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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 544-547 ( 12 December )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/barker.html

Book Review

By Lewis Barker
Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002. 704 pages

Reviewed by Roy Sugarman PhD, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Glenside Campus/RAH, Clinical Lecturer, Dept of Psychiatry, Adelaide University, P O Box 17, Fullarton SA 5063, Australia.

Another textbook for the neophyte, you might say, but the introductions to psychology are so varied in application, some more sophisticated than others, that there might indeed be a place for another. From the start, I must say I prefer the style of the more sophisticated books, such as Coleman and Butcher, but Barker does have a useful, novel approach, especially at the level of the senior high school.

The book is divided into five parts. Part one gives a background, the next the biological/behavioural perspective, then a perceptual/cognitive perspective, then the developmental/individual, and finally the social/cultural perspective.

The first two chapters make up the background, referring to the concepts of mind and behaviour, and to methodology. This sets up the themes for the next four parts that really make up the guts of the textbook.

The first of these (technically part two) covers a biological-stroke-behavioural perspective, launching into a discussion of evolution and genetics, moving to brain and behaviour, then to motivation and emotion, finally to learning and behaviour.

The sections hold together well. The ‘concluding thoughts’ paragraphs throughout the book are a nice touch, as are the parenthetic links provided which lead to other, related sections of the book. Similar to the linkage subscripts (really side scripts) are sideline glossaries, definitions more than simple statements, allowing for immediate explanations of terms the novice may find puzzling, and speeding up the process of cramming for finals.

There are a lot of glossy photos, but I find them non-contributory, apart from a photo of the odd serial killer, or famous psychologist, really just photographic stocking fillers. A mother kissing her baby’s hand with next door a chimp mum grooming hers, with the title “infant primates require years of care before they can live independently” is a little puerile, given what one could make of the prematurity of the human vs. the ape, the shape of their pelvis’s and all of the other things that could be made of this instead of the banal message.

In this second section, Darwin, Lamarck, Mendel, Johannsen all get named, but for the first time in history, I think, DNA appears without reference to Watson and Crick who will feel miffed, but there you go. The diagrams as opposed to the photos are in fact contributory, and the discussion is fine for the high school pupil.

The brain-behaviour section is excellent, and raises the tone of the whole book considerably. Most students who are keen to see the biology in, and of, things will find this chapter compelling reading.

Putting motivation and emotion (both from the same Latin root word) together is always nice, and there are few photo’s apart from the now obligatory one of a fat mouse or two, and of an African woman making some milk recipe who is described as lactose tolerant. Go figure. Of course too, Maslow makes it in one of the diagrams, as do a couple of feral children who find themselves on the wrong axis of the pyramid. The limbic-amygdala section is disappointing, given the huge weight this carries in today’s marketing of any theory of emotion.

The learning and behaviour section of course is paramount to any such book, and is peppered with meaningless photographs, and one of Pavlov, not surprisingly, and two diagrams of slavering dogs. Skinner and a box or two are there too, no surprises in this chapter, it seems Barker is too well conditioned to advance more novel theories of neurobehavioural value here.

Chapter 7 kicks off the next section, with perception taking precedence, as it should. Logically, expectedly, an overview to the senses is presented, and then seeing, hearing, taste/smell and skin sensation are dealt with in turn, and fairly biologically too, as expected, what else? The biology of sight is particularly minutely dealt with, and the question is, why? Why in such a book is this necessary when the amygdala and limbic system overall are dealt with in such a way as to make even a 1934 Papez turn in his grave (again)? Hearing too is dealt with in the minutiae of biological bits and pieces, and why this level of detail, even in a book with a biological basis, I don’t know. For psychologists, real time knowledge of this stuff is okay, but really, if they can see fine, okay, if they can’t, unless its hysterical conversion, send ‘em off somewhere to have it dealt with: either way, we believe them if they say they can see, or cannot. Nice pictures though. It just seems unnecessary in such a text to get that bogged down in the cellular structure of the retina, or cochlea.

Which brings us to Perception, which progresses from shapes and movement, to depth, constancy and illusions, then to the conscious and unconscious aspects. This last draws on Blindsight, binocular vision, and the Escher’s gyrus kind of stuff. The Stroop effect gets passing mention, and then part-whole relationships, pretty predictable, but far more necessary than the previous chapter. One flaw though, the student might ask “What does this actually teach us?” without much answer.

Chapter 9, consciousness, covers only a few pages, before moving on to circadian rhythms and zeitgeibers (see page 312 for definition) with a nice discussion of jet lag if you are interested. 10 lines are devoted to seasonal affective disorder. Sleep, dreaming and daydreaming cover many more pages, so does hypnosis. Interesting here is a discussion over a few pages of conscious-altering drugs, a nice touch. A small paragraph covers drug addiction. Overall, a meaningless chapter. The core of what psychology is, even biological psychology, perhaps especially biological psychology, the part we are supposed to be expert in, how our mind interacts with brain, not much of this has crept in to these chapters, a disappointment in this day and age.

Perhaps throughout this book, very little epistemology is confronted to the book’s detriment, for at this low level, should the author be introducing not just the biology, but how that biology informs on the ephemeral? On those minute to minute transactions in the minutiae of perception, how does this fractured whole present the human brain as mind, the cutting edge of why students take psychology: not a sausage.

The last chapter in this section deals with memory, draws substantially on cognitive psychology, and well, with a fairly substantive discussion, including poor old H.M. and his vivisected hippocampii. Nothing to discuss.

Chapter 11 kicks off part four. Human development is traced from conception, following the biological frame of this book, and of course Piaget and Vygotsky take their rightful place in this frame, too little of Vygotsky though, and no link to the previous chapter, which suggests to me that Barker didn’t get it when it comes to zones of proximal development, when clearly he saw the value of the now revisited Piaget. Of course, Vygotsky died young, but still, his influence remains cogent, coming out again and again in literature on psychiatry in terms of what we measure in Schizophrenia, and in cross-cultural psychology (see Nell 2000), and in rehabilitation of executive functioning (see Konstantine Zakzanis and Toronto colleagues, 2002 in press), and in many other ways. Luria, one of his colleagues, is given equally little mention, yet both were psychologists in the biological-Freudian ilk, and like Goldstein in the USA of the ‘20’s, were pursuing the body-mind interface, the brain-behaviour link, which Barker pays some worthwhile attention to, without moving to where it should go, and thus perhaps underestimating what a first-year student audience might find cutting edge excitement.

Language and thought continue the story, again with a developmental perspective, in keeping with the theme. The cookie jar scene from the Boston Aphasia exam is there in its rightful place, and the aphasias are placed with brain damage. This is sad, as the term “aphasia”, according to most speech experts, reflects on areas damaged by loss of blood supply, otherwise, in brain damage, most tell me it is referred to as cognitive based language impairment. Too much on animals, but a very thorough chapter overall.

Likewise, intelligence follows under much scrutiny, again thoroughly, with no surprises. Except one: the vast contributions of Joseph Matarazzo are not found here, and only one reference occurs over 100 pages later. Inclusion of just one of Matarazzo’s papers or books, or chapters here would enrich this chapter into another zone. Without it, the student embarks as many of mine have done over the last decade or two, with no real understanding of assessment, or the difference between assessment and testing, so vital to the assessment and understanding of intelligence, and our attempts to measure it. A picture of the Unabomber is there, as are so many elements of intelligence, there is just no unifying theme, which Joe Matarazzo could so easily provide.

Chapter 14 closes off part four, with personality as its topic. No room for surprises, and no biology either, so no tie to the rest of the book. Why an island of ephemera in the sea of biology, with no bridge? I don’t know.

The final chapters of social, health, abnormal psychology and treatment close off the book in the same way it went on throughout. Thorough, drawing on cognitive psychology, lots of pictures to enthral, such as OJ’s trial, school murderers, a Larson cartoon here and there, all designed to draw in the buyers. Abnormal psychology includes a picture of a woman in a catatonic pose, so seldom seen today, with modern medication and treatment, but it’s there. The personality disorders, so much a vital domain of the psychologists, is given short mention. The treatment section is, as to be expected, dismal, but they often are in such books. An appendix refers to some statistical enquiry methods, also a bit too short, but adequate.

Overall this is a thorough, and probably to become popular, low-level introduction into psychology for the novice. It is well organised, and teaches well; attractive and compelling reading for the most part, but flawed here and there with the narrow view of the author’s stated intentions, which he meets well otherwise.

A lot of time is spent on groundwork, and that is good, but too many students take on psychology in first year, only to drop it for more ‘serious’ pursuits such as law or medicine or business later on. Neurology, psychiatry and psychology continue to attract fewer candidates than these subjects should, and most countries rely now on immigration to fill their ranks. As neurology increasingly becomes behavioural, as psychiatry and psychology increasingly become neurological, such minor flaws may confound any introductory textbook’s primary intention, to entice and enthral the novice, to inspire them to move deeper and wider, and this book may just do this. I would have been more content if I saw the clear cognitive and biological intent flourishing, if buds became flowers in Vygotsky’s terms, but the links are missing still, and that takes the edge off my enjoyment somewhat. We can use that in teaching, the book though, makes for good student tutorials, and so the book has its place by omission, not commission, and gives us room to teach.

It’s a good book, as the novice will read it from cover to cover without much boredom, and feel fulfilled at the end.

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© Roy Sugarman.


Sugarman, R. (2002). Review of Psychology by Lewis Barker. Human Nature Review. 2: 544-547.

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