Reviewed Books & Films

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April 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Psychology and Race: Leaving a Legacy of Racism Behind

APA In their review of Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, Lundy Braun and Amed Logrono note the "re-emergence of research linking intelligence to race" and go on to state, "That this is happening now in the field of psychology is all the more troubling, given that there is no consensus on what actually constitutes this thing we call intelligence." In addition to this caution, I add that it is troubling because we do not really know what is meant by "race." Williams (2006) states,

For scholars who examine and analyze the germination, maturation, demise, and revival of particular ideas from one historical epoch to another, the malleability of most ideas is axiomatic. Yet the questions of how and why certain ideas retain their essential valuations for centuries are, for most historians of ideas, more problematic—especially in the case of an idea as volatile as that of race. (p.120)
Braun and Logrono note the implications of our research endeavors failing to critically examine the meaning of race for areas as diverse as forensics and education. Given discussions of disparities, I add health to the list of research areas in need of examination where the discourse on race is concerned.

Setting aside the studies of the impact of the social assignment of race on relationships, resources, opportunities, and life outcomes, I tend to think that most studies of race are consciously or unconsciously alluding to race as a biological construct. However, we cannot know this if we do not ask. How often do reviewers of journals critically consider this issue, and what are the consequences of this discipline's failure to address what is meant by "race" on the value of psychology’s contributions to science? As psychologists, we proudly participated in The Decade of Behavior (2000–2010) and loudly trumpeted our ability to assist society in meeting some of its greatest challenges, racism included. At this juncture it is important that we ask ourselves where we intend to lead society where issues of race are concerned.


Williams, V. J. (2006). The social sciences and theories of race. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Read the Review
ReviewCan Science Explain the Concept of Race?
By Lundy Braun and Amed Logrono
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(16)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Are Optimists Healthier?

APA In their review of Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin's book The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life From the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, Martha Crowther and Chao-Hui Huang point out a number of surprising findings:

For example, people tend to think that cheerfulness and optimism are benefits to health and well-being; however, these positive personality traits may play a negative role in health outcomes as cheerful and optimistic people tend to underestimate the threats of risky health behaviors during their pursuit of happiness. Conversely, worrying may not always exert a detrimental effect on one’s health. In fact, worrying combined with conscientiousness may be a protective factor for health and longevity.
Other studies coming from positive psychology suggest a largely salutary relationship between optimism and health. All things considered, are optimistic people healthier?

Read the Review
ReviewSecrets to a Long, Healthy Life: Uncovering Myths About Longevity
By Martha Crowther and Chao-Hui Huang
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(15)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It Seems So Counterintuitive

APA Relatively few psychology books capture the public's attention the way Steven Pinker's books do. For example, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined has been reviewed in Scientific American, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Phil Zimbardo is perhaps the only other major psychologist whose scholarly books have received such popular acclaim.

Writing in PsycCRITIQUES, David Geary, Drew Bailey, and Benjamin Winegard praise the book, noting,

Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a brilliant analysis of the decline in human violence over the past several centuries and of the social and psychological processes associated with this decline.
Pinker's major premise in Better Angels is that the world is becoming far less violent, and he makes a compelling case, marshalling extensive historical and statistical evidence. However, if Pinker is right, why is his argument so counterintuitive, and why does it seem like we are living in such a violent age?

Read the Review
ReviewStrategic Cooperation and the Rise of the Modern World
By David C. Geary, Drew H. Bailey, and Benjamin Winegard
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(11)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Media Violence Research: How Could Results Be Better Conveyed to the Public?

APA In their review of Steven Kirsh's Children, Adolescents, and Media Violence: A Critical Look at the Research (2nd ed.), Craig Anderson and Sara Prot note that the media violence literature is nuanced and complicated, and researchers have not been successful in communicating research findings to the general public. They note journalism's obsession with getting "both sides of the story," the deep pockets of the video game industry, and a general fear of censorship and its deleterious effects. They comment,

Two additional, related aspects of the failure of media effects researchers to effectively communicate what has been known for decades are that (a) violent media effects are inherently complex and (b) most scientific summaries of the vast research literature are difficult for the educated layperson to comprehend (e.g., Anderson et al., 2010).
Why haven't psychologists been more effective in communicating their research findings on media violence to the general public?

Read the Review
ReviewMyths and Facts About Youth and Violent Media
By Craig A. Anderson and Sara Prot
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(14)

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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