Book reviews

More from the April issue.

17 March 2015

The Domesticated Brain
Bruce Hood

The Domesticated Brain is a humorous, intelligently written and easy-to-follow book about the way in which the brain influences human behaviour. The book focuses a lot on the developmental side of psychology, which I enjoyed, but it also has a lot of evolutionary and neurological psychology too.

I learnt a lot from this book: it brings in a lot of history and it was interesting to see how psychological theory had changed over the years.

Being a psychology student, I am of course interested in the brain but with non-fiction reading there can sometimes be a point where you want to stop and read something more fun, this was not the case with The Domesticated Brain, I was kept intrigued and engaged the whole way through, wanting to learn more about the way our brain works. I particularly enjoyed the chapter titled ‘Are we born bad?’, which I found to be very insightful in the nature/nurture debate that is forever prominent in psychology.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to both students and academics as it is definitely a read that will be enjoyable as well as thought-provoking.

Pelican; 2014; Pb £7.99
Reviewed by Rebecca Randles who is a psychology student at Liverpool John Moores University


Surviving the intersectional experience
Race, Gender and the Activism of Black Feminist Theory: Working with Audre Lorde
Suryia Nayak

This book critical psychology’s boundaries as a discipline, encouraging a thorough engagement with the activism of black feminist theory and calling into question its current absence. Nayak underlines the importance and interlocking nature of black feminist activism to black feminist theory, moving between the two to offer interventions in both theory and practice.

Through the work of Audre Lorde and other black feminist theorists Nayak offers critical psychology a new lens through which we can interrogate how living within a racist society creates racist ‘psychic structures’ which operate differently for black and white people; exploring the interconnection between ‘ideology’, ‘embodiment’ and our psychic lives. Through this theoretical lens, Nayak makes the case for black-women-only services and activist spaces.

Nayak also critiques psychological methods that fail to utilise intersectionality and that consider an individual through one facet of their identity at a time. Lorde spoke of this fragmentary approach as ‘destructive’ and a ‘terrible injustice’ to her black, lesbian, feminist identity. Nayak champions an intersectionality that brings possible ‘resistance to fixed, stable, totalized identity formations imposed by a racist, homophobic patriarchy’. Here Nayak reminds us that intersectionality is not just a ‘theory’ but a way in which one survives the ‘intersectional experience’.

Nayak lays a strong foundation for a critical psychological engagement with the activism of black feminist theory for all of us committed to addressing the psychological effects of oppression and who seek to make social change.

Routledge; 2015; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Stephanie Davis who is an MPhil/PhD candidate at the University of Brighton


Very different times
You Never Get Out: Memories of Two Psychiatric Hospitals
Robert Grainger

This is an odd little pathography, and, at 122 pages, little more than a pamphlet. Robert Grainger writes from two perspectives: that of a patient in the 1950s and of a chaplain in the 1980s.

The smaller part of the book recalls a period after National Service when he was incarcerated, not completely voluntarily, and has a number of echoes of later fictional works, not least One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Catch-22. Whilst 60 years later these patchy recollections seem like history, the personalities depicted among both patients and staff are familiar: there are the same hints of paranoia, the questions of sanity versus behaviour and the others who were quite clearly 'mad'. Some pertinent musings are presented on the nature on mental illness, diagnosis and illness behaviour.

The latter part as a chaplain takes place in a very different time to then and to now, with a large number of chronic inpatients and before the move to care in the community. It becomes less a coherent story than a rambling soliloquy. In a conversational tone, it opines on stigma, religion, sex-roles without forming conclusions as pithy or as precise as in an article or essay.

Trafford Publishing; 2013;
Pb £8.43
Reviewed by Sally-Ann S. Price who is Neurosurgery Senior Registrar, Southmead, Bristol


There, but not quite

Tip-of-the-Tongue States and Related Phenomena
Bennett L. Schwartz & Alan S. Brown (Eds.)

You’re meeting your schoolmates after almost two decades. As you catch up, you regale each other with anecdotes. Someone says, ‘Do you remember the student who fainted in maths class in Grade X?’ Sure, you recall the incident, but what was the name of the student? You’re sure she was female, and her name either began with ‘R’ or ‘P.’ Er…

As the name, or lack thereof, nags at you, you are experiencing a classic phenomenon that psychologists have doggedly studied for years. The tip-of-the-tongue (or TOT) state is fascinating because it resembles dangling a carrot that is just out of reach. For cognitive psychologists, TOTs represent thinking in slow motion or lexical retrieval in action and can thus serve as a window to these processes. Found across cultures and languages, including ASL, TOT states, unlike most psychological phenomena, are easy to recreate in controlled lab settings. Diary studies show that low-frequency words and people’s names lend themselves to TOT states. Further, TOTs involve both cognitive and metacognitive components, making them ideal to study phenomenological experiences. As TOTs increase with age, they may be used to better understand various geriatric populations such as those with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

The book examines TOTs in significant depth but requires graduate-level training to appreciate it. It is a great resource for those studying TOTs and related phenomena like déjà vu. However, the technical language is unlikely to appeal to lay readers.

Cambridge University Press; 2014; Hb £65.00
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan who is Director of PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India