Studies of sensation

Biological Psychology. Second Edition - Sensation and Perception. Fifth Edition - The Essence of Cognitive Psychology. First Edition - Cognitive Psychology. Fifth Edition - Sensation and Perception. Fifth Edition

November 26, 1999

The Essence of Cognitive Psychology is a no-frills review of cognitive psychology, from perception to action and everything in between.

The book is the second in a series from Prentice Hall that aims to summarise key areas in psychology. Intentionally brief, it really does contain the essentials and the material is remarkably well organised. It will probably find two distinct audiences.

Mid-level undergraduate students of cognitive psychology will find it perfect for structuring their revision. For educated lay-people (and even psychologists specialising in other areas), it provides an excellent yet concise introduction to the psychology of cognition. It will not succeed as a core text in its own right, but does not claim to.

The fifth edition of Cognitive Psychology is a sharp contrast. This is a standard text designed for mid-level undergraduates getting their first taste of cognitive psychology. The 12 chapters cover the main areas. Some areas are even presented twice with different slants. Thus, memory is presented first as simple storage, later as recomputation. This approach helps to highlight some of the key debates within the field.

Much of the material has been reorganised and rewritten. A substantial amount is new (for example, on the development of "theory of mind", concepts and categories, and the neuro-psychology of higher cognitive processes), and some material, concerning less central cognitive processes (specifically perception), has been deleted. The result is quite up to date, and as a general introduction to cognitive psychology, the book does well.

It is unusually strong on its description of processing within connectionist networks, but it does also have significant weaknesses. The most critical is probably its lack of depth. Quicker students, or those who simply want more detail, may be disappointed. An instructor's pack, containing chapter overviews, demonstrations and details of websites, is also available.

Two established US-published texts on sensation and perception have recently appeared in fifth editions. The competition between Bruce Goldstein, on the one hand, and Stanley Coren, Lawrence Ward and James Enns, on the other, is clearly strong. In truth, there is little to choose between them, and instructors familiar with either are unlikely to find any reason to change. They are of similar length, and both include similarly extensive glossaries. Yet there are significant stylistic differences. Goldstein's is peppered with diagrams, photographs and demonstrations of sensory illusions. Each figure has a clear purpose, and many of the demonstrations are both informative and engaging, but in my view the sheer frequency of such insertions severely interrupts the flow of the text. In this sense, Coren et al is significantly more fluent, but this is not to say that it lacks illustrations or demonstrations.

There are also differencesin writing style. Goldstein's text is a little more personable, incorporating comments and feedback from students. The target audience, 18-year-old American college students, is clear. Coren et al has a slightly more authoritative tone, and targets a more advanced audience.

Goldstein includes more short chapters than in previous editions, each being slightly easier to digest. It also includes a new chapter on perceptual development, and an extensive array of teaching resources. The instructor's pack includes transparencies, a manual and a bank of test questions. A student guide and associated CD-Rom are also available.

Coren et al lacks these support materials, but it excels in other ways. It is more up to date, with over 700 new citations, and it includes several distinctive chapters - on the perception of time, attention and individual differences.

Biological Psychology is another US-published text that includes countless illustrations and comes with an array of associated teaching materials. A CD-Rom covering basic neuro-anatomy is included; separate student and instructor guides are available; and a website provides even more resources. The resources are integrated with the text through the use of icons in the margin directing the reader to the appropriate resource. Marginal icons are also used to highlight particular techniques, areas of debate, and issues relating to neural plasticity. These, and the colour illustrations, lead to a text that is visually engaging. Only occasionally are the graphics overpowering. The accompanying text is clearly written, building from an introductory level to an intermediate level throughout most chapters. This is complemented by the use of newspaper-style section headings ranging from the banal to the more informative - primary motor cortex is an executive motor control mechanism - that allow one quickly to get the gist, and no doubt serve to simplify revision.

The scope is very broad. While it is obviously more bio-physiological than the other texts reviewed here, it does include several chapters on sensation and perception, and closing chapters address cognitive neuroscience issues. None of these chapters addresses quite the same issues in quite the same depth as the more specialist texts, but it still serves to bridge a gap that sometimes exists between perceptual and cognitive processes and their biological basis. Undergraduate students who are not averse to the graphical presentation of US-published texts will find this a solid and informative guide that covers most, if not everything, one needs to know of psycho-biology.

Richard Cooper is lecturer in psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Biological Psychology. Second Edition

Editor - Mark R. Rosenzweig, Arnold L. Leiman and S. Marc Breedlove
ISBN - 0 87893 791 9
Publisher - Sinauer
Price - £25.95
Pages - 656

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