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Volume 22, Issue4April 2009

Presidential Column

Walter Mischel
Columbia University
APS President 2008 - 2009
All columns

In this Issue:
Beyond Nature vs. Nurture: Philosophical Insights From Molecular Biology

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

  • Beyond Nature vs. Nurture: Philosophical Insights From Molecular Biology

    The "new genetics" research in molecular biology, as this month's invited Presidential Column by Frances Champagne illustrates, has important implications for psychological science (so important, in fact, that it will be the topic for the Presidential Symposium at our upcoming annual APS convention this May in San Francisco). Professor Champagne's analysis shows how recent findings in epigenetics speak to basic and enduring questions not just within psychology, but in virtually all discussions about human character and individual differences, from philosophical symposia to dinner conversations. How much is nature? How much is nurture? Champagne takes us elegantly and at high speed from that old question toward a new understanding of the "gene by environment" interactions that underlie what we become and how we differ.


  • Teaching Graduate Students How to Write Clearly

    Almost every English boy can be taught to write clearly, so far at least as clearness depends upon the arrangement of words. Force, elegance, and variety of style are more difficult to teach, and far more difficult to learn; but clear writing can be reduced to rules. — Rev. Edwin A. Abbott (1883), preface. Writing the academic paper should be easy. Unlike novelists, academics do not need to worry about character development, description, dialogue, back story, and symbolism. All academics need to worry about is writing clearly — and according to the Reverend Abbott, this merely requires the mechanical application of a set of simple rules. This perspective on academic writing may sound too good to be true. Graduate students generally struggle for years to overcome their writing problems — can this learning process really be accelerated by the application of a set of simple rules?

First Person

  • From Finding an Advisor to Creating Hypotheses: The Dos and Don’ts of Beginning a Thesis

    As a student in a research-based program, completing a thesis was my number one priority when I started graduate school. At the time, I had no idea what beginning a thesis involved. I found myself completing many thesis-related tasks (creating deadlines, reading example theses, memorizing APA format, searching for conference opportunities and applying for funding) that, although important, were not actually getting me anywhere. Not every new graduate student will make the same mistakes I did, but every new graduate student is, at least to some extent, lost when it comes to beginning a thesis. Geared towards new graduate students, this article includes the basics of beginning a thesis in the form of a step-by-step process of what to do and what not to do.

More From This Issue

  • The Bicultural Scientist: Traveling in the Twin Worlds of Basic and Translational Science

    Hirsh-Pasek (left) and Golinkoff The dawning of the 21st century ushered in the era of translational science. Signs of the seismic shift in our field of developmental psychology are everywhere. Premier journals such as Child Development now request a media-friendly abstract of accepted papers and NSF and NIH require a serious statement on how funded research can be applied to problems in the real world. New journals like Child Development Perspectives and Mind, Brain and Education were designed to publish papers on research and its applications, and residents of the ivory tower began to write books that fill the shelves at Borders.

  • Stimulus Package Provides Bonanza for NIH

    Dread of disease and hope for cures have long been the political propellants for generous support of the National Institutes of Health. The old trio has now been joined by a new force in biomedical politics: economic calamity. NIH had previously offered no treatment for that malady. But now it has been conscripted as a recession-fighting job creator. Through skilled maneuvering in the Senate, the annual NIH budget — becalmed at just under $30 billion for the past six years — has been boosted all at once by $10.4 billion, to a grand total of $40 billion.

  • Making the Most of Stimulus Funding Available for Behavioral Research

    As discussed in the column by Dan Greenberg, science fared well in the stimulus bill Congress passed – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. We are very thankful that the President and Congress recognized the important role research plays in our nation's economy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received $10 billion extra, the National Science Foundation received $3 billion extra, and most of the funding needs to be spent quickly (in about a two-year period). Any funded researcher will be obligated to include many less common reporting requirements related to the stimulative nature of the research (e.g., job creation).

  • On the Newsstand

    Posh People Fidget More The Daily Mail February 4, 2009 "Posh people fidget more, a study found, making it possible to tell a person's class simply by glancing at their body language. It is thought that those born into privilege feel less of a need to make a good impression when talking to others than those who are less well-off. As a result, the wealthy fidget, yawn, doodle and generally appear rude. In contrast, their poorer counterparts are anxious to make their mark and so are more attentive. " Coverage of "Signs of Socioeconomic Status: A Thin-Slicing Approach" in Psychological Science (Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner, Volume 20(1), 99-106).

  • Observations

    Coming of Age on the Internet In the mid-90s, it seemed that teens were sacrificing real relationships for superficial cyber-relationships with strangers.Is this still true? Social scientists are revisiting those early concerns, and some are coming to believe that the psychological benefits may now outweigh the detrimental effects. In a new report, Patti Valkenburg and Jochen Peter of the University of Amsterdam took a look at a decade of research on these questions, and they believe two important historical changes have altered the psychological landscape.First, the sheer number of teenagers now using the Internet has transformed the technology into a true social networking tool.

  • Stigma, His and Hers

    The mentally ill don't get a fair shake in this country. Many employers don't want to hire them, and health insurers don't want to pay for their treatment. Even within their own communities and families, the mentally ill are often treated with contempt and disgust and outright anger. All this has been known for a long time. There have been many efforts to combat the stigma of mental illness, but they inevitably fail. That's in part because the stereotypes are so powerful, and so easy to conjure up, even if we don't believe them: Mental patients are either violently dangerous or docile and incompetent. We fear the first and disdain the latter.