Book Review

Review of “Classic Experiments in Psychology”

Reviewed by Alan Feldman, Glen Rock High School, Glen Rock, N.J.

Classic Experiments in PsychologyTitle: Classic Experiments in Psychology
Author: Douglas Mook, PhD
Publisher: Greenwood Press
Copyright year: 2004
ISBN: 0 313 31821 2

Number of pages: 384
Price: $73.87

“Classic Experiments in Psychology” by Douglas Mook is a wonderful resource and should be read by every teacher of introductory psychology. I use this book often as a reference when explaining or discussing a variety of different experiments. The book also gives clear applied examples of single-blind and double-blind research designs, experimenter bias, placebo effects, factorial design, within group and between group research designs and the crossover effect. The book is written in a clear, nontechnical style and can be read and understood by interested psychology students.

The first chapter of the book, “About Experiments,” describes the underlying logic and themes of experimental procedure with illuminating examples. The second chapter, “A Brief History of Experimental Psychology,” proceeds from a discussion of the thought experiments of philosophers (Descartes, Locke and Kant) to experiments done by the early physiologists to the origins of experimental psychology. The impact and relevance of evolution, behaviorism, Gestalt psychology and cognitive psychology are then described in relation to the history of experimental psychology.

The book has seven sections with three- to five-page summaries of 60 interesting and important experiments in the history of psychology (a few observational and case studies are included). Some of the studies might not be familiar or might not be those one would predict to be in such a book, such as ones by Vincent Dethier (on feeding a fly), Sebastian Grossman (on chemical coding in the brain), Haldan Hartline (on lateral inhibition in the brain) and Benjamin Franklin (on Mesmer and animal magnetism). These were all informative and a pleasure to read.

Mook gives a short biography of each researcher, a summary of their major contributions, and a detailed description and analysis of the area of research that is the focus of the chapter. He typically discusses how the limitations and conclusions of the research both result from earlier studies and contribute to later inquiries. Two psychologists appear in two respective chapters: Leon Festinger appears in chapter 40 (“Festinger and Carlsmith: Cognitive Dissonance”) and in chapter 57 (“Festinger et al.: When Prophecy Fails”). The work of Neal Miller is highlighted in chapter 10 (“Neal Miller: Fear as a Learnable Drive”) and chapter 11 (“Neal Miller: Conflict”).

In several selections, Mook contrasts the perspectives of John Locke (which he equates with behaviorism) and Gestalt psychology (which he equates with Kant’s perspective). Mook describes Locke/behaviorism as claiming, “There is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses,” while for Kant/Gestalt psychology, “There is more in the mind than there is, or ever was in the senses.” In particular, the chapters on Max Wertheimer and apparent motion and then Eleanor Gibson and R.D. Walk on the visual cliff highlight this debate. In these two chapters, Mook supplies convincing evidence that supports the Gestalt/Kantian view.

Since the book has 60 chapters, I will only discuss a few of my favorite selections. In chapter 18, “Walter Mischel and Self Control,” Mook discusses the well-known marshmallow test with a number of interesting complications. For example when children saw pictures of the desired objects (immediate and delayed) on a slide projector, they would wait longer, thereby displaying extended delay of gratification; whereas, if children were presented with the actual desired objects (immediate and delayed) they would not wait as long. If children were presented with the actual marshmallow and told to think about it in abstract or metaphorical terms (like a puffy cloud), they were able to wait significantly longer than if they were told to think about the qualities of the marshmallows as a desirable edible object (the taste of the marshmallow).

In chapter 24, “John Garcia: Conditioned Taste Aversion,” Mook describes the three previously established "laws" of classical conditioning. First, any stimulus can be an effective CS (conditioned stimulus) — the choice is arbitrary. Secondly, classical conditioning is a gradual process requiring numerous CS/US (unconditioned stimulus) pairings during the acquisition phase. Lastly, the interval between the CS and US must be relatively short for conditioning to occur. Mook then shows how Garcia’s research invalidates each of these rules under certain conditions and how the contingency model of classical conditioning is more accurate and encompassing than the original Pavlovian contiguity model.

Chapter 22, “Edward Tolman and Cognitive Maps,” brilliantly describes how Tolman (a behaviorist) devised an experiment to pit the possibility of internal intervening variables within the framework of operant conditioning. His experiment was designed to discover if rats learned “where things are” rather than "a series of responses in the correct order.”

There were a few things I felt were inaccurate, misleading or confusing. In an indented section of chapter 23, “BF Skinner and Operant Conditioning,” Mook describes fixed-ratio schedules, fixed-interval schedules and variable-interval schedules, but does not discuss variable-ratio schedules. In chapter 20, “Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning,” there is a diagram of classical conditioning that shows the CS is paired with the US during initial acquisition. I have found that students find this confusing and think it is preferable to designate the stimulus here as a neutral stimulus (NS). Finally, for some reason his book was never released in paperback and is expensive but it is available at a greatly reduced price on many websites.

These minor criticisms do not in any way detract from this wonderfully written and informative book. It would be a valuable asset to any teacher or student of psychology. I also highly recommend Dr. Mook's book, “Psychological Research: The Ideas Behind the Methods.”