Book reviews

A selection from the June issue, plus online extras.

A compelling view of what makes us violent

Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships

Alan Page Fiske & Tage Shakti Rai (Foreword by Steven Pinker)

One of the most frequently asked questions in psychology is ‘What motivates humans to commit violence against each other?’. Fiske and Rai’s virtuous violence theory (VVT) is an intriguing and compelling take on answering this question. Their hypothesis is ‘…most violence is morally motivated. Morality is about regulating social relationships and violence is one way to regulate relationships.’ Initially it would appear difficult to understand how violence could be seen as moral.  When considered in the light of a relational models framework, supported by of a wealth of ethnographic cases, historical examples and classical literature, the argument is both powerful and persuasive.

By their nature the examples and discussions of violence are quite graphic, covering some difficult areas (rape, torture and initiation rites, including FGM). However, the fact that the authors do not avoid these areas and can demonstrate the applicability of VVT to make sense of the motivations behind these actions shows the utility of their hypothesis.

The first few chapters outlining the theory’s applicability raised some questions. There is a short dividing piece at this point where authors delineate the first half of the book as considering the easy questions, where motivation for violence and understanding how VVT applies is fairly black and white. The second half is then introduced as intending to both answer some of the questions raised and focus on the harder questions, where in the abstract VVT makes sense, but the cases can be harder to view objectively.

The authors state upfront that they do not condone violence; they are keen to clarify that the discussions and examples included are for illustrative purposes and that they feel all violence to be immoral. The later chapters of the book reinforce this, demonstrating how VVT can be applied in the real world not only to understand violence but how its incidence can be reduced, using examples from American gang culture. The last chapter progresses further, suggesting a number of questions for future researchers in this area, including expanding on the theory itself, and providing some intriguing food for thought. While one book can’t expect to fully answer such a broad question as ‘What motivates humans to commit violence?’, this one certainly provides a large piece of the puzzle.

Cambridge University Press; 2014; Pb £16.99
Reviewed by Louise Beaton who is an Open University psychology graduate


Who guards the guardians?

The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership

Dennis Tourish

Within the book’s 11 chapters, Tourish collates research on transformational leadership providing a wealth of information that progresses into suggestions for new ways of thinking about leadership. There are three sections: the first looks at the theoretical aspect of transformational leadership, the second provides case studies of the effects of un-monitored leaders whose decisions have not been questioned by others, and the third section looks at other ways of perceiving leadership.

Extending upon previous articles he has written, Tourish writes in a style that invokes interest and a desire to know more. He clearly has a depth of knowledge and has undertaken qualitative analysis of interview scripts examining the spoken themes of some of the bankers involved in the banking crisis. It is extremely readable and creates a spotlight upon the dangers of having unregulated power and the negative impact this has on employees, organisations and society.

At the end of each chapter there are discussion points that are suitable for lecturers to use with their students, making it an ideal educational book, but they are also helpful as general thinking points for any reader. It is typically an occupational psychology subject but it is highly relevant to all interested in the impact of leadership on organisations.

The final chapter proposes alternative ways of thinking about leadership, looking at the social systems in which leaders reside. Successful organisations are not just the result of one person and require collaboration rather than control. Tourish’s thinking seems to be synonymous with that of Abraham Lincoln, who wanted people around him with opposing views, who were not afraid to speak their minds to formulate stronger decisions.

Routledge; 2014; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Elizabeth Carter who is a Chartered Psychologist currently working at the University of South Wales


Depth, strength and potential

Positive Psychology in Search for Meaning

Dmitry A. Leontiev (Ed.)

Positive Psychology in Search for Meaning, edited by Dmitry A. Leontiev, is a collection of academic works collated to explore the concept of meaning within the larger field of positive psychology. These papers were originally published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, in November, 2013. Positive psychology and ‘meaning’ are introduced as two increasingly relevant concepts in modern psychological research.

The central theme of meaning is outlined as a connector of disparate interpretations, being both rigorously academic and flexibly humanistic. Leontiev argues that the search for meaning within human experiences is an old one, and that the multitudes of traditional theories that spar with it (Freudian, post-Freudian, Vygotskian, post-Vygotskian) all obscure any clarity in definition for modern researchers. Collectively, the assembled works aim to build a modern concept of ‘meaning’ and integrate it within the current psychological lexicon.
This is achieved by first exploring the nature of personal meaning, and the importance of individual consideration and wider multifaceted characteristics of any interpretation of such. The title then leads the reader through the qualities of meaning within the human experience (including the role of intuition and motivation), draws a clear distinction between ‘meaning’ and ‘happiness’, before outlining measurement tools to aid future research.  Overall, these chapters lay a solid foundation that demonstrates the depth, strength and potential prevalent under this research topic.

Positive Psychology in Search for Meaning reads and flows well, harnessing a structure that compels further reading with an interlocking and complementary approach to chapter organisation. The title follows the convention of academic journal writing and is well supported by empirical evidence, yet remains largely accessible, to the credit of the writers. The text is most suited for those with a background understanding of positive psychology and interest in wider philosophical questions of the human experience – but is equally accessible to curious newcomers to the field. An interesting interpretation of established and modern psychological principles.

Routledge; 2015; Hb £90.00
Reviewed by Rory McDonald who is a researcher and writer at the University of Central Lancashire


Timely and welcome

Processing Inaccurate Information: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives from Cognitive Science and the Educational Sciences

David N. Rapp & Jason L.G. Braasch (Eds.)

This thoroughly informative book focuses on the topic of inaccurate information among the current state of research in the areas of language, memory and education. It strongly encourages the notion of interdisciplinary research, trying to bridge the gap between the cognitive and educational sciences in this field, and I believe it succeeds in doing so.  

The 19 chapters in the book describe almost every conceivable angle on the topic, written by 40 contributors worldwide and not only covering the various theoretical perspectives, but also highlighting the diversified methodological approaches in a profound effort to bring together related research from different fields. By doing so, it provides a valuable and up-to-date resource for anyone working in the area of misinformation and knowledge acquisition.

Some chapters describe the behavioural consequences of relying on misinformation. A particularly good contribution was on correcting misinformation and the challenges for education and cognitive science. This situated research on inaccurate information among contemporary debates such as the misinformed link between autism and the MMR vaccine, and its ‘continued influence effect’ on memory. There was also an excellent section on the variety of epistemological perspectives on misinformation.

What I found most informative about the book were the detailed frameworks of when and how inaccuracies would lead to difficulties in comprehension and, always
in an effort to try and link the areas of cognitive and educational sciences, the possible routes of remediation and intervention.

I would say the main endeavour of this book is to highlight the importance of acknowledging the significance of misconceptions in learning and knowledge acquisition, which the editors argue many studies have tended to ignore. It offers both an informed take on the theoretical and empirical perspectives, but also on the consequences of inaccuracies in information for knowledge acquisition. In this sense it is both timely and welcome.

MIT Press; 2014; Hb £34.95
Reviewed by Zayba Ghazali who is a PhD student at University College London


Highly recommended

Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders

Aaron T. Beck, Denise D. Davis & Arthur Freeman (Eds.)

This is the third edition of the widely used practitioner resource and builds well upon previous editions. It clearly describes common presentations and conceptualisations of 12 specific personality disorders, and provides detailed descriptions of clinical interventions, using case illustrations.

The authors extend the chapters on clinical interventions with comments on treatment goals, lifespan or developmental considerations, termination issues, common challenges in working with each disorder and tips for clinician self-care. Chapters on clinical interventions have been refreshed to integrate newer developments in the field of cognitive behavioural therapy that are relevant to personality disorders: motivational interviewing, mindfulness, values clarification, schema role plays and other experiential exercises. Importantly, the authors add
a chapter on clinical management, which acknowledges the challenges people with personality disorder commonly present to mental health teams and ways to address these. This adds a systemic perspective, crucial to the effectiveness of therapy. Put together, these additions provide a comprehensive resource for both experienced and less experienced clinicians, and is highly recommended.

Guilford Press; 2014; Hb £36.99
Reviewed by Dr Nina Memarnia who is a clinical psychologist with Haringey East Community Support and Recovery Team



Evaluating the emotions philosophically

Emotion and Value

Sabine Roeser & Cain Todd (Eds.)                                                                                                               

This volume, edited by Sabine Roeser and Cain Todd, presents an extensive philosophical scrutiny of issues at the intersection of emotion and value. Its inspiration arose from the convergence and lively philosophical interest on such issues in three almost overlapping conferences, as well as the global interest in affect and emotion. The editors assert the important epistemological role of emotions in granting access to values as ‘emotions uniquely provide (or purport to provide) direct experiential acquaintance with evaluative states of affairs. Their distinctive phenomenal character, bodily feelings, valence, motivational pull, and world directed intentionality, all serve to connect us, as it were, directly with the evaluative world’ (p.3).

The chapters draw on the disciplines of the philosophy of mind, the emotions, phenomenology and/or morals. Due to word limits, I will not foray into the description of each chapter, but this volume is structured in three parts: Part I precludes the role of emotions in grasping the nature of value, discussing issues of perception, representation of value as well as emotional phenomenology; Part II is concerned with the general epistemology of emotions, especially concerning the justificatory role emotions may play vis-à-vis evaluative judgements, grounding evaluative knowledge and justifying the appropriateness of specific emotional responses; finally, Part III illustrates the psychological aspects of emotions, in the evaluation and experience of the self.

Even though this work sets an example of an elaborate discussion of emotions and value, it is probably too philosophically versed for a psychologically inclined audience.

Oxford University Press; 2014; Hb £40.00

Reviewed by Dr Georgios Kesisoglou, who is in the Department of Psychology, Akmi Metropolitan College, Greece


‘Sergei believes he’s mad, society does not’

Madness Cracked

Mick Power

Replete with relevant cases, full of insight, Power proposes a reformation of classification and diagnosis through the SPAARS model – originally developed to understand emotion using five basic emotions (sound familiar?) and their possible coupled/blended derivatives, Power deftly extends the model to incorporate Drive, Emotion, and Cognition as primary systems, offering a synergistic understanding of the relationship between these systems within behaviour and diagnostic categories.

Once past an informative historical analysis of ‘madness’, a thorough theoretical background for the SPAARS approach follows, before mapping a drive-emotion-cognition (DEC) profile across an expanse of psychological disorders; a chapter dedicated to each system and its primary disorders, considered in relation to each subsidiary system, alongside noteworthy research. It reads as a balanced argument against the fundamentally atheoretical nature of classification and its tacit usage in other therapeutic approaches. Theory was the impetus altering the periodic table, the arbiters of classification and diagnosis should follow suit.

Power emphasises synergy and the subjective/societal constructive processes that augment objective symptoms, enabling existential ‘madness’ to exist. Madness Cracked indeed cracks and fragments madness into potentially testable, theory-driven parts, and feels like the necessary catalyst for a more unified diagnostic framework.

Thus, Sergei’s contradictory construction, Power says, can only be understood via the interplay of subjective, societal, and objective processes for which, much like biological, cognitive and emotional doctrines, no one approach will suffice.

Oxford University Press; 2015; Hb £29.99

Reviewed by Qamar Scott MBPsS


Trying to reinvent the wheel?

Overcoming Insomnia: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach (Therapist Guide and Workbook)

Jack D. Edinger & Colleen E. Carney

These two books (a therapist guide and client workbook) provide an easy to read guide to CBT treatment for insomnia.

The books are set out in a straightforward and concise format, so are very accessible. The workbook, which is written to be used as pure self-help or as part of therapy, guides the reader through stages of treatment. The therapist manual is more detailed, providing a brief literature review and overview of different insomnia measures, as well as a chapter on pre-treatment assessment. This is incredibly useful for guidance on how to conduct a full insomnia assessment.

The treatment section of the book feels like it is trying to reinvent the wheel. For those trained in CBT the strategies are nothing new (sleep restriction and hygiene; worry management and cognitive restructuring). However, this does not render the book useless. It provides examples of how to bring clients on board with difficult aspects of treatment, such as spending less time in bed and a simple guide to sleep restriction, which focuses on the easier concept of time spent in bed, rather than sleep efficiency.

The books tailors the more general CBT strategies specifically to sleep very effectively and enable the reader to think about these strategies explicitly in relation to sleep. Throughout the therapist manual excellent use is made of case studies and exemplar worksheets to aid understanding of the strategies and rationale. This is particularly well used in the troubleshooting section, bringing difficulties with treatment of insomnia to life.

Although at times slightly US-centric, for clinicians who are CBT-novices or who lack confidence in insomnia work these books provide an excellent starting point and session-by-session breakdown of treatment. However, if you are expecting groundbreaking new ideas for how CBT can help overcome insomnia, you will be disappointed.  

Oxford University Press; 2015; Pb £25.99

Reviewed by Zoe Tweedale, who is a psychological wellbeing practitioner


Speaking for themselves

Inside Children’s Minds

Valerie Yule (Ed.)

Inside Children’s Minds is a collection of stories children have told to, or drawn for, the book’s editor Valerie Yule during her time spent as a child psychologist working in Australian and British schools, hospitals and clinics from the 1970s to the 1990s. 

Yule recommends dipping in and out of the book to ‘savour’ each short story, rather than reading it in one sitting. Indeed, the fragmented nature of the book lends itself to this bite-sized approach. It’s structured according to the themes that occur from children’s storytelling, and includes stories from socially disadvantaged, handicapped and migrant children. 

Yule gives us a summary of the significance of each cluster of stories and offers some insight into the storytellers’ backgrounds. The reader may wish to know more about the children, how Yule came to work with each of them, and the context surrounding their storytelling; however, a strength of this book is that the children’s stories are able to speak for themselves, unstifled by over-interpretation. 

It may appeal to parents and anyone working with children or young people.

Bookpal; 2014; Pb £12.80

Reviewed by Dr Ria Poole who is a health psychologist and Research Associate/Trial Manager with DECIPHer, Cardiff University




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