Reviews, November 2015

Books from our November issue.

Learning in a digital context
iPads in the Early Years
Michael Dezuanni, Karen Dooley, Sandra Gattenhof & Linda Knight

This book is very topical given the accessibility of technology for children and its growing use within different settings (e.g. schools and homes). Based on research in Australia, the authors have pulled together engaging and informative chapters transferable to wider settings that will appeal to teachers, parents, students and academics.   

Each chapter looks at a different method of using iPads within teaching from story making/storytelling to literacy and digital culture. Those using other tablet devices should not dismiss the book but think about the similarities and the transferability of the areas discussed. One of the central aims of using the iPads in the research discussed was ensuring they became embedded in teaching and were not just gimmicks. The book documents well how schools, teachers and children reacted to using the iPads as part of lessons, and how they were also able to help with engaging the home through the use of a school loan system.

Underlying the writing is reference to theory and pedagogical approaches. The authors present an honest account of the challenges of the research, discussing how adaptations to teaching were made/needed but also reporting the opportunities it created, which would not have been as accessible or possible without the use of iPads. The book concludes with five ‘digital basics’ to help people design learning for children. Overall there are many strengths to this book, but the price tag may impact the accessibility.

Routledge; 2015; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Dr Anna Mary Cooper, University of Salford


Facing facts
Forensic Facial Identification: Theory and Practice of Identification from Eyewitnesses, Composites and CCTV
Tim Valentine & Josh P. Davis (Eds.)

Although eye-witness testimony is highly prized in criminal/legal settings, anyone with a passing interest in the field will know we have a problem: we are not generally very good at remembering and identifying unfamiliar faces, and it is not that much better with familiar ones. This is partly because encoding a face is a highly imperfect and error-prone process. It is also because the techniques used to elicit witness descriptions or identify a suspect can make matters worse. This has significant implications for the lives and liberties of those involved, but it is not easily resolved.   

Forensic Facial Identification is part of Wiley’s book series addressing the psychology of crime, law and policing. This text is focused on contemporary forensic face research and its implications for theory, practice and implementation. It is edited by respected British psychologists Tim Valentine and Josh Davis, who draw together a good range of topics that include interviewing witnesses, problems and performance in line-ups, mug-shots and composite face construction, identification from CCTV by humans and computer systems, craniofacial analysis (which I loved) and the implications for psychology, law and government. Each chapter is a manageable size, informative and clear. There are handy examples, legal case studies and summary conclusions. I would have liked to see a bit more colour (all monochrome figures and images), but that is a minor issue, and the text is never dry.  

Forensic Facial Identification is an ideal source of reference for anyone interested in the field and would be an excellent primary text on an advanced course reading list.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2015; Pb £34.00
Reviewed by Dr Andrew K. Dunn, Nottingham Trent University


The plot thickens…
Suspicious Minds:
Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories
Rob Brotherton

Former Goldsmiths lecturer Rob Brotherton’s Suspicious Minds presents a textured and often surprising look into the fascinating world of conspiracy theories. A world so often described as dark and shady is shown to be much closer to home than we could have first imagined.

From the history of conspiracy theories in ancient Rome to the archetypal narratives of good and evil that are often at the heart of modern theories, the book takes one on a journey of understanding. We come to realise that the conspiracy-minded are not so different to us after all.

Brotherton also goes on, with fascinating examples of research and theories throughout, to outline the innate cognitive processes and biases that affect us all, but that also can play a role in cementing beliefs in such theories. We come away with the realisation that every one of us could benefit from the knowledge that we are useless at understanding why we believe what we do.

With potential links to violent extremism (though evidence for this is patchy) and their central role in the anti-vaccination movement, conspiracy theories themselves are not always the work of harmless kooks. Brotherton looks into what makes a person conspiracy-minded and outlines six factors to help define what a conspiracy theory is.

Looking into the narratives within conspiracy theories, Brotherton traces many back to classic stories of good overcoming evil. So many also include a central underdog, for example renegade scientists who claim vaccines cause autism or argue against the seriousness of HIV. These narratives, Brotherton says, resonate with us all.

In perhaps the most fascinating section of the book Brotherton points to innate cognitive processes that, while helping us understand the world around us, can distort our picture of reality. From our inherent desire to see patterns in a chaotic world, to attributing non-existent intentions to actors in our worlds, it becomes clear we can all be susceptible to (albeit necessary) cognitive shortcuts that can colour our personal world view.

Cognitive biases, too, are put under Brotherton’s microscope. He outlines research into the proportionality bias, where people expect big causes for big events, perhaps making official explanations for world events somehow unsatisfactory. Confirmation bias also has a probable role, making us only look to evidence that backs up our existing world view.

This excellently in-depth yet accessible book would be fascinating to psychologists and the general public alike. Looking at conspiracy theories, and those who believe them, reveals much about the workings of the human mind, as Brotherton puts it: ‘Conspiracy-thinking is ubiquitous, because it’s a product, in part, of how all of our minds are working all the time.’

Bloomsbury; 2015; Hb £16.99
Reviewed by Ella Rhodes who is staff journalist on The Psychologist


It’s not you’
Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control In Your Intimate Relationship
Lisa Aronson Fontes

Invisible chains’ tether us to family, jobs and home. This well-structured book describes how coercive control creates ‘invisible chains’ within intimate relationships. It defines coercive control via behaviours, such as degrading, micromanaging, abusing, punishing, stalking and isolating. It then uses a formulatory approach to highlight the life-long factors that might lead to the application or acceptance of coercive control.

The book’s outstanding feature is its nurturing of the reader through a journey of understanding, encouraging them to consider how perhaps seemingly innocuous strands of (an)other’s behaviour creates a rope binding them into a coerced existence. Readers’ experiences are validated through relevant sections and examples, so victims can identify that ‘it’s not me’, generally an implausible hypothesis when embroiled in an abusive relationship. The journey then extends into ending or remaining within the relationship, setting realistic targets for recovery and accepting future challenges – that is, responding within a new relationship.

It is expertly inclusive, with sections for LGBT and teenagers and uses empowering jargon-free language to aid victims to regain perspective. These strengths support its aim as a validating, informative self-help guide. The author’s broad clinical (and personal) experiences of coercive control within intimate relationships no doubt contribute to the readable style and the inclusion of a chapter on helping others, with pertinent questions for therapists to pose to themselves and patients.

The main drawback for me was the lack of academic referencing, but this is acceptable for a self-help guide. Beyond this, however, it lacked definition. Given that it mentions US laws against coercive control and there are similar pending UK law reforms, which have no doubt influenced the timing of this book, it could easily have incorporated some case law or more detailed case studies. These were frustratingly lacking.

Having said that, I found the book a fantastic starting point in preparation for these changes and would definitely recommend it to those dealing with domestic abuse and conflict – victims, friends, therapists, police and lawyers.

Guilford Press; 2015; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Dr Lorraine Childs who is Consultant Clinical Psychologist at St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton


Tackling trauma
The Therapeutic ‘Aha!’ 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck
Courtney Armstrong

At first glance the book seems light-hearted, with its title promising an easy-to-read quick reference’. However, on closer examination there is much research evidence provided, based in neuropsychology and its links to understanding how traumatised clients could struggle. The writer aims to offer strategies not only to reach the client effectively and build a secure attachment relationship, but also to move the client to a position where the trauma is resolved.

We are guided through the emotional brain and its seven primary emotional systems (drawn from Panksepp & Biven, 2012), said to lie at the basis of all primary reactions, which often override conscious thinking. By learning to understand which emotional systems were in play, the therapist was said to be better able to understand the client’s motivations as related to traumatic events. The writer also encourages a sensitive and collaborative therapy style and the use of meaningful goals within therapy (akin to value-based exploration as used in acceptance and commitment therapy).

Clients are said to be stuck in behaviours that at an earlier time had a protective function but at present could be maladaptive and blocking. The therapist’s role is to access and explore these root memories in order to bring about the favoured behaviour change. The writer proposes a method of recalling and reconsolidating traumatic memories in a simple five-step plan. However, use of these five steps seems to belie the necessary study and experience required to safely work with traumatised individuals.

The writer also offers ideas for replacing traumatic images with a compassionate image, and calls on the use of music, metaphor and mindfulness to support clients through emotional change. Information regarding these additional strategies, however useful, remained limited, though extra work sheets and ‘how to’ guides are available via an internet link provided in the book.

A must-read for anyone contemplating working with trauma but equally users of the methods proposed could benefit from extensive further reading to fully grasp all detail and skills required.

Norton; 2015; Hb £18.99
Reviewed by Dr Levina Smook who is Principal Counselling Psychologist, Clinical Health Psychology, Dudley

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