Reviewed Books & Films

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March 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Imperative of Forgiveness and the Deployment of "Heroic" Character Strengths


Consider atrocities that have occurred in Rwanda, Israel, Northern Ireland, and Palestine. Think about the people on both sides of the experience—living victims and perpetrators. Now, reflect on the following questions:

  • What does it take to truly forgive someone after he or she has committed a terrible wrong?
  • Is it possible to forgive an entire group of people (e.g., a race, a country, those who practice a particular religion)? Is it easier to forgive an individual perpetrator or a group of perpetrators?
  • On the other hand, what does it take to ask for forgiveness? For a perpetrator who has been forgiven, is it of greater benefit if he or she first acknowledged the full extent of the wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness?

The science of positive psychology, which encapsulates the upsurge in scientific findings on forgiveness, informs us of the physical and psychological benefits of forgiving others. However, there are many dynamics yet to be thoroughly examined by positive psychology. In their review of the documentary film Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, Frank Farley and  Mona Sarshar examine the challenges of reconciliation and some of the benefits for those who display this character strength in action. They point out that despite an increase in research, there remain few studies on the benefits to perpetrators who have been forgiven. In addition, they emphasize the importance of altruism, generosity, and other "heroic" character strengths to counteract such horrors. 

Indeed, if we all deployed our character strengths in ways to benefit others, we would not be having this conversation. What thoughts, opinions, and comments does this idea elicit in you?


Read the Review
ReviewFrom Giving to Forgiving—A Bridge Too Far?
By Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy, Try These Pills



In his review of Mark Walker’s new book Happy-People-Pills for All, Peter Addy makes the following statement:

Let us suppose that we create a new pharmacological agent, which I shall call "Handwavium," that has few side effects and is not habit forming. Handwavium increases trait levels of both affective and cognitive aspects of happiness, creating in people a condition termed hyperthymia. What would happen to people and society with the introduction and Food and Drug Administration approval of Handwavium?

These are interesting philosophical questions that Mark Walker addresses in his book Happy-People-Pills for All. He argues that daily use of his version of Handwavium would lead to greater autonomy, individual well-being, and societal well-being.

If it were possible to create such a substance, do you believe everybody should take it?  If not, why not?


Read the Review
ReviewHappiness Is a Warm Pill?
By Peter Addy
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(6)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Psychology and Solutions to Social Problems


In his review of Toward a Socially Responsible Psychology for a Global Era, Jeffrey Rubin discusses the book authors' beliefs that psychology has a role to play in identifying and developing solutions to the complex psychological, social, and economic causes of our global crises. Rubin notes,

[The book] usefully reminds readers that psychology needs to expand to include the world that shapes and affects all of us, including discriminatory social realities, structural barriers to services and justice, and systematic socioeconomic disparities and inequities.

The authors attempt to describe changes in theory, research, training, and practice that are required to contribute to a “globally conscious, socially responsible psychology”(p. 77). However, Rubin suggests that, although the book makes the case for a socially responsible psychology and the role it plays and can play in identification of the causes of global ills, the solutions and recommendations for change offered lack nuance and complexity. Rubin focuses on the neglect of emotions and unconscious processes that may contribute to a number of the negative influences in society—greed, overconsumption, and the refusal to engage in practices that ensure a more sustainable world. He suggests drawing on psychoanalytic understandings to overcome some of the limitations of the authors' recommendations.

Although analytic understandings can be usefully integrated, is this enough to reach the stated goal of the book? What role does scholarship in content areas such as social, organizational, educational, and school psychology play in finding solutions to social inequity? Does the development of a socially responsible psychology require a disciplinary shift in methodology and focus in order to solve problems of crime and violence?

Read the Review
ReviewPsychology in the Global Age
By Jeffrey Rubin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Higher Education in Crisis


In his review of Jeffrey Selingo’s book College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, Alliant International University President Geoffrey Cox, notes,

[T]oday colleges and universities are facing the greatest challenges they’ve encountered in more than 50 years, the root cause of which amounts to a crisis of confidence.

Selingo is the editor at large of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and he is even more blunt: “American higher education is broken” (p. x).

In College (Un)Bound, Selingo identifies five core problems facing higher education:

(1) Student debt loads;

(2) The massive withdrawal of state support for public institutions;

(3) Demographic declines among traditional-aged students in the United States;

(4) Numerous “unbundled” alternatives to traditional university degree programs (e.g., low-cost online courses);

(5) The growing gap between the price of education and its value in the labor market.  

Have psychologist educators been complicit in training too many students for too few jobs?  Is an undergraduate education in psychology useful for most of our students who will not go on to get graduate degrees in psychology?  Do you share Selingo's pessimism about the future of higher education?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Great Unraveling
By Geoffrey Cox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(5)

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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