If one were to draw a graph comparing the growth of psychology since its beginnings about a 100 years ago with all other study subjects available, it would rise dramatically from zero to overshadow them all with its 2,000 graduates a year in Britain alone. Yet young people's knowledge about what it is, how it works, and its power to touch each person's life is often distinctly limited or confused. Adrian Furnham and David Oakley present a good tasting here of this complicated and much misunderstood discipline within the limits of a short overview.
The textual flavour of their book rings true to the subject in its somewhat academic manner, not so much in jargon as in using grown-up words like "eclectic", "base-rate validity" or phrases such as "explicable significant findings" and "the rejection of a tentative generalization", along with careful references. Such phrases are often followed by a translation into simple English, which would have been better in the first place.
The text is well larded with questionnaires and lists, and so falls part way between a workbook and a textbook. Outlines of different approaches to the subject, such as behaviourism and psychoanalysis are most helpful. The descriptions of research methods are excellent, clearly setting out their advantages and disadvantages, while the chapter on psychological influences in the media and advertising is interesting and gives warning of possible abuse.
As hardline professionals, the authors provide a valuable investigation into what is often taken as simply "common sense". But in rubbishing non-psychological avenues of personal exploration, such as their broadside on astrology and graphology, they seem to be lacking a touch of humanity, as though saying, "Let us men of science lead you instead". Yet they have avoided tackling the big issues of the day, such as race and gender, while spending precious pages on potted histories of famous men in the subject.
There are more introductory texts to psychology than is healthy for any publisher. Why, then, is Why Psychology worth adding to this? Possibly because it is short and cheap, because it is up to date in this fast-moving subject, and because of the sincerity with which it is written. The book also provides a neat psychological indicator: if readers like it they will most probably like studying the subject.
Joan Freeman is a professor, faculty of social science and education, Middlesex University.
Author - Adrian Furnham and David Oakley
ISBN - 1 85728 298 1
Publisher - UCL Press
Price - £7.50
Pages - 134