The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology—Fourth Edition (Book Review)

Author: Weiner, Irving B. and W. Edward Craighead
Publisher: Wiley & Sons, 2010, 2002 pages. ISBN: 978-0-470-17024-3
Reviewed By: Mark E. Mattson, PhD, Fordham University

It is clearly essential to focus a review of a massive work like the four volumes of The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology: 4th Edition (2010) (hereafter Corsini), with over 1800 pages of entries.  This review briefly covers the publication history of Corsini, then tries to assess its future by comparing it to Wikipedia. I had access to the first two volumes of Corsini for this review, and focused my analyses on Volume 1: A-C.

John Wiley is the publisher of Corsini. As you might expect, the first editor was Raymond J. Corsini (1914-2008). He was a well-known and well-connected clinician, editor, author, and test creator (Wedding, 2010). Corsini’s encyclopedia is written by expert contributors who are listed with the articles and is carefully edited. 

My question is, will it be used? I have a one volume reference work above my desk right now: The Oxford Companion to the Mind (Gregory, 1987). Corsini is not going to fit on that shelf: these volumes are library books. In addition, based on dust accretion it has been some time since I’ve used the book. More often I look for internet sources. As a result I decided to compare Corsini to WikipediaWikipedia was selected for comparison because it is often the first entry returned by internet search engines when entering names and technical terms.  For example, for Alfred Adler, the top pick for Google was a Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia is reviewed by its users, who can modify the content of the articles, but whose names are not associated with the entry. As a result, it is easy to access but not consistently reliable, and the amount of information posted is determined by user interest and expertise. Microsoft Word was used to count the words in the main text of articles for Table 1, as a way of estimating the coverage of each topic. For Corsini a rough estimate of words was generated by counting pages, columns, and lines, multiplying by an estimate of words per line (9), and rounding up.

Furthermore, Corsini has 63 detailed biographies in the main section, and 543 additional short biographies in Volume 4. The four detailed biographies examined here were not as detailed as the corresponding biographies on Wikipedia, which were two to seven times longer.

Corsini has articles on psychological disorders, from which these four were arbitrarily selected. In three of the four cases the coverage is about twice as long on Wikipedia. Conduct Disorder is the exception, with slightly more coverage in Corsini

So, for relatively concrete topics with interested groups that contribute to Wikipedia, you may get more information — though of more questionable reliability — than in Corsini. The pattern is different for more general topics, like Abnormal Psychology and more specialized topics, like specific tests, e.g., Bayley ScalesCorsini has articles on national psychologies: Argentina, Australia, China, Columbia, etc., and a substantial article on Asian PsychologyWikipedia has no articles on these national psychologies, and has a stub with no content for Asian PsychologyCorsini sends the reader from absent-mindedness to attentional lapses, and has more coverage there than the absent-minded article on Wikipedia, despite its inclusion of fictional absent-minded characters.

I would certainly prefer that students and the like use Corsini over Wikipedia, since it is more reliable and has useful articles on both specific and general topics missing from Wikipedia. Now that I know about the biographical articles in Volume 4 of Corsini, I expect I will occasionally go downstairs to the library to use the books for researching and teaching the history of psychology. But if I’m at home and only have internet access.

Reviewer Notes

Mark E. Mattson, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and associate dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center. His research interests include connectionist models of congitive processes and the history of experimental psychology.

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