Book reviews - July 2017

Comparative psychology, systematic reviews, psychometric testing and Captain America vs Iron Man!

Comparative Psychology for Clinical Psychologists and Therapists          
Daniel C. Marston & Terry L. Maple
Jessica Kingsley; Pb £19.99

Psychology is often perceived as being the study of the human mind, however this book presents how comparative psychology can be used to aid our understanding of human behaviour and that of other species.

The introduction of this book offers a brief history of comparative and clinical psychology, discussing theories such as behaviourism and attachment theory – all of which were devised by comparative psychologists and continue to impact clinical settings to this day. The authors also begin to highlight the importance of understanding the biological basis for human behaviour, stemming from the study of animals.  

The book is thoughtfully presented, with each chapter focusing on problems that may be encountered by professionals working in the field. Models of animal behaviours are discussed in the hope of providing further aetiology of such issues that can be difficult or impossible to study in humans. The chapters focus on areas of cognition such as learning and memory, complex behaviours such as gambling, and mood disorders, including depression. This structure ensures clear understanding throughout, with the authors choosing relevant themes to investigate with a good level of depth, offering detail that can be transferred across the discipline.  

Each chapter has a similar structure; with some offering case studies allowing the reader to enjoy the application of the models presented in real life settings. The conclusion provides a round-up of theories focused on and how these can be understood better by using comparative psychology.

This book is fundamental to those looking to advance their understanding of human behaviour and how this understanding can be improved through the use of comparative measures. This book contains important evidence that is synthesised and presented clearly throughout, with the arguments provided leaving the reader equipped (as the authors hope) to ‘build a better world for every living thing’.

- Reviewed by Roxanne Armstrong-Moore, who is a PhD student at the University of Sunderland


An Introduction to Systematic Reviews (2nd edn)
David Gough, Sandy Oliver & James Thomas (Eds.)
Sage; Pb £28.99

Many researchers will perform a systematic review at some point. However, the methods required to perform a systematic review precisely and accurately are infrequently or informally taught. This second-edition book from expert systematic reviewers at the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating (EPPI)-Centre provides a full overview of the systematic review process. It is framed by the systematic review journey: from clarifying the problem and question, to finding and describing relevant studies, synthesising identified studies (including meta-analysis), appraising study quality and making results transferable to engage stakeholders in the real world.

The book is written in a very accessible style, supported with examples of existing systematic reviews and meta-analyses at all stages of synthesis. Evaluation checklists and diagrams are also provided throughout to demystify the review process. The book also introduces the EPPI-Reviewer web-based software tool for research synthesis: useful for readers to put what they’ve learnt into practice. The step-by-step structure and clear labelling of this book make it the ideal systematic review resource for students and researchers at all levels. 

- By Dr Emma Norris, who is a Research Associate at University College London


Psychometric Testing: Critical Perspectives
Barry Cripps (Ed.)
Wiley; Pb £36.99
I know you’ll find this hard to believe but some people actually find psychometrics a little dull. I expect it’s all the numbers. To them – and to those who love psychometrics too – I would have no hesitation in recommending this thought-provoking book. Editor Barry Cripps has pulled out all the stops and assembled a dazzling variety of chapter authors, many very well known in the field, covering everything from inkblots to team building and from best practice to leadership selection. There are actually very few numbers on parade here – as in Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, I think the decision to leave them out (OK: there are one or two still present!) was, for the sake of a wider potential readership, a wise one. I also like Barry’s advice to ‘dip in and out as you please’.

Current issues and arguments in the field are given ample airing, with insights from the worlds of educational, clinical, forensic, sport & exercise but mainly occupational psychology. A short but illuminating foreword by John Rust reminds that the history of psychometrics in the UK thus far has actually been full of controversy (eugenics, the Burt scandal, the 11-plus – topical again with the Prime Minister’s fanatical zeal to reintroduce grammar schools as soon as she can). Adrian Furnham’s piece on The Dark Side is less about Star Wars and more about Marie Lloyd’s sage advice that a little of what you fancy does you good (but overdo it and you might derail). Peter Saville pitches in with some tips on item construction (‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ is a mantra that definitely applies here). I had wondered whether this book would cover similar ground to his From Obscurity to Clarity in Psychometric Testing, co-written with Tom Hopton last year, and, while there is inevitably a little overlap, there is plenty here that is new and fresh.

I was intrigued by Dave Collins and Andrew Cruickshank’s piece about psychometrics in sport, where questionnaires are often imported with very little consideration from the world of occupational psychology just as many of these in turn were once adopted uncritically from clinical psychology. Controversial footballer Joey Barton revealed in his autobiography that, upon being profiled by Burnley, he stuck his report on his locker for all to see. I can think of no greater endorsement.

Rob Bailey provides a straightforward guide to psychometrics for the HR practitioner – watch it, Rob, you’ll have me out of a job!

One of my favourite pieces is ‘When profit comes in the door, does science go out the window?’ by Robert Forde. His forensic background gives a different perspective to that of several of the other authors here and one of which we should all take heed. It is ironic that the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, whose limited validity receives considerable criticism, is mentioned warmly by several of the other authors – in fact, the very next chapter is by Robert McHenry, whose company distributed it in the UK. But that’s the thing about the psychometrics game: despite the numbers, the scientific rigour and the emphasis on validation, it’s still full of intrigue and debate, and that’s surely why it provides such fascination and – dare I say it? – fun.

This book really brings the subject to life and will reward its reader with many hours of enjoyment. Dull it most certainly isn’t.
- Reviewed by Dr George Sik, who is a Consultant Psychologist at eras ltd and co-author of The Quest Profiler


Captain America vs.Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology
Travis Langley (Ed.)
Sterling; Pb £7.99

Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology is an excellent example of how psychology can be applied beyond mere case studies and real-life events. Discussing theories from areas such as cognitive, developmental, moral and social psychology, the editor, Travis Langley, and the book’s many contributors apply psychology in such a novel way that is sure be of interest to both psychology readers and comic-book fans alike.

Whilst those quite familiar with the theories presented in the book may be left underwhelmed by the lack of an in-depth discussion on their pros and cons, those who are relatively new to psychology are likely to enjoy reading about how psychology can be applied to these fictional characters and the very real issues that they have faced to become who they are. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of a young Captain America punching Bandura’s bobo doll?

Psychologists often express an ambition to spread the word of psychology beyond their own specialist circles. By entering the world of comic books, Captain America vs. Iron Man is inviting the fans of the comic books and the films into the world of psychology. The style and ideas employed within the book are enough to whet the appetite of the general reader whilst also never losing touch with its original subject matter, how did these two become superheroes? By not getting bogged down in the arguments and complexities that often alienate non-psychology readers, Captain America vs. Iron Man serves as a simple yet engaging companion to both the fans of the Marvel universe and the fans of psychology.

- Reviewed by Richard Potter, who is a support worker and mental health volunteer

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