Learning to judge psychologists

Key Studies in Psychology. Third Edition - Research Methods in Psychology
November 26, 1999

I am writing this review three weeks into the academic year. My th group of first-year psychology students has begun university-level psychology. About half have studied psychology before. They are an able and enthusiastic group. The sooner they get to grips with the essentials of actually doing and reporting research, and accessing journal articles, the better. I feel we may not be helping them by over-reliance on the more traditional "omnibus" psychology texts but is there an alternative?

Key Studies in Psychology is aimed at new students. The book's premise is that, while it is important for students to read original research reports, they may find it difficult to make good use of what they read. It therefore introduces 35 important articles in psychology, but presents them as summaries (to make them more accessible), together with a detailed commentary giving the article's background and context, the aim and nature of the study, and an evaluation.

Which studies does one select for such a book? Richard Gross aims to sample the major areas of psychology, to represent a wide range of empirical methods and to choose those which many would recognise either as distinctive in their own right or representative of an influential psychologist. They include the familiar (J. B. Watson, Little Albert, Sigmund Freud and Stanley Milgram's study of obedience) and the more challenging (Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart on levels of processing, and Simon Baron-Cohen on whether autistic children have a "theory of mind").

This is a valuable book. The accompanying commentary puts each summary into context, and helps one to appreciate why the study was done - by far the hardest thing for students to appreciate. The evaluation of each study (which might be very biased) is done by giving, with references, different authors' points of view.

Research Methods in Psychology aims to give students a step-by-step introduction to "designing, carrying through, and indeed surviving a research project". Chapters cover the stages of a research project, from conception to reporting. It is more than a statistics textbook, although detailed coverage of study designs, data processing and drawing inferences is given, and includes valuable guidance on aspects that are not normally discussed, such as writing the report and giving an oral presentation. A chapter is devoted to setting up data in SPSS and using it to describe data, and there is a valuable chapter on qualitative research.

These texts are for an increasingly sophisticated psychology student who will appreciate them for being well written, and with their needs in mind. I recommend them to colleagues for whom the traditional texts may have become over-familiar.

John R. Hegarty is lecturer in psychology, Keele University.

Key Studies in Psychology. Third Edition

Author - Richard Gross
ISBN - 0 340 72045 X
Publisher - Hodder and Stoughton
Price - £17.99
Pages - 734

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