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Volume 18, Issue4April 2005

Presidential Column

Robert W. Levenson
Robert W. Levenson
University of California, Berkeley
APS President 2004 - 2005
All columns

In this Issue:
Desperately Seeking Phil

About the Observer

Published 6 times per year by the Association for Psychological Science, the Observer educates and informs on matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology; promotes the scientific values of APS members; reports on issues of international interest to the psychological science community; and provides a vehicle for the dissemination on information about APS.

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    Myths and Misinformation

    How does misinformation spread and how do we combat it? Psychological science sheds light on the mechanisms underlying misinformation and ‘fake news.’

Up Front


  • Intellectual Genealogy

    Two decades ago the idea of tracing one's genealogy swept through American society, and many people began uncovering their pasts by tracking their ancestors. My mother took up the challenge within my own family and did research for years before providing a written record for family members. She ran into many difficulties, so I gained some appreciation of the problems. One is simply the combinatorial explosion of our ancestors: two parents, four grandparents, eight grandparents, 16 great-grandparents, and so on. If we assume an average of 25 years for a generation, then if we want to trace our ancestors back 20 generations or so (to the year 1550 or thereabouts), we would be searching for records of about 2,091,747 people! That large number assumes people never marry anyone to whom they are related, and of course that assumption breaks down quickly if we go back far enough. Still, in the year 1550, the mating choices of about a million people eventually led to you. Most genealogists are content to go back a few generations, to a time when we had 16 or maybe 32 ancestors.

  • Desperately Seeking Phil

    It grew gradually throughout the year and reached a thundering crescendo that could no longer be ignored: A column on Dr. Phil.   When I started thinking about writing these monthly Observer columns, I asked friends and colleagues for suggestions and ideas. I was pretty surprised at how often the first suggestion was "Dr. Phil." I must confess that I initially pooh-poohed profiling the eponymous psychologist as frivolous filler, but when even the always sensible APS staff endorsed this idea, I could no longer resist. Thus, it was settled, a column on Dr. Phil would be forthcoming. One small problem: I had never seen the Dr. Phil show. Moreover, my track record of watching TV psychologists and psychiatrists was pretty dismal. I know there was a Bob Newhart show in which he played a therapist, but I never watched it. Similarly, I just couldn't get interested in "Frasier" — perhaps I never forgave him for abandoning that charming bar in Boston. And as the last person on my block to succumb to the lures of premium cable, I didn't discover "The Sopranos" until Dr. Melfi had been relegated pretty much to a minor role.

APS Spotlight


  • Marketing Psychology

    Kathleen Vohs, Canada Research Chair in Marketing Science and Consumer Psychology in the Sauder School of Business, on how integrating psychology and marketing leads to great research. I think of my career goal as trying to integrate psychological science and consumer behavior to advance the understanding of human behavior. I think of my position as Canada Research Chair at the Sauder School of Business as attempting to understand consumption, broadly defined. By consumption, I mean consummatory behaviors such as eating, drinking, spending, and sexuality but also ideas, emotions, and motivations.

  • Income and Happiness

    Martin Seligman and I, as well as many others, have now collected a substantial amount of data on the relation of money and well-being, but these data are often misunderstood. Below I clarify some of the conclusions from this area of study, many of which were presented in the July 2004 Psychological Science in the Public Interest report, "Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being." The Rich Are on Average Happy Some people think that our data show that money does not matter for happiness, or even that rich people are unhappy. To the contrary, it is a highly replicated finding that individuals who are well-off financially are on average happier than poor people.

  • Don’t Throw in the Towel: Use Social Influence Research

    Commercial decision-makers commonly base important program or policy choices on thinking grounded in the established theories and practices of a variety of business-related fields (e.g., economics, finance, distribution, accounting, supply management). What is vexing is how seldom these decision-makers avail themselves of established psychological theories and practices. Take, for example, hotels. Via a card strategically placed in their room, guests in many hotels are urged to reuse their towels to help conserve environmental resources.

Practice


  • Intellectual Genealogy

    Two decades ago the idea of tracing one's genealogy swept through American society, and many people began uncovering their pasts by tracking their ancestors. My mother took up the challenge within my own family and did research for years before providing a written record for family members. She ran into many difficulties, so I gained some appreciation of the problems. One is simply the combinatorial explosion of our ancestors: two parents, four grandparents, eight grandparents, 16 great-grandparents, and so on. If we assume an average of 25 years for a generation, then if we want to trace our ancestors back 20 generations or so (to the year 1550 or thereabouts), we would be searching for records of about 2,091,747 people! That large number assumes people never marry anyone to whom they are related, and of course that assumption breaks down quickly if we go back far enough. Still, in the year 1550, the mating choices of about a million people eventually led to you. Most genealogists are content to go back a few generations, to a time when we had 16 or maybe 32 ancestors.

  • Teaching Biology in a Psychology Class

    Admit it, you don't like teaching biology in your psychology class. It's not that it's unimportant, but reading and talking about it can be so … well, not fun. Many of us who teach psychology have a limited biology background and unless a course is specifically about biological psychology, most students do not expect to learn about nerve cells or ion channels. When did someone ever say, "I want to study psychology to master the cytoarchitectonics of the brain's cortical modules"? When we teach biology in psychology courses, I think that we often forget principles of good teaching and effective public speaking. The result is class sessions that are overly detailed and poorly digested. We try to: 1) cover too much, 2) in less time, 3) with multisyllabic jargon, 4) while talking more and faster, 5) covering material only once and in only one way, 5) focusing on "trees" rather than the "forest," 6) involving students less and using overwhelming visual aids, and 7) using few examples or demonstrations. The only time that teachers and students are in concert is in a collective sigh of relief as the ordeal ends.

First Person


  • APSSC Presidential Candidates

    The Student Affiliates spoke, and the APSSC listened. On behalf of the current APS Student Caucus Executive Board, I am pleased to announce that online voting opens Friday, April 1, 2005, for the 2005-2006 Student Caucus Executive Board positions. (In previous years, the election of incoming board officers was held at the Annual Convention.) To review candidates' position statements and vote, go to www.votingondemand.com/aps. You must be a current Undergraduate or Graduate Student Affiliate in order to vote, so have your membership number handy when you login. Online voting closes at midnight, Eastern Time, on Friday, April 15, 2005. The elected officers for the 2005-2006 Student Caucus Executive Board will be announced by Wednesday, April 20, 2005, and you will have the opportunity to meet current and newly-elected board members at the 17th Annual Convention in fabulous Los Angeles.

More From This Issue


  • Mind Over Money

    Emerging Discipline Looks at the Neurobiology of Economic Decision Making Having given themselves over to the messy emotional forces and stubborn cognitive tricks that complicate our efforts to be rational, many decision scientists are now surveying a new frontier: the biology that underlies economic behavior. In the past several years, a new subfield of research, now termed "neuroeconomics," has rapidly gained momentum. Research in this emerging, interdisciplinary field is aimed at pinning down the workings in our brains when we buy, sell, bid, negotiate, invest, and gamble.

  • The Future Work Force

    Some I/O psychologists measuring workforce trends fear a shortage of labor and talent; others see an increase in global job mobility. A "demographic time bomb" is ticking as baby boomer retirements head toward a collision with declining worldwide birthrates, according to some industrial/organizational, or I/O, psychologists. That collision, they say, will produce unprecedented labor and talent shortages, the beginnings of which are already being felt. These shortages "will be the major force affecting workforce composition" in coming years, warned psychologist Fredric D. Frank, chief executive officer of Talent Keepers, an I/O employee retention firm.

  • A World of Difference

    Once dominated by American standards, business schools around the globe are taking a more international approach to teaching. The idea of teaching business and awarding MBA degrees was born and bred in North America. Until a decade or so ago, the rest of the world did not seem much interested in the notion. But the times they are a-changing, according to psychologists on business school faculties now scattered around the globe. Until the 1980s and 1990s, "Most foreign business leaders were trained in more focused social sciences, such as economics or sociology," said APS Fellow and Charter Member Randal Dunham, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Making Memories

    Continuing an illustrious career as a memory researcher and advocate for scientific freedom, Grawemeyer Award winner Elizabeth Loftus is applying her work in new ways. In an episode of the PBS TV science-education series, "Scientific American Frontiers," host Alan Alda sat down to a picnic lunch with faculty and students from the University of California, Irvine. When asked if he wanted some of the hard-boiled or deviled eggs on hand at the meal, Alda politely turned the offer down. He told the picnickers that as a child, he had once gotten sick from eating too many hard-boiled eggs. All perfectly innocent ...

  • The Case for Changing Our Name

    At its December 2004 meeting, the APS Board of Directors was unanimous in its support for changing the Society's name to the Association for Psychological Science. In keeping with our bylaws, such a change needs to be decided by a future vote of our membership. On behalf of the Board, Treasurer Roberta Klatzky makes the case in the following column. Members are strongly encouraged to weigh in on this issue. Please send your comments to apsobserver@psychologicalscience.org. Unless you request otherwise, any comments received will be considered for publication in future issues of the Observer.

  • Observations

    Nice Pair of Genes A study of twins by APS Fellow and Charter Member J. Philippe Rushton, University of Western Ontario, suggests that genes may have much more of an effect on social attitudes — particularly positive ones — than once thought. A group of identical, non-identical, same-sex, and mixed-sex twins from the University of London twin register were asked to rate themselves on 22 social attitudes, such as altruism, empathy, and aggression.