Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Do We Teach People Not to Enjoy Others' Pain?


In her review of Richard H. Smith's The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, Tanya Telfair LeBlanc notes how we like to look at car accidents, watch TV programs that show others' pain (e.g., Maury), and read the grocery store tabloids.  

Assuming that these behaviors are undesirable, what could psychologists do to teach people, especially young people, to not take such delight in others' pain? Perhaps these efforts would even be a first step toward increasing prosocial behavior (or at least decreasing more negative or aggressive behavior). What stakeholders should be involved—churches, schools, private groups (e.g., Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts), family members, etc.? Who knows—maybe success would even decrease the popularity and number of reality shows.


Read the Review
ReviewKeeping It Real: Unmasking Evidence of Delight in Others’ Misfortune
By Tanya Telfair LeBlanc
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(14)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

All Work and No Play in Academia


Authors Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, and Marc Goulden discuss the difficulties of achieving work-life balance in academia in their book Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower. Faculty positions often require demanding hours to fulfill pretenure obligations to conduct research, publish, write grants, and teach multiple courses each semester. As Linda Berg-Cross and Tiffany Brown note in their review of the book, the authors contend that women with children are particularly burdened by pretenure expectations, evidenced by the fact that women in the sciences who have children under the age of six are less likely to receive tenure compared with their male and childless female counterparts. Several “family-friendly” policies are recommended in the book, including tenure-clock stoppage for childbirth, paid parental leave, part-time tenure track appointments, and modified duties for parents after childbirth.

Why doesn’t academia have more progressive policies that promote work-life balance? Should academia be ahead of the corporate world in this regard? Are female faculty with children indeed at a greater disadvantage than others when it comes to achieving tenure?


Read the Review
ReviewMarriage, Children, and Academia
By Linda Berg-Cross and Tiffany Brown
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Two Views of Milgram’s “Notorious” Research


Alan Elms and Ian Nicholson wrote two dramatically different views of Gina Perry’s book Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments. Each review had two purposes. First, to critique Perry’s book. Second, which is where the drama comes in, to present the reviewer's judgments on Milgram’s research.

Perhaps the only area of agreement in these reviews is that Perry did a reasonably scholarly job in her research by interviewing participants and others involved (including Elms) in the original research, and in exploring the Milgram archives at Yale University. But Elms sees this book as “Milgram bashing,” whereas Nicholson finds a justified concern with validity and ethics.

They disagree, for example, in their views of the interviews with Milgram’s participants. (We used to call them subjects.) Nicholson sees these as fascinating “graphic, first-person accounts," whereas Elms wonders about selection bias and self-promotion. Their disagreement is stronger when it comes to Milgram’s concern for his participants and his motivation for continuing the studies after seeing the initial results.

Readers of this blog may not have read Perry’s book but surely are familiar with the Milgram research and surrounding controversy. Has Elms's closeness to the research made him too defensive? Is Nicholson being overly harsh? Is this still worth worrying about?


Read the Reviews
ReviewContra Milgram
By Alan Elms
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(11)


ReviewLaboratory Theater Masquerading as Scientific Truth
By Ian Nicholson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(11)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Imperative of Forgiveness and the Deployment of "Heroic" Character Strengths


Consider atrocities that have occurred in Rwanda, Israel, Northern Ireland, and Palestine. Think about the people on both sides of the experience—living victims and perpetrators. Now, reflect on the following questions:

  • What does it take to truly forgive someone after he or she has committed a terrible wrong?
  • Is it possible to forgive an entire group of people (e.g., a race, a country, those who practice a particular religion)? Is it easier to forgive an individual perpetrator or a group of perpetrators?
  • On the other hand, what does it take to ask for forgiveness? For a perpetrator who has been forgiven, is it of greater benefit if he or she first acknowledged the full extent of the wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness?

The science of positive psychology, which encapsulates the upsurge in scientific findings on forgiveness, informs us of the physical and psychological benefits of forgiving others. However, there are many dynamics yet to be thoroughly examined by positive psychology. In their review of the documentary film Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, Frank Farley and  Mona Sarshar examine the challenges of reconciliation and some of the benefits for those who display this character strength in action. They point out that despite an increase in research, there remain few studies on the benefits to perpetrators who have been forgiven. In addition, they emphasize the importance of altruism, generosity, and other "heroic" character strengths to counteract such horrors. 

Indeed, if we all deployed our character strengths in ways to benefit others, we would not be having this conversation. What thoughts, opinions, and comments does this idea elicit in you?


Read the Review
ReviewFrom Giving to Forgiving—A Bridge Too Far?
By Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy, Try These Pills



In his review of Mark Walker’s new book Happy-People-Pills for All, Peter Addy makes the following statement:

Let us suppose that we create a new pharmacological agent, which I shall call "Handwavium," that has few side effects and is not habit forming. Handwavium increases trait levels of both affective and cognitive aspects of happiness, creating in people a condition termed hyperthymia. What would happen to people and society with the introduction and Food and Drug Administration approval of Handwavium?

These are interesting philosophical questions that Mark Walker addresses in his book Happy-People-Pills for All. He argues that daily use of his version of Handwavium would lead to greater autonomy, individual well-being, and societal well-being.

If it were possible to create such a substance, do you believe everybody should take it?  If not, why not?


Read the Review
ReviewHappiness Is a Warm Pill?
By Peter Addy
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(6)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Psychology and Solutions to Social Problems


In his review of Toward a Socially Responsible Psychology for a Global Era, Jeffrey Rubin discusses the book authors' beliefs that psychology has a role to play in identifying and developing solutions to the complex psychological, social, and economic causes of our global crises. Rubin notes,

[The book] usefully reminds readers that psychology needs to expand to include the world that shapes and affects all of us, including discriminatory social realities, structural barriers to services and justice, and systematic socioeconomic disparities and inequities.

The authors attempt to describe changes in theory, research, training, and practice that are required to contribute to a “globally conscious, socially responsible psychology”(p. 77). However, Rubin suggests that, although the book makes the case for a socially responsible psychology and the role it plays and can play in identification of the causes of global ills, the solutions and recommendations for change offered lack nuance and complexity. Rubin focuses on the neglect of emotions and unconscious processes that may contribute to a number of the negative influences in society—greed, overconsumption, and the refusal to engage in practices that ensure a more sustainable world. He suggests drawing on psychoanalytic understandings to overcome some of the limitations of the authors' recommendations.

Although analytic understandings can be usefully integrated, is this enough to reach the stated goal of the book? What role does scholarship in content areas such as social, organizational, educational, and school psychology play in finding solutions to social inequity? Does the development of a socially responsible psychology require a disciplinary shift in methodology and focus in order to solve problems of crime and violence?

Read the Review
ReviewPsychology in the Global Age
By Jeffrey Rubin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Higher Education in Crisis


In his review of Jeffrey Selingo’s book College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, Alliant International University President Geoffrey Cox, notes,

[T]oday colleges and universities are facing the greatest challenges they’ve encountered in more than 50 years, the root cause of which amounts to a crisis of confidence.

Selingo is the editor at large of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and he is even more blunt: “American higher education is broken” (p. x).

In College (Un)Bound, Selingo identifies five core problems facing higher education:

(1) Student debt loads;

(2) The massive withdrawal of state support for public institutions;

(3) Demographic declines among traditional-aged students in the United States;

(4) Numerous “unbundled” alternatives to traditional university degree programs (e.g., low-cost online courses);

(5) The growing gap between the price of education and its value in the labor market.  

Have psychologist educators been complicit in training too many students for too few jobs?  Is an undergraduate education in psychology useful for most of our students who will not go on to get graduate degrees in psychology?  Do you share Selingo's pessimism about the future of higher education?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Great Unraveling
By Geoffrey Cox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(5)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What 2013 Films Would Win If Psychologists Gave Out Academy Awards?


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 2013 films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include The Great Gatsby, 42, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Butler, and Before Midnight.

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

Read the Reviews
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(41)
  • A review of the film The Great Gatsby
ReviewThe Fountainhead of Eudaemonia
By David G. Wall
      and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(39)
  • A review of the film 42


ReviewHeroism on the High Seas: Piracy, Type T Personality, and Perspicacity
      By Frank Farley
      and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(4)
  • A review of the film Captain Phillips
ReviewWhen Gravity Shall Set You Free
By Richard W. Bloom
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(47)
  • A review of the film Gravity



ReviewThe Butler Did It
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(3)
  • A review of the film The Butler
ReviewKeeping Love Visible
By David G. Wall
      and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(51)
  • A review of the film Before Midnight

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Associate Dean for Management
and International Programs,
California School of Professional Psychology,
Alliant International University

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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