Psychological Questions and Answers From the Greeks to the 21st Century

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Abstract

Reviews the book, History of Psychology: A Cultural Perspective by Cherie G. O'Boyle (see record 2006-03356-000). From the beginning of human society, people have been interested in psychological questions such as “Why do other people behave the way they do? How can I get other people to do what I want them to do? Why are other people so different?” (p. 2). Cherie O'Boyle begins her exploration of the history of psychology by posing these questions as those that humans have probably always asked as a part of living with others. Beginning with the Greek philosophers, O'Boyle traces the development of these psychological questions, their answers, and the methods of validation used by philosophers, scholars, and scientists in the West. Particular focus is placed on the development of empirical sciences from the 16th to the 21st centuries. The development of modern psychology is explored in the second half of the book. She does not limit her history to the development of experimental psychology exclusively but includes the whole discipline with discussions of applied, clinical, organizational, developmental, social, comparative, and humanistic psychologies as well as a description of the development of psychoanalysis. Thus, the picture created is one of how psychology arose from and is related to many different philosophical roots and contemporary disciplines. This book is designed to be used as a text in an undergraduate history of psychology class. It could usefully be supplemented with short original writings of one or two scholars discussed in each chapter that would give students a more in-depth understanding of the ideas discussed. Because it is written as a survey, it is not a book for experts in any of the historical periods or in any area of modern psychology, although some will appreciate the way in which their particular expertise fits into the larger picture. Because the book is very well and clearly written, educated readers interested in the history of ideas and how modern psychology developed from these ideas will find it valuable. Two stylistic choices O'Boyle makes deserve special mention. First, she has chosen to use the “historical present” style, that is, she uses the present tense to discuss the past throughout the book. When she needs to distinguish between the past and the actual present, she italicizes the current information to set it off from the historical period she is discussing (p. xxii). Second, in each chapter, she includes a number of “stop-and-think” questions. Some of these questions are rhetorical and have no specific answer. Others are placed in the text before the paragraph that explains the thinking of the time about a particular question. As a reader, the reviewer found these were very helpful in concentrating her attention on the text (even when she was in a hurry and did not take the time to stop and really think about the question). They would be even more valuable to a student encountering this information for the first time and would also be useful in stimulating interesting discussions in class (there is a separate Instructor's Resource CD that provides discussion ideas, class activities, films, and test items). It is always a good idea to know where we came from, some of the roots of why we believe some things are true while others are superstitions, and to continue to examine our ways of knowing. O'Boyle's book is a useful and very readable contribution to this endeavor.

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