Presidential Column

Denver Nuggets: Reflections on the 1999 APS Convention

As program chair for the 1999 APS Convention, my perspective undoubtedly differed from that of most conventioneers. My main concerns were that the program not fall on its face, that things run smoothly, and that participants feel rewarded for attending. As it turned out, I need not have worried. Program contributors provided a wealth of stimulating content; the APS staff handled everything with remarkable poise and efficiency; and audiences were abundant and appreciative. Because I wanted to monitor events and to lend moral support, I attended as many sessions as I could. In exchange, I came away with a fist-full of Denver nuggets. I’d like to share some of these with you, as I reflect on the Convention.

Most of my nuggets were unearthed in sessions where I learned new things. Of course, the specifics of what I learned were a dual function of my prior ignorance and my personal path through the program- a path that combined morning sessions focused on my interest in clinical science with afternoon sessions having a more general, cross-cutting focus.

Some examples of memorable sessions were Claude Steele’s Keynote Address on the strong influence of stereotypes on performance; Tom Oltmanns’ Hot Topic presentation, showing that 30- seconds “thin slice” videos contain a surprising amount of information about personality characteristics; Ed Smith’s Invited Address-as recipient of the William James Award-on the use of neuroimaging techniques to tease apart the complexities of working memory; Beth Loftus’ lively Presidential Symposium with Robert Sternberg, Carol Tavris, and Ray Hyman-on science and pseudoscience; Steve Suomi’s polished Bring-the-Family Address on heritable individual differences in the biobehavioral characteristics of rhesus monkeys and how these are influenced by early attachment relationships with mothers; Terry Robinson’s compelling neurobiological evidence of rapid and enduring drug sensitization, and the likely role of such sensitization in drug addiction; Tim Baker’s penetrating analyses of smoking-reduction and relapse curves in smoking-cessation programs, and the implications for motivational processes in addiction; Laura Carstensen’s creative, myth-busting research on emotional regulation in old age; Will Grove’s updated meta-analytic comparison of clinical versus mechanical prediction, and the ethical implications of these data; Michael Rohrbaugh’s symposium presentation, showing that “demand-withdraw” patterns of marital interaction are predictive of differential dropout rates in certain types of alcohol treatment programs but not others; and several first rate, Hot Topic presentations by advanced doctoral students (e.g., Teresa Treat, Danielle Dick, Jennifer Johnson), describing rigorous and innovative approaches to studying clinical problems and, in the process, proving that the future of psychological science is in good hands.

When I spoke to other conventioneers who took other paths through the program, they reported finding their own set of informational nuggets. Apparently, there was something of value for everyone.

In addition to gathering valuable information, I also found three somewhat larger nuggets-all related to the current status of our field. First, I gained an increased appreciation for the breadth, vitality, and importance of the research enterprise in contemporary psychology. The great variety of sessions and posters offered at the convention made me keenly aware that this truly is an exciting time to be a psychological scientist. We are making significant advances on virtually every front, and the prospects for future advances look even brighter.

Second, I came away with a deeper appreciation of the extent to which many of the important advances in contemporary psychological science are hybrid products, arising from research and theory that bridges the discipline’s traditional boundaries. Many of this year’s convention presentations, for example, defied easy categorization by conventional labels; to do them justice often required hyphenated category labels, such as social- cognition, neuro-cognitive, bio-social-developmental, I/O-personality, behavior-genetic, etc. It seems clear that psychological scientists no longer can afford to be insular specialists. If our most dramatic advances are achieved by drawing on the best theories and methods from throughout all of psychology, this calls for increased communication and collaboration across specialty areas, and a greater emphasis on hybrid training.

Third, I came away with an increased awareness of the singular importance of the APS Convention in nurturing this kind of hybrid psychological science. Of course, specialty conferences serve important functions, too. The APS Convention is unique, however, in its devotion to advancing psychological science on all fronts while fostering communication and interaction across the various sub-areas. It is the only pan-psychology conference focused exclusively on science. The APS Convention may have been born as a “rump” convention, out of discontent with APA, but it now has outgrown its rebellious origins. Now in its second decade, the APS Convention has come of age. It has a special mission that it has been fulfilled with increasing precision and power.

At the close of this year’s convention, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of next year’s Program Committee, chaired by Randy Engle, as the committee began its yearlong process of planning the 2000 APS Convention, to be held in Miami. I came away from that meeting with one more nugget: I have a good idea of what will be in store at next year’s convention. It promises to be even better than this year’s successful convention. They just keep getting better. You won’t want to miss Miami!


Observer Vol.12, No.6 July/August, 1999

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