A choice between style and substance

Exploring Psychology. Fourth Edition - Psychology - Psychology. Fifth Edition - Key Ideas in Psychology. First Edition - Psychology. Fifth Edition - Foundations of Psychology. Second Edition - Psychology - Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. Thirteenth Edition

November 26, 1999

In the world of psychology textbooks, there is no doubt that North American students get the best deal. The US-published "glossies" (Harcourt Brace, Norton, Worth, Addison-Wesley and Wiley) all come in beautifully finished hardback, crammed with wonderful colour plates and graphics that constantly entertain and relate the subject to real life. Some would despise this pandering to a culture of short attention span, but there is no doubt that these texts look like fun and immediately tempt engagement.

Each US text comes with a plethora of support materials including an instructor's manual in book and/or CD-Rom form. Exploring Psychology and Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology both include online course management software and curriculum facilities for web-run courses. All provide overhead transparencies and other multi-media presentation materials, mostly on CD-Rom. All have associated video programmes, test banks, computerised testing, a richly resourced website and student study guides. David Myers provides a particularly rich instructor's package. The Psychology: Mind, Brain and Culture package has a copy of most important psychological research articles since 1997 and students receive a free art notebook and online internet guide. Rita Atkinson et al, Myers, and Laura Uba and Karen Huang's Psychology provide CD-Roms for simulated laboratory work.

The downside of the US texts is that they do not cover A-level syllabuses - nor most first-year degree requirements - in sufficient depth, especially in terms of research background and evaluation. The exceptions here are Drew Westen's book and Psychology by Henry Gleitman et al , with the former going into adequate depth in most areas sampled, for instance Piaget's theoretical framework and stages - whereas Myers gives a woefully inadequate account of stages and Uba is only a little better. Atkinson et al's coverage is adequate but has little on adolescence and nothing on older age. None of these five texts covers models of selective and divided attention in sufficient depth.

Both Gleitman and Westen provide deeper philosophical background to theoretical positions. Westen gives a thorough account of methods and statistics, including good coverage of inferential testing and a rare but useful guide to evaluating a study. Gleitman's methods and statistical sections are also thorough and include confidence intervals. Myers, Atkinson and Uba give very brief, sub-A-level attention to methods. Both Myers and Atkinson are particularly meagre on descriptive statistics, and Myers and Uba barely touch on significance.

All the US texts, bar Gleitman, use an interactive approach to stimulate and maintain the learner's engagement. Atkinson includes "contemporary voices" (essays by leading researchers) and "critical thinking" questions (unfortunately lacking suggested answers). Westen uses "global vista" boxes for each topic, a welcome recognition of cultural diversity. Myers embeds the SQ3R pedagogic system with initial survey and general questions, rehearsal items (multiple choice) at interim points, an overall chapter review and critical thinking exercises, including sample answers. Also included are some interesting "close up" boxes (individual experiences, for example, of deafness). Uba and Huang integrate their own (SQ3R-derivative) pedagogic system with the acronym Trail and readers are asked to "check their Trail" throughout (interim multiple-choice items). They also provide "alternative perspectives" (eg on science) and suggested answers to exercises, including the useful "integrative thinking" boxes, linking earlier chapter material.

Some major aims of these texts distinguish them from each other. Myers advertises increased attention to cultural diversity and gender with the specific aim of extending students' knowledge beyond their own country. Evolutionary and biological issues are also integrated throughout rather than overwhelming the reader in the first chapter. Atkinson makes no reference to cultural or any other diversity, tending to rest on the reputation of Hilgard rather than expounding specific aims or themes. There are no cross-cultural references in the index.

Apart from general aims of cohesion and integration, Gleitman claims to have greatly expanded the embedding of neuroscience, evolution and cross-cultural comparisons. Westen ensures that two major "boundaries" of psychology, biological processes and culture, are well integrated throughout the book. His is no tokenised attempt at cultural diversity. His awareness of the severe limitations of most textbook psychology - white and western - is evident, and the attempt to alert readers to cultural variation and a value-free comparison is admirable.

Culture is also a dominant theme for Uba and Huang. Although they tackle racism and cultural diversity more competently than any psychology text I have come across, the emphasis on a multicultural approach (within US society), rather than a cross-cultural one, ironically makes it less useful (than Westen) outside the US.

I probably found Myers's book most involving because it is crammed with fascinating tales and well-made points, and sounds like a good teacher at work as you read. The others all did this to some extent, with Gleitman and Westen possibly the driest, though this is relative as they were all entertaining. Unfortunately, Myers and Atkinson are the thinnest texts and, eerily, have the same chapter order. Each has a comprehensive glossary and covers: bio-psychology, development, sensation, perception, consciousness, learning, cognition, language, motivation, emotion, stress, personality, psychological disorders, therapy and social psychology.

These areas are also covered by the two bumper UK-published texts, Psychology: A New Introduction and Foundations of Psychology . Both attend to philosophical issues, such as reductionism and determinism, generally weak in the US texts. Nick Hayes's text includes a large, idiosyncratic section on parapsychology, justified on the grounds of its growing popularity in syllabuses and for its merit in teaching the rigours of experimental testing and the extent of human gullibility. Unlike Richard Gross and Rob McIlveen and the US texts, Hayes includes a full section on comparative psychology.

Gross and McIlveen target their text directly at the AEB A/AS-level syllabus, though it can be used for other A-level boards and as a broad introduction to first-year (subsidiary) degree study. It goes some way towards the appeal of the US texts, with its attractive page layout and numerous items of visual interest, which could be useful in the future world of AS-level breadth where students do not progress to A level.

The content exactly covers A and AS-level requirements, though the material about methods is thin and there are no statistics. The style, though very accessible for the intended level, is more serious and business-like with regard to theory, research and evaluation than the US texts. This is perhaps a necessary feature of A-level texts, reflecting as they do a more intense level of study than the average US first-year degree course. An important feature is the division of material into unusually small chapters - 85 in all - most around eight pages long. These match almost exactly the subject content sections of the AEB Modular Syllabus. This is extremely useful for the learner, especially those at a distance, as a structured guide to essential material. It is also useful to tutors who can direct students to each entire bite-sized section. The one major omission is comparative psychology (Section 2 of the AEB syllabus). There is also no glossary, but bold index entries indicate major definitions.

Hayes's text is of similar type (fat and floppy compared with the US texts) and is pitched at much the same level. It, too, is business-like yet accessible, but is less visual, with few photographs and a minimum of rather simple figures, though a more colourful third edition is imminent. It contains a section entitled "principles of prejudice", which I have long relied upon, excellent in that no other text seems to grasp the nettle so well in this area, and this is material often required in a clearly summarised form when teaching, say, social workers.

What Hayes lacks in layout and general reader appeal is probably compensated for by deeper discussion of many issues and the inclusion of comparative psychology and the intriguing parapsychology. There are a few areas in which the AEB A/AS-level teacher would be hunting for further material. There is little detail on Piaget's stages (though ample discussion of concepts and critique) and little on learning difficulties or physical and sensory impairment - at least, judging from the index and the expected chapters. The index posed one of the greatest problems for me in using the book, being very hard to use for seeking specific information. The "culture" entry, for instance, gives dozens of page references but no sub-topics. "Child development" has many entries, though it is hard to see why such a generic term is included at all, along with "medieval times", "expectation" and "relationships" (the latter two with more than 40 page references but no sub-division). The index of the first edition was fine, so perhaps corners have been cut in the indexing process, only to produce a frustrating experience for the regular textbook user.

When it comes to support materials, the UK texts are not even off the starting blocks. Hayes has a web page but not one expanding the textbook content. Gross and McIlveen produce a study guide, though it is not mentioned in the textbook.

Finally, the slim (300-plus pages) Key Ideas in Psychology aims to introduce central ideas in psychology to those new to the subject or seeking general guidance.

Astonishingly, it claims that anyone who has spent a "few hours comfortably" completing the book should be able to hold a conversation with a psychologist in their area of interest. It has only two (statistical) illustrations and skims through most common syllabus areas. It contains many of the uncorrected errors one might find in a set of well-used lecture handouts. Punishment is defined as "negative reinforcement"; no pre-operational stage is mentioned or described; relevant Piagetian topics are merged into one "concrete operations" heading; and the "Naughty Teddy" study is attributed to Martin Hughes.

While there is no description of research methods, there is a chapter on statistics that students should steer clear of. The several explanations of p and significance vary but are always quite wrong. Anova is described in terms of a design that would require Manova. Parametric assumptions are both wrong and incomplete. Yates's correction is wheeled out of obscurity and inaccurately defined. General textbooks recommended in the first chapter are all US texts, with no mention of the (hardly competitive) UK texts reviewed here.

Culture generally is consciously excluded from consideration at the outset. However, in only the second chapter of a light introductory book, there is a protracted "softening" of the impact of racist psychologists.

Much aggressive energy is directed at those who have misguidedly attacked the nature argument or generalised the racism critique to the whole of psychology. Pro-nature theorists are presented as poor, neutral, beleaguered, hard-working scientists "pounced upon by armchair critics, most of whom do not understand the methodology". The reader is not told that there is direct evidence of "race-difference" psychologists being associated with racist organisations and publications. However, the text manages to produce an unsupported and gratuitous association of the environmental argument with the horrors of Stalin and Pol Pot, claiming that "nurture arguments can be equally abhorrent when pushed to an extreme". The angry "they're each as bad as each other" tone of this section seems politically naive and completely out of place in a book professedly aimed at interesting the young learner. This section appears to feel that the anti-racists have gone over the top, and that we should simply forget racism in psychology as a rare and historical experience. The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray is said to cover pro-genetics in only a "relatively small section of a large book", but we are not told that this section supports Richard Lynn's (1991) belief-beggaring generalisation in estimating the "median black African IQ to be 75" (from The Bell Curve ), using some incredibly poor research.

The author's intolerance of inadequate critiques and unjust interpretations of original theorists will lose his targeted young readers. Anyway, they properly belong in a more advanced text. The present one should have had some hard-edged peer review before being published.

Hugh Coolican is senior lecturer in psychology, University of Coventry.

Exploring Psychology. Fourth Edition

Author - David G. Myers
ISBN - 1 57259 416 0 and 656 2
Publisher - Worth
Price - £34.95 and £17.95
Pages - 660

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