Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy

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Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A veritably virtuous voyage through various very vexing verisimilitudes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781782434122

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Chalk and cheese; your left hand and your right; philosophy and psychology. All pairs have something closely resembling yet very different from the other, whether through colour and crumbliness, or physical form, or from being studies of the mind. The only thing is, one pair is alone. Your two hands formed at the same time, whereas chalk is the older, and philosophy predates psychology. The two were the same thing until recently, and we can perhaps point at a William James as the father of the split. I make this point because when I reviewed this volume's sister book I found no timeline or history evident. Here, however, we do get one – travelling quickly from the ideas of idiocy-cum-possession in our early history, through phrenology and mesmerism to the birth of psychology. The fact that we then immediately look at free will in much the same terms as the philosophers does shows how common the disciplines still are – and how vital to our understanding of ourselves both topics remain.

However the timeline idea is soon dropped from this title – and probably so, considering that very title. Before long we get to the nitty-gritty questions psychologists should have some idea of an answer for – why we sleep, why we dream, and so on. There's no point thrusting adenosine and other science words into the end of the narrative alone. This series of two books demands short chapters – witness sleep covered in three pages, gender differences in four – and ultimate clarity. And whether you have any interest in the sister volume or not, you have to acknowledge that the author of this one at least certainly provides the latter.

And what use is a standard timeline anyway, when we need Freud and Jung to posit ideas about not only what we dream but why we go to scary movies, and so on? While this book can handily reference projects and results from the headlines of within the past two years, it looks back at a lot of different time periods in the discipline's history, from Freud and Jung through Bandura's look at the formation of childhood and the more controversial efforts of Zimbardo et al to modern times and more in-depth, brain imaging results.

The book is as inherently clear as its companion, dropping the quotes for box-outs regarding key research projects and some illustrations. Make no mistake, this is a friendly primer for the subject. While it won't get you to the exam room for the topic beyond GCSE-level it will open your eyes as a lay reader, and make you ponder on when we'll get the definitive answers as to how we learn to read, how we improve the IQ test, and the chicken-or-egg nature/nurture debate. It won't resolve any of those subjects soon but it will have your mind reeling about them at times. To the brighter younger audience member it may well provoke a budding scientist who will be able to come up with a firm solution in the future – proof positive this is a welcome and important little read.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Now you know some of the principles, you can test yourself with Psy-Q: You know your IQ - now test your psychological intelligence by Ben Ambridge.

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Buy Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Do the Things We Do: Psychology in a Nutshell by Joel Levy at Amazon.com.

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