, our past, and our parental backgrounds which are ongoing throughout life become apparent throughout and effortlessly bring together both concepts of psychoanalysis and neurobiology in a timely way. I would highly recommend this book, which to me has provided a useful language to think with when trying to understand the current emotional world of the client.  

Routledge; 2016; Pb £54.99. Reviewed by Candy Wong, Senior Mental Health Practitioner, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Counselling Psychologist in Training, UEL

 

A fresh approach to adolescence
The Body in Adolescence: Psychic Isolation and Physical Symptoms
Mary T. Brady

Adolescents often feel very alone, with everything crumbling about them while at the same time they feel unable to describe their pain. The lack of containment often results in dissociated psychic states. In desperation they turn to and against their bodies to express unbearable emotions. Parents can seem forlorn, incapacitated or uninterested in what lies behind physically extreme statements like cutting and starving; clinicians can feel challenged when presented with their patient’s fresh cut or recent episode of binge drinking.

The Body in Adolescence: Psychic Isolation and Physical Symptoms by the psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist Mary T. Brady examines the affective experiences of psychic isolation as an important and painful element of adolescent development. Brady has published widely on adolescence and bodily symptoms. In this book she uses Bion’s conceptualisation of containment and the balance of psychotic versus integrative parts of the personality to examine the emergence of concrete bodily symptoms in adolescence.

She raises important therapeutic questions about the holding environment, safety, parental neglectfulness and the use of supportive treatments. Anyone working with adolescents will find her discussion of the topics raised in this book to be of value.

Throughout, Brady offers ways of understanding and empathically engaging with adolescents. Her years of experience in treating adolescents guides us into understanding our adolescent patient’s anguish. In writing this book she has made a wonderful contribution to the psychoanalytic literature of treating adolescents; it has given us much to contemplate.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £27.99
Reviewed by Dr Giovanni Timmermans who is a clinical psychologist working in healthcare in the Netherlands

 

Death and the Seaside

Alison Moore

Sylvia Slythe’s passion for psychology knows no limits. She studies classical conditioning by training her kitten to associate whistling with food, operant conditioning by promising her little brother a present and sometimes giving him a pinch instead. As her understanding develops, she’s drawn to research entailing an element of manipulation and deception. Her interest in subliminal messaging leads to her “’irst run-in with the university, [frustrated that …] things which used to be allowed in experimental psychology are unfortunately no longer permitted, formally’.

Bonnie Falls is an aspiring writer working as a cleaner, having abandoned her English literature degree in exhaustion at ‘seeing the real world in terms of narrative…stories and symbolism everywhere’. But it’s left to the reader, along with Sylvia, to decode the symbols of death and oblivion in her own writing, and the messages of failure she’s absorbed from her parents. When Sylvia befriends Bonnie, the materials are assembled for a highly entertaining literary experiment.

The author’s use of imagery and manipulation of expectations enhances the reading pleasure. In literature, the seaside often represents a semipermeable boundary between opposing ideas; Death and the Seaside unfolds on the borderland between fiction and reality, friendship and exploitation, the significant and the trivial.

Since her Man Booker Prize shortlisted debut, The Lighthouse, Alison Moore has specialised in deceptively simple stories, tightly crafted and comically dark, with a psychologically sophisticated undertow. Her fiction explores the heroism and pathos of unheroic lives, exposing the strangeness behind the ordinary, the magic of the mundane. This, her third novel, is the most explicit in its deployment of psychology and, perhaps, the funniest and most profound.

Salt; 2016; Pb £8.99

Reviewed by Dr Anne Goodwin, a former Consultant Clinical Psychologist, writer and author of the Polari First Book Prize shortlisted novel Sugar and Snails.

 

The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszczynski

In The Worm at the Core, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski provide a unique and compelling exploration of how the awareness of death influences human psychology in relation to terror management theory (TMT).

In short, TMT suggests that the awareness of one’s own mortality constitutes a major source of existential anxiety for humanity. Individuals strive to affirm their existence by championing a closely held cultural worldview. By doing this, they become able to ascribe meaning to their own existence, and the self-esteem that this generates helps buffer against feelings of existential dread. After outlining their theory, the authors then contextualise it. Some examples of this include explaining the role of death awareness in mental illness, in the maintenance of drug abuse, and in contributing to biases in judicial sentencing.

I applaud the authors for the accessibility of their writing. The book is reasonably short and avoids excessive use of psychological jargon. Additionally, the account makes a concerted effort to address opponents of TMT, and as such the book stands as testament to around 25 years of experimental social psychological research. This is evident from the numerous concise descriptions of relevant experiments, and their findings, found throughout the book.

I feel that the main value of this book, whether one accepts or rejects the claims of TMT, is that the Worm at the Core encourages its readers to grapple with the nature of their own mortality and to consider how their awareness of death may influence their everyday thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For this reason alone I can recommend this book to all.

Penguin; 2016; Pb £9.99

Reviewed by Connor Pell, who is a BSc Psychology graduand at the University of Chester

 

Mindfulness in the Workplace: An Evidence-Based Approach to Improving Wellbeing and Maximizing Performance

Margaret Chapman-Clarke (Ed.)

An interesting book that would be suitable for psychologists or HR specialists who are planning or already working in the area of mindfulness. Margaret Chapman-Clarke is a specialist on this topic and there are 14 other experienced contributors to the book.

The introduction, which sets the scene in an academic manner, is followed by practical exemplars of the use of mindfulness in six different organisations, with a focus on health improvement. The concluding chapters may be the most straightforward read for a general background to Mindfulness as these point out the history, from a variety of well-founded Asian faiths with an influence from emotional intelligence; they also consider how its use may be more widespread and beneficial in the future.

This book is most suitable for psychologists who have an interest in research into mindfulness particularly those who may be considering introducing stress reduction techniques to a company.

The basic premise of this book is that the practice of mindfulness, which at present is practised mainly by individuals, has the potential of benefiting companies. This is an excellent treatise, well worth reading.

Kogan Page; 2016; Pb £29.99

Reviewed by Kathryn Tharby            

 

Romance and Sex in Adolescence and Emerging AdulthoodRisks and Opportunities

Alan Booth, Ann C. Crouter & Anastasia Snyder (Eds.)

The initial chapters focus on biology, with ideas such as the one about seminal fluid having antidepressant-like qualities when present in the female body and the suggestion that depression has a positive function of supporting insight. I wondered about the context; only to find out that culture and history are then also discussed. Subsequently, I thought of early-life experiences and this is where the editors move on to.

The book ends with a discussion about the impact of the above on society, including references to financial consequences of sexual behaviours (e.g. having an offspring). It does not consider non-Western concepts (e.g. the guidelines introduced by the Chinese government on how many children one can have).

The narrative seems to support some gender-specific ideas (e.g. men being more inclined to have multiple sexual partners than women). It does not refer to the LGBT and transgender communities, some of which the editors acknowledge.

The volume ends without a concluding chapter, which leaves the reader to make the connections between the evolutionary, sociological, psychological and economic perspectives unassisted. The language seems mostly accessible, apart from some neurobiology related terminology.

I would recommend the book to anyone who works with young people where relationships and sexuality are relevant. I would however encourage the reader to be guided by it with the view to incorporating individual narratives, experiences and beliefs. I would also recommend this book to carers who plan to talk about relationships with their children.

A great starting point to thinking about human relations.

Routledge; 2016;  Pb £31.99.

Reviewed by Agnieszka Pytlowana, who is an assistant psychologist 

 

Essentials of Personnel Assessment and Selection (2nd edn)

Scott Highhouse, Dennis Doverspike & Robert M. Guion

Do you know the difference between discriminating and discriminatory? Ever heard of gamification? Is it legal not to re-hire an individual you’ve just sacked? Essentials of Personnel Assessment and Selection will tell you all about it. The book provides a thorough review of relevant statistical concepts in selection and assessment. Authors believe good prediction involves well developed theories regarding personnel traits related to the job. It portrays a philosophical and historical basis of selection – quoting even the Bible!

Although it claims to engage both managers and students, you need strong statistical knowledge to enjoy it. There is a referral to O*NET for managers, but beyond that, managers might not ‘digest’ it very well. With the style of an academic text, including lots of citations, it feels like reading a university assignment.

While most of the book is dedicated to person analysis, chapter 2 provides a short cover of organisational and job analysis. A strong cultural influence (all are American authors?) can be sensed in chapter 4 where the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991 are mentioned every other paragraph. New material in this second edition centres around the legal side of selecting and hiring just mentioned, and extensive consideration is given to managerial and executive assessment. The relationship between technology and testing is also explored, as well as global testing.

Main theme here is the need to develop greater knowledge in the way hiring personnel use assessment results in selecting candidates. It also highlights the need to endow managers with adequate knowledge regarding assessment methods.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £31.99

- Reviewed by Andrei Tomadini, who is a London Metropolitan University alumnus

 

 

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