The PT Bookshelf: Women Can't Park, Men Can't Pack

Book reviews on stereotypes, endangered empathy and illusion.

By Arikia Millikan, Matthew Hutson, Avigail Gordon, published May 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The Psychology of Stereotypes

By Geoff Rolls

Judge this book by its cover. Rolls explores 42 widely held beliefs about groups of people that are often subconsciously accepted. He delves into the beliefs' origins, provides historical anecdotes, and draws from psychological research to tell us whether there's any truth behind the perceptions. Rolls doesn't just focus on negative stereotypes, such as the notions that blondes are dumb, politicians are liars, and geniuses tend to be a little... eccentric. He also looks into the positive stereotypes such as the altruistic Christian. See below for three verdicts. —Arikia Millikan

Fact or Fiction?

  • The Creative Left-Hander: Examples like da Vinci and Einstein have made popular the idea that left-handers are more creative. But handedness doesn't necessarily determine which hemisphere of the brain will dominate. Status: False.
  • The Mad Genius: Creative people are more likely to experience depression and manic symptoms such as rapid thought-association. (Think van Gogh.) But just being insane doesn't make you a genius. Status: Mixed.
  • The Emotional Woman: Women do cry more than men and express their emotions more frequently. And 90 percent of women experience premenstrual symptoms, including mood swings and "unexplained tearfulness." Status: True.

Born for Love

By Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz

Facebook. Daycare. Economic inequality. All these trends are endangering empathy. Building off of case studies from Perry's psychiatric practice, Perry and Szalavitz trace the antecedents and repercussions of (dis)connection, from mother-infant bonding through national financial meltdown. We learn about mirror neurons, teenage cliques, game theory, autism, and mass hysteria. The book explains science from cells to sociology and illustrates what can go wrong when we turn a blind eye toward others or engender blind spots in our children. But it offers fixes. Some are far-off—systemic shake-ups—but others are just a handshake away. —Matthew Hutson

The Invisible Gorilla

By Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Chabris and Simons earned laughter and praise for their study in which people were asked to count how frequently players passed a ball in a short video—and around half of them failed to notice a gorilla walking through the scene. This experiment demonstrated the first of Chabris and Simons' six everyday illusions: the illusions of attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause, and potential. More than sketching out the errors themselves, the book aims to demonstrate that we continue to make them even when we're aware of them. If the authors make you second-guess yourself 10 times today, they've done their job. —Avigail Gordon

Unknown Unknowns

When your mind plays tricks...

In the Invisible Gorilla (see review above), Chabris and Simons offer several newsworthy examples of everyday illusions. Here are three.

  1. February 2001: The nuclear submarine USS Greeneville surfaced straight into a fishing vessel, demonstrating the illusion of attention. Even though the commander looked directly towards the boat through the periscope, he wasn't expecting anything to be there.
  2. March 2008: During her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton discussed a March 1996 visit to Bosnia, claiming to have landed under sniper fire. She had actually disembarked the plane to a greeting ceremony. The illusion of memory convinced her that her memory of the event was accurate.
  3. 2007-today: The financial crisis is in large part the result of the illusion of knowledge. Financial experts overestimated how much they knew about the market. Also a contributing factor? The illusion of confidence that led investors to trust financial advisors based on how sure the advisors seemed of their information. —Avigail Gordon