When Marilynn Brewer attended the first convention of the American Psychological Society in 1988, she thought to herself, “One day, the 100th anniversary of this convention will be celebrated,” as she stood among the potted plants that vaguely disguised the parking lot-location of the first APS opening reception.
“In a blink of an eye, here we are a 10th of the way there and I think it is marvelous,” the former APS President said, as she stood before the attendees of the 10th Annual Convention Opening Ceremony. Within that decade, the convention has grown from a few rooms and a parking lot at a Northern Virginia motel to an event that took over one of the largest convention hotels in Washington, DC.
From the Opening Ceremony and the Presidential Symposium, to the invited and submitted symposia and addresses, to the satellite meetings and how-to workshops, attendance, submission, and exhibit records were all broken when APS convened its 10th Annual Convention May 21-24, 1998. More than 2,500 people took part in the program that featured the latest discoveries in scientific psychology.
“Many people told me that this was the best APS program ever,” said outgoing APS President (now APS Past President) Kay Deaux. “For that, we have to thank Program Chair Morton Ann Gernsbacher and her great program committee.”
A Breakthrough Program
One of the reasons for this year’s record participation was the meeting’s enhanced format, put together by the 1998 APS Program Committee. While the cornerstones of the convention, such as the Keynote Address, the Bring the Family Address, and the Presidential Symposium were maintained, the committee made several changes to the program that, in addition to creating a more diverse convention, opened the meeting up to include more types of presentations, and more opportunity for member participation.
Hot Topics, for example, featured short, oral reports on leading-edge topics in the field. The success of this new feature was testified to not only by the packed meeting rooms, but by the discussions that were continued out in the hallways and corridors of the Washington Hilton and Towers.
The integrative and cross-cutting symposia-inspired by the format of the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science-featured cross-cutting and exciting research presented in a debate-like format. In addition, poster sessions this year were combined with lunch-time or early evening receptions and a showcase poster session highlighted the best of this year’s submissions.
1998 Program Chair Morton Ann Gernsbacher said she was pleased and overwhelmed by the success of this year’s program.
“I thought it was fantastic,” she said. “It was perfectly orchestrated and well executed. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hot Topics and was totally impressed with the caliber of speakers and presentations who chose that medium for presenting their latest and greatest work. I believe that the shift to more specialized presentations in the morning and more integrative presentations in the afternoon worked very well and insured that there would be something all day for everyone. And as usual, the Presidential Symposium, the Keynote Address and the Bring the Family Address were first rate! I was thrilled with how well it went and delighted by all the very positive comments I heard while at the convention (and even while flying home.)”
Honoring the Past and Looking at the Future
One of the most significant events of the convention came at the opening ceremony, at which not only were the James McKeen Cattell and William James award winners announced, but new student poster awards were bestowed and past APS presidents were honored.
“I would like to get us oriented towards the present by actually looking towards the past,” said Deaux at the Opening Ceremony. “I would like to introduce you to a very special set of people-psychologists who have served as presidents of this organization over the past 10 years and who have led us to the very successful place where we are today.”
Deaux introduced each of the APS past presidents-Charles Keisler, Janet Spence, Gordon Bower, Marilynn Brewer, Richard Thompson, and Sandra Scarr (James McGaugh was not able to attend)-and presented each with a ceremonial gavel.
“When I think about APS I feel like a proud parent,” said Sandra Scarr, who served as APS president from 1996-1997, on receiving her gavel. “We started this organization to promote and maintain the integrity of the discipline of psychology and to recognize the special interests of research academic psychologists because we have interests that extend to Washington and the US Congress, to our state legislatures, to our IRBs, to our universities. We are a group that deserves representation and APS, I am proud to say, became the premier organization for research academic psychology. I think when we founded the fledgling APS 10 years ago, we never dreamed-well, perhaps we dreamed, but I don’t think we really believed-that we would be 15,000-plus strong 10 years later. I think that is due to everyone who worked hard to maintain, build, and nurture this organization. I look forward to the further development of APS because I think that there is so much more that we can do to further the interests of research academic psychology and maintain the integrity of the discipline.”
Deaux continued on the awards track by announcing the winners of the William James Fellow awards-Paul Ekman, Rochel Gelman, and Timothy Salthouse-and the James McKeen Cattell awards-John B. Carroll and Paul Meehl.
Gernsbacher then acknowledged this year’s award winners. The Outstanding Student Poster Award and two Honorable Mention Poster awards were newly-created for this years convention. In addition, Gernsbacher awarded the APS Student Caucus Research Contest Award Winners.
The Keynote Speaker is traditionally the highlight of the Opening Ceremony and this year, it was no different. Larry R. Squire, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California-San Diego and a research career scientist at the VA Medical Center in San Diego, delivered this year’s address on “Memory, Amnesia, and Brain Systems.”
Squire talked about how studies of monkeys and humans have identified a system of brain structures that is essential for conscious recollection. He also discussed the contrast between conscious memory and various non-conscious forms of memory that depend on other brain systems.
“Not too long ago, the topic of mind and behavior was studied almost exclusively by psychologists,” said Squire. “The vitality of psychology today is partly due to the fact that its methods and subject matter cross interdisciplinary boundaries in many directions and form usable alliances, for example, in psychiatry, education, public health, and world groups and organizations. I want to illustrate work in one of these areas where it has been fruitful to combine the strategies of psychology and neuroscience. Though I focus on the topic of memory, it should be clear that the alliance between psychology and neuroscience is today working to great advantage in a number of areas where the nervous system can be approached in both humans and experimental animals and where behavioral and cognitive analysis, as psychological science, plays an essential and a central role.”
In a lighter but no less significant presentation, University of California-San Francisco psychologist Paul Ekman enthralled convention attendees and their families at the 1998 Bring the Family Address with his talk on telling lies. Ekman looked at why we lie, why lies fail, and how well people can identify lying from demeanor. Audience members were also given the opportunity to test how well they could tell if someone was lying (here’s a hint: look for a shrug).
“I first began to study lies to answer a question I was asked by young doctors when I was teaching at UC medical schools: When a suicidal patient, who said she was no longer depressed, wanted a weekend pass, was there something in the patient’s non-verbal behavior that would indicate whether she was telling the truth and we should give her the pass, or whether she was simply trying to win freedom from hospital supervision to take her life. There are behavioral clues to deceit. Many of them are in non-verbal behavior, but some of them are in verbal behavior as well. But many people do not recognize these clues and so most people are easily deceived.”
The third hallmark of the APS Convention is the Presidential Symposium. This year Deaux gathered some of the nation’s premier researchers-John Swets, Patricia Kuhl, Jacquelynne Eccles, Linda Bartoshuk, and John Darley-to discuss “Psychology Works: From Basic Research to Better Mousetraps.” In this Symposium the investigators described the links between fundamental research questions and important applications, as exemplified by their own research programs. Discussant Darley talked about how discoveries are construed and the standards of proof in theory and application.
“I loved the Presidential Symposium,” said Deaux. “My vision of what such a symposium might look like was gratifyingly exceeded by the quality of the presentations. All five of the speakers did a terrific job. Many people told me how much they enjoyed the symposium in part because these presenters, like APS itself, represented a range of subdisciplines in psychology.”
The Proof is in the Posters
The success of this year’s poster sessions was not only evidenced by the number of submissions, but by the sheer numbers of people who crowded around this year’s presentations.
“Moving the poster sessions into uncontested time worked perfectly,” said Gernsbacher. “Every poster session I attended was busy and exciting.”
By scheduling the poster sessions at lunch and during evening receptions, the program committee ensured that not only would the sessions not have to compete with the rest of the program, but that poster presenters would not have to miss addresses or symposia they wanted to see.
The poster sessions commenced with the Showcase Poster Session, which was held with the Opening Reception in the Exhibit Hall. The session included the APSSC Research Competition Posters, the APS Outstanding Student Poster, the Honorable Mentions, and those posters judged by reviewers to be the best posters in each contest area.
The Federal Funding Poster Session was also well-attended with representatives of the major federal funding agencies represented, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Office of Naval Research, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Dental Research, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.
Bring On The Feds
Federal funding agencies were also represented in a series of pre-conference symposia, meetings, and workshops.
NIAAA held a one-day symposium, co-sponsored by APS, on “Alcohol Behavioral Genetics: A New Frontier in Research on Alcoholism and Addiction.” Featuring presentations by leading investigators in this area of research, the symposium examined issues including the genetic and environmental contributions to alcohol abuse and dependency, identifying subjects for alcoholism vulnerability, and the genetics of alcoholism.
“Behavioral geneticists studying issues relating to alcohol are investigating the physiological and environmental factors that contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism,” said NIAAA Director Enoch Gordis. “As the role of specific genes or combinations of genes is better understood, psychologists and others in behavioral genetics will be able to use DNA for identified genes as another variable in their research.”
Meanwhile, NIDA held a meeting on “Cognition and Emotion Applications to Drug Abuse.” The meeting featured three symposia: one on drug abuse and emotion; another on judgment, decision, and emotion; and a third on social cognition and emotion. In addition, the University of Washington’s G. Alan Marlatt held a discussion on the applications to drug abuse and high risk behaviors. The conference was the second in a series of conferences highlighting NIDA’s interest in cognitive sciences. Cognition, decision making, expectancy and emotional processes factors were connected to the etiology and treatment of drug abuse, addiction, and other high-risk behaviors.
“It was fascinating to see how questions about addiction, craving, mood and cognitive processes interface so well with current trends in cognitive research,” said Jaylan Turkkan, chief of the Behavioral Sciences Research Branch within the Division of Basic Research at NIDA. “In both addiction and cognitive science, there is great interest in bringing emotion and visceral responses back into the equation as to why people are vulnerable to drug use, how drugs make them more vulnerable through faulty cognitive processes and impulsive behavior, and how emotional responses and craving can create a very toxic stew of being out of control.”
NIMH’s Molly Oliveri, chief of the Behavioral Science Research Branch within the Division of Mental Disorders, Behavioral Research and AIDS, hosted a junior investigator breakfast for investigators and students who have not had previous NIMH grant support. The breakfast featured practical information on obtaining grants for research, training, and career development as well as grants specifically targeted towards junior investigators.
Topics covered included: the application process; criteria used in scientific review; types of grants available; the recent NIMH reorganization; and funding considerations and priorities.
APS worked with several federal funding agencies in putting together the APS Workshop on Writing Research Grant Proposals. Steven Breckler and Michael McCloskey of NSF, and Della Hann and Malcolm Gordon of NIMH helmed this workshop which focused on the needs of beginning investigators and provided advice and guidance on the preparation of grant proposals. The workshop included discussion on: identifying appropriate topics; identifying the most appropriate agency to which to send a proposal; writing style; and the review process, among other topics.
“Writing a good proposal is really hard work,” said Breckler. “What has to come through is the leg work that is required for a proposal. Key questions that you have to answer include: what is it you intend to do; why the work is important, what has already been done; and how you are going to do the work.”
Reading, Writing, and Publishing
Teaching Institute Program Chair Douglas Bernstein organized another new feature of this year’s convention- “Writing Psychology Textbooks: A Nuts and Bolts Workshop for Prospective Authors.”
This standing-room-only workshop covered virtually every aspect of textbook writing in a format that combined formal content presentation with group discussion and question-and-answer exchanges. The emphasis was on offering practical information and advise on deciding if you want to write a textbook, negotiating book contract, and writing a prospectus, among other issues.
“I have been wanting to do this workshop for a number of years,” said Bernstein, who has seven textbooks in publication. “I have had a lot of experience in a lot of different areas of textbook publication and whatever benefit I can give you from that experience, I would like to. I wanted to do this workshop because when I started, I was so incredibly naive that I am embarrassed now to think how little I knew then about the whole process.”
Back To The Future
In addition to the great program featured at this year’s convention and the record number of attendees who took part in the meeting, it cannot be overlooked that this conference was, in part, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of APS and the achievement and excellence that APS has championed in that decade. To celebrate this, the convention was capped by a dance party at which members-dressed in their favorite retro-wear-tripped the strobe light fantastic and boogied away to oldies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. APS Executive Director/Master of Ceremonies Alan Kraut read some entertaining (and totally made-up) congratulatory telegrams from such luminaries as William James, Jerry Seinfeld, G. Stanley Hall, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, and domesticity-maven Martha Stewart and a giant birthday cake was rolled out in honor of the first 10 years of APS.