There are many psychology students in the US, but there are also many people writing general psychology textbooks - one group per university, it seems. Hence, I still do not understand the economics that provide US students with lovely hardback textbooks (such as the two books by David Myers and Henry Gleitman et al ) while UK students have to lug round floppy monsters that are often only two-tone (such as the book by Michael Eysenck) while being told that this is because it is an international edition (such as the book by Michael Passer and Ronald Smith) or a European one (that by Neil Carlson et al ).
Eysenck’s book and Complete Psychology by Graham Davey are real doorstops, whereas Carlson’s and Passer’s are more manageable. All these books cover the mainstream syllabus, with notable deviations being the inclusion by Myers, Carlson and Passer of health psychology with stress (apparently standard for US texts), Davey with a general health psychology chapter and Myers with work psychology tacked on to his motivation chapter. Davey and Gleitman do not have chapters on states of consciousness.
For supplements, Myers’ book is the most “fully loaded” with 21 main items - most at extra cost. Every bell and whistle is included: test banks, presentations, study guide, tutor resources, videos, online guide and even a positive psychology workbook that helps students develop ten “positive traits” including hope, self-respect and joy. Passer, too, has a wide set and includes WebCT materials and a build-your-own-website-in-an-hour facility. Gleitman’s resources are less bewildering - website, student guide, instructor’s guide, test bank and three multimedia packages. Carlson’s and Eysenck’s are similar, while Davey’s at least has a dedicated website.
The book by Myers has always been one of my favourites - it bristles with fascinating information, and on almost every read I come away with another good idea to use in lectures. Myers’ attraction is that he teaches as he writes; reading the text is like listening to an enthusiastic classroom performer. The voice is always there urging the reader to think critically, and this is a main aim of the book, facilitated by “Thinking critically about” boxes, “Review and reflect” sections and critical reviews of “pop” psychology integrated into several chapters. A good sense of history is engendered by a timeline inside the front and back hard covers. There is plenty to keep the reader occupied - cartoons, photos and diagrams - but the text itself is lively, and there is adequate coverage of each topic for first-year undergraduates to get by. In addition to critical thinking, Myers embeds neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, gender issues and multicultural experience.
Speaking of culture, Eysenck’s Psychology: An International Perspective has an upfront integrated cross-cultural theme that I heartily welcome. The vast majority of psychological research is about Western people and mainly those from North America, where some 64 per cent of all psychological researchers are based. US glossies often summarise findings with “so we see that people are... ” when generalisation even to the UK is tenuous. Eysenck hits the ground running with psychology’s need to generalise across cultures wider than those at present accommodated and involves cross-cultural findings throughout, constantly reminding us that things might be different elsewhere. Although Eysenck has several similar textbooks in print, this one has a lot going for it in the UK undergraduate market. A unique feature is the provision of “Evidence” sections. These may well help students to appreciate the distinction and link between theory and practical research. Also useful are bulleted “Evaluation” sections, which summarise major points made over the past few pages. The two-tone layout is pleasant, with interesting boxes, photographs, diagrams and such kept to the sides so that they do not intrude too much on the main text. Its 984 pages contain by far the greatest amount of mainstream theory and research of the books reviewed here.
Complete Psychology by Davey is a bold attempt to produce a definitive undergraduate text that explicitly covers the British Psychological Society’s Qualifying Examination syllabus - the yardstick for accredited degrees conferring eligibility to register as a graduate member of the BPS. It is also an all-British competitor to US texts having full-colour glossy attractiveness. The publishers and authors have gone to town on the layout, and there are many features to satisfy the contemporary requirement for boredom relief. However, I often found the page design a bit overpowering, and it was sometimes hard to find the bodytext in among the boxes - a little like looking for the alphabetical listings in the “Builders” section of Yellow Pages . The boxes themselves are designed to promote interest and critical thought and include “Focus points” (concepts or research), “Applications”, “Activities” and a welcome integration of “Research methods”. The overall coverage is broad and it is a lively, comfortable British-English read, but I wonder how “complete” it is. The touch is often light and I would need, in many areas, to direct first-year students to further reading, whereas other texts, especially Eysenck’s, contain enough for a decent essay without supplement. A useful feature of the text is a chapter on careers in psychology, with practical directions, and a chapter on study skills in psychology.
Even though Carlson’s “European edition” has two US authors (and one at Middlesex University), it does not offer “color”, nor perplexing terms such as “sorority”. The layout is of the best US glossy standard with subtle boxes designed to facilitate critical thinking - “Questions to think about”, “Cutting edge”, “Psychology in action”, “Key terms and chapter reviews”. In all the theory chapters, the coverage is adequate if not deep; it is not as comprehensive as Eysenck’s book but well beyond Davey’s. I am not sure that one would choose this text over the hardbacks by Myers or Gleitman, for the sake of the £3 or £4 saving. However, it does have that “over here” feel.
Gleitman’s is in the same stable as Myers’ in terms of price, hardcover, colour production
and being American. I wonder if there is published work showing that students do better with boxes for critical thinking, applications and the like. If there is, Gleitman is not bothered by it, eschewing entirely the use of boxes apart from very comprehensive chapter summaries that should be useful revision aids.
There is much to be said for a non-distracting layout that simply gets on with the job; there are margin-based cartoons and fascinating photos, but otherwise the read is unidirectional.
Turning each page is not a prompt to start window shopping. This is probably why Gleitman is able to pack so much material in many fewer pages than the other larger volume texts. A feature I really liked was the willingness to tackle political implications, for example in the area of the IQ and race debate. Eysenck and Myers also do a relatively thorough job in this controversial area, populated
by some dubious psychological science, but Gleitman gives the broadest picture of all the implications and the most thorough rejection of the Bell Curve mentality.
Passer’s text is called an “international edition” but I could find nothing between the covers to earn it that title. The English is American, and the discussion throughout generally assumes the US as default country. Physically, the book, being the smallest under review, is the easiest to handle. As in Eysenck’s text, there is an “In review” box every couple of pages or so that summarises main points made over those few pages. It is attractively illustrated and engaging; it encourages critical thought and dispels popular myths through “Beneath the surface”, “Research close-up”, “What do you think” boxes and a periodic “Levels of analysis” box that highlights aspects of the current topic at biological, psychological and environmental levels, encouraging appreciation of perspectives and their links. However, I could find no feature of the text that would make it stand out against the others and yet it is, along with Gleitman, the most expensive of the range. Students get access to the PowerWeb, a rich resource base of regularly updated readings, news stories and so on.
Unless they are linked to research in the main chapters, I am not convinced that potted research methods and, still less, statistics are needed in general texts such as these. The UK undergraduate would invariably require a separate book for their course, so why not save room for more theory, as Eysenck does?
Some explanations of significance are anyway slightly faulty (such as those given in Carlson and Passer) and, in Davey’s book, a couple of points might unsettle a student’s shaky understanding. However, Davey covers a lot, even regression and multifactor Anova, while giving a two-side mention to qualitative approaches, as does Carlson, which is new and encouraging. Gleitman’s coverage is sound, and Passer’s is similarly thorough. Myers’ relatively minimal approach is incorporated into general scientific method.
All the texts deliver much the same range of material in interesting and colourful ways, but some in much greater depth. I think I would have Eysenck for depth, UK base and cross-cultural emphasis; but if I could take two, I would take Myers for sheer entertainment and usefulness for teaching.
Hugh Coolican is principal lecturer in psychology, Coventry University.
Psychology. Seventh edition
Author - David G. Myers
Publisher - Worth
Pages - 741
Price - £31.99
ISBN - 0 7167 5251 4