In this book review that's probably a more worthwhile read than the book, Alison Gopnik writes:
Within the past few years more and more children have been given powerful brain-altering drugs to deal with a wide range of problems. . . .I'm also glad to see that the review highlights the importance of compatible "levels of description":
You can sympathize with the impulse of parents to do something, anything at all, to help their children. But that doesn't alter the fact that the scientific evidence just isn't clear about what to do. On balance, though, the evidence suggests that we should be conservative about prescribing drugs to children, and much more conservative than we actually are. Even the scientists who advocate some use of drugs acknowledge that they are overprescribed and badly managed. Brains are complex enough, children's developing brains are even more complex, and determining the long-term effects of drugs that alter those brains is especially difficult. Children are different from adults, often in radical ways, and many childhood problems resolve just as part of development.
On top of that, each generation of doctors discovers that the last generation was disastrously misguided in its medical interventions, from lobotomies to estrogen replacement, at the same time that they assure the patients that this time is different.
[Judith] Warner's book [We've Got Issues] also reflects a common confusion in popular writing about psychology. She writes as if there are just two kinds of explanations for human behavior. Either the everyday narratives are right—so that children are unhappy because their parents don't care about them, or they fail at school because they are lazy. Or else the right answer is that the children's problems are the result of "something in their brains." Warner's logic seems to be that since the parents do care about their kids, the problem must be in the children's brains and therefore drugs will fix it.There was a very insightful blog post (on Psychology Today's website) that makes a similar point about evolutionary psychology: "Is it evolutionary, or is it . . . ?" (That post speaks of "levels of causation," which is the same thing as the "levels of description" in the above block quote.) I've also blogged this concept before: "Can you give a neurological or evolutionary explanation of love without debunking the whole idea of love?"
But everything about human beings, cultural or individual, innate or learned, is in our brains. Loss and humiliation change our serotonin levels, education transforms our brain connections, social support affects our cortisol. Neurological and psychological and social processes are inextricable. The work of psychological science is to identify causes at many levels of description—social, cultural, individual, and neurological.
By the way, that book review has several points that could be added to my list of ways blogs are better than books. The bias in favor of conclusions that come from riveting stories is huge.