Psychology's Ghosts The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back Jerome Kagan

Publication date:
03 Apr 2012
Yale University Press
320 pages: 210 x 140 x 30mm


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This book is the product of long thought and profound concern about the state of contemporary psychology. Jerome Kagan, a brilliant thinker and leading researcher in the field, examines current popular practices and assumptions among psychologists. He uncovers a variety of problems that, troublingly, are largely ignored by therapists and researchers alike. Yet solutions are available, Kagan maintains, and his reasoned suggestions point the way to better understanding and treatment of mental illness.

Kagan identifies these critical problems in contemporary psychology: the indifference to the setting in which observations are gathered (the assumption is that similar self-reports of well-being by persons from vastly different ages, social classes, ethnicities, and other criteria reflect similar psychological states); the habit of basing inferences on single measures rather than patterns of measures (even though every action, reply, or biological response a researcher measures can result from more than one set of conditions); the defining of mental illnesses by symptom alone, regardless of its origin; and the treatment of mental disorders with drugs and forms of psychotherapy that are nonspecific to the diagnosed illness. The author's candid discussion will inspire debate - exactly what is needed in a field whose promise remains unfulfilled.

Jerome Kagan is Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Harvard University, where he was co-director of the Mind/Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. He is the author of nearly 400 papers and numerous books. He lives in Belmont, MA.

“Jerome Kagan’s impressive, masterful, and thoroughly readable book examines several of the most knotty and pressing controversies in academic psychology today. One of the strengths of the book is the sheer weight of evidence Kagan draws upon in advancing his lively, probing, and always thought-provoking arguments.”—Christopher Lane, author of Shyness and The Age of Doubt

"Kagan is a voice of reason, and this important book should be understood in that context…in which psychology’s contemporary work needs to be integrated into the larger cultural [and] historical context. …This is a wonderful book by a bold thinker in the first part of the 21st century.”—Jay Schulkin, Department of Neuroscience Georgetown University

"Erudite, illuminating, and engaging, Psychology’s Ghosts provides solutions to key conceptual problems that continue to haunt our field, from the study of happiness to the treatment of mental illness."—Richard J. McNally, author of What is Mental Illness? 

"Professor Kagan is one of the most thoughtful commentators on the Social and Behavioral Sciences we have. His observations and reflections are thought- provoking and often sobering. However, he is not simply a critic -- he offers constructive insights into ways to move forward. Always interesting, Kagan's perspective is unique and uniquely helpful."—Stephen M. Kosslyn, Director, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

"Kagan uses the wisdom acquired as a leading psychologist for several decades to look critically but constructively at current practices in the discipline. Here he brings an enormous range of data to expose the temptation to look for single causal factors behind complex phenomena – a very important book for all psychologists."—Robert Hinde, author of Changing How We Live: Society from the Bottom Up

"Jerome Kagan is one of the reigning masters of the field of psychology - and of a great deal more.  In this calm, wise, tightly argued, but nonetheless urgent book he offers both a critique of what has happened to his craft over the past half century and some suggestions as to how it can be restored to the promise it once had. It's a wondrous book, the work of a very special mind and sensibility."—Kai Erikson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Sociology and American Studies, Yale University

"Psychology’s Ghosts can be enjoyed by both experts and lay readers. For the latter, including persons suffering from some form of mental illness, the book represents a reliable and user friendly source of information about the present status of psychological and psychiatric research and clinical practice. For the expert it provides a compass for rethinking one’s own practice and research and for reorganizing this more consistently around the principle of beneficence."—Liana Giorgi, New York Journal of Books

“With its detailed reassessments of well-entrenched principles (including John Bowlby’s theory that the quality of the attachment between infant and mother has a profound and enduring impact on every child’s future), Psychology’s Ghosts should command the interest of anyone interested in the field.”—Glenn Altschuler, The Jerusalem Post

“He makes his case persuasively and readably, with extensive empirical support. For a public enamored of looking inward to genes, brain circuits and medications to find solutions to the problems that plague us privately and politically, the message that most of those solutions require us to look outward—to culture, class and context—can't be repeated often enough.”—Carol Tavris, Wall Street Journal

"Kagan is thorough and precise in this remarkable book. He has a chapter of positive recommendations, but as he notes, he’s not the first to point out these limitations, which have so far mostly been ignored. What he’s basically calling for is some humility, and acknowledgement of complexity, differences and connections."—Bill Kowinski, North Cost Journal

"If anyone has the stature and wisdom to shake a finger at contemporary psychology and say "shame on you," it is Kagan . . . Though not all will agree with his contentions, few can argue with his intentions."—R.E. Osborne, Choice

"Jerome Kagan's own studies of human temperament from infancy to adulthood constitute a masterpiece of research in psychology, and his new book is crammed with fascinating information gleaned from a lifetime's acquaintance with the lab and the literature. The author is immensely informed, and fills his pages with references to myriad facets of Western culture. Slogging through Psychology's Ghosts can be hard work in places, but in the end the slog is well worth the effort."—Barry Gault, Commonweal

?An intellectual tour de force?: ?Kagan has written a provocative and challenging book. . . . Psychology?s Ghosts . . . provide[s] a template for students and the profession to carefully consider whether our science matches our clinical practice. This consideration, in turn, provides a moment to determine whether we as psychologists feel a moral obligation to match science to practice for those we so zealously purport to serve.??Robert G. Frank, PsycCRITIQUES, American Psychological Association