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252012Volume 25, Issue4April 2012

Presidential Column

Douglas L. Medin
Douglas L. Medin
Northwestern University
APS President 2011 - 2012
All columns

In this Issue:
Everything Is Cultural

About the Observer

The Observer is the online magazine of the Association for Psychological Science and covers matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology. The magazine reports on issues of interest to psychologist scientists worldwide and disseminates information about the activities, policies, and scientific values of APS.

APS members receive a monthly Observer newsletter that covers the latest content in the magazine. Members also may access the online archive of Observer articles going back to 1988.

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  • Thumbnail Image for Disaster Response and Recovery

    Disaster Response and Recovery

    Disasters like Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut draw massive media coverage, trauma interventions, and financial donations to victims. But psychological research shows the efforts don’t always yield the intended benefits.

Up Front

  • Everything Is Cultural

    Here’s a puzzler for you — what does the acronym IUPsyS stand for? No points for getting the “Psy” part (and here’s a hint: IU is not Indiana University). Give up? IUPsyS is the International Union of Psychological Science. It was founded in 1951 and currently has membership representing 70 countries. If you go to their website (, you will discover that the IUPsyS works to promote “the development, representation and advancement of psychology as a basic and applied science nationally, regionally, and internationally” (Article 5, IUPsyS Statutes). You may be more familiar with the International Congress of Psychology, which meets once every four years and will be meeting again in July 2012 in Capetown, South Africa. IUPsyS organizes these International Congresses.

APS Spotlight

  • Catching Science

    “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” -Rogers Hornsby Home plate was round, something like a dinner plate, when baseball was born in the 19th century, but it was difficult to call balls and strikes. So the plate was converted to a pentagon shape that, it is often said, points to the most important player on the field — the catcher. One of us played catcher in high school (J.R.A., the son), and the other (R.M.A., the dad) was always stationed 5 to 12 feet behind, watching every play without even a pretense of objectivity.

  • Publish or Perish? Grade Yourself and Persist

    Upon receiving an article relevant to my research, one ego-fueled reaction I have is to flip immediately to the references. Did they cite me? I gave up having friends and a social life for this: a citation might at least let me feel like my research is having some impact on, well, other research. Besides being a salve for fragile self-esteem, citations serve an important purpose. Articles use citations to acknowledge the prior work that influenced the present work. The accumulated citations provide the theoretical and empirical base on which the article builds or critiques.

  • A Zoo Where the Animals Come First

    On the occasion of my 65th birthday, in the City of Atlanta, where I spent 17 years working at a zoo once denigrated as one of America’s worst zoos, I announced my retirement as president and CEO of the Palm Beach Zoo. Now I am able to look back on 24 years of experience as a nonprofit executive, working in a field that I never contemplated as a career objective. As surprising as it may seem, my life in the zoo world was an amazingly good fit for me and the institutions I served.


  • Creating Student Interest

    Psychology instructors often encounter their students years later, and the bravest among us may ask them what they remember from our courses. We hope they will remember the facts that we heavily emphasized and stressed as important to our discipline. More often they recall, usually with some pleasure, the time the fire alarm went off during the exam, or when a student fell asleep and slipped out of a chair during a lecture. After a few experiences of this sort, teachers usually realize students will remember only a small fraction of the information presented in class. But, ever hopeful, we spend considerable time and effort creating lectures, examples, and presentations to make what we feel is the most important content in our courses memorable. However, there is not even much agreement on exactly what the most important content is.

First Person

  • Allowing Your Creativity to Flourish

    “Creativity lies at the heart of the scientific process … true progress requires an act of discovery.” -Langley & Jones, 1988 Today’s educational institutions are arguably not providing an atmosphere that fosters creativity. We are currently in the midst of a trend in which the criteria for academic success seem to be getting more and more narrow (e.g., the standardized testing movement sweeping over primary education institutions, the growing research-for-publication orientation in graduate programs). It is ironic, then, that in universities across the nation, qualities such as “innovativeness,” “originality,” and “creativity” are viewed as valuable characteristics for psychological-science students and faculty alike (Sternberg & Lubart, 1996).

More From This Issue

  • Rivalry Without Conflict

    Take a gander at this cube. It will probably look weird because your visual system can’t decide how to perceive it. This persistent ambiguity is called visual rivalry, and in the case of the Necker Cube, it results from spatial conflict, or when two objects strike the same place in our retina. Most scientists think visual rivalry requires spatial conflict, but the authors of a recent Psychological Science study have shown that this assumption is not necessarily true.

  • April Fool’s! A Reading List All About Humor

    Why did the chicken cross the road? And why is that joke never funny? Psychological science has the answers. Peter McGraw, who directs the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, offers this reading list to those who want a deeper understanding of the psychological science behind humor. A joke is just a joke (except when it isn’t): Cavalier humor beliefs facilitate the expression of group dominance motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology The anatomy of a racist joke: Motivated by dominance, the racist comedian uses a cavalier approach to disguise biases and dismiss the joke’s harmful effects.

  • Enliven Students’ Assignments With Wikipedia

    According to, the online encyclopedia has over 26 million pages that cover topics from Britney Spears to the Pythagorean theorem. Students, laypersons and academics alike have turned to Wikipedia for quick answers to everyday questions. Despite the breadth of knowledge on Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, founder of the website, has warned against using Wikipedia in academic papers, because of the great variability in article quality and reliability (Young, 2006). To address this variability for psychological-science topics, APS announced an initiative for academics to take charge of the scientific information posted on Wikipedia.

  • This Is Your Mind on Music

    Whether a song prompts you to remember your first dance, or an annoying tune won’t stop buzzing around in your head, there is no doubt that music has unique effects on memory. APS Fellow Carol Krumhansl, a professor at Cornell University, studies this distinct connection. She took a few moments to speak with the Observer about her work as well as the upcoming theme program “Music, Mind, and Brain” at the 24th APS Annual Convention in Chicago, IL. You study the link between music and memory. So how exactly are music and memory connected? Memory is essential for making music meaningful.

  • APS Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions

    The APS Board of Directors is pleased to announce the 2012 recipients of the APS Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions, in recognition of the significant impact their work is having in the field of psychological science. The award recognizes the creativity and innovative work of promising scientists who represent the promising future ahead for psychological science. It places these recipients among the brightest minds in our field. This award is a fitting tribute to its namesake, Janet Taylor Spence, the first elected President of APS.

  • James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship 2012-2013 Recipients

    We are pleased to announce the recipients of the James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships. The Fellowships are awarded yearly to North American university faculty committed to developing scientific research in psychology and its applications to improving human welfare. The award includes financial support that allows recipients to extend their sabbatical period. Liisa Galea studies behavioral neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, Canada. In the Laboratory of Behavioural Neuroendocrinology, Galea and students research the effects of various hormones on the brain and behavior.

  • Color It Relevant

    When searching for a book, the color of the cover matters a lot. Sure, you might know the title, but locating “that book with the red cover and white letters on the shelf” is easier than locating The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Once you find the book and start reading it, though, the cover color no longer matters. Or does it? Recent research in Psychological Science has demonstrated that drawing attention to a color can prime people to notice objects related to that color, no matter what task they do afterward.

  • Searching for the Source of Consciousness

    Watching a movie, smelling the roses, feeling the warmth of the sun—these are seemingly simple things we experience all thanks to consciousness. Yet where exactly does consciousness come from? The brain—obviously—but for psychological scientist Geraint Rees that answer isn’t good enough. Rees studies consciousness and how it correlates with brain activity at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UK. He and his team investigate how visual attention changes our perception of the world and affects visual awareness using fMRI, visual psychophysics, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.