Helpful and timely reviews of psychology related books, films, and videos by subject specialists

Archive of 2012 PsycCRITIQUES®Sample Searches Podcasts

October 2012

Please Make It Stop!

Can we agree in a nonpartisan fashion that we won't be sorry to have this election marathon behind us? For months (years) we've been subjected to a nonstop bombardment of ads, news coverage, phone calls, and pleas for money. Though now it seems it never really ends. We have entered a period of non-stop campaigning that is funded by an unchecked stream of corporate and individual cash, thanks to the Citizens' United decision.

So, increasingly, an area where psychological data are gold is voting behavior. Candidates have their staffs pour over the data seeking that Holy Grail of information: the key to what will make an undecided voter choose their candidate.

PsycCRITIQUES is a particularly good source of information for our political analysts, as it allows them to find reviews of relevant current works from across the spectrum — those aimed at an academic audience and at a popular audience, reviewed by experts in the field. If we were to look among those results at information related to race and gender and in politics, limited to the past 4 years, we would find the following:

  • "The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America?" (Parks & Hughey, 2011) is reviewed by Dr. Gregory Mavrides. The book comprises 12 commentaries on modern racism, most specifically, implicit or aversive racism. Though the reviewer assessed the volume as seeming predominantly "written by Black academicians for Black academicians," it provides some interesting research on the possible motivation of White voters to vote for a person of color and on use of the Implicit Association Test.
  • "Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture" (Hughes, 2010), reviewed by Dr. J. I. Hans Bakker, sounds a bit daunting for the analyst. This book includes a discussion of language use and its wider implications, including issues of race, nationality, difference, and politics. For example, the idea of difference is often captured by the way in which PC words represent a more liberal or even radical view of the value of difference, while words that are not deemed to be PC often designate outdated and prejudiced views concerning class, gender, race, nationality, and disability. (Do you remember the infamous "macaca" incident in the 2006 Virginia senatorial campaign? This is a book that George Allen might have wished he had been briefed on.)
  • "Dangerous Frames: How Ideas About Race and Gender Shape Public Opinion" (Winter, 2008) is reviewed by Dr. Carol Gosselink. Published during the 2008 political campaign when the Democratic frontrunners were a Black man and a White woman, Winter laid out the theoretical, psychological, and political underpinnings of "how social policy issues and candidates' electability are 'framed' to influence the views and voting behaviors of the American populace." The major thrust of the research is on the implicit frames that affect people's judgment without their being aware of how they are being manipulated.

We're in the bell-lap of this race with the wire is in sight. Except that the campaign for the next race will be starting on November 7.

May 2012

Building a Better Mousetrap

Do you ever wonder what it's like to work at APA? Look at our first-class data on behavioral science; think of a staff that must — and does — include excellent psychologists; note an organizational mission that explicitly and implicitly values the health and wellness of its employees and welcomes diversity. Surely, then, APA must be a veritable Woodstock of a workplace, a sort of perpetual Summer of Love.

The reality? APA is absolutely a terrific place to work, but it is a workplace, populated by people with problems and deadlines, and for most of us, psychology is more an academic than an applied science. Even here at APA, one of the biggest challenges of psychological science is how to apply its findings to our own daily living situations.

PsycCRITIQUES is one of the tools designed to help do just that. It is essentially a practical tool to find specific resources. Faculty use it to identify textbooks, librarians use it for collection development, and students use it to find books for an assignment. Employers, parents, and civic leaders, among others, can use it to find proven or promising new approaches to the challenges they face.

Let me give you a specific recent example that tackles the issue of application:

In "Rigor and Relevance: Psychological Science's Multiple Contributions to Everyday Life," Alan Kazdin (2012; past president of APA, author of about 700 publications, chairman of the Yale Psychology Department and director of the Child Study Center at the School of Medicine) has reviewed the book Psychology and the Real World: Essays Illustrating Fundamental Contributions to Society. The book is from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, an advocacy group of more than 20 scholarly groups "devoted to behavioral, cognitive, and brain sciences." Their mission is to enhance the public's understanding of psychological sciences, and this book is concentrated on the relevance and applicability of that research to society.

Conveying relevance is a daunting task. As Kazdin put it, "in so much of our work in academia we speak to ourselves. We read our journals, go to our meetings, know what our colleagues are doing, develop novel and creative models…but we can still retain insular lives that do not connect with the world." The research results achieved are often neither intuitive nor plausible to their potential customers. The lay reader might reasonably ask, "a glance of an infant in one direction versus another means what? An imperceptible difference in latency to respond to a touch screen means I am tainted by what undesirable personality characteristic?"

So large can the gap between implication and application be that some potential users, Kazdin pointed to members of Congress, for example, routinely take potshots at funding for research based on grant titles, subject populations, and foci. That gap can have disastrous consequences when it undermines important research because its value isn't successfully explained or understood.

The essays in this book connect psychological findings to everyday life, often with counterintuitive findings and explanations. Among its 17 chapters are essays in which the authors show how psychology helps us understand and improve employee performance, how it can be used to foster better physical and mental health, and how it contributes to improving our interpersonal relations, coping with stress, and fostering better learning.

In other words, if we take time to read it, it can make a difference in and improve our daily lives.

April 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Last month we asked, why do people rely on experts? We're going to pursue that topic a bit more this month. What gives that person the gravitas to review cutting-edge work in the behavioral sciences as a genuine peer? What credentials do they have that make them credible? If you are an informed reader, do you in fact agree with the review that has been given?

Sometimes that first question answers itself, as for example, when the name of the reviewer is well known. For example, over its 55-year history, PsycCRITIQUES (formerly Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books) has had as reviewers some of the big guns in psychology.  Reviewers have included household names, like Zimbardo, Kazdin, Milgram, Seligman, Bandura, and Csikszentmihaly. Phil Zimbardo, for example, has written 11 reviews about topics such as how group behavior can diminish our humanity ("Cults in Everyday Life: Dependency and Power"). Most readers would agree that the man behind the Stanford Prison Experiment has the chops as a social psychologist to write a review about group behavior.

Some review sources make clear that reviews need to be done by someone who is legitimately a peer of the published author he or she is reviewing, while others are open to anyone who has a thoughtful response. As there are different kinds of readers, different kinds of reviewers can be very useful. PsycCRITIQUES is specifically peer review. If you wonder about the educational or professional background of a particular reviewer, PsycCRITIQUES provides a helpful tool that can give you that information easily. Have you noticed the little person icon to the right of each author's name on the review itself? If you click on it, you'll find a short reviewer's biography. Thus, at the click of a mouse, you can see and assess for yourself the accomplishments of the person who is conducting the review.

As is true with any social media that lists reviewers (Netflix used to have a nifty feature that would even rate how "like me" a reviewer was by comparing our reviews), another way for you to find reviewers whose opinions you value is simply to take note of reviewers who write reviews you find helpful. That's especially useful if you are at the beginning of your career path. Take advantage of the fact that reviewers concentrate on specific subject areas and build your own list.

For example, if you are interested in recent books about psycholinguistics and language development, running a search in PsycCRITIQUES would yield 73 reviews published in the past 5 years. A closer look would show you that David Carroll and Sheila Kennison had between them written more than 10% of the total number of recent relevant reviews on a topic that interests you.

A quick look at her review would tell you, among other things, that

Shelia M. Kennison, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University. Her research investigates cognitive processes, psycholinguistics, reading, and bilingualism. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in statistics, research design, and language development.

If you were especially impressed with Dr. Kennison's review, then create an alert for the reviewer and the topic. He or she will almost certainly be reviewing other work that you find relevant in the future.

March 2012

The Not-So-Hidden Persuaders

Recent research has shown what many of us have long suspected: oenophiles have a much more acute sense of taste then the rest of us. Thus, experts' recommendations are of little use to most drinkers because our palates are not "sophisticated" enough to appreciate the subtle flavors. Indeed, the academic Journal of Wine Economics (it's not in PsycINFO; I checked) published an article called "Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?" that concluded, based on a study of 6,000 blind tastings, that people actually enjoyed more expensive wines slightly less than their cheaper counterparts. Yet the fine wine market continues to grow (for a bundle of reasons; many of us believe that we are among those who can detect the difference or aspire to be, but few of us — over a certain age anyway — would consider showing up at an event with a cheap bottle of wine).

We shape ourselves in no small part based on somewhat mysterious standards that we get from in-the-know sources. If you were putting together course materials for a class that included forms of persuasion, such as Marketing, Communications, Social Psychology, or Political Theory, what information could you find in PsycCRITIQUES that can shed light on this behavior?

A search for "identity" or "self-esteem" or "image" limited to persuaders such as "advertising", or "peers", or "experts" returns about 150 results, among them the following:

  • "Consumers Should Be Afraid, Very Afraid," (Clark, 2009), reviewed Deception in the Marketplace: The Psychology of Deceptive Persuasion and Consumer Self-Protection. A scholarly book appropriate to an academic setting, it is also aimed at helping consumers help themselves by recognizing deception and responses to it. The book draws from social psychology, consumer psychology, developmental psychology, marketing, communication, and sociology and focuses on what role researchers can play in helping others to understand deceptive persuasion.
  • "The Consumer's Search for the Good Life," by Hollenbeck and Zinkhan reviewed Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being: The Search for the "Good Life" and the "Body Perfect" (2008). The book presented a series of studies that exemplify how advertising and mass media appeal to consumers to promote the acquisition of material goods and their symbolic role in shaping the buyers' desires. Addressing both genders in terms of their attraction to materialism and compulsive buying, the book demonstrated the negative effects that mass consumption has on an individual's identity and psychological well-being.
  • If you'd like a film for your class, read "Looking Good Says It All," a review of The Devil Wears Prada (Frankel, 2006). A popular film that drew on the Faust legend, the story suggests that what one wears is both an assertion about oneself and a protection against the judgment of others, with fashion magazines and "experts" the priests of orthodoxy. Women are the intended consumers and imbibe identity development and gender socialization with fashion.

Imagine the strength of persuasion needed to have enticed the human animal to wear ties and high heels almost without question.

January 2012

Are You Talking to Me?

You've probably heard someone toss off a comment like "more than two thirds of communication is nonverbal." If that is true — the objective facts are hard to pin down — then it is clearly important that we as individuals have some grasp of how that communication works. In some cases, believing we "speak" that language can backfire, as in a recent case in which a rebuffed investment banker's email went viral after being posted by the exasperated recipient. Among its 1,600 words, he berated her for "leading him on," because

"You played with your hair a lot. A woman playing with her hair is a common sign of flirtation. You can even do a Google search on it. When a woman plays with her hair, she is preening. I've never had a date where a woman played with her hair as much as you did."

Alas, as our investment banker's experience has shown, the grammar and syntax of this language is not so fixed. PsycCRITIQUES, however, provides reviews of in-depth resources, and a search on body language and nonverbal communication limited to the past 5 years could provide him with helpful books and films to get through the no-doubt dateless stretch that lies ahead of him.

Those resources include the following:

  • "Gaze: Light and Dark" (Conner, 2011) is a review of the film The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos). Although much research on eye contact and gazing has focused on interpersonal attraction, gaze can have a darker role as well and be used to communicate threat and dominance. The Secret in Their Eyes is an Argentinean film that comments on the power of gaze and its role in obsession as well as in love.
  • "Judgmental Biases and Nonverbal Behavior" (MacGregor, 2008) is a review of What Every body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People. Its basic theme is that in situations involving social interaction, people are not static but dynamic and can be read and decoded by interpretation of their nonverbal behavior expressed semantically as body cues or "language. "Although a given cue might be misinterpreted, an ensemble of cues that are consistent gives an indication of the quality of the experience an individual is having."
  • "Seeing Double: The Reframing of Emotional Intelligence" (Fox & Maloney, 2007) is a review of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman. A book intended for the general public, much of the text concerns the groundbreaking discoveries being made in the field of neuroscience and the additions they are making to the biological bases of interpersonal relations. Goleman brushed "the new science of human relationships" in relating how varied neurological processes work to facilitate or undermine the establishment of nonverbal communication between people.

Studies have ranged across fields including everything from linguistics and social psychology to dance and anthropology. Our oldest communication, what made us human and underlies all other language, speaks from our hands and eyes and in the way we move in relation to each other.