Book reviews

Including how brain science is changing our world; Straits and Narrow; Fundamentals of Psychology; Working with Ethnicity, Race and Culture in Mental Health; and more, including web extras

Mindfield: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World
Lone Frank
Oneworld; 2009; Pb £9.99 

Lone Frank’s thesis is that we are at the dawn of a ‘neurorevolution’, where discoveries in brain sciences will turn upside-down our understanding of topics like economics, happiness, advertising and even morality. This neurorevolution will affect the very core of our beliefs about what it means to be human, argues Frank. But she is no mere armchair pundit. In nine chapters she tours the world, meeting researchers who can introduce her, and thus us, to blossoming fields of inquiry.

Frank travels to Canada to have her brain magnetically stimulated in an attempt to see God (it sort of works), has her brain scanned in California (where an expert in mirror neurons tells her she has a cute corpus callosum) and shops in Oxford for a package deal on an fMRI ‘neuromarketing’ study of brand effectiveness (a bargain at £55,000?).

Frank argues that ‘by exposing human nature, neuroscience makes us able to transcend and rise above it’. Just as Freudian concepts have altered the language of society, so now we are at the dawn of a ‘neurosociety’, with a new conception of human nature informed by neuroscience. Through biology, we will realise our freedom from biology (‘We have no fixed essence of identity’).

Frank’s prose is clear and direct. There is enough of her humour and personal story throughout to keep the reader engaged, but never so much as to obscure the story she is telling about neuroscience. This is an excellent outsider’s introduction to some very interesting and important research areas, but I believe Frank has over-egged the neuropudding.There will be no neurorevolution. I believe books like this are the high-water mark of neurohype; we should now expect a backlash. The topics these neuroscientists are addressing are truly deep and complex; knots that no brain scan can cut. The humanities have accumulated a wealth of genuine wisdom and experience that will not be overturned by neuroscience.

Yes, neuroscience has an important contribution to make, but our conceptions of ourselves – as moral agents, in law, in striving for happiness – are not so impoverished that they can be overturned by a coloured graphic of a scanned brain. Much of Frank’s revolution is old-fashioned experimental psychology, and it is here that hard work in understanding the mechanisms of thoughts, feelings and motivations will yield immediately tangible insights. Without good psychology, brain scans just take knowledge away from the human level and into an esoteric neuroanatomical world. Answering why we feel the way we do, make the choices we make and want the things we want requires a lot more than just locating where these mental objects might arise in the brain. Neuroscience needs to partner with, not overthrow, psychology and the broad church of the humanities.

Reviewed by Tom Stafford who is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Sheffield

Straits and Narrow
Grace McClurg
Monsoon Books; 2008; Pb £10.99

In this novel Rachel, a newly qualified forensic psychologist, embarks on a three-month tour of South-East Asia with her seemingly incompatible boyfriend. After meeting another potential suitor, she finds herself with a murder on her hands and a boyfriend about to hang. This leads the heroine to some serious introspection: If she can’t tell which of the two men in her life is a cold-blooded killer, should she be embarking on a career working with the criminal mind?

Many of us are attracted to the study of psychology because of a fascination with the narratives of others. Here, McClurg puts her thousands of hours of forensic clinical experience into the telling of a romantic holiday murder-mystery with a seriously dark underbelly, yet told with engaging, quirky humour.

The psychology jokes are particularly enjoyable.
This unusual concept of chick-lit meets Irvin Yalom via Agatha Christie makes for an intriguing holiday read.

Reviewed by Jacqui Marson
who is a chartered counselling psychologist in London

Fundamentals of Psychology
Michael W. Eysenck
Psychology Press; 2009; Pb £27.50

Eysenck is one of the best known psychologists in Europe and perhaps the best known A-level psychology writer, and this book has seemed a long time coming for fans of his clear, authoritative style. This introductory reference text is well laid out with a variety of photographs and cartoons ensuring that the book is accessible to the intended audience – those new to academic psychology, specifically those at undergraduate level.

Eysenck is known for his use of examples and personal experience, and this text does not disappoint. This work utilises both some of the most quoted research in psychology, including Bandura’s Bobo doll, but also educates the reader with recent research including work on template theory.

Personally, I find it frustrating that Eysenck uses American spellings despite being British, however this book serves its purpose well; providing those new to psychology with a concise, informative text on theories and research, a succinct glossary and three chapters on research methods covering everything from measures of dispersion through to how to write a psychology report. As if we expected anything less.

Working with Ethnicity, Race and Culture in Mental Health: A Handbook for Practitioners
Hari Sewell  
Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2009; Pb £18.99

Every practitioner working in multicultural mental health services in the UK should find this book indispensable as it uncovers the importance of preconceived biases when working with service users from black and minority ethnic groups. Though the writing style is didactic and prescriptive, the recommendations are based on grounded research findings that emphasise changes that need to take place. Both from personal and managerial standpoints, the author forces the reader not to turn a blind eye to individual and institutional racism.

Sewell engages his audience in self-awareness by using examples based on mundane practice. The chapters are terse but accurate, and therefore can be seen as a summative piece of the current state of knowledge in relation to the multi-ethnic service-user groups in mental health. But if the reader is looking for an international perspective or policy analysis this is not the book to start with.

The main strength of this read is that it is reflective of the current British patient cohort and as a result provides up-to-date practical knowledge to delivering and achieving to race equality.

Reviewed by Huda Shalhoub
who is in the Department of Psychology, Brunel University

Bad Science
Ben Goldacre
Fourth Estate; 2008; Pb £12.99

If you too grimace at those scare-mongering psycho-babble headlines or ads for ‘intelligence’-enhancing games, then this is the book you’ll want all your less sceptical friends (and everyone else) to read. Known for his Guardian column, Goldacre critically appraises numerous dubious scientific ‘facts’ from several disciplines, including psychology.

Goldacre considers why people don’t seek out evidence and take what is presented as fact, and explores the role of the media in perpetuating this. He questions, for example, why British schoolchildren are taught, via the Brain Gym programme, that rubbing ‘the brain buttons’ on their chests improves brain performance. Goldacre discusses the placebo effect, the need for controlled experiments, statistics and ethics.

Goldacre is passionate, engaging and humourous, yet educational also. This is a book for every reader, from the psychology student needing to learn more critical tools, to the astute cynic who wonders why people believe such quackery to begin with.

Reviewed by Fidelma Butler
who is an occupational psychologist in training

The Visual World in Memory
James R. Brockmole (Ed.)
Psychology Press; 2009; Hb

This book offers a collection of chapters authored by the leaders of the field in current visual memory research. From memory for real-world scenes by Andrew Hollingworth, to expectancies, emotion and memory reports for visual events, by Deborah Davis and Elizabeth Loftus, this book encompasses a breadth of research whilst offering detailed analyses of current research directions and findings of each distinctive research strand. For this reason, the book would appeal not only to academics in search of current detailed analyses and discussions, but also to students requiring a breadth of information.

Edited by James Brockmole, this book examines the way in which we remember what we have previously seen, with a particular focus on how specific advances in technology, such as eyetracking, virtual reality and neuroimaging, have changed the face of visual memory research in recent years. It begins with an in-depth discussion of the nature of visual and spatial working memory, moving on to visual memory for features, faces and scenes, followed by considerations of the role of memory in real-world tasks, and concluding with a chapter concerned with recent neuroimaging advances in visual mental imagery.

What makes this book particularly interesting is the way in which it brings together the many strands of visual memory research in a concise and relevant manner. This book manages to present the most up to date research available in one single resource, something which has unfortunately been lacking in the visual cognition literature to date.

Reviewed by Helen Henshaw who is a PhD student at the University of Leicester

Web only Book Reviews

Therapeutic Relationships with Offenders:  An Introduction to the Psychodynamics of Mental Health Nursing
Anne Ayiegbusi & Jennifer Clarke-Moore (Eds.)
Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2009; Pb £21.84

This book is about developing successful therapeutic relationships with forensic patients using the   psychodynamic approach.

The chapters are written by different authors with excellent uses of case studies as examples. However, the authors seem enveloped in the psychodynamic approach and fail to acknowledge instances where another approach is predominant, for example the effect that labelling the ‘forensic’ or ‘dangerous’ patient has in influencing nurses’ attitudes and behaviours.  Instead the authors employ far-fetched analogies.
The mistakes of forensic nurses are noted throughout, rather than cases where nurses’ experiences and insights have been effective. Better practice is only acknowledged after supervision and reflection. 
Considering the number of authors there is limited breadth and the content is repetitive, for example there is a separate chapter for male and female forensic patients but the content is essentially the same!  All the chapters send the same message, use the same methods and come to the same conclusions.

Despite these shortcomings I feel each chapter could be a good learning and revision tool as it is simple, concise and repeats the essential elements throughout.  

Reviewed by Ciara Wild, who is a research assistant at the Metanoia Institute

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