Reviewed Books & Films

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January 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Watch Out for Big Data


Big data is a hot topic these days. In his review of  Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, David Pittenger shows that it is important for psychologists to pay attention to it. Big means really big, “data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using... traditional data processing applications” (Wikipedia). Google searches are that big. So is the UPS package-tracking system. And then there is our National Security Agency, which may have stored all my gmail contacts, as well as those of my cousin in Germany. I think few psychologists will have access to these super-sized data sets, although our personal computers will allow us to process sort-of big data--- gigabytes, if not brontobytes. (I had to look that up.)

Pittenger raises the important issue of the ethics of using big data. He says it portends
both “solutions to the many problems of the day” and also “a dystopia that eliminates reasonable expectations of privacy, the localization of control to only those who have access to [the] data.”  However, earlier in his review he seems to take a more accepting view of the unobtrusive nature of big data research:

The searches that people perform, the pages they view, and how long they linger at a site become ideographic information, thus allowing the clever analyst to use online behavior as a reliable predictor of a medical condition, as was the case when the retail store chain Target detected an unmarried teen’s pregnancy before she shared the information with her family (Hill, 2012). Might contemporary experimental psychologists be able to use big data to examine modern racism, obedience and conformity, the effectiveness of various forms of psychotherapy, or mechanisms that control the construction of sentences? The potential is intriguing.

For me, the potential is disturbing. The Target case would not pass the standards in the APA ethics code (Standard 8). Research using Facebook postings would seem to be an area in which large amounts of data could be collected without the consent of the posters. Are there other examples in which people can become research subjects without their consent? How can standards to consent and privacy be applied?


Hill, K. (2012). How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did. Retrieved from
Read the Review
ReviewWhen the Sample Is the Population: Big Data
By David Pittenger
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(2)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Media's Influence on Youth Violence and Crime: The Debate Rages on


Inevitably, when a youth commits a violent crime, the news story of the tragic event includes mention of the perpetrator’s video-gaming habits and the role that exposure to violent media may have played. As reviewers Craig AndersonMatt DeLisi, and Christopher L. Groves note, there has been hearty public debate around the effects of media on youth and behavior. Anderson et al. reviewed Christopher Ferguson’s recent book Adolescents, Crime, and the Media: A Critical Analysis that critiques the evidence from scientific studies showing a link between media and violent behavior. In his book, Ferguson levels methodological criticisms, for example, that aggression measures lack validity and are unstandardized, and that demand characteristics have influenced study findings. Ferguson also points out that the effect of violent media on behavior is small, that is, small effect sizes are often found in studies on this topic.

Anderson et al. object to the implication that small effects are not meaningful, noting that the effect sizes in this area are comparable to many others found in social psychology and that they are larger than those found in research deemed important enough for societal action, for example, the effects of asbestos on laryngeal cancer, calcium intake on bone mass, and exposure to lead on IQ scores in children.

Which side of the debate about the influence of media on youth violence are you on?  Why?  What is your opinion on the issue of small effect sizes in psychological research, particularly when there are implications for public safety?

Read the Review
ReviewSubtracting From Scientific Knowledge About Media Effects
By Craig A. Anderson, Matt DeLisi, and Christopher L. Groves
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(51)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Humanistic Psychology: Current Life and a Missing Piece


For a few years in the 1970s I taught a course on humanistic psychology, which then was still considered a “third force” in contrast to behavioral and psychoanalytic approaches. The emphasis was on the major figures (Maslow, May, and others) and ideas, but we also looked at the American cultural context that favored the development of humanistic viewpoints, including controversial topics such as encounter groups and altered states of consciousness. This course disappeared from our university catalog before the end of the century.

The reviewers (Louis Hoffman and Shawn Rubin) of Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self by Jessica Grogan are pleased that the author has attempted to separate the controversial fringe from clinical and academic contributions of humanistic psychology. The reviewers are not pleased, however, that Grogan generally ignores the current situation. The field currently is “alive and well,” they say. Membership in APA Division 32 has grown, its journal is active, and there are many viable graduate programs that emphasize the humanistic approach.

Nevertheless, the numbers still are small, and the influence seems minimal, compared with the  dominance of cognitive ideas in research and therapy. Are there any examples to show that humanistic approaches have much impact these days?

The Missing Piece

Hoffman and Rubin’s review discusses early struggles with gender and race diversity issues. Religion also was an issue. The first book published in this country that used “humanistic” in the title was edited bv Francis T. Severin, a Jesuit priest at Saint Louis University (Severin, 1965). Severin also wrote a supplement for introductory psychology courses titled, “What Humanistic Psychology Is About.” Severin sat in meetings with Abraham Maslow and others when the Association for Humanistic Psychology was formed. Severin told me that as the Association developed, religious views were not well received and he resigned his membership. Psychologists interested in religious issues went on to form their own APA division (36).


Severin, F. T. (1965). Humanistic viewpoints in psychology: A book of readings. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Read the Review
ReviewRediscovering Humanistic Psychology: Understanding Its Complicated History
By Louis Hoffman and Shawn Rubin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(50)

Thursday, January 09, 2014

International Adoptions: A Mixed Blessing?


The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce, explores the role that religion now plays in an already complex and emotional social strategy to assure that children have nurturing and supportive homes – adoption. In her review of the book, Rhoda Scherman identifies the central theme of Joyce’s book as the exploration of “U.S. families urged on by zealous Christian organizations, wanting to adopt children who the parents relentlessly perceive to be orphaned, abandoned, or just plain needy.” The term used to describe these activities, benevolent child trafficking, suggests the increasingly controversial nature of these adoptions.

The book author and reviewer acknowledge the good intentions of these adoptive parents, while raising questions about the sufficiency of good intentions when contrasted with potential violations of human rights and international law. Scherman also notes that although the focus of the book is international adoption, some of these issues also emerge in domestic adoptions involving evangelical organizations and their adherents. Joyce’s book does not “fully oppose or fully condone the actions and ideals of these Christian families,” but suggests the need for dialogue.

I was unaware of most of the issues identified in the review and wonder how knowledgeable other child psychologists are. As Scherman notes the absence of the adoptive child’s voice in the narrative, I considered my ability to address the needs that a child caught up in this drama might experience. What might these be; who is responsible for filling this gap in knowledge among psychologists; and to what extent is a strong understanding of religion required to meet these needs and concerns?

Read the Review
ReviewDoing More Harm Than Good: Misguided Salvation in The Evangelical Adoption Movement
      By Rhoda Scherman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(50)

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Is a Happy, Well-Functioning Stepfamily an Unattainable Ideal?


With the divorce rate of second marriages (67 percent) exceeding that of first marriages (50 percent), what is at the root of troubled remarriages? As reviewer Alice Honig describes, the thesis of Patricia Papernow’s book Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t is that becoming a stepfamily takes hard work and is a long-term process. Merging two separate families, particularly those with children, is difficult for a myriad of reasons: traumas in the parental family of origin, different life style choices and values (e.g., vegetarian versus not, preference for a boisterous family versus a quiet way of living), or issues arising from different temperaments that the children and adults bring into the new family (e.g., withdrawn or feisty). Sometimes the troubles stem from hostility of children who are parented in a more authoritarian way by the stepparent who is viewed as a “stranger,” or fearful of being “disloyal” toward their biological parent(s).

What other factors may play into the higher divorce rate among second marriages? Is there less motivation among remarried couples to preserve their stepfamilies? How can family therapy best meet the unique needs of stepfamilies?

Read the Review
ReviewHelp for Stepfamilies!
By Alice Sterling Honig
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(48)

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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