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The Science of Humor Is No Laughing Matter

Laugh it up! Humor is universal across human cultures — and fuels psychological research on everything from social perception to emotion regulation.

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Volume 30, Issue4April 2017

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.

APS members receive online and print subscriptions to the Observer, including the online archive going back to 1988. The print edition is a member-only benefit.

Looking to connect with the Observer? Visit our Contact the Editor page to discuss writing for us and our Advertising page for sponsorship opportunities. If you have questions about your subscription, please email APS@psychologicalscience.org.

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  • This is a photo of a piece of paper torn to reveal the phrase "uncover the facts"

    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.’

Featured


  • This is a photo of Stephen P. Hinshaw

    APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Stephen P. Hinshaw has dedicated his career to uncovering the biological and contextual underpinnings of developmental psychopathology — and to combatting the stigma associated with mental illness.

  • This is a photo of Lisa Feldman Barrett.

    While writing her latest book on emotion science, APS Past Board Member Lisa Feldman Barrett tapped dozens of lay readers to peruse her drafts and tell her when her prose was becoming too technical. Barrett shares this tip and other steps she took in crafting her tome, from concept to publication.

Up Front


  • Psychological Science in the European Union

    In 2006, APS changed its name from “American Psychological Society” to the more outward-looking “Association for Psychological Science” to reflect the fact that the original name did not adequately represent our members outside of the United States and to strengthen the internationalization of the society. I asked APS Fellows Mark H. Johnson and Denis Mareschal, codirectors ofthe Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, an international research center based at Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom (UK), who also have lived and worked in North America, to reflect upon the progress the association and the field have made toward this goal in the last decade.

Practice


  • Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science

    Aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom, Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. Current Directions is a peer-reviewed bimonthly journal featuring reviews by leading experts covering all of scientific psychology and its applications and allowing readers to stay apprised of important developments across subfields beyond their areas of expertise. Its articles are written to be accessible to nonexperts, making them ideally suited for use in the classroom. Visit the column for supplementary components, including classroom activities and demonstrations. Visit David G. Myers at his blog “Talk Psych”.

First Person


  • Do No Harm (Unless It’s to a Research Assistant?)

    Research assistants (RAs) across the different subfields of psychology may experience psychological, social, and physical risks when carrying out their assigned tasks (for a review, see Naufel & Beike, 2013). As someone who investigates such risks, I often am told stories pertaining to RA harm. Recently, a graduate student shared such a personal anecdote with me. In one of the studies for which she was serving as an RA, she had the responsibility of observing participants react to a graphic video featuring torture. Unlike the participants, who only saw the video once, she witnessed the torture repeatedly — sometimes for several consecutive hours, multiple times per week, and over multiple weeks. “I was having nightmares,” she said.

More From This Issue


  • This is a photo of MU-ARTSS interns posing during their poster presentations at MU’s summer undergraduate research conference.

    Hands-On Training in Alcohol Research

    Seven undergraduate students are the first class to complete a new University of Missouri internship program geared toward research on alcohol use and dependency.

  • This is a photo of Stephen P. Hinshaw

    Development, Mental Illness, and Solutions to Stigma

    APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Stephen P. Hinshaw has dedicated his career to uncovering the biological and contextual underpinnings of developmental psychopathology — and to combatting the stigma associated with mental illness.

  • This is a photo of Ed and Carol Diener.

    Governments Testing Well-Being Initiatives

    They’ve seen firsthand how governments around the world are instituting programs to enhance well-being among their citizens. Now APS William James Fellow Ed Diener and Carol Diener are calling on psychological scientists to help make sure those initiatives are evidence-based.

  • This is a photo of Lisa Feldman Barrett.

    Sharing a Shift in Emotion Science

    While writing her latest book on emotion science, APS Past Board Member Lisa Feldman Barrett tapped dozens of lay readers to peruse her drafts and tell her when her prose was becoming too technical. Barrett shares this tip and other steps she took in crafting her tome, from concept to publication.

  • DeRubeis, Fiske, Wells Honored With Cattell Fellow Awards

    APS is honoring leading researchers in the areas of stereotypes, eyewitness identification, and treatment of depression with the 2017 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Awards. Robert J. DeRubeis, APS Past President Susan T. Fiske, and Gary L. Wells each will be presented with APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Awards — which recognize a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the area of applied psychological science — at the 2017 APS Annual Convention in Boston. Each recipient also will give an award address at the convention. DeRubeis, an APS Fellow and the Samuel H.

  • Psychological Science Informs American Academy of Arts and Sciences Recommendations on Language Learning

    The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released a new report on language education in the United States, with a psychological research perspective informing the findings and recommendations. Click here to read the report. The report, produced by the Commission on Language Learning convened by the Academy, marks the first national study of language learning in 30 years and came at the request of a bipartisan group of US senators and representatives interested in how language learning influences economic growth, cultural diplomacy, and the productivity of future generations. The 18-member commission included a variety of language experts, including APS Fellow Philip Rubin.

  • SEP Gives Lifetime Achievement Awards to F. Gregory Ashby, Mary ’Molly’ Potter

    The Society for Experimental Psychologists (SEP) has given honors to seven APS Fellows, including two who are recipients of lifetime achievement awards. APS Fellow F. Gregory Ashby has been awarded the 2017 Howard Crosby Warren Medal, which SEP gives annually in recognition of outstanding achievement in experimental psychology in the United States and Canada. APS Fellow Mary “Molly” Potter has received the 2017 Norman Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her groundbreaking discoveries about the human mind’s ability to rapidly extract meaning from words, images, and visual scenes. In addition, APS Fellow Jeffrey D.

  • Eyewitness Confidence Can Predict Accuracy of Identifications, Researchers Find

    Many individuals have been falsely accused of a crime based, at least in part, on confident eyewitness identifications, a fact that has bred distrust of eyewitness confidence in the US legal system. But a new report challenges the perception that eyewitness memory is inherently fallible, finding that eyewitness confidence can reliably indicate the accuracy of an identification made under certain “pristine” conditions. APS Fellow John T. Wixted (University of California, San Diego) and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Gary L.

  • Multilab Replication Project Examines Cooperation Under Time Pressure

    In 2012, a trio of psychological scientists reported research showing that people who made quick decisions under time pressure were more likely to cooperate than were people who were required to take longer in their deliberations. A new multilaboratory effort was partially successful in replicating those results. In the original study, participants who did not follow the instructions to respond quickly (or slowly) were excluded from the data analyses. In the replication project, approximately 65% of participants failed to adhere to the time pressure constraints, and the results depended on whether or not such noncompliant participants were included in the analysis.