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Penguin Dictionary of Psychology: Fourth Edition

In the fourth edition of the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, Arthur S. Reber and his recruited companions, Emily S. Reber and Rhianon Allen, have made careful efforts to create an extensive yet concise dictionary for a range of readers — from students to experts to the simply curious. 

In the prefaces (the first, second and third edition prefaces are included), Reber discusses his dedication to the field as well as to language itself.  He reminds readers of his own humanity, how he (and his companions) struggled to make the most accessible resource in terms of what’s included and how it is assembled. Reber, Allen and Reber are aware that they are not writing an encyclopedia, but feel that the connotations and, often, the coiners of the terms are hard to separate from the definitions. They list about 175 terms upfront with definitions that are considered extensive (over 200 words). Their passion for wanting to include more than just a cold or generalized definition gives readers the ability to understand terms in a more holistic manner.

Reber’s main goal in assembling the first edition of the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology “was to cover psychology and psychiatry reasonably thoroughly and to include terms from other disciplines when they shared terminological overlap with these fields.” He is honest about his inability to have thought about every corner of such a wide field.  In fact, he asked for responses and feedback after the first three editions in order to keep improving the range of the dictionary.  As the editions continued, Reber expressed his surprise at the ever-changing vocabulary of psychology, noting how quickly some terms cycle out of use.  To accommodate new terminology in the latest edition, the authors decided to “overcome [their] resistance to cutting back on the length of entries and eliminating entries all together.” The two main aspects of psychology that suffered the most from this editing were “terms that emerged during psychology’s behaviourist days and some obsolescent historical arcana.” So if that’s your area of interest, it is best to buy an earlier edition.

Despite the necessary cuts, Reber continued (throughout all editions) to show his dedication to creating a source that is almost interactive with the field of psychology.  Each edition is meant to reflect the most recent trends as well as to provide the context or usage for many of the terms. This book was created with ease and accessibility in mind—the prefaces provide a window into the writers’ thought processes and the arrangement of the book.  The Authorities Cited and Simple Phobias appendixes allow for easy future reference.  Reber has updated this dictionary four times in the past 25 years, showing a dedication to the most current terminology and newest trends in the field.  Personally, simple things, like Reber’s rejection of ‘absolute’ alphabetizing, impressed me.  In a system of absolute alphabetizing, a term like ‘mixed transcortical aphasia’ would be listed under ‘mixed,’ but Reber carefully looked at each term and listed it underneath the ‘key’ word in the phrase.  In this example, the key word is ‘aphasia’ and the term is listed as ‘aphasia, mixed transcortical.’  This type of organization allows terms to be grouped together, so readers are able to see all aphasia definitions in a glance. Additionally, Reber cross-referenced terms so that any word in the phrase can point you to the definition for ultimate ease.

In his first preface, Reber says that he wrote this dictionary for everyone—experts wanting to learn about another field of psychology, students in their first course or for simple language lovers.  I believe that he and his team have achieved this goal through their in-depth, comprehensive definitions.  Through the definitions, the authors show their knowledge of the field and also their ability to explain it to a large assortment of people. In a field as wide as psychology, it is easy to be unfamiliar with an area that is outside of your own specialty.  Reber, Allen and Reber have designed this dictionary around that idea in order to make it the ultimate reference tool for anyone wanting to learn more about the field.

This dictionary is a tribute to thoroughness and forethought.  Unfortunately, the authors did have to cut some information in order to accommodate size and pricing, but where and what they cut was a matter of thoughtful debate.  At every turn, the authors seem to have carefully considered the options and made the best choice they thought in the name of the field.  I admire that Reber acknowledges his hardships in the prefaces and that he and his team have done their best to include semi-encyclopedic definitions of terms that would be done a disservice by generic definitions. Reber, Allen and Reber have designed this dictionary to be more like a conversation than a cold, hard way of defining the world of psychology.

Penguin Dictionary of Psychology: Fourth Edition

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Devon Tomasulo, MFA

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2016). Penguin Dictionary of Psychology: Fourth Edition. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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