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The Way Experimental Psychologists Learn How and Why We Think, Feel, and Act as We Do

by Denise D. Cummins

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13577-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

 An absorbing survey of knowledge in the relatively neglected area of experimental (as opposed to clinical, or psychotherapeutic) psychology. A cognitive-science researcher at the University of Arizona who also has taught at Yale, Cummins surveys such disparate fields as psychoneurology; human's development, beginning in infancy, of complex symbolic systems (most notably, language and mathematics); human brains and cognitive systems as compared with those of chimpanzees and other highly intelligent animals; and group psychology. In a particularly interesting chapter on the latter, the author introduces us to ``pluralistic ignorance''; this refers to the concept that one person's passivity in the face of another's real crisis (such as a mugging or serious car accident) is reinforced if others also treat the crisis as a nonproblem or at least as one that doesn't concern them. Cummins's chapters detailing scientific findings on the evolution and nature of human language and thinking conclude with the observation that ``except for language, we are dismally poor symbolic thinkers,'' although we're better ``pattern recognizers and classifiers.'' Cummins draws upon and summarizes well an impressively varied amount of scientific data. Her book's only real shortcoming is a tendency sometimes to be nonspecific in reporting on data; she notes, for instance, that characteristic A occurs more frequently than characteristic B without specifying how much more. On balance, though, her style is admirably clear and succinct. Cummins may not be as colorful a writer as, say, Oliver Sacks, but she holds the reader's attention while covering a great deal more ground. Her fine work makes the sometimes dry and forbidding field of experimental psychology accessible and even quite engrossing to the layperson. (illustrations, not seen)