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Opening Skinner's Box


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From the author of Prozac Diary and Welcome to My Country Sales of nearly 5,000 in hardback to date Perfectly accessible for fans of Oliver James and general psychology, plus a good buy for humanities students

About the Author

Lauren Slater is the author of Welcome to My Country, Prozac Diary and Love Works Like This, and has written articles and contributed pieces to the New York Times, Harper's, Elle and Nerve. Her essays are widely anthologized and she is a frequent guest on US radio shows, including 'The People's Pharmacy' on NPR.


Slater (Prozac Diary; Love Works Like This) returns with this exploration of the continuing moral and social implications of nine important psychological experiments-a really great idea for a book. She includes B.F. Skinner's work on operant conditioning, Stanley Milgram's study of obedience to authority, Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance, Harry Frederick Harlow's primates, and Elizabeth Loftus on false memory syndrome. All of these experiments continue to inspire current psychologists, and all have profound implications for our views of free will, conformity, and morality. Unfortunately, the execution of this book is not up to the idea. Slater is a clinical psychologist who views individual personality as the deciding factor in most situations, which is ironic since most of the experiments she covers have refuted this position. She doesn't seem to understand that social and biological psychologists are not particularly interested in individual differences-their agenda is based on improving the world by devising environments that encourage positive behavior. Plenty needs to be said about this, but, unfortunately, Slater spends too much of her time speculating about the experimenters' childhoods and personalities (two of her interviewees are described as "hysterical") to engage the topics. For large subject collections only. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03.]-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'Remarkably stimulating ... Opening Skinner's Box is an endless delight' Mail on Sunday 'Makes for fascinating reading, helped along by Slater's charm and resourcefulness' Sunday Telegraph 'The experiments Slater describes are fascinating in their own right, but made more so by the rich social and personal context in which Slater places them' Daily Mail 'An unusual and compelling personal journey combining the emotional and the scientific ... a warm narrative flow achieved through a mixture of research, intuition, anecdote, reconstruction and engagingly haphazard interviews' Time Out

Psychologist Slater's account of 10 of the most influential-and controversial-experimental forays into the mind's inner workings is neither clinical nor dispassionate. Slater (Lying, a Metaphorical Memoir) is a relentlessly inquisitive eccentric somewhat in the mold of Janet Malcolm, and her examinations of such (in)famous experiments as Stanley Milgram's "electric shock" obedience studies and Harry Harlow's "wire monkey" attachment researches are defiantly personal, even intimate. Slater takes the often bleak news about the predictability and malleability of human behavior revealed by such theorists as B.F. Skinner deeply to heart, and her book is as much urgent reassessment as historical re-creation. The brilliant chapter on David Rosenhan's experiment, in which volunteers presented vague symptoms at psychiatric facilities and were immediately admitted, proving that the diagnosis of "mental illness" is a largely contextual affair, is the most flamboyant and revealing example of Slater's method. She is not only frank about her own experiences as a patient in psychiatric institutions but-as she does elsewhere-she reproduces the experiment personally. That Slater-after an average office visit of less than a quarter-hour-is prescribed a variety of drugs rather than being locked up does show a change in clinical methodology, but confirms Rosenhan's thesis. This combination of expert scientific and historical context, tough-minded reporting and daringly subjective re-creation serves to illuminate and humanize a sometimes arcane subject. If this leads to occasionally florid prose, and a chapter on "repressed memory" scourge Elizabeth Loftus in which Slater's ambivalence shades toward outright hostility, this is still one of the most informative and readable recent books on psychology. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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