Book reviews

Saving our children from nature deficit disorder; memory; study skills; dementia; a lifetime of intelligence; and web-only reviews

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv
Atlantic Books; 2009; Pb £12.99
Nature is good for you: recent research shows this to be a fact. And modern life is increasingly keeping our children away from it. Or, at best, nature programmes on TV focus the experience of it on the disappearing rainforests and endangered species, rather than encouraging the young to experience nature directly, climbing trees, hunting and fishing.

So, in brief, runs the argument of this passionate American bestseller, now in an updated and internationalised second edition.

The book is an excellent example of how an author with journalistic skills can weave published academic research into their story without breaking up the flow or losing the popular reader’s attention. I thoroughly commend it to colleagues in any area of science wondering how to ‘give away’ their findings whilst retaining their essential message. All areas could do with their equivalent of Louv.

Before moving to the substance of the book, let us briefly consider its technique. The author captures the immediate interest (an intriguing title, cover flash: ‘an absolute must-read for parents’); introductory story (author’s son aged 10 saying: ‘Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?’); the modern challenges (‘I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are’).

Recent research (much of it from key developmental and environmental psychologists) is cited as it supports the flow of the argument, but without the off-putting apparatus of a scientific article: all journal titles and page references are tidied away into a final section of notes and further reading.

The coverage is good; theories and evidence are effectively and responsibly encapsulated.In the past few years, ‘nature is good for you’ has moved from a warm, general feeling to an evidenced statement. We can now call on the research of Frances Kuo on the positive effects of exposure to nature on ADHD children, and disaffected youth; Robin Moore on the benefits of nature-playgrounds; Louise Chawla on those cityscapes which involve children; the whole Child Friendly Cities initiative across Europe; the wide-ranging work of Gary Evans on nature and well-being; and many others.

Theories as to why nature can have these benign effects range from E.O. Wilson’s Biophilia hypothesis (that we can look to our species’ origins), through the William James-inspired attention-restoration theory of Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, to Howard Gardner’s recent addition of a naturalist intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences.

And Louv is good at introducing his readers to many concepts familiar to environmental psychologists, including: place attachment and place identity; children’s ‘special places’; the origins of environmental activism; fascination as involuntary attention; and transcendental nature experiences.

Working against these are the forces of commercialisation, the privatisation of open spaces, the commodification of play, the fear of parents about stranger-danger and of traffic hazards. GPS bracelets on our children have replaced the eyes-on-the-street that were our reassurance of their safety. Horror-movies use nature as a scary setting. News stories about eco-disasters may breed, says Louv, ‘ecophobic’ children. In schools, natural history has given way to a more clinical biology.

All of this is a world away from Louv’s fondly remembered tree-climbing boyhood. (And Edith Cobb’s analysis of the autobiographies of famous Americans often shows their early formative experiences in nature)

So how can parents (and policy-makers) react to this reported loss of connection with nature, armed now with the research evidence presented here? How can they put their own fears into proper perspective? What social, political and spiritual initiatives are called for? The final chapters of the book offer examples, including interestingly cases of well-planned and aware European cities.

Reviewed by Christopher Spencer
who is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Psychology, University of Sheffield

Alan Baddeley, Michael W. Eysenck & Michael C. Anderson
Psychology Press; 2009;
Pb £27.50

What is on the cover of the magazine you are holding? What caused you to remember, or to forget? The psychology of memory is the focus of this undergraduate-level textbook. The first part is largely Baddeley’s work and introduces the short-term, working and episodic memory systems. Upon this framework Eysenck adds five chapters examining semantic memory, developmental perspectives and applied topics, such as memory training and eyewitness behaviour. Anderson provides three chapters, covering retrieval as well as incidental and motivated forgetting.

The style is accessible, with anecdotes and notable case histories much in evidence, and new paradigms often introduced by an example for the reader to try out. The three authors write clearly, and important terminology is glossed. Graphs and charts present plenty of experimental data but are not obtrusive, and the chapter summaries are a helpful length.

Experimental psychology research is the backbone of the book’s evidence base. The authors also discuss findings from cognitive neuroscience, and make an effort to balance laboratory results with applied and experiential approaches.

Reviewed by Joe Hickey
who is an assistant research psychologist with Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

Study Skills for Psychology Students
Jennifer Latto & Richard Latto
Open University Press; 2009; £14.99

Study Skills for Psychology Students is a well-organised book that aids students as they progress through their degree course. The authors of this concise book provide knowledge they have achieved from their broad and varied experience in working in the psychology field, their education and the British Psychological Society.

The book covers all the essentials for psychology students, including information on studying psychology at university, a guide to producing high-standard coursework and examinations, the different forms of teaching provided on these courses, tips on how to make the most of the information technology available, a synopsis of the statistics that will appear, and assistance with confronting and undertaking a research project. There is also a brief chapter on careers for psychology graduates and how to become a practising psychologist. In addition, a website is included that covers up-to-date material on careers, along with advice from the authors and other students on performing well and exercises to aid students with their course.

Reviewed by Emer McDermott
who is a postgraduate psychology student

Dementia: From Diagnosis to Management – A Functional Approach
Michelle S. Bourgeois & Ellen M. Hickey
Psychology Press; 2009; £40.00

This timely volume endeavours to provide a reference manual for the development of functional and behavioural approaches to assessing, managing and treating dementia.

The initial chapters introduce the topic of dementia from presentation and diagnosis through to the cognitive, language and behavioural characteristics present across its stages. The book then takes a considered look at assessment, treatment and management paying particular attention to the management of eating. Additionally it considers the impact on quality of life and on the wider system of carers and staff.

I found the book to be educational and packed with interesting references whilst also very accessible. The book contains clinical materials in the form of assessment tools and forms to assist with memory and communication. And there are a host of tips to enable the person with dementia to function in daily life.

I believe this would be a great resource for any student, practitioner or researcher working with dementia, and with communication disorders. 

Reviewed by Hannah Nelson who is an assistant psychologist with Greater Manchester West, Intermediate Care

A Lifetime of Intelligence. Follow-Up Studies of the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947
Ian J. Deary, Lawrence J. Whalley & John M. Starr
American Psychological Association; 2009; Hb £62.95

This publication is designed to bring together two world-famous studies where whole populations of children were tested on their cognitive ability. The two separate groups of children were tested at 11 years old in 1932 and in 1947 and these became known as the Scottish Mental Surveys. The authors rediscovered this data that had lain almost untouched in Edinburgh for sometime and realised that it could potentially offer insight into questions about the predictability of cognitive testing at age 11 such as cognitive ageing and the association of cognitive ability and death [see]. 

The authors managed to follow up samples of the original cohort in order to answer the main question from a psychological point of view; that is, whether IQ is a stable measurement over a person’s lifespan. Surprisingly, the authors indicated that there is
a significant correlation between the measurements from age 11 and old age (the subjects were in their 70s and 80s). 

This was a thoroughly interesting and fascinating study that is exceptional in its longevity and scope. The authors put together an account of follow-ups of unique data that offers a much greater understanding of the various factors that can be predicted by cognitive measurements and the stability across a lifespan that had hitherto not been expected. It is possible that this work will become a classic study in psychology.

Reviewed by Christopher Boyle who is an educational psychologist with South Lanarkshire Council

Web only reviews

Maternal Encounters: The Ethics of Interruption
Lisa Baraitser

Maternal Encounters will be of interest to those averse to conceptualisations of mothers as having a limitless capacity to care and love so idealistic that it sets impossible, almost mythical, standards for parents. In this book, Lisa Baraitser bravely sets out to make visible new ways of thinking about what she terms ‘maternal subjectivity’.  
Baraitser weaves together two strands.  In a kind of cultural-philosophical-psychoanalytic phenomenology, anecdotes of mothering are woven in with complex theoretical notions from Jessica Benjamin, Judith Butler, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Alain Badiou.  Baraitser talks of unwittingly bursting into tears when finding her son asleep, an experience of alterity when the name of her child doesn’t quite seem to fit, wanting but unable to point out her son to fellow spectators at a school play, not knowing how to put a nappy on, waiting for her stammering child to speak, and leaving the house encumbered by the paraphernalia of parenthood.  Some of the theoretical notions presented are dizzyingly intricate, but Baraitser takes the reader through in short subsections that end gently by relating the theory back to her anecdotes.
The result is an image of ‘a mother and her child in which the child figures almost as an extra, highly unpredictable limb, attached, yet doing its own thing, and affecting the mother’s whole orientation in the world, though not in wholly unpleasant ways’.
Routledge; 2009; Pb £14.95
Reviewed by Peter Branney, who is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Men’s Health, Leeds Metropolitan University

Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness
Fabrizio Didonna (Ed.)

Meditation has been used in Eastern culture dating back as far as 4000 years, and this book attempts to clearly define mindfulness, against the popularity and diffusion it’s reached in Western practice, and posit potential applications for use in psychological disorders, evidenced by scientific evaluation.  
Parallels are drawn to a CBT approach; however emphasis remains on changing the relationship to thoughts, as opposed to the content.  The central tenet is that human suffering is derived from internal mechanisms. Methods raised to address such issues are urging the senses, including the mind, to acknowledge stimuli, and then decentre; to view these fluid processes as a bystander as opposed to a participator.  Once this is achieved it is posed one can then react less on impulse, thus improving psychological well-being.
The eclectic presentation of evidence from improved neural activity through to treating depression are certainly convincing of the usefulness of mindfulness-based practice in a clinical setting.
Its appeal is far reaching and the various authors present phenomena in a captivating and insightful way; a predicted bible for those seeking to learn more and implement mindfulness philosophy.
Springer; 2009; Hb £89.99
Reviewed by Kate Tilbury, who is a Primary Care Mental Health Worker

Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Successful Stress Management
Nick Dubin

Nick Dubin was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2004 at the age of 27. This personal experience, combined with his training in psychology, has enabled him to succeed in writing an inspirational book on a subject that is desperately overlooked. Those with Asperger’s, and others who seek to assist them, will be able to gain a greater understanding of the particular difficulties that this group of individuals face. I believe that this book will help to reduce that alienation that some people can feel and help them understand why they experience anxiety in different areas of their lives.
Nick has managed to use his insights to write a practical book to provide the reader with CBT based approaches that will set those with Asperger’s on the path of a less stressful and, hopefully, more successful life. I would recommend this book to others, particularly on the basis that it provides good self-help to those who want to make changes to their lives.
Jessica Kingsley; 2009; Pb £13.99
Reviewed by Emily Hooper, who is a Counselling Psychologist, Lufton College of FE

Criminal Psychology
Francis Pakes & Suzanne Pakes

This introductory text in criminal psychology provides a broad overview for students who are seeking to understand the salient issues when working across forensic settings. The book is aimed mainly at higher education students, although it could also be useful for both clinical and forensic psychology trainees who want an accessible preparatory text.
The book is clearly laid out in an accessible format with salient details included in separate boxes for quick reference. The information provided includes the causes of crime, consideration of potential psychological contribution to police work, and treatment options for sexual offenders. To exemplify each chapter there is inclusion of case studies and key research findings.  The book also usefully provides exercises for students to undertake which will examine their understanding of the presented information, further developing their thinking.
For those who may wish to consider a career in this field, various psychologists describe their working roles in prisons, secure units and with the police and probation service, which provides a interesting insight into the types of jobs available within this field.
Willan Publishing; 2009; Pb £14.99
Reviewed by Amy McKee, who is a Clinical Psychologist, Edenfield Centre, Manchester

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