Summertime reading

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Late July and August, you’ll often find me settled in a deck chair, enjoying the sunshine and summer breeze on my skin, cool drink in one hand, book in the other.  Bliss!  The book will almost certainly be a psychology title, and every so often it leads me to reflect upon and ponder life a bit, something which, in all honesty, I don’t often get the time to really do during term time without feeling that I should be doing something else!

This summer’s recommended titles

It occurred to me that probably very few of my students pick up a psychology book during the summer months as it would simply feel like a homework task at a time when they’re in holiday mode. But I feel they’re missing out, as there are some really great and accessible reads out there.  This year, I want to encourage and motivate my students to pop a psychology book into their suitcase along with their sunscreen (or download an eBook) and engage in some summer psychology reading!

I’m going to be actively suggesting some titles to them.  As it happens, many draw upon the OCR A Level Component 2, ‘Psychological themes through core studies’ content – but of course my students don’t necessarily have to know that until they arrive back to college in September!

Social psychology books

One of my favourite areas has to be social psychology – how the people around us affect our behaviour.  I only need to be in a queue for 5 minutes to spot this in action! Some classic ‘must reads’ for me include Zimbardo, P (2008) The Lucifer effect: How good people turn evil, Milgram, S (2010) Obedience to authority: An experimental view and, more recently, Pelonero, C (2016) Kitty Genovese: A true account of a public murder and its private consequences. These get you questioning ‘what would I do?’ They can also help us try to make sense of the evil we sadly sometimes see in the world and, importantly too, remind us of the good heroes out there who help during these moments.

Exploring people and personalities

Like me, if you think the categorisation of people would interest your students then why not look at directing them to find out more about the individual differences area in psychology. They could investigate the majority by looking at personality trait differences. Dr Malkin, C (2015) The Narcissist Test: How to spot outsized egos and the surprising things we can learn from them will get you and your students secretly testing to find out if your narcissism is ‘just the right amount’ and attempting to categorise others in the process. Try not to be offended if this book is purchased for you as a gift, as my copy was!

Another useful tool for measuring differences could be the psychopath test, which Hancock et al (2011) used to categorise murderers before analysing their language. However, Ronson, J (2011) The psychopath test, questions how helpful this diagnosis is, especially as 4% of CEOs are said to be psychopaths.

Perhaps the summer time is the best time to encourage your students to develop their good psychopathic traits? Dutton, K and McNab, A (2014) The good psychopath’s guide to success: How to use your inner psychopath to get the most out of life will get them selecting which psychopathic traits they can adapt to get that job they’re after or to control their personal life, such as by quitting smoking.

Exploring free will and control

Discussing the ability to control always gets me questioning the free will vs determinism debate: how much personal control do we actually have? If a rainy summer day is forecast, why not encourage students to stay in and watch a film that will leave them thinking such as The Adjustment Bureau (2011) – can we control against the agents of fate? This is where the biological area makes us question how much control we really have. Mischel, W (2014) The Marshmallow test: Understanding self-control and how to master it will leave you and your students wishing you could teach children to put down that first marshmallow and resist the temptation when you read the outcomes of the majority of low delayers and the fMRI evidence. But can the marshmallow test really predict our future? And are we able to change our biology?

Use social media to chat about the books you read

I’ve been thinking about the possibility of introducing a Psychology Book Club for my students, using social media to enable them to share their thoughts and discuss books. To get started there are existing reading lists or students could create their own.

Students may struggle with the delay of gratification so these interesting, accessible reads should help develop their interest in psychology further and lead to the real reward of a deeper understanding of psychology!  I’d be really interested in hearing of any book or film suggestions you perhaps make to your GCSE or A Level students, or whether you have a book club already up and running – please do comment below or share with me on Twitter @ocr_psychology using the hashtag#summerread.  You can also email the team on [email protected]!

Michelle Clive is a GCSE and A Level teacher at Derby College. Thank you to Helen Hemmings, Sociology and Psychology Subject Advisor at OCR, for passing on this article, which also appears on the OCR blog. Other booksellers are of course available in addition to the links made here.