Reviews

terrorist’s creed; My Mad Fat Diary; Les Misérables; How to Build a Bionic Man; and apps, radio, and more in our broader section

Are terrorists conservative?

It is hard for psychologists to reconcile the apparently irrational and ideologically driven violence with what they claim to know about humanity generally. Terrorists are repeatedly found sane, so psychopathological expertise is not particularly helpful for understanding the behaviour. Massacre-suicides (such as the recent killing of 26 persons by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut) are rather more explicable (if not predicted or controlled) by what we know about forensic mental health. When trying to understand ideologically driven violence, we have to go beyond cognitive black boxes, neuroscientific over-simplification, and generic personality traits into a context far more challenging and threatening to contemporary psychologists: the humanities.

Roger Griffin’s admirably brief book provides a compelling historical and political overview of ideologically driven terrorist violence. He argues terrorists are essentially idealist conservatives reacting violently to their way of life (and/or ideology) being threatened by the forces of modernisation. Rather than adapting (most people embrace positive change, seek to make the best of the inevitable, and avoid conflict), proto-terrorists reject compromise, and zealously defend their cultural milieu from the influences of the enemy.

Critically, terrorists see people voluntarily adapting to social change as treacherous, which makes them legitimate targets of violence. The terrorist uses violence to discourage open acceptance and adaptation to modernist developments, or to destroy symbols of modernism. Thus it is that well-intentioned relief, health and educational workers are murdered in tribal north-western Pakistan by persons claiming to represent Al-Qaeda; Boku Haram attack schools in northern Nigeria; and, common to all terrorist movements, bombs are placed in shopping streets or target commuters who show complicity with the enemy by not supporting the terrorist’s struggle.

Griffin notes the conceptual continuity between religious and political zealotry; his earlier work on modern European fascist movements with their conflating of nationalism and idealised collective authoritarianism is put to good use when considering Anders Breivik’s rationalised violence, which epitomises making war on one’s peers when they reject your ideology. He emphasises you don't have to base your world-view on supernatural entities to polarise the world into Manichean good or bad. Finding a potential apocalypse strangely exciting as a way of enabling humanity (the right sort of humanity to you, that is) to have a fresh start also appeals to idealists of all extremes; both views can be seen in the Guardian’s ‘Comment if Free’ blog as much as in the Daily Telegraph’s equivalent.

The frequency of extremist views at both ends of the political spectrum suggests a potential for violence-supported ideology in many who will never plant a bomb or fire a gun. Griffin recognises this, and it leads to his conclusion that we need to understand the deeper causes of such views. He suggests our efforts to understand terrorism are, paradoxically, hindered by Western intellectual values; we seek to secularise and rationalise religious (and quasi-religious) beliefs; we assume persons wish to eschew strongly orthodox forms of religion, that they want democracy, that they want moderation, and that they want to move from collectivist to individualistic cultures with Western degrees of liberty. We deny the literal violence of the major belief systems, preferring to see them as metaphors rather than the statement of literal power and certainty they represent. Secular-humanist preconceptions held by Western liberal intellectuals about the world preclude understanding the visceral basis of terrorism, just as they sometimes fail to comprehend the rise of popular far-right nationalism in Europe.

Any psychologist interested in terrorism and violence should read Griffin’s book.

Palgrave Macmillan; 2012; Hb £25.00
Reviewed by Dr Vincent Egan who is Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Leicester 


The blunt reality of a teenage life
My Mad Fat Diary
e4 

My Mad Fat Diary explores the real-life diaries of Rae Earl. Recently discharged from a psychiatric ward 16-year-old Rae welcomes the audience to ‘the social train wreck that is my life’. The series takes you on her rollercoaster journey of self-discovery and pursuit of normality. From questioning the direction of a friendship to discovering her femininity, and battling with the exposure of her mental health difficulties, Rae does not hold back in giving you the blunt reality; and sometimes slightly cringe-worthy details of her life.

What captures you as a watcher is the sheer rawness in which the content of the series is shown, the real-life element makes some of the events very relatable to everyone and therefore entices the viewer to continue following Rae’s narrative. For example, I’m sure we have all had those moments of vulnerability or embarrassment where you wish the ground would swallow you up.

Although the series has humorous connotations, which contributes to its entertainment value, it does respectfully and sensitively, yet subtly, educate the watcher on mental health issues and health implications such as obesity. Seeing such difficulties in a real-life experience may help to normalise mental health for the watcher and hopefully encourage someone with similar difficulties to seek advice.

e4; 10pm Mondays. My Mad Fat Diaries by Rae Earl (published by Hodder) is available in paperback and eBook.

Reviewed by Kimberley Keane who is an assistant psychologist


Feeling anxious? It’s probably normal
All We Have To Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders
Allan V. Horwitz & Jerome C. Wakefield

The underlying message within this book is that fear and anxiety have formed an integral and healthy component of our ability to survive for millennia. The authors draw on a variety of disciplines to critically review the seemingly ever-increasing prevalence of anxiety disorders and the inadequacy of current diagnostic methods to distinguish between normal and pathological anxiety.The authors also provide an extensive critique of past methods used to distinguish anxiety disorders, alongside potential future alterations suggested for the hotly anticipated arrival of the DSM-5 in May. While slightly repetitive in places, this book provides a wealth of interesting insights into the most prevalent anxiety disorders, including specific and social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder, OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder. It also provides a rich overview into the history of anxiety disorders, their prevalence amongst different populations and how pharmaceutical companies have modified how we view anxiety and what constitutes ‘normal’.
This book poses a number of challenging conceptual and practical questions for psychiatry and will be of interest to clinicians and researchers alike.

Oxford University Press; 2012; Hb £18.99
Reviewed by Jack Cotter who is a Research Assistant at the University of Sheffield


Turn off the music!

More or LessWord of Mouth
BBC Radio 4

Psychologists are often divided into those who ‘do numbers’ (quantitative oriented) or those who ‘do words’ (qualitative oriented). Again, as mentioned in a previous Psychologist, Radio 4 wins the day for content and coverage in terms of radio relevant to psychologists. But it isn’t just All in the Mind that should be listened to by psychologists. Two programmes that should appeal to both of these sides are More or Less and Word of Mouth.

More or Less (see www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd) focuses on the use of numbers and statistics in general (as opposed to just of psychological interest), yet I find each episode usually contains many references to the psychological use of numbers (or words as numbers) and always improves my understanding of the use of statistics. When it comes to words, Word of Mouth (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qtnz), presented by the ever lovely Michael Rosen, always expands my mind in terms of the changing nature of discourse and word usage in everyday life.

Both of these enhance my psychological understanding of the world around me and as such I think should be regular listens (or podcasts in my case). Go on, turn off the music and turn on the words and numbers – it’s good for you, and you will feel better because of it.

IReviewed by Paul Redford, UWE Bristol


The descent into obsessive compulsive disorder
The War Inside
National Film Board of Canada

My eldest son is about to turn nine. So watching this film (www.nfb.ca/film/ocd_war_inside), including the sudden and rapid descent into obsessive compulsive disorder of a nine-year-old boy, I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I expect you will too, whatever your situation. As an insight into how scary OCD can be for the sufferer and their families, this is excellent and educational fare.

It’s not a promising start… all whizzing in through the eye to buzzing neurons and scary images. But the testimony from those afflicted with the disorder is simple and effective. To be perfectly honest, of all disorders I have always found it hardest to understand and empathise with OCD. In the excellent Channel 4 series The Undateables, I struggled to root for the OCD sufferer. Yet in this film, there are so many individuals so obviously traumatised and baffled by their own actions that the viewer inevitably gets a new insight into the condition.

Again, being honest, I couldn’t watch more than half of it. It's 70 minutes long and I was finding it thoroughly depressing. But if you or your students are studying OCD and could do with a really clear insight into ‘the war inside’, you could do a lot worse.

The site in general is a useful resource, with other psychology-related films including Borderline, a 1956 tale of emotional adjustment in adolescence, and the splendidly titled The Hasty Man Drinks His Tea with a Fork, about people caught up in the turmoil of the modern world.

 Reviewed by Jon Sutton who is Managing Editor of The Psychologist

An arresting read

A Psychologist’s Casebook of Crime: From Arson to Voyeurism
Belinda Winder & Philip Banyard (Eds.)

So the dust has settled, and the crime report is in. But why did it happen, and what can we do about it? Winder and Banyard’s text examines the causes and effects of, and responses to, various types of crime. Their work presents the offences in a straightforward A-to-Z format (or rather A-to-V, with a few skipped in the middle, as it’s actually quite difficult to think of an offence for every letter of the alphabet). For each entry some background is given about the offence and how it is dealt with, followed by typical offender and victim characteristics and a discussion of the psychological issues.

I was slightly concerned that, given the subject matter, the text would take either a dry and austere tone or a populist and lightweight one. I am, though, pleased to say that none of those characteristics apply to this book. It is a serious attempt to inject an evidence base into debates about crime, with each chapter providing a thoughtful and well-informed discussion about the featured offence. Yet, it manages to do this in a way that remains engaging and accessible. I particularly like the way in which it integrates research insights with the practicalities of dealing with crime.

The editors have done a sterling job in pulling together contributions from a multidisciplinary pool of authors and arranging their work in a consistent style. One point that I would raise though is that, because the chapters are organised according to specific offences, some effort is required on the reader’s part to cross-reference the psychological topics that appear throughout the book.

A Psychologist’s Casebook of Crime is aimed primarily at forensic psychology students who require a comprehensive introductory text. However, I would also recommend it to anyone else who is involved in criminal justice work.

Palgrave Macmillan; 2012; Pb £26.99
Reviewed by Denham Phipps who is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester


Love and loss
Les Misérables
Tom Hooper (Director)

Les Misérables is a staged musical with a long run and a long show. The recent filmic reworking kept absolutely faithful to songs and storyline, editing hardly anything. As a result, Les Misérables is also a long film, but an emotionally engaging one. Many shots were filmed in extreme close up, and actors sang their lines ‘live’ rather than dubbing over, perhaps to try to capture some of the rawness which comes across in the stage production. When I went to see it there was audible crying in the audience.

The story of Les Misérables contains many themes that are familiar fodder for psychological exploration and therapy. Most striking to me was the theme of love and loss, from multiple perspectives: parental, romantic, unrequited and brotherly love were all represented and loss explored in different ways, most often through death but sometimes also through abandonment.

The lyrics that illustrated this theme best were those in a song about the youths who died in the barricades, but which could be about any grief or loss. The image used is that of an empty chair and table – that idea of the place set for a lost loved one, or as used in some grief therapies, the empty chair symbolising the person who is no longer present: ‘There's a grief that can't be spoken/There’s a pain goes on and on/Empty chairs at empty tables/Now my friends are dead and gone.’ Later in the song the idea of survivor’s guilt crops up:  ‘That
I live and you are gone/There's a grief that can't be spoken/There's a pain goes on and on.’ Maybe one of the reasons for this show’s longevity and current cinematic revival is the enduring nature of the theme of loss for humankind.

It is also perhaps no coincidence that this story is being reworked at this particular time. Not only is the universal theme of love and loss there, but also the theme of social injustice. We may not be facing a social uprising, but in the current economic and political climate we are experiencing growing figures of youth unemployment and ongoing yet under-reported cuts to public services. Watching the scenes of deprivation on Parisian streets made me think of the people who even in our privileged society today have to struggle to afford food and clothing and who in some cases remain miserable and unsupported.
Overall I thought that the film was well-done. The singing was admirable, the acting was good and the use of close-up mixed with street tableaux was beautiful. A cinematic spectacle which is likely to resonate at some level, whether or not you are a die-hard ‘Les Mis’ fan.

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

Entertaining and educational
Asylum Bound
Stuart Townsend

This book tells the true story of the author’s personal journey through psychiatric nursing training during the late seventies. Falling into nursing by chance rather than desire, Townsend provides an enlightening insight into the realities of working within a mental institution, culminating in the personal realisation that this is the career for him.

In great detail and with disturbing honesty he describes the history of asylums, the medications and treatments used within them, and the sometimes-comical antics of both staff and patients. Overall, the book is entertaining and educational; for anyone with an interest in psychiatry, this is a must-read.

P&B Publishing; 2012; Pb £7.99
Reviewed by Victoria R. Kroll who is a postgraduate researcher at Nottingham Trent University

 

Beneficial research impact

Research for the Public Good: Applying the Methods of Translational Research to Improve Human Health and Well-being
Elaine Wethington & Rachel E. Dunifon (Eds.)

As researchers, we are constantly asking ourselves ‘Will my research have any impact on current policy and practice?’

This book gives a comprehensive overview of how we can ensure that the findings from our work are being applied in the real world. It also situates itself in the current debates of whether we can adopt a medical sciences model or whether we need to think of different ways of translating evidence in the social sciences. Recommendations include establishing two-way relationships with policy makers and thinking about the possible levels of research impact.

Here you will find many examples of successful case studies of translational research from maternity care through to developmental psychology. These examples come from small as well as large qualitative and quantitative studies, mainly from the American context, but the authors also draw on some recent developments in the UK.

Within the current funding climate this book feels very relevant and contributes to the debate surrounding different pathways of research impact. A recommended read for anyone who is seriously considering the practical implications of research.

American Psychological Association; 2012; Hb £59.50
Reviewed by Marta Wanat who is a PhD Researcher at Oxford Brookes University



Applying psychology
k2n Safety Zone

Kay Toon
This app, written by Chartered Psychologist Kay Toon, is for ‘people who are functioning well in their lives but sometimes feel out of control of their own emotions and behaviours’.

A range of techniques for managing anxiety and lifting mood are presented, alongside quotes and examples from real people who attended the Wakefield Psychology Service. These can be ‘favourited’ and added to a personal ‘safety zone’ for ease of access.

There’s quite a lot of reading – about the app, cautions and precautions etc. – before you get into the meat of what’s on offer, and in general the app feels quite text heavy. But there are integrated audio and video demonstrations of various techniques, and Kay tells me that ‘the great thing about digital is that you can keep updating it – I already have a list of improvements!’

She adds: ‘Developing the Safety Zone app has been exciting, and quite daunting. The biggest problems were finding a good app developer, and adapting to writing in a concise form for small screens. There has been great interest from therapists who think the app will be useful for their clients. Hopefully it will soon be accessed by the general public as well.’

It’s good to see psychologists taking advantage of the immediacy and popularity of the app format. I am sure offerings will continue to grow in sophistication as brave pioneers like Kay Toon grapple with what the technology has to offer!

iTunes £2.49   
Reviewed by Jon Sutton, Managing Editor


There isn’t a blood test to predict whether the woman is going to get mental health problems’
The Great Abortion Divide
Panorama, BBC One

On 4 February BBC One's Panorama focused on ‘The Great Abortion Divide’. Abortion was legalised in the UK 46 years ago, and last year 200,000 women had one – one of Western Europe’s highest rates. Across their lifetimes, one in three women will have an abortion, and over a third of women terminating a pregnancy have done so at least once before.

The programme tackled allegations that doctors in England and Wales are signing off terminations on questionable mental health grounds, with 98 per cent of abortions approved after two doctors sign a document that says the woman could face mental health risks if she continues with the pregnancy. This is despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists review from 2011, which concluded that women with an unwanted pregnancy faced the same mental health risks whether they had an abortion or not. Inevitably, Dr Peter Saunders from the Christian Medical Fellowship didn’t agree: ‘When a doctor knowingly and willingly puts his or her signature to a document saying something for which there isn’t actually any medical evidence base, then I believe that is not only immoral, it’s also illegal, it’s a form of perjury. If a woman says she doesn’t want to be pregnant, that is usually taken as a risk to her mental health.

Dr Clare Gerada (Royal College of General Practitioners) said:
‘I think it’s a realistic interpretation of the legislation. There isn’t
a blood test to predict whether the woman is going to get mental health problems, what we have is what the woman tells us.’ I would have liked to have seen more consideration of whether, in the absence of a blood test, there are at least psychological tests that trained professionals could deploy to get a more valid idea of the individual risks involved.

It’s clearly an area full of disparities, with the programme focusing on the Northern Ireland situation, where women and doctors risk prison over abortion. And despite the fact that just 1 per cent of abortions in the UK are carried out over 20 weeks of pregnancy, Nadine Dorries MP argued that it is not sustainable to have two rooms in a hospital, one with a ‘baby born at 20 weeks, prematurely, with the NHS throwing everything at it to save its life; in the other, a baby at 24 weeks being aborted’.
Reviewed by Jon Sutton, Managing Editor

* Editor's note: This review was amended on 28/2/13


Scrap-yard monster trashes programme
How to Build a Bionic Man
Channel 4 

The Swiss occupational psychologist Bertolt Meyer was ideally placed to present this documentary. Born with a missing hand and wrist, he sports a hi-tech bionic replacement that cost £30,000 two years ago. It’s a massive improvement on the hooks and plastic substitutes he grew up with, but when Meyer travelled to Johns Hopkins University to see the very latest prosthetic model, he was left speechless. That was the two-fold strength of this documentary. To see the remarkable technological progress – the new life-like, self-learning model was capable of 26 of the human hand’s 27 degrees of motion. And to witness the emotional impact of the technology on the people who can benefit from it.

Other inspirational cases included a man whose life was saved by a plastic, pneumatically driven pump inserted in place of his heart; a blind woman whose sight was partially restored by a retinal implant; and a nimble prosthetics researcher, specialising in ankles, who lifted his trouser legs to reveal two robotic legs of his own (he lost his bone and tissue versions in a climbing accident). As Meyer observed, the technology is awesome, and at times it felt like watching a documentary from the future.

There were also moments of psychological and philosophical reflection. The researcher with robot legs said he’d rather keep his prostheses than go back to his biological limbs. An ethicist wondered about a future in which people ask for their limbs to be removed so that they can be replaced by superior bionic substitutes. Meyer himself expressed unease when a replica of his own bionic arm was attached to a robot – ‘how can I not feel connected to it?’ he asked.

Which leads us on to the documentary’s fatal flaw. That ‘robot’, featuring Meyer’s hand, was the eponymous ‘bionic man’, and its construction served as a Frankentstein-themed narrative device. Each body part dealt with in the programme, from the heart to the retinal implant, was gradually botched together to create an entire synthetic version of Meyer, complete with a mask of his face.

Given the incredible technology featured in the programme, the embarrassing anti-climax was to see the utter uselessness of this doddering $1 million scrap-yard monster as it joined Meyer and others for a celebratory pint, which it duly dropped. Recalling the earlier revulsion that Meyer expressed at the sight of this daft creature, one can only wonder if this is because it sported his face and arm, or because it had spoiled his once-promising documentary.

Reviewed by Christian Jarrett, journalist for The Psychologist and editor of the Society’s Research Digest (www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog


Loving cartwheels
Ned the Neuron
iPad app £1.99

For psychologists wishing to indoctrinate their kids in neurobiology nice and early, there’s an ideal app for you. Ned the Neuron is a lively, colourful coming of age story about a motor cortex neuron with a love of cartwheels.

Written and produced by neuroscientist Erica Warp, the engaging narration can be turned off if preferred. For older children and undergrads, the app also features clickable definitions of basic anatomy terms, plus a few games, including brain anatomy snap.
- Reviewed by Christian Jarrett

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Sample book titles just in:
The Social Neuroscience of Education Louis Cozolino
Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology Christopher Peterson
The Social Psychology of Aggression Barbara Krahé
The Oxford Handbook of Leadership Michael G. Rumsey (Ed.)
The Sexualization of Girls and Girlhood: Causes, Consequences, and Resistance
Eileen L. Zurbriggen and Tomi-Ann Roberts (Eds.)
Working Memory: The Connected Intelligence Tracy Packiam Alloway and
Ross G. Alloway (Eds.)
The Oxford Handbook of Retirement Mo Wang
Between Mind and Nature: A History of Psychology Roger Smith
Little Box of Big Questions: Philosophical Conversations with Children and Young People Irvine Gersch and Anna Lipscomb

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