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PsychologyYou Are What You RememberYoung Minds in Social WorldsYour Brain on CubsYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Brain on YogaYour Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
The author of Opening
Skinner's Box, Lauren Slater, claims that the goal of her book is to make
accessible to the general public ten relevant psychological "experiments".
How can one do so? Slater alleges that each of the selected "experiments"
is to be summarized in a language devoid of cryptic references and unfamiliar
concepts, and structured in a narrative resembling a fiction story more than a
scientific report. Regretfully, the book is far from achieving anything close
to what the author alleges.
Slater does not
select ten "experiments" but ten 20th-century researchers
who undoubtedly have made (and some continue to make) a noticeable contribution
to psychological knowledge. Slater attempts to describe their work, which is
not always in the form of experiments as she incorrectly claims, by putting it
into the complex context of the researchers' personal, social, and historic
environments. Her attempts miserably fail to provide reasonable, well-informed
accounts and they are smeared by unfounded personal comments, which make the
reading of many sections of the book unsavory. Particularly disturbing is the
scarcity of information behind many of the outrageous allegations she makes and
her apparent lack of concern for the importance of corroborating evidence.
Slater's admission that she has not read all of Skinner's work before
commenting negatively on his philosophy and motives is symptomatic of her
approach to "knowledge". Slater does not fail, however, to
trivialize and insert superfluous personal feelings into her superficial and,
at times, distorted accounts of the work of others. Her blindness to accuracy
of reporting and lack of depth in the understanding of the ethical issues
raised by the studies that she attempts to describe are troublesome (see
chapter 10 for a paradigmatic illustration of the latter).
Slater's book, the selected researchers do not clearly emerge as complex human
beings absorbed in the pursuit of some difficult question about human
experience (e.g., Can "normal" people harm others just because they
are ordered to do so? Why do witnesses fail to provide, either directly or
indirectly, help to a victim?). In the book, it is also not entirely clear the
extent to which such questions result from the researchers' social, historical,
and personal scenarios. Even more troubling is the absence of a clearly
articulated chronological account of the researchers' struggle. As a result,
there cannot be any appreciation of the flow of ideas that emanate from the mere
passage of time and accumulation of evidence, and of the complex dilemmas
produced by conflicting views of human nature and their influence in generating
research predictions. The reading of Slater's portrayal of ten prominent
researchers' work equates to the reading of the stories of cartoon characters
where exaggerations triumph and sound investigative work is neglected. Given
this state of affairs, the researchers that are not included in the author's
selection, and whose numerous professional and non-professional citations would
command otherwise, should consider themselves fortunate not to appear anywhere
in the book.
In summary, this
is a book about lost opportunities. If you are an instructor looking for
readings that can make psychology interesting to your students, you'll find Opening
Skinner's Box unsuited for the purpose of educating. If you are searching
for entertainment, you'll certainly find the book full of shock-provoking and
misleading statements that overshadow any of the author's meager attempts to
describe the work of ten influential researchers. Lastly, if you want a book
that introduces you to psychological research, you'll be faced with glossy,
superficial, and, at times, gratuitous accounts of various research endeavors,
which do not even begin to provide the flavor of the efforts behind any of the
selected scientific inquiries. Most disturbingly, you'll discover
caricature-like characters whose personal lives and the domains of their
professional careers Slater never manages to connect realistically. If you are
any of the aforementioned persons, there are alternative books on the market
that offer realistic descriptions of the work of influential researchers in the
field of psychology without providing trivialized and misleading accounts of
their work and of the human beings behind it. Not surprisingly, there is one
more glitch. Consistent with the inadequate reporting, the book contains some
noticeable errors such as "data" treated as a singular noun and
non-experimental studies labeled as "experiments".
claims that an investigation, "in order to break beyond the container of
science, needs to have some poetry in its presentation, some smoke, some shock,
a verbal trill or two." (p. 110). One just wishes she had followed her
own words and added to them a dash of concern for accuracy of reporting, a
sprinkle of restraint towards unbridled expressions of ungrounded personal
views, and a lot more work in the gathering of evidence.
© 2004 Maura Pilotti
Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College,
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