Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Once Again, It’s Race to the Top


Recently we published a pair of dramatically contrasting reviews of Nicolas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance:  Genes, Race, and Human History.  On the one hand, James Flynn argues that all psychologists should read the book, “particularly those who dismiss hypotheses about whether genetic differences between races or ethnic groups are correlated with trait differences” (para. 1). Although acknowledging we must await direct genetic evidence, he raises the possibility that American Blacks might be “a race whose genes give them collectively a greater inclination toward impetuosity” (para. 8).

On the other hand, Robert Sternberg writes that the book’s premise of “a biological concept of race... is not tenable” (para. 7), describes the book as “deeply flawed” scientifically (last para.), and suggests that race is a social construction rather than a biological fact. As one example, Sternberg points out that “there is more difference in genetic makeup among different black-skinned groups in Africa than there is between typically white- and black-skinned people in the United States” (para. 15).  

Where do you stand on the question of whether race is a biological reality or social construction?


Read the Reviews
ReviewWrong Problem, Wrong Solution
By Robert J. Sternberg
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(13)


ReviewGenetic Differences Between Races for Desirable Traits
By James R. Flynn
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(13)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking: The Never-Ending Evil


Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, wrote:

Elementary students across America are taught that slavery ended in the 19th century. But, sadly, nearly 150 years later, the fight to end this global scourge is far from over. Today it takes a different form and we call it by a different name - “human trafficking” - but it is still an affront to basic human dignity in the United States and around the world. (Clinton, 2010, para. 1)

In her review of Laura Murphy’s book Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives Martha Banks presents the realities and complexities of modern slavery in its global context. Slavery today is a system of forced labor that involves no or little pay, involving mostly women. Although most victims are adults, children are also enslaved around the world.  I went to the Web to get a sense of the scope of the population of interest: The two most prevalent types of slavery in the world involve sex work and forced labor. According to United Nations (UN) reports, we may underestimate the rates of human trafficking related to labor because it is less visible, reported, and/or prosecuted. While it is difficult to estimate, UN reports suggest that as many as 2.5 million individuals are trafficked at any one time and billions of dollars of profit are generated annually (United Nations, 2015). Banks notes that while the percentage of those enslaved throughout the world is lower than it has ever been, the sheer number of people enslaved is greater.

Banks goes on to describe how in Survivors of Slavery Murphy organizes the narratives of individuals who because of extreme poverty, and the extreme greed of some, are forced into exploitative systems, through kidnapping, deception, and manipulation. What is startling is the realization that we need to hear these voices to evoke what should be readily provided—human concern for the conditions of those enslaved and a resolve to address their plight. 

The issues highlighted in the book review led me to reflect on the preparation of clinicians who might be called on to treat victims of modern slavery. Do we have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues that victims face and the resources that they need? More importantly, are psychologists prepared to understand and respect victims’ right to choice, including the right to refuse treatments and interventions? What impact might our research have on efforts to collaborate in anti-slavery advocacy and social justice initiatives, particularly efforts to persuade the countries that have not signed onto the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2004) to do so?



Clinton, H. R. (2010, November 9).  Op-Ed: An end to human trafficking. Washington, DC: Office of the Spokesman, U. S. State Department. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2004). Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. In United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto, Annex II (pp. 41-52). New York, NY: United Nations. Available at

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2015). Human trafficking FAQs. Retrieved March 21, 2015, from
Read the Review
ReviewListening to the Reality of Slavery
By Martha E. Banks
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 60(11)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Academic One Percenters


Is an education at an elite university worth the apparent anxiety produced by the effort to get in, and is it really a better education? Geoffrey Cox reviewed Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, a book that is highly critical of the admission process and the graduates (the “excellent sheep”) produced by these elite schools. According to Cox, the author, William Deresiewicz, maintains that the students who get into these universities “have demonstrated manic intensity for success”, and the culture there “continues to encourage the pursuit of external validations of accomplishment” leading to “a great first job” (para. 6).

What’s so bad about that? My education and career happened at pretty good schools, but not elite, and my sons went to a good regional state university, also not elite. Had we been able financially and academically to get into one of these great schools I think we would have done so. My experiences at a couple of universities at this level convinced me that, at least at the graduate level, these places really are of exceptionally high quality.

However, I have little sympathy for the notion that elite schools educate undergraduates significantly better than many others, and less sympathy for parents who must get their children into one of the “best” schools. Cox points out that “we have an extraordinary system of public higher education that, in fact, educates the majority of American students” (last para.), although some of these also would be considered elite.

What drives students and their parents to seek admission only to these allegedly best schools?  Cox himself guided his “bright, ambitious daughters . . . through most of the Ivy League and the non-Ivy equivalents” (para. 1). Surely there are other criteria for selection that would yield as good or better results, and perhaps with less cynicism about the selection process.

Read the Review
ReviewGolden Fleeces
By Geoffrey M. Cox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(7)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Are Testing Accommodations Unjust?


In Testing Accommodations for Students With Disabilities: Research-Based Practice, Benjamin J. Lovett and Lawrence J. Lewandowski review current theory and research and offer guidelines for deciding when testing accommodations are appropriate for a student with disabilities. Reviewers Robert Furey and Colleen Furey point out that although there is general consensus on the idea of academic testing accommodations for students with disabilities, there is ample complexity in implementing accommodations fairly. Examples offered by the reviewers include nondisabled students intent on “gaming the system” (Hinshaw & Scheffler, 2014, p. 96) seeking accommodations; accommodations that actually “overaccommodate” (Lovett & Lewandowski, 2015, p. 113) thereby giving disabled students unfair advantage; accommodations with little scientific evidence of validity; and, lack of equal access to needed accommodations among lower socioeconomic students.  An alternative solution would be a systemic strategy—altering the testing environment to reduce the need for accommodations. This would involve establishing testing systems that accommodate the widest range of students, thus decreasing the need for individual testing modifications.

Do you agree that testing accommodations are difficult to implement fairly?  How has the current culture of “high-stakes testing” contributed to the complexity of implementing accommodations fairly?  Is a systemic strategy that attempts to reduce the need for accommodations a realistic solution? 


Hinshaw, S. P., & Scheffler, R. M. (2014). The ADHD explosion: Myths, medication, money, and today’s push for performance. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Read the Review
ReviewToo Accommodating? The Science and Myth of Testing Accommodations
By Robert Furey and Colleen Furey
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(7)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tolerance: Necessary but Insufficient


In his review of The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality, Scott Keiller analyzes arguments used to support the idea that “paternalistic benevolence maintains the status quo of structural and institutionalized power differentials” (section “Positioning Social Constructivism…,” para. 4). Although the book’s focus is the LGBTQ community, this is an issue relevant to other marginalized groups. The central concern is the value and sufficiency of tolerance, an expression of goodwill and kindness as those in power accept a limited range of behavior that runs counter to socially sanctioned ideals, in the quest for social justice. It’s not that The Tolerance Trap’s author ignores the increasing acceptance of gay marriage and military service or the fact that there are more television shows and movies featuring gay and lesbian characters. The author questions the extent to which these shifts represent true progress and acceptance of the entire continuum of non-heterosexual individuals, behaviors, and expression. Consider the fact that there is greater public acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals than of bisexual, transgender, and/or queer individuals. In addition, the public seems more comfortable when individuals are less openly gay than when individuals elect to engage in the same levels of self-expression afforded to heterosexuals. Finally, Keiller directs readers to the author’s observation that the “positioning of marriage as the optimal and most legitimate configuration for relationships and families is a tolerance trap that perpetuates hegemony and devalues other family arrangements” (section “Two Steps Forward…,” last para.).

The issues highlighted by Keiller led me to reflect on societal responses to other marginalized communities. For example, does the tolerance trap help to explain differences in White and African Americans’ responses to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown? There appears to be an inherent expectation that Black male youths dress and respond within a certain range in order to be free of unwarranted scrutiny and response from police officers and civilians alike. Does the expectation that women in leadership dress in certain ways reinforce masculine hegemony in business and politics? The operation of these unspoken expectations of conformity to social, political, and cultural patterns that affirm the superiority of the majority and the ways that it limits the rights of marginalized communities is an issue for psychology. Can psychological research lead the way to social change that is more focused on full social acceptance and inclusion than tolerance? What has psychological research revealed that might contribute to efforts to create a more inclusive society, whether we are addressing sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, or other marginalized identities? 

Read the Review
ReviewDeconstructing Tolerance: When Benevolence Stalls Progress for Gay Equality
By Scott Keiller
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(5)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What 2014 Films Would Win if Psychologists Gave out Academy Awards?

APA The decision to add selected psychologically relevant films to PsycCRITIQUES (a practice introduced by E. G. Boring, the first editor of Contemporary Psychology) has been widely applauded, and many readers report they read the film reviews before turning to the more pedestrian reviews of books.

Some of the 2014 films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, Skeleton Twins, The Railway Man, Noah, Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, Still Alice, Wild, Unbroken, and Birdman.

If you were giving awards for psychologically relevant films, which movies would you nominate?

Below are reviews of nine films from 2014 that are worth viewing with a psychological lens. To dig deeper, peruse these reviews published in PsycCRITIQUES.

Read the Reviews
ReviewTomorrow’s Another Day
By David G. Wall and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(10)
  • A review of the film The Theory of Everything
ReviewWhen Resilence Fails, Vulnerability Wreaks Havoc
      By Reshma Naidoo
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(9)
  • A review of the film Gone Girl


ReviewThe Railway Man: Next Stop PTSD
By Michael Fass
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(5)
  • A review of the film The Railway Man
ReviewInterstellar Dreams Big
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)
  • A review of the film Intersellar


ReviewGus's Mamartia
By David G. Wall and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(2)
  • A review of the film The Fault in Our Stars
ReviewCoded Messages
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(52)
  • A review of the film The Imitation Game


ReviewIf It Bleeds, It Leads
By Jason A. Cantone and Brandon Kuss PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(51)
  • A review of the film Nightcrawler

 ReviewGrowing Up in America
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(50)

  • A review of the film Boyhood


ReviewWhat Is Left of Creation
By David Manier
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(43)
  • A review of the film Noah

Thursday, March 05, 2015

How to Make Workplace Mental Health a Priority


Susan L. Trumbetta reviewed Mental illness in the Workplace:  Psychological Disability Management by  Henry G. Harder,  Shannon L. Wagner, and  Joshua A. Rash. This topic raises a number of questions in my mind. For example, how can employers get senior management to "buy in" to the importance of preventing  and treating mental health problems in the workplace? Relatedly, how can employers convince cynical employees that taking steps to prevent and treat mental health problems in the workplace should be a priority?

Read the Review
ReviewA Comprehensive Introduction to Workplace Mental Health
By Susan L. Trumbetta
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(6)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Has Psychology Lost Its Humanity?


In his intriguing review of the multilayered film Interstellar, Chris Ferguson applauds the film for attempting to bring in some science (despite being a science fiction film) and for unveiling deeper meaning in its exploration of humanity. He contrasts this with the field of psychology that, in some ways, has taken steps backward rather than advanced itself as a science. Ferguson explains:

I worry that psychology has lost its humanity. Psychological science seems to have ceased asking the big questions, or trying to understand the human condition. Instead we squabble over small-scale theories, or attempt to defend the societal importance of correlational effect sizes of r = .20 or less. Our theories have become unfalsifiable, surviving in some undead like state even as they are rocked by replication crises. The conduct of our research has become so cynical that leading researchers openly acknowledge not reporting theory unfavorable results (see Schimmack, 2014). I argue that psychology has fundamentally lost sight of itself and what it was meant to study. (para. 10)

What do you think? Has psychology lost its humanity? 

Or, would you argue for the exact opposite, that some fields within psychological science have significantly advanced and deepened from a scientific perspective? 

In either case, what are the best next steps to advance our field?

Read the Review
ReviewInterstellar Dreams Big
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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