By Marcus Weeks
I was always an inquisitive kid (this is probably synonymous with “nosey” but sounds nicer). When I learned that the mother of one of my friends had gone back to school and was taking a course in psychology, I was curious. “But what is psychology?” I kept asking. Despite the fact that psychology is all around us and permeates our everyday experience, you typically have to reach college before being introduced to any sort of formal exposure in the form of the ever-popular Psych 101. I wish someone had been able to hand me Heads Up Psychology, the first in a series of books geared at teenagers from the publishing house DK (formerly known as Dorling Kindersley). I grew up on DK books – The Encyclopedia of the Horse was a perennial favorite – and am pleased to see that they have taken their focus on visually appealing and highly engaging informative books that are so successful with children and shifted to teenagers. Written by Marcus Weeks in collaboration with Dr. John Mildinhall, Heads Up Psychology offers up an inside look into why we tick that will appeal to both the inquisitive teen and their parents – or anyone else who wants to know the basics of what the field of psychology has to offer.
The book begins by covering some basic questions about psychology – Yes, the first they address was that question I asked years ago of What is psychology? followed along closely by What do psychologists do? After covering these introductory inquiries, the book is divided into sections, each focused on a different subfield of psychology under the guise of a central question. For example, the first chapter covers developmental psychology and focuses on asking What makes me tick? The chapter then delves into various aspects of developmental psychology that might be of interest to teens, such as the role of our parents in our development, how we learn, and how behavior is shaped. The text manages to be straight forward without talking down to the reader. They include seminal experiments such as Harry Harlow’s work with infant monkeys and John B. Watson’s work with “little Albert” in easily digestible side panels. The book keeps its audience in mind throughout, drawing connections from the research to the daily life of a teen. The section on sleep in the chapter on biological psychology, for example, discusses the time shift that happens during adolescence, making it more difficult to do well at school in the morning.
The book also includes short biographies of over sixty important individuals in the field, from Asch to Zimbardo. For instance, in the chapter on biological psychology – under the question What does my brain do? – they include a biography of the pioneering neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. In addition to briefly describing his scientific contributions, the author works to paint a picture of him as a person that teens might be able to relate to, noting his rebellious childhood in which he wound up in prison briefly as an 11 year old for “smashing his neighbor’s gate with a homemade cannon.” We also learn that he was more than a scientist, publishing works of satire. It points out how he was able to use his talent as an artist, developed from early childhood, to depict the intricate connections he saw between nerves under the microscope. From rebellious artist to Nobel Laureate, his story illustrates how you never know where a curious mind may take you.
I would be remiss in my review if I did not mention the visual appeal of the book. Each page is laid out in such a way as to draw you attention and encourage you to move from one portion of text to another. Diagrams help to illustrate psychological concepts, making them easier to understand. If only my college textbooks had been designed like this! Given the popularity of graphic novels, this highly visual format will appeal to young adults. Also, while DK is officially targeting the books to the 13-17 year old age group, a precocious middle schooler or curious adult will likely be drawn in as well.
The one caveat is that this is a basic overview of psychology and, for those with knowledge of the field, it may feel as though important work is given short shrift or left out entirely. Rather than a definitive resource on all-things-psychology-related, consider it a launch pad of sorts. Open to any page, and you may find topics you want to explore further. The breadth of psychology is enormous and Heads Up Psychology does an good job of highlighting some of the key components and presenting it in such a way as to engage the pre-teen or teenaged reader.
Heads Up Psychology
Heads Up Psychology
By Marcus Weeks