All entries for Monday 29 January 2007

January 29, 2007

Book 3/50 – 'Interpersonal Relationships'

3 out of 5 stars

This is in fact an A-level Psychology text, in effect. It isn’t too challenging – I read it to get a broad introductory overview of modern thinking about relationships. Almost a literature review, in under two hours. (Before you ask, I am aware of the irony of reading a book about relationships, rather than actually going out and having some.)

So first, it is possible to categorise types of relationships, and types of love. There are a few models that researchers have come up with, but it is generally possible to tease out some distinct components – Rubin had ‘attachment’, ‘caring’ and ‘intimacy’, for instance. Next, it is possible to identify the factors that make relationship formation more likely – important are proximity (the more you see each other, the more likely you are to develop a relationship), similarity (in terms of backgrounds, interests…), physical attraction (obviously), reciprocal liking (you like people who you think like you), and some level of social competence. This is all on a very descriptive level.

Next, psychologists have attempted to come up with some theories to explain all of the above – so, learning theory (classical and operant conditioning) were discussed briefly, followed by ‘Social Exchange Theory’ – i.e. modelling relationships like economics. Equity theory seemed to be a variation on this, where you aim to get equitable returns on investment. Finally, sociobiology was considered, and mostly dismissed for being unable to make predictions. Most of these theories are lacking in some aspect or other, it seems to me.

The book continues with some models of how relationships progress, of their dissolution, and certain components and effects. It wraps up with a look at how social and cultural differences can affect all of the conclusions, which up until now were focused on western heterosexual relationships. It is interesting to note that, as undergraduate students are readily available research material, their relationships must be some of the best studied in existence.

Overall, this book wasn’t aimed at me – there was bloat at the beginning about scientific method (although it taught me some useful vocabulary), and there was bloat at the end with revision questions for A-level students. The coverage of the topics in the middle was necessarily shallow – still, it served its purpose, in highlighting the main points of the subject.

Book 2/50 – 'Motivation and Personality'

4 out of 5 stars

I partially read this over Christmas, but at least finished it this year… it’s necessary for context of certain books that follow, anyway, so I’m writing about it. I actually sought it out after seeing a reference to Maslow in a satirical article in the sports section of the Guardian, of all places – I remembered being told about a ‘pyramid’ of needs at one point during my childhood, but this was obviously misremembered by one of us – the more common term is the hierarchy of needs. So, off I went to read about it.

The first part of the book is devoted to this hierarchy – discussing need gratification theory, and so on. The idea is, once one level of needs are satisfied in a person, higher level needs will start to appear. So, it starts with basic physiological needs like food and water, and once those are satisfied the person will want to feel safe, and then to love and friendship, up to self-esteem and respect, and finally ‘self-actualisation’, the need to fulfil one’s potential. Conversely, if one level is taken away, the person will become dissatisfied – and normally, all actions will be directed towards satisfying that need.

‘Self-actualisation’ is an interesting concept – it differs from the other needs in that it is about growth, rather than deficiency of something. The second part of the book goes on to discuss self-actualising people further – Maslow’s ideas here are reminiscent of Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch, and indeed, in one of his other books which I’m presently reading, he makes reference to Nietzsche and the existentialists. It is interesting, because Maslow’s ideas are based firmly around psychologically healthy people, rather than the neurotic patients of Freud, say.

The third main part of the book poses a number of questions for future research – in fact, there is at least one chapter that is just a list of topics as short sentences. Maslow did not always restrict himself to traditional scientific methods of investigation – the section on self-actualising people is based upon his personal observations of a small sample size. Still, arguably he has good reasons for this – how would one go about studying self-actualising people in the laboratory? Maslow is always aware of how tentative his conclusions must be, if any can be drawn at all – but perhaps this was necessary in order to retain ecological validity, and because there was no prior research in this area.

I’m not going to draw conclusions on Maslow until I’ve finished at least one other book of his I’m reading, but Motivation and Personality has certainly provoked some interesting avenues of investigation, so it was well worth reading.

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From 20th August 2007, this blog is no longer being updated. For something more recent, please visit Tim Retout’s website.

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