In The Handy Psychology Answer Book, Lisa J. Cohen, PhD endeavors to provide answers to approximately 1000 questions regarding the study of the human mind in an easy-to-read Q&A format. Dr. Cohen states that her inspiration for writing this book was the realization that the general public lacks knowledge of the latest scientific research in the field of psychology, whereas in the past, researchers such as Skinner and Piaget were household names.
The purpose of this book is to bridge the gap between the actual research that is taking place in the field and the “pop psychology” that has become popularized by the likes of Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura. The Handy Psychology Answer Book is intended to be the type of book that anyone with even a slight interest in psychology can pick up and use to learn more about the field, and for the most part it reaches its goal.
Dr. Cohen divides the questions into ten different sections according to subject matter. First, in Introducing the Basics, a brief history of psychology is given, including facts about Freud, Watson, Skinner, and Piaget. In the second section, Major Movements in Psychology, information is provided about the major psychological theories that have since come about, such as Behaviorism, Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Theory, Humanistic Theories, Sociobiology, Neurobiological Theories, etc. Both the questions chosen and the answers provided in these sections give the reader a comprehensive overview of the topics mentioned.
The cross-section of questions range from the basic (Who was Sigmund Freud?), to the more advanced (How has psychoanalytic theory changed over the years?), to the irreverent (How did Freud’s theories make their way into a classic Alfred Hitchcock film?). Dr. Cohen gives the answers in succinct, clear language taking mostly no longer than a paragraph. It is enough to give newcomers to the psychology field a wide breadth of knowledge about the fundamental differences in the major theoretical models used to explain human behavior.
In the section titled Brain and Behavior, Dr. Cohen answers questions that are more geared towards the biological aspects of psychology. Again, she provides a wide variety of questions and answers, ranging from the elementary aspects of brain structure to more complicated questions involving neurotransmitters and their effects. While not all casual readers may be interested in these topics, the author does an excellent job of making this information accessible to anyone who chooses to read it. She explains technical areas in plain language and provides several images to further clarify some of the answers. Overall, this section serves as a fine primer for anyone looking for introductory information involving the biological/neurological factors of psychology.
The second half of the book is devoted more to the real-life applications of psychological study. Most casual readers and fans of “pop psychology” will probably be strongly drawn to this part of the book. There are sections devoted to Psychological Development Across the Lifespan, The Psychology of Everyday Life, Group Dynamics, Abnormal Psychology, Trauma, and Forensic Psychology. As in the first half of the book, Dr. Cohen poses a myriad of questions that give a broad view of the current theories being posited in modern psychology. The author uses many recently published studies and books to supply the answers, and they are all listed in the bibliography for those who would like to gain further knowledge on the topics discussed.
The Handy Psychology Answer Book is an interesting, wide-ranging, straightforward read in which anyone with even a passing interest in psychology can find something to suit their curiosity. The book brings the latest research and theories in the field to the general public in an easy-to-understand format. However, the format of the book does not work with all of the questions given. As one can imagine, it takes more than a paragraph or two to fully explain some of the more complex psychological studies that have been conducted. While the author does a good job of fitting most of the answers into the given format, there are some parts that will leave readers wanting more. It would be wise to consider this book a starting point for answering some of psychology’s more enduring questions, and not as an end point.
For most people well-read on the subject, The Handy Psychology Answer Book will probably not offer a great deal of new information (although there are some interesting morsels throughout the book). But this is not the author’s target audience. What this book does do well is provide a litany of up to date information for the uninitiated, whether they are students starting a career in psychology and related fields or fans of the latest rehab reality show.
Any novice in the study of the human mind would be hard pressed to find a more thorough assortment of succinct questions and answers than those found in The Handy Psychology Answer Book.
The Handy Psychology Answer Book
By Lisa J. Cohen, PhD
Visible Ink Press