Our award-winning books

Ella Rhodes reports on the British Psychological Society Book Award winners.

Could human evolution have occurred without culture? Should we brain scan people for potential signs of terrorism? These fascinating questions, and many others, have been posed by the winning books in this year’s British Psychological Society Book Awards.

This year’s Popular Science category winners were Professor Barbara Sahakian (pictured above) and Dr Julia Gottwald (both University of Cambridge) with their book Sex, Lies & Brain Scans: How fMRI Reveals What Really Goes On in Our Minds. The book explores important ethical questions raised by the increasing use of brain imaging. Dr Gottwald said ‘Neuroimaging is progressing rapidly. Exciting new applications might become possible sooner than we think. But new opportunities bring new risks. Would we want to screen for terrorists at the airport using mind-reading technology? Which applications are justified, which ones cross the line? These issues concern all of us and the time is ripe to have a discussion about the ethics and limitations of brain imaging.’

Sahakian added: ‘I was delighted to receive the British Psychological Society Book Award, together with my former PhD student Julia Gottwald. I think it is wonderful that people are interested in and want to learn more about psychology and neuroscience and that they want to read and discuss how novel findings in these areas impact on our society. I regard engagement of the public in science as one of my favourite and most important activities.’

Professor Graham Towl (University of Durham) and Dr Tammi Walker (University of Manchester) won in the Practitioner Text category with their book Preventing Self-Injury and Suicide in Women’s Prisons. The book draws on the largest study of suicides from 1978 to 2014 drawing upon more than 100 cases of women who have died by suicide in prisons. The authors said they wanted to write the book due to a shared interest in women in prisons and prisoner suicide, and a shared belief that prisoners’ lives matter. They told us the book had received a very positive reception, but added: ‘There appears to be comparatively little public or political interest in this vital area. But for us, all the more reason to write about it and highlight the shamefully high rates and numbers of death by suicide of women prisoners.’

Towl said he was surprised when researching the book that, when the number of recorded suicides in prisons hit the milestone of 100 deaths, it went completely unreported: ‘I was also surprised by the full extend to which prisons are more toxic for women than men, it was stark in terms of the impacts upon an inflated risk of suicide. Another surprise was just how much the pattern of suicides by age group was so different for women than men. Important because there is a real danger than such marked differences go unnoticed in assessments.’

The Textbook winner this year was Child Health Psychology: A Biopsychosocial Perspective by Professor Julie Turner-Cobb (Bournemouth University). The book takes an interdisciplinary and life-course perspective, drawing on theories and models within health psychology as applied to children – the first textbook to do this. The first part of the book covers topics related to events and circumstances that can influence a child’s health during childhood and adolescence including the prenatal environment; whilst the second part examines how children cope when they are ill, how they deal with pain, the experience of parental ill health and bereavement.

The book draws on a wide variety of research in health psychology and related disciplines and draws from work across a wide range of methodologies,’ Turner-Cobb said. ‘It takes a strong biological stance in many respects, but also gives attention to psychosocial issues in relation to context and individual differences. There is also a chapter in the first part of the book that examines methodological and ethical issues in child health psychology, that includes assessment using endocrine and immune biomarkers of stress but also discusses the utility of using a range of different paradigms and settings.’  

Turner-Cobb said she had been delighted to win the BPS award: ‘The book has had a very positive reception – as well as content, I have had feedback from students and academics that they have enjoyed the style of writing used, that it has brought together areas in ways they had not found in other books.’

Professor of behavioural and evolutionary biology Kevin Laland (University of St Andrews) won the Academic Monograph category with his book Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind. It explores how the human mind, and its ability to create and transmit culture, evolved from its roots in animal behaviour. Laland presents a theory on culture and how it is, not only the end product of the evolution of man, but also the key driving force behind it (read more at tinyurl.com/klaland).

On being asked how he felt winning this BPS award, Laland said: ‘I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled. I feel very honoured, particularly as I am more a biologist than a psychologist. Writing a monograph is such hard work – one can pour one’s heart and soul into it for years – so getting a little reward at the end is very much appreciated.

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