Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's New in Psychology Books

Yet another installment of what is essentially a list of books added to my Amazon wish list. Follow the links for full reviews.

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The Immeasurable Mind: The Real Science of Psychology
by William R. Uttal
Prometheus, 2007
Review by John D. Mullen, Ph.D.
William Uttal has had a long and distinguished research academic career as Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and as Professor in Arizona State's Department of Industrial Engineering. When a person of his standing and orientation takes on the question of the scientific status of psychology, it's worth taking a look. If you do, you won't be disappointed. Utall's writing is clear, relatively free of jargon and he has the confidence not to fudge his points of view or his conclusions. The issues he tackles were more actively addressed at the philosophy/psychology border area in the 1970s and 1980s than recently, but that does not render them out of date. No doubt the absence of Burrhus Skinner has dampened some of the interest.

Uttal's thesis is easily put though not so easily understood. "Psychology is a science in the usual sense of the word to the degree that it is behaviorist." (245) Part of this he makes very clear. By "behaviorist" he means the approach that eschews any reference to cognitive or mentalist concepts. It is the behaviorism of Skinner and not of Tolman or Hull and certainly not the "behavioral decision theory" of a Daniel Kahnemann or Amos Tversky. For Uttal it's not enough to anchor mentalist concepts (expectation, belief, desire, mental mapping, intelligence etc.) in empirical observations, one must avoid them. We'll get back to why.
Read the whole review.

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What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect
by James R. Flynn
Cambridge University Press, 2008
Review by Christina Rawls
What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect explores the problem of ever-rising IQ scores over the past hundred years, particularly the last few decades. What is better is that the book's author, James Flynn, is the person responsible for the research leading to what is known in intelligence testing as the "Flynn Effect." Briefly, this is the label given to the increase in IQ scores over time, but weather this effect automatically includes increasing rates of actual intelligence and wisdom is highly controversial. Flynn takes on this controversy for the first time head on and discusses the many facets he feels are missing when the majority evaluates intelligence testing and IQ scores. He writes, "The IQ score is only as valid as the test the person takes, and the test is only as valid as the standardization sample on which it is normed."

The book is saturated in philosophical and sociological insight. He writes that it took him a long time to write about the seeming massive IQ gains because of "...unused brain capacity. My mind was so compartmentalized, I ignored everything I knew from another discipline, namely sociology." Flynn asks us to temporarily place aside the general intelligence factor, what is know as the "g factor," as it only measures limited, static elements of cognitive awareness and ability and cannot accurately assess an individual's ability to function in the world with critical acumen. Flynn covers scientific, as well as psychological ground regarding the nature of intelligence testing.
Read the whole review.

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Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

by Mary Roach
W. W. Norton, 2008
Review by Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D.
Males, it seems, tend to be much more focused and less easily distracted when it comes to sex. As Alfred Kinsey discovered, "Cheese crumbs spread in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male" (252). Interestingly, this 'fact' helps to explain why Viagra works well for many men but attempts to find a 'female Viagra' have been far less successful. In men, there tends to be a strong connection between mind and body with respect to sexual arousal. Hence, an erection is a sign of arousal, and lack of one usually means there isn't any arousal. Women tend to be more complicated: vaginal lubrication, e.g., doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is sexually aroused, and the lack of lubrication doesn't necessarily mean she is sexually uninterested. (No wonder we men are so often confused.) Hence, if a man has trouble getting or maintaining an erection -- "erectile dysfunction," or "ED" in current parlance -- it is typically some sort of problem 'of the body,' which can be cured by a purely chemical intervention. When women complain of a lack of interest in sex, however, the problem is not so straightforwardly corporeal and hence a cure isn't likely to be purely chemical. As Roach puts it, "it is the mind that speaks to a women's heart, not her vaginal walls" (255).

Due to this complexity, it is often perilous drawing sexual conclusions based solely on bodily responses to various stimuli. Roach reports on one fascinating (and disturbing) study carried out by Canada's National Defence Medical Centre in the 1950's and 1960's.

Read the whole review.

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Psychotic Depression
by Conrad M. Swartz and Edward Shorter
Cambridge University Press, 2007
Review by Marion Ledwig, Ph.D.
The authors of this cutting edge volume on psychotic depression with its eight excellent chapters and two appendices are the board-certified psychiatry professor and practicing psychiatrist Conrad M. Swartz from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the historian of psychiatry and health practitioner Edward Shorter from the University of Toronto. According to the authors (p. xi this volume) "Psychotic Depression is an alloy of psychosis and depression that is not separable into psychosis and depression. Psychosis is a symptom that thought and behavior have become unrelated to reality. It is, in other words, a symptom of madness just as biological as delirium."

This book deals with all aspects of psychotic depression covering such diverse areas as its clinical history, current state-of-the-art diagnostic, and treatment protocols. It includes two appendices: The first is a summary guide to psychiatric concepts with respect to the disorder and the second is a summary guide to different kinds of medication for treatment and/or management of psychotic depression. While the book is mainly aimed at physicians, it is written in such a way that even patients themselves, their friends, and families and everyone else who is interested in the subject matter can understand it including many case studies so that one gets a realistic and vivid picture of the illness.
Read the whole review.

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Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration

by Keith Sawyer
Basic Books, 2007
Review by Justine Johnstone, Ph.D.
Keith Sawyer's latest book takes aim at the 'myth of the lone genius', the idea that creativity is essentially about flashes of individual brilliance. This is hardly a new idea -- both the 'bolt from the blue' and the individualistic account have been called into question before -- but Sawyer is after something bigger. He wants to convince us that new ideas are always the result of social interaction, that 'even the insights that emerge when you're completely alone can be traced back to previous collaborations'. Essentially written for the management market -- creativity rapidly turns into 'innovation' -- this is a readable work of popular psychology that rounds up and summarizes a welter of real-life and laboratory evidence on the social side of human ingenuity. Sawyer's colorful background as jazz pianist, video games designer, industry consultant and academic psychologist provides rich pickings. Jazz and theatrical improvisation make an appearance alongside the origins of the Monopoly board game in Quaker anti-capitalism and decision-making in a Brazilian manufacturing firm where employees read the accounts and determine strategy.

The book is slightly strangely organized, the three sections dealing with teamwork, thinking and organizations. Some interesting links are forged across the different topics (conversation turns out to be key in both teamwork and individual problem-solving, and improvisation turns up everywhere) but there are hints of intriguing tensions and paradoxes that are not followed up. Small teams in tune with one another and with similar levels of skill make for musical or sporting excellence, but multi-functional groups or loose networks are better for generating new products. Planning, structure and improvisation have to happen in just the right combination -- but what that is depends heavily on task and context. Improvisation is inefficient and expensive but also the secret of success. Sawyer's anecdotes and examples are always entertaining and sometimes inspiring but don't always lead him on to deeper questions. Bizarrely, the book lacks a conclusion, whether because the author ran out of steam or perhaps just gave up on trying to unite his material.
Read the whole review.

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Standing at Water's Edge: Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion
by Anne Paris
New World Library, 2008
Review by Sandra L. Ceren, Ph.D.
This book is written for the creative person who from time to time may feel stuck in the creative process and seeks help in order to regain creative energy. It is for those seeking fulfillment of their creative potential--whatever that may be. It may also benefit psychotherapists treating such people for it provides an understanding of the hurdles creative people often confront.

To immerse oneself in any creative pursuit can be a delight when you are in "the zone"--at one with your muse. Another way to describe the zone, is to recall and consider exceptional experiences in which you felt deeply moved; a concert, a visit to an art gallery or museum, sexual attraction-- events that cause arousal of the senses.

When the work doesn't come easily to the artist, composer, writer, sculptor, it is as though a dark curtain has fallen. Paris's familiarity with creative people enables her to help lift the fallen curtain, first by understanding what is blocking the creative process, and then through the guide she presents as a compass to help one find renewed inspiration.
Read the whole review.

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The Continuity of Mind (Oxford Psychology)
by Michael Spivey
Oxford University Press, 2008
Reviewed by Debbie A. Foster

The cognitive and neural sciences have been on the brink of a paradigm shift for over a decade now. The traditional information-processing framework in psychology, with its computer metaphor of the mind, is still considered to be the mainstream approach. However, the dynamical-systems perspective on mental activity is now receiving a more rigorous treatment, allowing it to move beyond the trendy buzzwords that have become associated with it. The Continuity of Mind will help to galvanize the forces of dynamical systems theory, cognitive and computational neuroscience, connectionism, and ecological psychology that are needed to complete this paradigm shift.

In this book, Michael Spivey lays bare the fact that comprehending a spoken sentence, understanding a visual scene, or just thinking about the day’s events involves the coalescing of different neuronal activation patterns over time, i.e., a continuous state-space trajectory that flirts with a series of point attractors. As a result, the brain cannot help but spend most of its time instantiating patterns of activity that are in between identifiable mental states rather than in them. When this scenario is combined with the fact that most cognitive processes are richly embedded in their environmental context in real time, the state space (in which brief visitations of attractor basins are your ‘thoughts’) suddenly encompasses not just neuronal dimensions, but extends to biomechanical and environmental dimensions as well. As a result, your moment-by-moment experience of the world around you, even right now, can be described as a continuous trajectory through a high-dimensional state space that comprises diverse mental states.


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