Reviewed Books & Films

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June 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kodachromes in the Brain

APA

It is easy to be impressed by colorful functional magnetic resonance-imaging (fMRI) photos of activity in the brain. Every introduction-to-psychology textbook has these pictures to show students that there are places in the brain for various cognitive events. William Uttal has been casting doubt on what we really know from fMRI pictures, most recently in Reliability in Cognitive Neuroscience: A Meta-Meta-Analysis.

In his review, Harry Whitaker writes that Uttal’s point concerning the unreliability of these fMRI pictures “should be taken seriously by anyone engaged in research that uses changes in brain images as the dependent variable in a cognitive experiment” (para. 2). Whitaker also points out two methodological problems that Uttal did not consider: one, that the emotional state of a person affects the location of brain activation, and two, what

is actually seen [in these pictures] is a computer-generated image of changes in the oxygen concentration in the blood of some veins within the venous network that are presumably draining tissue regions in the brain that have recently been active (para. 8).

Does that really tell us much about what part or parts of the brain are most involved when I balance my checkbook or recall who played shortstop for the White Sox in 1952?

Have cognitive neuroscientists been overselling these Kodachromes in the brain to our students and the public? Isn’t it more important for psychologists to learn more about how we think than where in the brain we think about something?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Emperor Has No Clothes
By Harry A. Whitaker
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(23)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Should Spanking Children be Banned?

APA

Many adults approve of parents spanking their children, and currently 19 states still allow spanking in schools. In The Primordial Violence: Spanking Children, Psychological Development, Violence, and Crime, Murray A. Straus, Emily M. Douglas, and Rose Anne Medeiros argue that spanking should be banned, a conclusion they base on the preponderance of the evidence showing that spanking is associated with numerous negative developmental outcomes. Reviewer Clifton R. Emery agrees with this but cautions against the unintended consequences of such a ban. He explains that policies punishing or stigmatizing parents who spank, or policy changes implemented without substantial accompanying public education, could be counterproductive. He suggests that a ban on corporal punishment must be accompanied by public education including, at a minimum, a media campaign, targeted programming for high-risk families, and a mandatory one-semester course in parenting for all high school students.

Is there enough public buy-in about the negative impact of spanking for a ban to be a realistic solution? Do you agree that a ban on spanking could be counterproductive? If so, how? What other solutions are viable?

 
Read the Review
ReviewParenting Paradigm Shift
By Clifton R. Emery
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(22)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Time to Say No More to the War on Drugs?

APA

Carl Hart’s new book, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, which I (Fred Heide) reviewed recently for PsycCRITIQUES, undercuts many of the myths that have swirled around illegal substances for decades. For example, Hart points out that 75 percent of those who use crack or methamphetamine never become addicted, that cognitive tests of methamphetamine users are in the normal range, and that the number of murders directly caused by drug addiction is miniscule. He also notes that the war on drugs has affected minority communities at dramatically higher rates than non-minorities, and in 40 years has failed to reduce daily use of cocaine, heroin, or cannabis despite a 3,500-percent increase in spending and a 700-percent explosion of the American prison population. Is it time for society to reconsider the war on drugs?

Read the Review
ReviewHigh Time for a Change in Drug Policy
By Frederick J. Heide
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(21)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Is Spam Good for You?

APA

In 1937, Hormel Foods Corporation introduced a meat product called Spam, which
generally is taken to mean spiced ham, although the recipe remains a secret. It
is cheap and doesn’t taste too bad, perhaps because it contains lots of sodium.
With all the calorie-rich fast food available, Spam does not seem much of a
threat to the national obesity epidemic.

Spam, however, may be seen as a serious threat in the world of the Internet. In his review of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton, Daniel Keyes worries “that we are seeing the diminishment of our public sphere as the Internet becomes one global mall where corporations finely tune their advertisements to our every need rather than a place where we might stumble upon different ways of thinking, and so forth. that help to diversify our world” (final paragraph). Keyes says that in the book the author “makes a forceful argument that the evolution of spam from direct e-mails into various viruses and botnets designed to enslave personal computers exerts a profound influence on the design, regulation, and everyday use of the Internet” (para. 3).

That seems overly dramatic to me. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. Spam blockers are reasonably effective in keeping us from messages for walk-in bathtubs and organ-enhancing drugs. It is harder to prevent pop-up ads, but how much do people pay attention to those things? I’d like to know if there is any good research on that topic.

Perhaps I simply am unaware of the powerful Internet forces influencing my thoughts and behavior. What should we be looking for, and can psychologists do anything to help protect us from these hidden persuaders?

 

Read the Review
ReviewRead This Review and Earn Easy Cash!
By Daniel Keyes
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(19)

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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