30 Second Psychology

30-Second Psychology
By Christian Jarrett (ed.)
Icon Books – £12.99

Who’d have ever thought there’d be a quintessential link between a certain strand of psychology and a certain configuration of crass rap; but in this exceedingly easy to read reference book, 30-Second Psychology – The 50 Most Thought Provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute, there is indeed a link as well as a considerable mention.

In the section on ‘Positive Psychology, one of the five contributors states: ‘’’That don’t kill me can only make me stronger.’ So sang rapper Kanye West in his 2007 track ‘Stronger.’ Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, put it similarly in the nineteenth century when he wrote, ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’ Their words would make an ideal motto for positive psychology – a movement that was launched by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman […] in 1998. Seligman lamented the fact that psychology had for so long focused on mental ailments and distress. He called on the discipline to focus more on the positive – on people’s strengths and virtues.’’

So having taken psychology out of the dusty vaults of Viennese didacticism, Seligman, rather like the editor of these fifty theories, Christian Jarrett – award-winning journalist for The Psychologist – has endeavoured to deliver the discipline to that of a far wider audience. And not a moment too soon might I add. For as ever increasing numbers of young people opt for a Bachelor of Arts in media studies – by way of hit’n’run infamy for all the wrong reasons (myopic glamour and translucent depth by way of push-up bras and the thirty second sound bite) – such disciplines as science and maths are falling by the way-side.

To be sure, I’ve heard of a number of British universities offering free degree courses in science and maths – which really is a terrible state of affairs, especially considering the current economic crisis. So it’s all the more refreshing to stumble upon a book such as this, which somehow manages to depict what is more often than not considered a dry, dense, dichotomy of a subject, as being more than approachable, and dare I say it, somehow sexy.

As Jarrett writes in the Introduction: ‘’Each of the book’s 50 entries provides a plain English 30-second introduction, a 3-second ‘psyche’ for when you’re really in a rush, and a 3-minute analysis, which probes a little deeper. The chapters also include biographical profiles of some of the luminaries in this field, including Sigmund Freud and William James. Whether you choose to dip in or to study the book from cover to cover, you are about to learn about the most complex entity in the universe – the human mind. Have fun!’’

The overall layout and design of the book is most inviting – that its actual cover is reminiscent of an early Foo Fighters album is rather fetching to say the least! There’s lots of room to breath and generally reflect and cogitate upon what one may have read (which could be anything from Psychoanalysis to Milgram’s Obedience Study, Pavlov’s Dogs to Beck’s Cognitive Therapy). But the best thing about 30-Second Psychology is its simplicity and all round inviting manner.

David Marx


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