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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won

Recently at my office job (I have several jobs, btw), I was asked to help a departing colleague clean out his office. Happy to oblige, and knowing I would get a boatload of great books, I agreed. One of the ones I borrowed was Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won. I read it this weekend in order to keep myself on the "one for you, one for me" reading track (the "you" being my beloved field of psych). 

This volume of reflection, edited by one of my personal idols, Dr. Robert J. Sternberg of intelligence research (Triarchic Theory WHAT!), aimed to ask eminent psychologists across a range of disciplines how they have defied the establishment and gone on to make great contributions to the field. This allowed these figures to reflect back on their collective centuries of work and examine how the field in general resists new ideas and change, especially in the move from behaviorism in the mid-century to the renewed dominance of cognitive and social psychology. (For the record, both of those are where I spend a great deal of my teaching and research, so I am most certainly biased!)

I was particularly excited to read chapters by people that I just admire and respect. Most of those were chapters that were incredibly illuminating and eye-opening, such as Dr. Elizabeth Loftus reflecting on her research of false memories, leading to a great deal of backlash from the public but helping a tremendous amount of people who had been falsely accused of sexual molestation in the 1990's; Dr. Walter Mischel, who changed the face of personality psychology against strong resistance from some of his own colleagues (you might be familiar with his Marshmallow Test); Dr. Robert J. Sternberg himself, who took the field of intelligence and turned it upside down, angering so many in the process (I LOVE YOU!); Dr. Edward Zigler, one of the founders of Head Start and its arguably staunchest advocate, who continued to push for psychologists involvement in preschool development even when everyone around him thought this was the dumbest idea ever; Dr. Kelly T. Brownell, whose obesity and dieting research changed how we understand yo-yo dieting; Dr. Ellen Berscheid, reflecting on her love research that caused a massive public backlash, threatening her safety and health, and how she pushed through to make incredible breakthroughs in the field; and last, but certainly never least, Dr. Elliot Aronson, one of the fathers of cognitive dissonance research who challenged his own adviser to edit his theory in order to take into account self-concept to explain a theory that was too broad in scope to be applied to everyday work.

Holy moly, that was a lot. But honestly, it was a great book to read as I sit here stuck on how I am going to finish my blasted dissertation. Sometimes it feels not worth it at all, then I have to remind myself that I can't do the bigger things I want to do -- defy the crowd, if you will -- until I finish. It was not just enlightening, but inspiring, to read these essays by people I admire and see how they also faced adversity not just early on, but throughout their careers.

Some of the essays were pedantic and self-congratulatory, and I won't mention their names here -- but let's just say I wasn't surprised. (It was none of my favorites listed above.) So instead, if you pick up this book, focus on the ones that really lay out for the every day reader, or newbie psychology major, how they had to push forward in the face of defiance to make the difference they knew they could make.

For purchase below.

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