How different are men and women's brains? Does altruism really exist? Are our minds blank slates at birth? And do dreams reveal our unconscious desires? If you have you ever grappled with these concepts, or tried your hand as an amateur psychologist, 50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need to Know could be just the book for you. Not only providing the answers to these questionHow different are men and women's brains? Does altruism really exist? Are our minds blank slates at birth? And do dreams reveal our unconscious desires? If you have you ever grappled with these concepts, or tried your hand as an amateur psychologist, 50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need to Know could be just the book for you. Not only providing the answers to these questions and many more, this series of engaging and accessible essays explores each of the central concepts, as well as the arguments of key thinkers. Author Adrian Furnham offers expert and concise introductions to emotional behaviour, cognition, mental conditions - from stress to schizophrenia - rationality and personality development, amongst many others. This is a fascinating introduction to psychology for anyone interested in understanding the human mind....more
ebook, 208 pages
March 1st 2009
(first published January 1st 2008)
I enjoyed reading this one a lot more that the "Literature" one. For a Pop-Science book and the space limitations the format brings with it, about three and half pages per topic, I think Adrian Furnham does a good job trying to explain major themes and current views within the field of psychology.
The order in which the single topics are presented seem less random as well, delievered with more thought and as such at times actually building on one another.
I admittedly understand very few of psycholI enjoyed reading this one a lot more that the "Literature" one. For a Pop-Science book and the space limitations the format brings with it, about three and half pages per topic, I think Adrian Furnham does a good job trying to explain major themes and current views within the field of psychology.
The order in which the single topics are presented seem less random as well, delievered with more thought and as such at times actually building on one another.
I admittedly understand very few of psychology and so have to take most that Furnham writes on face value; but he does _sound_ like he knows what he is talking about - most of the time anyway.
There's a part towards the end of the book where I couldn't help feel that he's just giving some urban myths back that people happen to like to believe rather than it being anything that can be scientifically proven, i.e: There's the whole men scan for fertility in women (which we probably do), women scan for successful men because they possess the wealth to care for their offspring (which I don't think they do, women scanning for wealth that is, I would rather like to believe that the same traits that make people successful in business just so happen to be the traits that make them preferrable mating partners) - not saying that there aren't men and women which can be brough down to that simple statement, looking for money (power, prestige), it just doesn't make much logical sense to claim that women are biologically hardwired to look for something that didn't exist back when the hardwiring had been laid out.
However, this part didn't annoy me enough to subtract a star from the books rating, so four it stays. :)...more
Se me ha quedado un regusto amargo. Con lo mucho que me gustó el de Genética... Obviamente, aunque pertenezcan a la misma colección de libros, los autores no son los mismos, y por tanto el enfoque que aportan unos u otros pueden ser muy dispares. Aunque esta conclusión la saco habiéndome leído sólo dos de ellos. El próximo que será será el de Literatura o de Política. ¿Qué le ha fallado al 50 cosas sobre Psicología? Pues explicaciones. El autor suelta unas chapas de cuidado en los capítulos que puSe me ha quedado un regusto amargo. Con lo mucho que me gustó el de Genética... Obviamente, aunque pertenezcan a la misma colección de libros, los autores no son los mismos, y por tanto el enfoque que aportan unos u otros pueden ser muy dispares. Aunque esta conclusión la saco habiéndome leído sólo dos de ellos. El próximo que será será el de Literatura o de Política. ¿Qué le ha fallado al 50 cosas sobre Psicología? Pues explicaciones. El autor suelta unas chapas de cuidado en los capítulos que pueden resultar muy incendiarias para alguien que no sepa nada de Psico (y en el mío, sólo sé un poco) y ni siquiera los cuadros de ampliación son amenos. Hay muchos términos complicados que, si es que se explican, no se aclaran con palabras que cualquiera pueda entender, y hay párrafos que son imposibles de pillar por ningún sitio. De todas formas, he terminado de leerlo. Algunos capítulos son claramente menos aburridos que otros, como los relacionados con la heurística (los mejores sin duda) o uno muy interesante sobre las preferencias de pareja de hombres y mujeres. Otros, especialmente los de patología están tratados de forma infumable. No recomiendo este título, pese a que seáis fans de la Psico. Hay otros mejores en la serie....more
As a complete novice to the entire subject of psychology, I found the book fascinating. For other readers, more experienced in the subject, seemed to be disappointed, I thought the book was full of new and interesting ideas. I picked up the book because of a new interest in psychology and was not disappointed for it.
What I liked: This book really seems to be for beginners since the author didn't go very deeply into each subject, but simply introduced psychology ideas and a few main subcatergorieAs a complete novice to the entire subject of psychology, I found the book fascinating. For other readers, more experienced in the subject, seemed to be disappointed, I thought the book was full of new and interesting ideas. I picked up the book because of a new interest in psychology and was not disappointed for it.
What I liked: This book really seems to be for beginners since the author didn't go very deeply into each subject, but simply introduced psychology ideas and a few main subcatergories for each. Furnham managed to brush up on the general basics of psychology, using simple words/analogies and didn't end up confusing me too much. I found the ideas such as "Visual Illusions", "Stress", "IQ and You", etc. all very fascinating and attention grabbing.
What I didn't like: Though mostly decent, the format got awakard at times, such as a new article to introduce a new idea being placed in the middle of a passage. However, most of the time, it did not distract me too much from my reading.
Overall, I thought this was a pretty cool book for people just newly interested in psychology....more
Since the books of the '50 ideas' series is very dependent upon the reader and context, I should probably start by stating where I come from: I'm eightteen, and beginning psychology classes in school in two months' time. I ordered this book from Amazon half a year ago to get a basic idea of what I'm going to have to know by then, and only just got around to reading it.
I've given the book three stars because I feel very much the same way about the concept and the execution: both have their strong Since the books of the '50 ideas' series is very dependent upon the reader and context, I should probably start by stating where I come from: I'm eightteen, and beginning psychology classes in school in two months' time. I ordered this book from Amazon half a year ago to get a basic idea of what I'm going to have to know by then, and only just got around to reading it.
I've given the book three stars because I feel very much the same way about the concept and the execution: both have their strong points and their weak ones.
The concept is one that, for what is probably slightly autistic reasons, I'm subjectively very fond of, but can objectively say is flawed. The idea is that of a series of books, each of which explains the basics of some complex subject in lay man's terms, and that, of course, is seen before (basically, in anything called 'for dummies' or similar). The thing about this series in particular is its neatness – every book has the same practical layout, and they look extremely pleasing when standing next to each other on your bookshelves. Which particularly bothers me, because I sort my books by author, which puts the two books I own in the series (by Baker and Furnham, respectively) an entire shelf apart. A box set containing the whole series, or, for practical reasons, a few sets containing its various subgenres (Physics/Quantum Physics/Universe/Mathematics; Literature/Art), would in my opinion be immensely beautiful. The series is still ongoing, so there's still hope for people as obsessive as me.
That's somewhat irrelevant, though, unless you share that obsession with neatness (something which Prof. Furnham himself could probably contribute a four-page article about without too much trouble). What is relevant to everyone, I should think, is the clever, highly interactive layout – the articles are printed in an easy-on-the-eyes font and size, and the reader can at any moment take a break from any given article to ponder the surrounding quotes and textboxes on the subject, not to mention the fact that you can, of course, jump between the articles in any order you want, or even skip some altogether. There is also a timeline pointing out the main events relating to the subject, though personally that didn't help my experience of this book. What bothers me is the constrictions this layout puts on the authors: Prof. Furnham have had to boil down his entire scientific branch to fifty key concepts, and then spend four pages describing each of them, despite the glaring truth that some subjects cannot be explained in four regular pages of size 12 typing (namely Scizophrenia), while some of them appear to be so simple that four pages is a bit much to spend on them (it seems to me that the article on AI suffers from this). And since there has to be exactly fifty entries in the book, most of them explain individual phenomena – which surely, there has to exist more of than fifty within the whole subject of Psychology. I'd gladly sacrifice a bit of the neatness and uniformity if the authors were allowed to pick, say, anywhere between thirty and eighty concepts to describe, and let the length of the articles vary according to their need.
The author, Adrian Furnham, is skilled at explaining the individual subjects. He uses parentheses to underline the meaning of any technical language we'll need to know, and comes across as very much not condescending. It took a short while for me to realise that if he uses a phrase without explaining it, we don't need to know it in order to understand the basics of the subject (but - and this is nice - we can turn to the glossary to get a better idea of it).
Many of his articles really pose questions rather than explain phenomena fully, which gives the impression that Psychology as a science is still in its infancy. This is not exactly a problem – after all, if science can be described as 'What we know about things we don't know', this book follows that principle brilliantly. I'm a little disappointed not to get a clear answer on one thing, though – the book advertises itself as answering the question 'Does altruism really exist', which seems to me still unanswered.
I would have liked the book to be more coherent, with perhaps an afterword or a conclusive, slightly longer article to compare the phenomena described in the book and draw some conclusion, as opposed to the rather abrupt ending it has as is – simply ending in a glossary, index and a two-line dedication after an article which did nothing in particular to stand out from the rest. Which brings me to my own conclusion about the book.
I've enjoyed reading and found the subject fascinating, and I believe I'm well prepared now to start studying psychology in a while. I certainly haven't picked up on everything, but one of the practical features of thís series is their encyclopedic function. If my homework at some point mentions something that sounds vaguely familiar, I can return to this book to refresh my memory. I do not regret buying and/or reading the book, and I suspect that I'm going to buy more books of this series in the future. The one about History certainly looks tempting....more
A disappointing book but a lot of this is down to the format and to weak editing rather than the quality of the material. Breaking down latest thinking and history into just 50 four-page gobbets of information just does not work. It is not only that there is no cohesion to the book but some subjects are presented like technical treatises while others are trite run-throughs of complex matters that are far better covered by a quick search through Wikipedia.
The editing, at times, is a disgrace. TheA disappointing book but a lot of this is down to the format and to weak editing rather than the quality of the material. Breaking down latest thinking and history into just 50 four-page gobbets of information just does not work. It is not only that there is no cohesion to the book but some subjects are presented like technical treatises while others are trite run-throughs of complex matters that are far better covered by a quick search through Wikipedia.
The editing, at times, is a disgrace. There are occasions where you can tell that Furnham, who is a serious psychologist (Professor of Psychology at University College, London), has had his text whittled down to the point of nonsense in order to fit the format. The indexing is haphazard, there are repetitions and the format ends up giving us irrelevant quotations that appear to have little to do with the subject in hand. These fillers show laziness.
The reason that the book is not to be rejected out of hand lies in the fact that, if you can struggle through the unhelpful ordering and the lack of narrative (you would certainly think psychologists should know better), there are moments when Furnham shines and the book does give important insights into the revolution in psychology and neuroscience that is already starting to transform our public policy and culture.
The picture of humanity that is emerging today is very different from the 'tabula rasa' model that so long impressed policy-makers, especially those of the Left, often against all the instincts of common folk. As animals, we come out as a lot less flattering to ourselves than we might have liked.
Before I go any further, I should express a personal prejudice - a distrust of science-derived theory being applied too easily to social relations. There is a particular problem that arises out of psychology - the 'science' of psychology is solely a method since no human, let alone collection of humans, can be knowable in the way that inanimate matter or even animals can be known. Psychology is only partially a science. It is a series of experimental probabilities and of 'norms' of highly variable reliability. The science of normal perception seems to be far more reliable than the science of normal behaviour. This should be borne in mind when assessing the material in the book.
The quintessential psychological tool is the Bell Curve. There is a danger that the centre of the Bell Curve is given a normative rather than a descriptive value - that the process of describing the Bell Curve both lessens the 'value' of the rims of the Bell and over-values the 'norm' at its centre. The 'norm' of Victorian or German fascist or Soviet Communist thinking would horrify our contemporary liberal. The 'good person' in all of these societies would, by modern liberal standards, have been normalised out of existence.
Sometimes I fear that contemporary psychology, neuroscience and sociology are tempted, funded as they are by the public purse and so the political process, to do 'scientifically' what could not be done under previous tyrannies - I would contend that contemporary liberalism has its dangerous totalitarian aspects. The association of these 'soft sciences' and power needs to be placed under permanent critical scrutiny.
Nevertheless, great strides in understanding the working of most brains in most circumstances have been made in the last two decades. A picture is emerging of a sort of arms race between the normal person's instinct to take the easy way out in dealing with data, in order to process the vast amounts of it coming into the mind through perception, and organised attempts to manipulate that laziness for commercial or political reasons.
As psychologists uncover the tram-line aspects of most people's behaviour under most conditions, so some, in learning these truths, learn also to resist manipulation and to build relatively independent world-views. The corporate and political manipulators, meanwhile, create ever-more sophisticated means to manage those who either cannot (for reasons of intelligence or access to information) or will not (for lack of will or excess of comfort) question their situation.
It could be argued that people in the advanced Western societies are falling into three broad classes of person in any one particular situation. A large majority who are unaware of or uninterested in their own manipulation, a class of manipulators for profit, power or (increasingly 'security') and a minority who see what is happening and either fight it or seek to insulate themselves from the process ('fight or flight'). The last group which is far from small is made impotent by the sheer weight of numbers of the first group although, to be cynical, the weight of numbers depends on that weight being well fed and entertained.
It may be that this is just the normal condition of humanity - as applicable to the Roman Empire as the modern West: a struggling mass, a manipulative ruling class and those who cannot but see how the trick is performed. However, a new factor may be the degree to which an understanding of psychology itself arms the 'rebels' as much as the elites.
For example, the experimental work in the wake of the authoritarian fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, notably that of Stanley Milgram, caused horror rather than emulation and drove ruling elites increasingly towards 'soft' forms of social management. At the same time, Milgram's work is known to far more people than just the 'rebels' in society and this has helped them become more resistant to blind authority and command. Ordinary soldiers are increasingly volunteers from the least well educated and poorest comunities and are less likely to be conscripts for good reason - better educated coscripts are no longer prepared to accept authoritarian claims to knowledge. Perhaps some personality types pine for a simple world of command and control and military obedience but the cultural norm is (at least in the Anglo-Saxon world) one of a presumption of liberty and questioning to which ruling elites have now had to adjust.
Governments - as in today's announcement that the British Government will be using military drones against its own population - are thrown back on intense surveillance and on the isolation and marginalisation of the people who are at the extremes of the political Bell Curve. In addition, fuelled on the centre-left by the post-Marxist interpretations of thinkers like Gramsci, they are more intent than ever on guiding the centre of the social Bell Curve into territories of automatic self-willed compliance with an authority that presents itself as benign, inclusive and liberal, albeit one investing vast sums in what it calls 'security'.
One suspects that this master plan of social management will last only so long as the population does not grow hungry. It is designed for a world in which economic decline for large numbers of people is small, incremental and steady rather than precipitous or sudden. Whether this system can remain both effective and benign with a large angry population on the streets is another matter.
This is relevant to this book because there are clues throughout it to the growing role of psychology to the maintenance of social consensus. Fortunately, psychiatry and abnormal psychology (in the sense of conditions that cause serious distress to a person) have been de-politicised fairly effectively by the medical establishment's historic compromise with the anti-psychiatry movement. But we should not be complacent - the sociopath (a biological reality) is in danger of being quasi-medicalised as complaints grow about a 'broken society'.
Sociopaths used to make up marginalised criminality and the highest ranks of the elite, with social order containing them in the levels between the two. Today, social order has collapsed leaving far freer rein for the sociopathic personality, especially in the lower ranks of business. Similarly, sociopathic behaviour by one sexual predator at the expense of others is much easier in a liberal society. The problem of the sociopath preying on communities under pressure has become salient as case after case of child abuse, including by children on children, horrifies the British, at least.
The solution - the systematic reintroduction of community and reversal of thirty years of radical liberalism - does not fit the time-scale of electoral politics so clumsy state intervention, weakening civil liberties and a form of 'liberal terror' against problem communities seem likely. The irony that it is the sociopathic and authoritarian BNP that is emerging to defend beleagured poor communities from a sociopathic crisis is merely an indication of the depth of the failures of liberal governance.
At the other end of the social is the personal. Contemporary psychology paints a fairly grim picture of our general inability to think or act rationally or altruistically. In fact, psychologists tend to exaggerate what this means. Given their particular conditions of life, 'irrational' thought or conduct (including delusions and apparently self-destructive behaviour) may be wholly rational - a perfectly rational assessment of those conditions might well lead to despair.
Some of the most interesting material in the book is about irrational modes of thinking. The tiny section on 'group think' encapsulates in a few words why New Labour is consistently incompetent in its decision-making. It was also pleasing (given my own experience) to have the 'brainstorm' put firmly in its place as next to useless.
There is also useful material from the behavioural economists on why we make dumb decisions on investment and cannot seem to get out quickly from a failing situation. These few pages alone are worth the trudge of the rest of the book. They should be required reading by anyone active in public life or in business. Unfortunately, most of the people making the decisions that affect us do not read books like this and it may take a generation before some of this commonsensical material feeds through into the wider public domain.
Another area of interest is memory. We construct ourselves and our society on narratives of the past. Yet we forget and remember selectively even if different people have different tendencies in this area, whether towards repressing trauma or sensitising themselves through a talking repetition of trauma.
One can see how there would be a natural conflict of interest between these two main personality types amongst Jews in dealing with the Shoah. Some would want to put the horror behind them and create a new life. Others would want to tell the world and get them to understand and empathise. This happens in families with child abuse histories, even if the 'talking' might be displaced onto other related subjects. In the case of the Shoah, the narrative required by Israel and European guilt forced the pace and gave the edge to the 'talkers'.
One powerful tool for transforming individuals has been Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy. We should also not be too dismissive of its happy-clappy cognate, Positive Philosophy. Critics might say they merely create a better class of delusion but, if our aim is not to sink into the unproductive gloom of critical theory but to live long, prosper, love and be happy, then these practical applications of experimental psychology are wholly beneficial.
It is tough out there. If people can use the discoveries that the mind is malleable and that life can be made more tolerable and even be improved through thinking in a different way and positively, then psychology (so dangerous in the hands of governments and corporations) can be a liberating force. Indeed, a mentality of positive thinking might, eventually, help direct the mind to thinking not only about how to improve one's own condition but why the rulers are so signally failing to assist in that process. In our current crisis, a 'positive politics' is sorely needed and can only come from below.
Cognitive behaviour therapy seems to be particularly useful for conditions where distress (such as depression) is caused by a negative narrative of life that has been built up in the past for good reason but has become increasingly dysfunctional over time. Improvements in the treatment of mental illness in recent years have been considerable and are only be held back by lack of resources. If the £8bn spent by the New Labour Government on the Iraq War had been directed into mental health services and improved community conditions, a great deal of human distress might have been avoided in two nations.
Another positive development is in the increasing sophistication of psychological work on intelligence. This has two countervailing potential results. The first unnerves liberals but has to be faced - we are not all equal in general intelligence and general intelligence matters. The 'tabula rasa' view is defunct and not only in relation to intellectual equality but in relation to gender difference. We can safely predict the imminent death of the extreme version of egalitarian ideology (though not that of the equal value of all persons regardless of intelligence).
The countervailing discovery (still uncertain in the detail) is of many different types of intelligence to be found in humanity, painting a picture of complexity of talent that no longer privileges people according to their place in a pecking order of general IQ. This means that a simple stratified society is likely to be sclerotic. The dynamism of society depends on it being a society of all the talents. This opens up society once again to people who may not be formally highly intelligent but have massive advantages in particular types of intelligence, skills and aptitudes. It suggests a society of respect for the potential of everyone rather than obeisance to a privileged exam-passing few.
The shift from a stratified world of fixed roles to a tabula rasa world of forcing individuals into an egalitarian straitjacket (often under the malign influence of the behaviourists) is now becoming a further shift from the 'tabula rasa' to a respect for difference. Nowhere is this clearer than in gender relations where the feminists of the 1970s school have found themselves on the run as society rediscovers the fact that boys and girls are fundamentally different even if you can get very boy-like girls and very girl-like boys where the Bell Curves overlap. There may be alchemical truth in the magical position of the hermaphrodite where the curves meet.
In short, it is no longer regarded as helpful for women to strive to become like men. The model is one not of separate but equal (with all the apartheid implications) or equal and not separate but of complementarity and difference yet equal in worth and access to resources. This more sophisticated formulation has been seized upon by younger women (as sex-positive or 'lipstick' feminism) as far more truly liberatory than 'traditional' feminism. Although the new could not have taken place without the struggle of the old, the new really is based on the science that we have in place so far.
Language too now looks as if it follows Chomsky's model of having innate characteristics even if one can dispute the detail. Deep brain structures imply profound predispositions in learning, language, behaviour and gender difference - not to the extent of presenting any silly predestination arguments but as representing natural constraints on radical versions of existentialism. Brain matter, in short, matters. Anyone who has been at the birth of his child knows that twenty years later aspects of personality present then are present now.
The historical elements in the book are far less satisfactory. A history is a narrative and the lack of narrative - a leap into the Rorschach inkblot test, phrenology (somewhat absurdly), extremely basic accounts of Freudian and Behaviourist ideas, discredited left/right brain theories - means that some of these ideas are in danger of being given more credence than they deserve. Recent discoveries make much past experimentation redundant (as they should) and even silly so that, as tools for understanding oneself, or for creating a dialogue about personal meaning, Tarot cards and dream interpretation are now as one with the ink blot.
This is not to say that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Freudianism increasingly looks daft in its potty theorising about repressed sexuality but it was a vital stepping stone in exploring the unconscious even if the path best taken was back into neuroscience on the one hand and into imaginative cultural studies (Jung) and the closer investigation of particular drives (Adler, Reich) on the other. Behaviourism too seems more like an ideology than a considered exploration of the mind but its experimentation in conditioning has proved central to effective treatment of phobia as well as providing further proof in its findings that cruelty and conditioning can debase both child and man.
All in all, this book has its stimulating moments and it might serve as a bedside reference for the general reader but there are better books out there....more
Felt like a wasted potential. Great idea of a book, but execution lacking. Way too much space devoted to history and irrelevant uninteresting things, while nothing was discussed properly. In essence, it was just slightly less dry than a collection of 50 Wikipedia articles on psychology, less detailed as well.
Well, it's okay. If you've already got a basic grasp on psychology/if you've taken a psychology in your time, you're not going to learn anything new. I wouldn't say it's 'stuff you really need to know', because if you're going to encounter any of the ideas presented in this book regularly, you're likely to have already known them. Furthermore, I think a lot of these ideas aren't things you 'really need to know', but more, 'things that you might encounter some point in your life, and you won't liWell, it's okay. If you've already got a basic grasp on psychology/if you've taken a psychology in your time, you're not going to learn anything new. I wouldn't say it's 'stuff you really need to know', because if you're going to encounter any of the ideas presented in this book regularly, you're likely to have already known them. Furthermore, I think a lot of these ideas aren't things you 'really need to know', but more, 'things that you might encounter some point in your life, and you won't likely be seen as an idiot for not knowing them, but if you're the type who worries about losing face at every possible moment and want to act as though you know everything and need to one-up people, then you might want to know them.'
But it's okay. A book to have on your shelf to talk over with coffee, maybe....more
The basic idea of this book was interesting, presenting the “50 big ideas in psychology”, but the execution was poor (in my opinion) as it read like a series of slight magazine articles. I didn’t feel that I gained any real in-depth understanding of any of the concepts presented.
If you have a solid backing in Psychology, you probably won't get a whole lot from this book. It's more or less a series of tasters rather than giving a really depth layups of any of the 50 topics. Hard to do in only 200 or so pages and when almost all of the topics have books written about. However, if you are someone who has never picked up a psych book or walked into a class but have an interest, this book might be useful. Rather than getting weighed down on one specific topic.
Well, I'm cheating on this one, because by "read" I mean partially read and decided it wasn't well written enough to continue with. Not even good enough to make it to the temporarily abandoned shelf where books go who seem great but I just don't have the time/energy to do them justice, or can't be bothered to finish.
The idea of this is great but the writing is cumbersome.
(15 Jun 2011) A good start. My sister-in-law (In Turkish I would call her my "yenge" or "görümce") challenged me to read 20 books, and when we were in Izmir we found a bookstore with books in English and Turkish. This looked like a keeper, a good refresher for me with my study interests.