Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Does Variability in Skin Tone Among European Americans Matter?


Martha E. Banks reviews Color Matters:  Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Post-Racial America edited by Kimberly Jade Norwood.  The book discusses the issue of colorism in the United States. I discuss the issues related to colorism and skin tone in my classes and inform students that it is not just an issue in the perception African Americans (usually lighter skin tone is preferred, related to more favorable outcomes compared with darker skin tone), but I also note that skin tone and colorism issues are relevant to other minority ethnic groups in the United States, and for people in other countries as well (e.g., India).

However, few, if any, researchers study skin tone and colorism issues in the perception of European Americans. Some European Americans have a very light or milky skin tone, some a more reddish tone, some a darker skin tone (who may be mistaken for Latino or African American).  If skin tone has implications for minority groups such as African Americans, could it not also have negative implications for European Americans who are perceived as too light or too dark in skin tone?

Read the Review
ReviewColorism: (Still) Getting Away With Racism
By Martha E. Banks
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(36)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is Universal Screening Worth the Investment for Schools?


Universal Screening in Educational Settings: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Schools, edited by Ryan J. Kettler, Todd A. Glover, Craig A. Albers, and Kelly A. Feeney-Kettler, addresses the utility of universal screenings in schools for assessing academic competencies and the socioemotional and behavioral needs of students. The book provides guidance for implementing universal screening in educational settings and framing the approach within a Response to Intervention (RTI) model, and it heralds the use of screening as an important strategy for improving school performance.

According to reviewer Oscar Barbarin, the book makes a convincing case for universal screenings in educational settings, as it “highlights the relevance and applicability of psychological science to many of the most pressing and worrisome issues facing schools” (para. 8). Barbarin also points out lingering issues that need further consideration:

• Although schools are likely to see the value in screening for academic competencies given the current climate of “high-stakes” testing, the same cannot be said for allocating resources to universal socioemotional and behavioral screening. Do you agree with this assumption? Can a convincing case be made that socialemotional/behavioral screening is worth the investment given schools’ limited resources?

• Barbarin believes there is “the danger of reifying children's status on a screening tool in a way that transforms individual differences on a screening tool into a category such as deficient, at risk, or failing” (para. 9). Do you agree that this is cause for concern? How can schools minimize the risk of labeling on the basis of results from screening?

Read the Review
ReviewDo More Data Make for Better School Outcomes?
By Oscar Barbarin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Strong Health Policy or the Nanny State?


In their review of A Big Fat Crisis, Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren King question how realistic author Deborah Cohen’s policy recommendations are with respect to supermarket, restaurant, and food industry products and advertising. Whereas Cohen focuses on the failure of individuals’ approaches to control obesity, the reviewers provide insight into how the public health approach to the obesity problem has been received and suggest some reasons for negative reactions and responses. Public health approaches to issues typically focus on system-wide, population-level interventions, which in the case of obesity challenge the individual effort/personal responsibility ideology frequently encountered in the political discourse of the United States. It is perhaps this deeply ingrained ideology that leads to the public’s resistance to a broad range of policy efforts, such as school lunch standards and the recent effort to regulate the size of soft drinks sold in New York City, designed to protect the public health.  

Olbrisch and King call for a “balanced message that counterweighs a public health approach with education about effective individual actions that do not blame but do empower” (last para.). However, as a reader, I was struck by the need to think through a balanced approach to American ideology; the increased complexity of living in a society strongly influenced by corporate interests and economic influence may increase the need for government, as the publicly elected social institution, to protect the population in a way that individual action cannot. Finally, can psychology help to move the public discourse away from blame and stigma directed toward those who are obese to business and industry accountability for the food environment that has been created? 

Read the Review
ReviewPie in the Sky? Another Run at a Public Health Approach to the Obesity Epidemic
By Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren A. King
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Three Guidelines Would You Give Psychological Professionals on Social Media Use?


Like many others, I am intrigued with the amount and types of information that people, including psychology professionals, share on social media.  Of course, there is the usual professional information such as education, experience, skills, accomplishments, a photo in business attire.  But psychology professionals often post less professional material including vacation photos, party photos (including some very sexy photos), personal likes and dislikes, photos of their pets, their families...  Sometimes these professionals make this information available to their students and clients.

Karen Wilson reviewed Sandra M. DeJong's book Blogs and Tweets, Texting and Friending:  Social Media and Online Professionalism in Health Care, which discusses some of these issues.

What three simple guidelines would you give to psychology faculty, graduate students, consultants, or therapists on Internet and social media use with their students and clients?

Read the Review
ReviewCan I “Friend” My Therapist? The Ethics of Social Media Use in Health Care
By Karen Wilson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(29)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Uncritical Critical Thinking


Among the frustrations of anyone who alleges to be a critical thinker are discussions that turn into arguments. During the discussion phase I may say, “well, the scientific evidence shows . . . .”  If open-minded discussion continues, my friend might counter with reference to other evidence, although neither of us may have documentation at hand or even in memory. We begin to argue, however, if my friend claims that those scientists I mentioned are biased liberals and refers to an article in the Wall Street Journal. I confess that in many discussions I have not read the “evidence” but only a review of research on, say, global warming. So, at best, we agree to disagree and order another round.

Critical thinking is hard cognitive work, and we can use help to keep it sharp, so it is disappointing to read about an apparently widely used book (in its 7th edition) on critical thinking in which the authors are “debunkers who fail to consider evidence and argumentation that are inconsistent with their beliefs” (last para.). In his review of How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Etzel Cardeña goes on to say the authors “offer an unscientific double-standard discussion instead of engaging in the difficult task of trying to think and argue about complex evidence that sometimes resists easy explanations” (last para.).

What we really need is a book on how to discuss weird things, or better yet, an Evidence App for our smartphone that will take us to reviews and meta-analyses on various topics with links to the original sources. Wouldn’t that make me popular as a dinner guest? Short of that, I could use some advice on evidence-based everyday discourse, including a better guide than How to Think About Weird Things.

Read the Review
ReviewDo as I Say, Not as I Do
By Etzel Cardeña
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(28)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's Your View of Heaven?


Heaven Is for Real is a film based on the true story of a 4-year-old boy who reported he visited heaven while under anesthesia during a life-threatening operation. The film has garnered a significant amount of media attention and popular interest. In his review, Edward Cumella reports that the film offers minimal insight into the phenomenon of near death experiences (NDEs) and misses opportunities to discuss scientific information and explore complex questions relating to NDEs. In addition, he reports that the film reinforces stereotypes of psychologists and of scientists.

What is your view about NDEs? Are they a connection with “something greater” (e.g., a heaven), are they merely an artifact of our brain processing material, or are they something else?

Is it possible for movies or books to convince consumers one way or another on the existence of an afterlife? Or, are they simply mechanisms that individuals ultimately use to support their existing bias?

Do movies that perpetrate misconceptions about scientists and psychologists do more harm than good for the field of psychology?

Read the Review
ReviewIs Heaven Real? Heaven Knows!
By Edward J. Cumella
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Have All the Grand Masters in Psychotherapy Died?


Gestalt therapy is intimately linked to the life and work of Fritz Perls, and almost everyone in my generation of clinical and counseling psychologists remembers the iconic “Gloria tapes” in which the therapy styles of Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls were juxtaposed.  In his review of Eleanor O’Leary’s Gestalt Therapy Around the World, Paul Priester asks,

What happens to a school of psychotherapy when its founder dies? Perhaps even more poignantly, what happens to a school of psychotherapy after the first generation of clinicians trained by the founders die? (para. 1)

Why aren’t there heirs apparent for Rogers, Ellis, and Perls? Did all three men fail in succession planning? Is there anyone today of similar stature to these giants in the world of psychotherapy? If not, why not?

Read the Review
ReviewWho (in the World) Wants to Work? The International Persistence of Gestalt Psychotherapy
By Paul E. Priester
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Should I Recommend Criminal Profiling as a Career for My Undergraduate Psychology Majors?


For most of my career, students in my classes always asked me about becoming a clinical or counseling psychologist, what was needed to be admitted into those graduate programs, and so forth.  (Rarely did they ask about my field of social psychology!)  However, in the last few years, more students have told me that they want information on becoming a criminal profiler.  

As Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson note in their review of Curt R. Bartol and Anne M. Bartol's Criminal and Behavioral Profiling: Theory, Research, and Practice, many people have an inaccurate perception of profilers. I sometimes think that my students who have watched films and television shows like Criminal Minds think that profilers have their own jet aircraft, look like Paget Brewster and Shemar Moore, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of psychology to help them quickly and accurately profile and catch criminals. In some ways, even news programs that interview profilers for crime stories perpetuate these inaccurate perceptions.

So, given the Bartol and Bartol book, and the Ertelt and Matson review, what should we tell students?  What is the best way to correct their misconceptions? Should we discourage them from becoming profilers?

Read the Review
ReviewFishing the Science Out of the Hype in Criminal and Behavioral Profiling
By Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)

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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