Details obscure route of intellect

Biological Psychology
March 29, 2002

Frederick Toates's textbook on biological psychology is aimed at undergraduates and will be of most use to second and third-year students. The key difference between Toates's and other textbooks in the field is that he uses an intellectual approach. The book opens with two chapters that outline biological explanation within psychology and present a discussion about the integration of causal, functional, developmental and genetic approaches. Toates's aim is to clarify why certain questions are asked and what the implications of their answers might be for psychology as a whole. It is a bold attempt to move away from the more abstract reporting of traditional texts.

The push for explanatory integration gains vibrancy from the design of the book. This is explained to the reader in an opening "Guided tour". The reader is shown, using diagrams of sample pages, that each chapter begins with questions to set the agenda, contains an opening precis of what is to be covered, is full of cross-references, interim summaries, information about the latest research and accounts of individual cases. There are also more detailed sections that expand facets of the argument and questions to test knowledge.

The trouble with Toates's approach is that it makes the book most useful when read from cover to cover. Dipping in results in an exhaustive trawl of cross-references to earlier sections. This is exacerbated by some highly technical prose in places that would challenge many undergraduates, and some overly detailed diagrams and figures. The supporting website, containing extra material, simply adds to the information load.

Despite this, this book succeeds in its ambition to present an integrated view of biological psychology.

Tom Dickins is senior lecturer in psychology, Nottingham Trent University.

Biological Psychology: An Integrative Approach

Author - Frederick Toates
ISBN - 0 582 36973 8
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £28.99
Pages - 670

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