Reviewed Books & Films

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March 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Death Penalty in America: No Resolution in Sight

APA In the opening of his review of Deterrence and the Death Penalty, Brian L. Wilcox describes the death penalty as "one of the more contentious public policy issues in the United States." One factor that contributes to the contentious nature of the topic is the assertion that the death penalty deters future crime. I eagerly awaited this review because I wanted what Wilcox notes most readers of the actual book likely want—a definitive answer on the deterrent or lack of deterrent effects of the death penalty. It is surprising and disappointing that in over three decades of research there is no final answer. However, it may be the case that we are asking the wrong questions about our death penalty policies.

As experts on human behavior, can psychologists assist in developing testable theories that can help the nation in determining how we wish to control and/or address violent crime in society? Is the death penalty a necessary component of our criminal justice's response to violent crime?

Read the Review
ReviewDoes the Death Penalty Deter Homicide?
By Brian L. Wilcox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(7)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Watts Not to Like?

APA Almost 40 years after his death, the legacy of Alan Watts remains controversial. In reviewing Peter Columbus and Donadrian Rice's new book Alan Watts—Here and Now: Contributions to Psychology, Philosophy, and Religion, I noted that:

On the one hand, Watts is lauded as a charismatic wordsmith, brilliant exponent of Eastern philosophy, and foundational figure in the San Francisco renaissance and human potential movement. On the other, he's critiqued for his immoderate lifestyle, accused of having misunderstood the mystical traditions, or even dismissed as the shallow "Norman Vincent Peale of Zen."
Does Watts's lifestyle affect your appreciation of his work? Does his popularization of Eastern philosophy render his insights moot? Or have we underestimated the importance of his early facilitation of dialogue between Eastern and Western religion?

Read the Review

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nature, Nurture, and Violence

APA The film We Need to Talk About Kevin focuses on a mother coping with the horrifying reality of her son's mass killing at school. The film offers flashbacks of the complex and troubled relationship between the mother and son but provides no definitive answer as to the cause of the atrocity.

In their review of the film, April Bradley and Erin Olufs discuss a variety of factors that can shed light on such a situation, for example, attachment styles, temperament, parenting, genetics, and parent–child conflict. Which do you believe plays the most significant role? Is it possible that one factor is typically the most dominant, or is it always relative to the particular situation or individual? Although the people responsible for mass killings are the product of both nature and nurture (and their interaction), which factor is most responsible for violent acts? Is there research to justify your position?

Read the Review
ReviewFamily Dynamics and School Violence
By April Bradley and Erin Olufs
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(49)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

When Does Fear Become a Disorder?

APA In his review of All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry's Transformation of Natural Anxieties Into Mental Disorders, Jonathan Abramowitz describes sensations and experiences that most of us can identify with. What parent has not experienced a sense of almost terror at the sight of a child's dash toward the street; a curfew violation; or a child's failure to respond to telephone calls, text messages, or an e-mail in what a parent considers a reasonable or expected time frame? Who cannot recall the rapid breathing and sweaty palms that accompany the emotions before a big speech or performance, first date, or first day on a new job?

As Abramowitz notes, most of us get through these events without therapy or medication, and may actually congratulate ourselves for the ability to do so and ultimately respond positively. Abramowitz states, "Horwitz and Wakefield's overarching contention is that the DSM's symptom-based diagnostic system needlessly pathologizes normal everyday anxieties." However, in our personal and professional lives we encounter many people who find it difficult to cope with these expected, seemingly ordinary challenges of life. The challenge for mental health professionals is to determine when these individuals require intervention. Do we know exactly when to offer psychotherapy, offer a medication referral, or reconceptualize the anxiety? Does psychology, as a profession, have a responsibility to educate the public about its potential to pathologize normal responses? Are these research, clinical, or ethical questions?

Read the Review
ReviewDSM, Organized Psychiatry, and the Pharmaceutical Industry: That’s What We Have to Fear
      By Jonathan Abramowitz
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(7)

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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