Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Inequality: The Problem of Us All


In the review of Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality: Diverging Destinies, David S. Hargrove suggests that the book presents “objective data that reflect concerns from the inequality experienced by American families” (para. 5) and is an “effort to describe the process, consequences, and likely future of inequality” (para. 7). Hargrove discusses the atheoretical strategy used to present the information and the failure to integrate seemingly disparate findings.  As is typical in our society, there are sides in the family inequality debate, and Hargrove highlights the chapters that illustrate the divide: “Inequality Begins Outside the Home: Putting Parental Educational Investments Into Context” and “Inequality Begins at Home: The Role of Poverty in the Diverging Destinies of Rich and Poor Children.” While an objective data presentation may prove comforting to proponents of each side, how well does it serve the public?

Those of varying ideological perspectives generally use the same or portions of the same data to substantiate their positions. Hargrove points out that the solidifying of ideological positions “continues the social, political, and economic gridlock that, in part at least, lies at the basis for the inequality that drives the concern that led to the development of this book” (para. 7). How might psychologists work to develop theory and processes that permit the effective use of data to inform policies that lead to meaningful interventions that address the consequences of inequality among American families, as well as other social issues confronting the United States today?

How do we, as psychologists, avoid having our respective agendas influence the interventions tested and recommendations made based on the data assembled? As Hargrove notes, critical examination and review are a must. Does my agenda and perspective affect my presentation of Hargrove’s review? Did Hargrove’s agenda and perspective affect his presentation and review of the book?

Read the Review
ReviewTaking Family Systems Theory Beyond the Family
By David S. Hargrove
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(26)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Time for a Change in Doing Time?


In their review of The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Causes and Consequences, April Bradley and Beth Kliethermes cite the startling statistic that around 75% of inmates in the United States have a mental disorder.  These include depression (23%), psychotic disorders (15%), and mania (43%) (para. 3).  Not surprisingly, these inmates have a greater likelihood of misconduct in prison.  What should be done to address this grievous situation?

Read the Review
ReviewCriminalizing Our Community
By April R. Bradley and Beth C. Kliethermes
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(28)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Has Behavior Genetics Shaped Up?


Do you know about the power struggles that have happened in the field of behavior genetics? I sure didn’t. I thought that these struggles must have been pretty exciting after reading Erin E. Young’s review of Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics by Aaron Panofsky. I wish Young had provided examples and named names when describing a field that “sometimes looks more like the Wild West than a group of ivory tower-dwelling academics” (para. 2).

The only example that came to mind for me was the issue of racial differences in intelligence. That controversy involved not only scholarly articles and books, but personal and physical attacks. I would expect Panofsky’s book to detail this and other examples of misbehavior.

But hasn’t the nature-nurture issue settled down in large part due to the Minnesota twin studies (see We know that genetics is a significant determinant of who we are, and we can, to some extent, say how much it influences various traits and behaviors. Perhaps more well-informed readers can tell us how or whether behavior genetics has shaped up.

Read the Review
ReviewNo One Wins and Everyone Loses: Power Struggles in Shaping Behavioral Genetics
By Erin E. Young
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(27)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

"A Role Model for Resilience — But Does It Help You or Your Clients Change?"


The film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the remarkable story of Louis Zamperini, a prisoner of war during World War II who survived numerous traumas, including a plane crash, 47 days on a raft at sea, and systematic torture for 27 months. It would seem unimaginable, for most of us, to put ourselves in Zamperini's shoes for even 1/10 of these traumas.

In his review of the film, psychologist and author Paul T. P. Wong discusses how Zamperini's resilience/perseverance emerges through a combination of many factors, such as finding meaning in suffering, having faith in an ultimate rescuer, and channeling personal willpower and passion throughout his lifetime (including pretrauma).

Many psychologists use films such as Unbroken for clients to exemplify resilience and to provide role models of figures who have overcome problems. Do you and your clients find characterizations of figures like Zamperini to be helpful role models for rallying your own or your clients' resilience? Or are such portrayals too challenging to relate to and thus not as helpful as, say, a family member or friend who has overcome a personal challenge? Feel free to share an example in your response.

Either way, perhaps such examples create additional pathways for viewers to reflect on how they relate to their suffering, how they tap into the power of the human condition, and how they make meaning out of adversity. From this perspective, are films like Unbroken always helpful?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Positive Psychology of Grit: The Defiant Power of the Human Spirit
By Paul T. P. Wong
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(25)

Thursday, July 02, 2015

How Do We Solve the Problems of Poor Families: Turn Drifters Into Planners?


Tanya Telfair LeBlanc reviewed Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage by Isabel V. Sawhill. Sawhill and LeBlanc describe the myriad problems (physical health, mental health, etc.) of poor families and trace the problem back to the breakdown of the married two parent family structure. LeBlanc notes,

Sawhill makes an important distinction between the Planners (p. 3), those who plan for having children, and the Drifters (p. 3), young women who simply become sexually active, with no plan to use contraceptives, no plan to care for a potential pregnancy and no plan to take care of herself and raise a child. (para. 7)

 Later LeBlanc states,

Sawhill’s remedy for this social problem appears straightforward: Turn the Drifters into Planners (pp. 105-128).  One step toward turning Drifters into Planners is to help young girls take control over results of their introduction to sex and expanding the utility of long-term birth control methods.” (para. 10)

This in turn would improve educational attainment, income, and health outcomes.

Could this suggestion be a major solution for which many have craved to help eliminate unplanned pregnancies and consequently poverty, poorer physical health, lower education, etc.? LeBlanc notes that long-term birth control methods such as Depo-Provera are controversial.  But even if this particular method is not acceptable, are there other methods and programs that could accomplish the same outcome?

Read the Review
ReviewEnd of Denial: Family Structure Predicts Life Chances for Children
By Tanya Telfair LeBlanc
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol. 60(24)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Are Black Feminists on to Something?


In the review of Race, Gender and the Activism of Black Feminist Theory: Working with Audre Lorde, Geneva Reynaga-Abiko comments on an aspect of racial scholarship that often goes unexamined in U.S. psychology. What is meant by the term Black and how do varying definitions of Black affect the validity and utility of scholarship addressing social issues that focus on or include race? How might this issue affect the way that we conceptualize and discuss issues of race daily? I am not sure that psychologists referencing literature, or those who seek to contribute to the literature on race, always consider the importance of the terms used or the need to be clear on what is being conveyed about whom. More importantly, Reynaga-Abiko’s review points to the potential contribution that Race, Gender and the Activism of Black Feminist Theory: Working with Audre Lorde and Black feminist thought can make to psychology’s approach to oppression and social justice.

The term Black typically references those of African descent, but can vary in the inclusion of those born only in the United States, those born in the diaspora, or those born on the continent. Over time, I have learned that when reading the European literature, I must broaden my focus to include all people of color, regardless of their relationship to the continent of Africa. However, Reynaga-Abiko notes an even broader use of the term; Black can also be seen as “a political term which includes all oppressed ethnic groups (Parmar & Kay, 2004, as cited on p. 23)" (para. 1). The political use of the term might be best represented today in the use of #BlackLivesMatter and the debate that ensued over its use. The critique and discussions have focused on the need for a statement that “all lives matter,” feelings of exclusion and alienation on the part of potential allies, feelings that we are too quick to turn social and economic issues into issues about race, etc.

It is interesting to observe and think through the solidarity shown toward #BlackLivesMatter around the world in contrast to concern and debate over its use in the United States, recognition of or a nod to the political definition and use of the term Black. Perhaps the world is suggesting a second look at psychology’s and the U.S. approach to race and oppression. Perhaps there is a role and a need for Black feminist thought in psychology and psychological research.


Parmar, P., & Kay, J. (2004). Frontiers. In J. Wylie Hall (Ed.), Conversations with Audre Lorde (pp. 171 – 180). Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
Read the Review
ReviewWhat Can We Learn From Black Feminist Thought?
By Geneva Reynaga-Abiko
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(19)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Required Psychology Ethics Course?


 James H. Korn reviewed Ethical Challenges in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences: Case Studies and Commentaries by Robert J. Sternberg and Susan T. Fiske. Few would disagree with the importance of ethics in psychology research, practice, consulting, and teaching. Therefore, should an ethics course be required in psychology undergraduate and/or graduate curricula? Clinical graduate programs emphasize ethics, but do we also need a required course/training in the other areas of psychology (social, neuroscience, developmental, industrial-organizational, etc.) that covers ethics in research, teaching, and/or consultation?  Or are psychology undergraduates or graduate students already receiving sufficient ethics training in other ways—e.g., research in faculty labs, practice in the community, information in other courses/textbooks, and one-on-one interactions with mentors, etc.?

Read the Review
ReviewCases in Research and Teaching Ethics
By James H. Korn
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(23)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is Environmental Pollution Causing Us to “Lose Our Minds”?


Losing Our Minds: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Human Intelligence and Mental Health by Barbara Demeneix examines the impact of chemical pollutants on thyroid hormone production, or thyroid hormone action, with negative effects on cognitive functioning and mental well-being. Demeneix suggests that the negative impacts include falling IQ and a rising incidence of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As discussed by reviewer Stuart Derbyshire, IQ is normative and has been rising for several decades, and while autism prevalence has indeed increased over the past 30 years, reasons for this trend could include actual changes in prevalence of autism or broadened diagnostic boundaries with an increased tendency to recognize autism. Nonetheless, Derbyshire concludes that there is a theoretical possibility that an environmental pollutant could be causing low-level cognitive impairment that may be related to reductions in IQ and increased autism and ADHD prevalence.

What do you think about possible links between environmental pollution, thyroid hormone production, and negative effects on mental well-being?  Is there enough evidence to warrant concern? 

Are psychologists taking the role of pollutants on cognitive functioning and mental health seriously enough?

Read the Review
ReviewFear and Uncertainty Regarding Environmental Pollution and Mental Health
By Stuart Derbyshire
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(18)

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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