Psychology Squared


SUMMARY: Pocket guide to major concepts in Psychology.

AUDIENCE: Entirely jargon-free, it can be read by non-academics no problem.


The authors
Christopher Sterling and Daniel Frings are Psychology lecturers at London South Bank University.

Style and contents

About 125 pages, each accompanied by an illustration page. You can easily read this book in a couple of hours.

It explains core concepts in psychology in layman’s terms.

The artwork is fun, even if the choice was a little random at times. They had to pick one illustration per topic and it can’t have been easy.

The gems

  • I appreciated that they used the first name (not only the last name) and dates for authors of important discoveries. This makes additional research on the topics so much easier.
  • They phrased certain complicated concepts accessibly, like the obsolescence of the nature vs. nurture questions, just saying that the focus has to be on the interaction between the two, rather than their putative mutually exclusive respective influence.
  • They discussed very specific concepts like (neuronal) Long Term Potentiation, concepts that I only rarely come across, even in standard textbooks.
  • Evidence, throughout the book, of the authors’ awareness of the WEIRD methodological problem with most research findings in psychology (the fact that it is generally conducted on White Educated people from Industrialised, Rich, Democratic nations, thus not representative of humanity as a whole)
  • Some concepts were new to me, so what I picked up as a quick refresher turned out to be quite enlightening: e.g.
    • Complex motivational factors: Valence, Instrumentality, Expectation
    • Lazarus and Folkman’s theory of stress (challenge, present damage/loss + can something be done, threat of damage/loss)

Possible points for optimization

To be fair, the authors did a great job at summarising theoretically challenging concepts, but they met some stumbling blocks:

  • They were not critical enough, in my view, of invalid/over-simplified/outdated theories and techniques. They mentioned a few antiquated things uncritically:
    • Inkblot tests,
    • Strong localisation (of brain functions)
    • Direct correlation of brain size and ‘intelligence’
    • Anthropocentrist take on animal cognition
    • Myers-Briggs
  • I don’t know whether this was a translation mistake (I read the book in Dutch), but the chapter on trial-and-error learning talked of punishment and confirmation (instead of reward or reinforcement)
  • At times, they were so concerned with being succinct that the text became confusing, like the various Nervous System classifications (e.g. Peripheral vs. Central, etc.)
  • Some topics were covered woefully superficially (e.g. hormones and neurotransmitters, deductive/inductive reasoning)
  • For a book written by university lecturers in a scientific field, there is no excuse for not using citations (especially for matters with weak consensus, like incidence and heritability statistics on things like schizophrenia)

The verdict:
If you happen to pick it up and have a few hours on your hands, it is a nice little book. In relation to dogs, this book would only be useful to behaviour therapists wanting to couch their work in sound theoretical grounds. It can either be a useful refresher, or introduction, to major Psychology findings. Owners of dogs with behaviour problems will find the work of limited use.

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Author: Frings Daniel, Sterling Christopher
Genre: pop science
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