New editions of two classic textbooks on abnormal psychology and a new version of a third, only two years after the last edition, lead to the question: do we need such frequent updates in our teaching tools?
The argument for frequent updates is put persuasively in the case of Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life by Robert Carson, James Butcher and Susan Mineka in its 11th edition. While maintaining a high level of clarity and quality in the description of evidence, the new edition features excellent summaries of up-to-date controversies in psychology, such as "false memory". It also includes "highlights": sensitive and intelligent links to political and social current affairs that are guaranteed to be of interest to students (for example, Megan's law). Another impressive achievement is the inclusion of just the right amount of health psychology and biological psychology, which are made relevant within the context of abnormal psychology as in the discussion of the Genome project and its implications.
A different angle on updating is taken by Gerald Davidson and John Neale in Abnormal Psychology . This too is a thorough and well-written textbook, with a particularly rewarding approach to social and cultural elements. The new edition boasts a new design, with enhanced use of fonts, colours and graphics. In fact, the kaleidoscopic results can border on the fussy at times. The summaries are in a very small font, and so closely printed they sometimes look like footnotes. Both books are focused almost entirely on the United States, which can be a problem for students in other health and social settings. This is especially so in an excellent discussion of legal issues as applied to mental health, featured in part four.
In content, each book has its own advantages: Carson et al are particularly thorough in their discussion of models and evidence, while Davidson and Neale include a welcome focus on social and cultural contexts. Both books would serve well as introductory textbooks to abnormal psychology as well as in-depth reference guides for final-year students. The limitations of both books are in the area of research methods. Despite expanding moderately on designs and methodologies for evidence-gathering and interpretation, there is insufficient material on changes and advances in research and implementation. The books are no doubt evidence-based, but they fall short of informing students about evidence-based principles and guidelines.
Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology by Ronald Comer is intended for a different readership. It aims at students attending shorter and presumably less in-depth courses and is a shorter version of Comer's Abnormal Psychology . The main text is informative, up to date and thorough. But it is beset with a barrage of special features. Readers will find "Closer look" boxes; ones on the "Current scene" and "Abnormality and the arts"; Quick quizzes; "Consider this" critical thought questions; "Psychnotes", described as facts and titbits and including Trivial Pursuit facts (for example, Freud's fee for therapy); and free-floating quotations, which, while entertaining, are often only very loosely connected to the text. It is perhaps a little depressing that textbooks written to support auxiliary courses on diverse subjects such as psychology require desperate means to maintain students' interest.
Tamar Pincus is lecturer in psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Abnormal Psychology: Eighth edition
Author - Gerald Davison and John Neale
ISBN - 0 471 39221 9
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £.50
Pages - 565