Reviewed Books & Films

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July 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Inequality: The Problem of Us All


In the review of Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality: Diverging Destinies, David S. Hargrove suggests that the book presents “objective data that reflect concerns from the inequality experienced by American families” (para. 5) and is an “effort to describe the process, consequences, and likely future of inequality” (para. 7). Hargrove discusses the atheoretical strategy used to present the information and the failure to integrate seemingly disparate findings.  As is typical in our society, there are sides in the family inequality debate, and Hargrove highlights the chapters that illustrate the divide: “Inequality Begins Outside the Home: Putting Parental Educational Investments Into Context” and “Inequality Begins at Home: The Role of Poverty in the Diverging Destinies of Rich and Poor Children.” While an objective data presentation may prove comforting to proponents of each side, how well does it serve the public?

Those of varying ideological perspectives generally use the same or portions of the same data to substantiate their positions. Hargrove points out that the solidifying of ideological positions “continues the social, political, and economic gridlock that, in part at least, lies at the basis for the inequality that drives the concern that led to the development of this book” (para. 7). How might psychologists work to develop theory and processes that permit the effective use of data to inform policies that lead to meaningful interventions that address the consequences of inequality among American families, as well as other social issues confronting the United States today?

How do we, as psychologists, avoid having our respective agendas influence the interventions tested and recommendations made based on the data assembled? As Hargrove notes, critical examination and review are a must. Does my agenda and perspective affect my presentation of Hargrove’s review? Did Hargrove’s agenda and perspective affect his presentation and review of the book?

Read the Review
ReviewTaking Family Systems Theory Beyond the Family
By David S. Hargrove
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(26)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Time for a Change in Doing Time?


In their review of The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Causes and Consequences, April Bradley and Beth Kliethermes cite the startling statistic that around 75% of inmates in the United States have a mental disorder.  These include depression (23%), psychotic disorders (15%), and mania (43%) (para. 3).  Not surprisingly, these inmates have a greater likelihood of misconduct in prison.  What should be done to address this grievous situation?

Read the Review
ReviewCriminalizing Our Community
By April R. Bradley and Beth C. Kliethermes
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(28)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Has Behavior Genetics Shaped Up?


Do you know about the power struggles that have happened in the field of behavior genetics? I sure didn’t. I thought that these struggles must have been pretty exciting after reading Erin E. Young’s review of Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics by Aaron Panofsky. I wish Young had provided examples and named names when describing a field that “sometimes looks more like the Wild West than a group of ivory tower-dwelling academics” (para. 2).

The only example that came to mind for me was the issue of racial differences in intelligence. That controversy involved not only scholarly articles and books, but personal and physical attacks. I would expect Panofsky’s book to detail this and other examples of misbehavior.

But hasn’t the nature-nurture issue settled down in large part due to the Minnesota twin studies (see We know that genetics is a significant determinant of who we are, and we can, to some extent, say how much it influences various traits and behaviors. Perhaps more well-informed readers can tell us how or whether behavior genetics has shaped up.

Read the Review
ReviewNo One Wins and Everyone Loses: Power Struggles in Shaping Behavioral Genetics
By Erin E. Young
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(27)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

"A Role Model for Resilience — But Does It Help You or Your Clients Change?"


The film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the remarkable story of Louis Zamperini, a prisoner of war during World War II who survived numerous traumas, including a plane crash, 47 days on a raft at sea, and systematic torture for 27 months. It would seem unimaginable, for most of us, to put ourselves in Zamperini's shoes for even 1/10 of these traumas.

In his review of the film, psychologist and author Paul T. P. Wong discusses how Zamperini's resilience/perseverance emerges through a combination of many factors, such as finding meaning in suffering, having faith in an ultimate rescuer, and channeling personal willpower and passion throughout his lifetime (including pretrauma).

Many psychologists use films such as Unbroken for clients to exemplify resilience and to provide role models of figures who have overcome problems. Do you and your clients find characterizations of figures like Zamperini to be helpful role models for rallying your own or your clients' resilience? Or are such portrayals too challenging to relate to and thus not as helpful as, say, a family member or friend who has overcome a personal challenge? Feel free to share an example in your response.

Either way, perhaps such examples create additional pathways for viewers to reflect on how they relate to their suffering, how they tap into the power of the human condition, and how they make meaning out of adversity. From this perspective, are films like Unbroken always helpful?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Positive Psychology of Grit: The Defiant Power of the Human Spirit
By Paul T. P. Wong
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(25)

Thursday, July 02, 2015

How Do We Solve the Problems of Poor Families: Turn Drifters Into Planners?


Tanya Telfair LeBlanc reviewed Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage by Isabel V. Sawhill. Sawhill and LeBlanc describe the myriad problems (physical health, mental health, etc.) of poor families and trace the problem back to the breakdown of the married two parent family structure. LeBlanc notes,

Sawhill makes an important distinction between the Planners (p. 3), those who plan for having children, and the Drifters (p. 3), young women who simply become sexually active, with no plan to use contraceptives, no plan to care for a potential pregnancy and no plan to take care of herself and raise a child. (para. 7)

 Later LeBlanc states,

Sawhill’s remedy for this social problem appears straightforward: Turn the Drifters into Planners (pp. 105-128).  One step toward turning Drifters into Planners is to help young girls take control over results of their introduction to sex and expanding the utility of long-term birth control methods.” (para. 10)

This in turn would improve educational attainment, income, and health outcomes.

Could this suggestion be a major solution for which many have craved to help eliminate unplanned pregnancies and consequently poverty, poorer physical health, lower education, etc.? LeBlanc notes that long-term birth control methods such as Depo-Provera are controversial.  But even if this particular method is not acceptable, are there other methods and programs that could accomplish the same outcome?

Read the Review
ReviewEnd of Denial: Family Structure Predicts Life Chances for Children
By Tanya Telfair LeBlanc
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol. 60(24)

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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