From Publishers Weekly
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.
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"What if?" Perhaps no two words have had a greater capacity for motivating explorers and experimenters to delve into the unknown. When posed by some of the twentieth century's most famous psychologists, this tiny question has yielded tremendous results. From B. F. Skinner's notorious study of behaviorism to Alexander's controversial analysis of addiction, 10 of psychology's most audacious experiments are revisited in Slater's fascinating investigation. The study of human nature, psychology is paradoxically reported in dispassionate terms, its cold objectivity exacting great personal costs. Slater, a psychologist who has written extensively about her own treatments for mental illness--most memorably in Prozac Diary
(1998)--wanted to change all that, to reconnect with the patients and physicians who contributed so significantly to our understanding of human behavior. Passionately and poetically, she humanizes the calculating inspiration and inhumane consequences such experimentation conferred. At times facile, even glib, Slater is nonetheless grounded in her research and conclusions and does succeed in bringing a refreshingly honest, and human, perspective to an all-too-often detached clinical science. Carol HaggasCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved