Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is a "Crisis Plan" Needed to Help the Nation’s Poor?


In Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, author Robert D. Putnam, tells us of the worsening plight of poor children in the United States. Putnam discusses some of the factors in the lives of poor families that research has shown may lead to negative outcomes, such as (a) the increasing absence of the father from the family, (b) "toxic stress" found in families living in poverty, which impedes healthy parenting practices and contributes to a chaotic family environment, and (c) the disintegration of communities and the isolation of poor children, resulting in the overall lack of adult guidance on how to navigate processes and institutions important for becoming a productive adult.

As Putnam describes the disappearing opportunity for poor children as a crisis, reviewer William Holcomb wonders about the need for a “crisis plan” to deal with it. A few recommendations are put forth in the book, including the controversial strategy of providing money to the poor to directly offset the effects of poverty.  Distributing money to the poor could include expanding earned income tax credits, expanding the existing child tax credit, and continuing some current antipoverty programs, as well as innovative wage and job supports for poor families. 

Is it time to be bold with policy recommendations to help end the cycle of intergenerational poverty? Is providing money to the poor directly a strategy worth considering? What other strategies are needed?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Disappearing Ladder of Opportunity
By William Holcomb
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(41)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Heritability Coefficients: When Will Text Books Catch Up?


Eric Turkheimer reviewed Jay Joseph's The Trouble With Twin Studies: A Reassessment of Twin Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Heritability is often discussed in psychology classes and textbooks. For example, in Introduction to Psychology texts, heritability coefficients are often discussed for several issues including intelligence and psychological disorders. The Introduction to Psychology text that I use spends two pages discussing the heritability of IQ scores, complete with the ubiquitous figure showing the correlations between twins reared together, twins reared apart, unrelated children raised together, and unrelated children raised apart (Similar graphs were in Intro texts when I was in college!)  One thing I do whenever my classes cover such information, is to emphasize that genes can influence our choice of environment and that environment can influence how genes influence our behavior, so that it is very difficult to disentangle genetic and environmental effects. In all fairness to my Intro text, the authors note this also.

Given Jay Joseph's book and Turkheimer's review, both of which suggest that these coefficients really do not provide much information, is it time to eliminate such discussions from textbooks?

Read the Review
ReviewArsonists at the Cathedral
By Eric Turkheimer
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(40)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Parenting From the Middle


We have changing structures and attitudes in the United States that affect the way that we parent. Who would have dreamed two or three decades ago that we would have a debate over children 10 to 6 years old walking to and from the park alone? Yet, in the summer of 2015 there was just such a debate.  Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, Maryland parents who allowed their 10- and 6-year-old children to walk home alone, had to defend themselves against charges of neglect (St. George, 2015).  While 8 Keys to Old School Parenting for Modern-Day Families, by Michael Mascolo, is not about this aspect of parenting, the book addresses one of the many concerns encountered by modern parents.

In the review of 8 Keys to Old School Parenting for Modern-Day Families, Elizabeth Soliday notes that our “prevailing parenting model is 'child–centered' ”(para. 3) in contrast to the authoritarian model of the past.  “Children, not parents, take the lead in their own self-determination” (para. 4). While not everyone will agree, Soliday notes that the book’s author argues that a child-centered approach has produced “over-indulged children who lack compassion and concern for others” (para. 5). Yet, no one is advocating a return to authoritarian parenting; what is put forward will be familiar to child and adolescent counseling and clinical psychologists, as well as developmental psychologists—authoritative parenting. So, what’s the issue?

Soliday notes the author’s replacement of familiar terms used in parenting such as “logical” or “natural” consequences with “meaningful” or “morally responsible” consequences. One example provided was that a child who is routinely disrespectful when reminded that the computer time limit is up could receive “a meaningful, morally responsible consequence of having to earn computer time through practicing respectful treatment” (para. 8). I don’t have a major problem with the consequence suggested or the language used. However, in an evidence-based era, where are the data showing that meaningful and responsible consequences will produce more compassionate, respectful, and responsible children than logical or natural consequences? To what extent will or does the outcome depend on the parent’s definition of moral and responsible? It’s worth a thought.


St. George, D. (2015, June 11) Maryland officials: Letting ‘free range’ kids walk or play alone is not neglect. The Washington Post, Retrieved from
Read the Review
ReviewHelp for Raising Morally Centered Children
By Elizabeth Soliday
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(39)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Is Common Sense Commonly Wrong?


In his review of Gerd Gigerenzer’s new book Simply Rational: Decision Making in the Real World, Donald MacGregor argues that:

Cognitive heuristics have, in some senses, been given a bad rap.  As part of refuting utility theory by demonstrating that the intuitive tools people apply to some types of problems lead them to suboptimal behavior in an economic sense, we’ve come to see heuristics as a form of biased judgment with negative connotations. (para. 4)

According to the reviewer, Gigerenzer’s view is more in keeping with the “adaptive utility of relatively simple rules that are based on the kinds of information…readily available in the human’s natural cognitive environment” (para. 4).

Where do you stand on the value of cognitive heuristics such as common sense?  Do we overvalue them, or has their value been overlooked?

Read the Review
ReviewIn the Twilight of Probabilities
By Donald MacGregor
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(35)

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Why Don’t Students and Teachers Do What They Should?


Learning in college courses is hard work that requires strategies that few students use and few teachers teach. In Bruce Henderson’s review of Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies That Promote Understanding, by Logan Fiorella and Richard E. Mayer, Henderson points out most students prefer strategies “such as rereading, recopying, and highlighting (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, & Willingham, 2013)” (para. 10), when they should be following the eight “generative strategies” presented in this book. These less effective strategies are strong habits acquired along the way from K through 12.

Teachers could help students acquire new, more effective study habits. Some of these, however, are counterintuitive and create what have been called “desirable difficulties” (para. 10). But that would not be fun for either the student or the teacher, and would take time away from perhaps the worst habit of many teachers—the need to “cover” the course content. It also would mean that teachers would have to learn how to use these strategies themselves.

Perhaps readers who do help students learn to learn could tell others how they find the time for this, and perhaps more importantly, whether they were able to motivate students to use generative strategies.


Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 1–47.
Read the Review
ReviewLearning as Thinking and Thinking as Learning
By Bruce B. Henderson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(37)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Isn't Prevention Preferable to Treatment of Alcohol Abuse?


Cecile A. Marczinski’s review of Binge Drinking and Alcohol Misuse Among College Students and Young Adults, by Rachel P. Winograd and Kenneth J. Sher, notes that the book is a valuable resource guide for the assessment and treatment of alcohol abuse. While treatment of alcohol abuse is certainly needed, many health professionals now emphasize prevention. It is less expensive and probably easier. Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." What can we do to prevent our youth from starting to drink alcohol in the first place? What are the best practices? What other persons or entities should get involved besides parents?

Read the Review
ReviewHelping Young People Drink Less: Empirically Based Strategies to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harm
      By Cecile A. Marczinski
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(34)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Should Psychologists Enter the Fray to End Corporal Punishment in Schools?


From Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Legal Precedents, Current Practices, and Future Policy, by Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Kelly M. Purtell, and Igor Holas, we learn that corporal punishment (CP) is currently still a legal  disciplinary option in 19 states in the United States and in private schools in 48 states. In a given year, approximately 220,000 children are subjected to CP at school with approximately, 10,000 to 20,000 students a year requiring medical attention. Most school CP involves hitting a child or adolescent (from preschool through high school) on the behind with a wooden paddle.

The authors convey what science clearly tells us: CP is ineffective and harmful to children, and there are effective, evidence-based interventions that schools could be using instead to promote positive behavior. Given this, reviewer Alan Kazdin suggests that “moving into advocacy and saying 'should' to the public goes beyond what science is intended to accomplish and what scientists are uniquely trained to do. . .if we want to eliminate the use of CP and the violence and antisocial behavior that CP often begets, perhaps scientists cannot stay out of the fray” (para. 9).

Do you agree with Kazdin that given the harmful nature of CP, scientists cannot stay out of the fray? What role do you think psychologists should play in helping to end corporal punishment in schools?

Read the Review
ReviewWe Have Hit Bottom by Using Corporal Punishment in the Schools
By Alan E. Kazdin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(34)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

All Booked Up?


In his review of Naomi Baron’s recent book Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, David Simpson suggests that Baron

makes compelling arguments that though digital reading devices have many advantages (convenience, open access, potential cost savings) they may be more suitable for skimming rather than reading in depth, for power browsing rather than reading and rereading in depth. (para. 5)

Do you agree?  Why or why not?  Are traditional printed books soon to be a thing of the past, or are they here forever?

Read the Review
ReviewLong Live the Printed Book: Lego, Ergo Sum!
By David D. Simpson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(32)

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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