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Customer Review

on 19 January 2012
I will begin by stating that personally, I have rarely found review books to be useful for study in the past. All too frequently, they seem to forget their mandate and either provide textbook levels of detail or where they are concise, omit essential material. This book avoids this apparent catch-22 in almost all respects. I was able to find succinct information on all of the topics that I needed to study and where I wished to expand in greater detail on a topic, the extra reading suggested was useful in directing me further. The exam questions at the end of the chapter are notably useful as self-assessment tools. I found it valuable exam preparation to complete a question alone and then to compare my answer with the sample answers provided. The extra answers accessible online are an innovative idea and, in general, it is something that I would like to see incorporated into other academic textbooks. I can appreciate that it is costly to print extra pages and rather than omit the material from the book, it seems a better solution to post it as supplementary material online instead.
This book is well-balanced in terms of its accessibility to the reader. The ideal audience for this book is probably a student who has some familiarity with psychological material, and this is reflected in the level of explanation offered in the book. That said, I would imagine that even a novice would not have any problem learning from this text, though he or she may not cover the material as quickly or with the same degree of fluency. Expert readers, which in an academic context include lecturers and tutors, may find this book useful in preparing their teaching. The logical, hierarchically-ordered structure of the text is conducive to this, and the fact that more difficult or important pieces are highlighted -such as in the 'critical focus' boxes- may give a valuable insight as to what students are likely to find challenging.
The most surprising thing about this book is the range of material that it covers. I was skeptical as to how much of the field of cognitive psychology could be covered in less than 250 pages. However, I was able to find material for all of the topics that I am covering in my cognitive psychology course, with a level of detail appropriate to my needs as a final-year student. I was somewhat surprised at the inclusion of the 'learning' chapter which featured theories from a behaviorist perspective. In my own university, there is a clear demarcation between behaviorist and cognitivist theories; they would never feature on the same course. More often than not, where the two perspectives are mentioned together (in my experience), it is the context of the sometimes bitter historical clashes of viewpoints, as exemplified in discussion around Chomsky's (1959) review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior. Taken from this perspective, it seems questionable to include behaviorist learning theory as a subordinate category of cognitivism. Many academics would argue that they are not compatible; for instance, in regard to their epistemological foundations.
The book is very aesthetically pleasing in terms of its layout and illustrations. Diagrammatic representations are often essential in describing cognitive models and I was satisfied with what was provided here. One challenge that that many students encounter, when revising for exams, is deciding how much time to spend on a topic. I found the subdivision of the pages into different sections, including evaluative questions and topics for 'critical focus' very useful in resolving this, and in giving a sense of the relative importance of different components of the chapter. Where extra detail is sought by students, the extra suggested reading (or 'key studies') that are located after each subsection of a chapter should be sufficient in completing their understanding of a topic. Especially in comparison with the long list of references provided at the end of a typical textbook chapter on cognitive psychology, these are very useful in guiding further study. The reading prescribed is selective and complements the examples provided in the main text.
My overall impression is that this is a well-written book that functions very effectively as a study tool for cognitive psychology. I would recommend it to my friends on the basis of its concise summaries and helpful features such as exam-style practice questions. The only objectionable aspect of the book that I encountered was the inclusion of chapter on behaviorist theories. I am willing to accept, however, that I am paying insufficient attention to context here and that the authors feel it a necessary inclusion for the sake of completeness. In this case, I would suggest that a sense of the historical divide between the disciplines be communicated to the student. Skinner (1990) did, after all, refer to cognitive psychology as the 'creation science' of psychology! From my study of both fields (my reading being by no means authoritative, at this point), I do not view the differences between them as trivial. Further, I feel that students ought to be aware of the distinctive way in which each explain psychological phenomena.
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