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182005Volume 18, Issue8August 2005

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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    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.

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  • Becoming Symbol-Minded

    "Our symbolic ability is our defining characteristic of what it means to be a human being," according to APS Fellow Judy DeLoache. "It's what gives us our incredible cognitive power," and is one of the core intelligence factors that separate people from animals. But it doesn't come naturally. Learning to distinguish symbols from the objects they represent is one of the hardest psychological challenges that young children must overcome. In her talk, "Becoming Symbol-Minded," the APS 17th Annual Conference's "Bring The Family Address," DeLoache described this challenge and displayed humorous videos of some of the missteps that children make along the way to being full-fledged symbol users.

  • Liar, Liar, Brains on Fire

    Richard Milhouse Nixon, perhaps the most recognizable public deceiver of the 20th century, once said, "I don't know anything about lie detectors, other than that they scare the hell out of people." As one of the nation's leading researchers on the topic, John J. B. Allen, University of Arizona, knows quite a bit about lie detectors — enough to know that Nixon's words, in this case, could not ring more true. Like Nixon, most people know very little about the standard polygraph. For one thing, said Allen in his invited talk, "Is Brainfingerprinting Ready for Prime Time?" it doesn't even detect lies.

  • Can You Feel the Identity Shift?

    A few years ago, Claude Steele felt discriminated against in a way he will not soon forget. Having traveled to Silicon Valley to meet a friend working at a start-up firm, Steele, coaxed inside, shook hands with the president — all 26 years worth of him — and the other, younger employees, many of whom had hung bicycles on hooks above their cubicles, as a mobile might hover above a nursery crib. Around him swarmed a soundtrack of unfamiliar melodies. "And I'm hip," he said. "I know music." Steele's age, the same identity that had meant nothing to him the first part of that day, suddenly smoldered to the surface of his psyche, altering his view of the world.

  • Animated Expressions

    One of the buzz-generating highlights of the APS Annual Convention in Los Angeles was an "animated" roundtable discussion between Pete Docter of Pixar Animation Studios and two giants (you might even call them Incredibles) of emotion research, Paul Ekman, University of California, San Francisco and Dacher Keltner, University of California, Berkeley, on the subject of animation and emotion. For nearly two decades, Pixar, the studio that produced hit animated films including Toy Story and last year's The Incredibles, has been at the forefront of using digital animation to create highly expressive screen characters.

  • In Search of the Social Brain

    What are the biological underpinnings of human social behavior? Is it possible for brain research to provide the same degree of insight into human interaction that it recently has into more solitary processes like cognition and memory? That was the subject of this year's Presidential Symposium at the APS Annual Convention, entitled "Searching for the Social Brain: The Biological Bases of Social Behavior." To kick off the symposium, and to illustrate the idea of a "social brain," APS president Robert W. Levenson, University of California, Berkeley, showed side-by-side video clips of men with two different neurological disorders.

  • Silver Screen Psychology

    A distraught father sorts through mementos of his missing daughter, replaying in memory the last conversation he had with her before her disappearance. But gradually his memories change, and we no longer know what is real and what is imagined. If it sounds more like the premise of a Hollywood film than a tool forteaching the psychological science of memory — then good, that's the whole point.

  • History, Her Story

    'That Woman' By Frank Landy SHL Landy Jacobs, Inc. USA 2005 APS Annual Convention. I had decided the topic would be national culture and the interaction between culture and human resource practice. At the last minute, I decided to change the topic and present a historical review of the concept of social intelligence, the construct that led the way to the current discussion of emotional intelligence. I had been working on this review for nine months or so and felt this might be a good opportunity to let it see the light of day and get some critical evaluation from colleagues.

  • Know Thy Self

    Self-knowledge is a perennial ideal in philosophy, but one that is seldom if ever attained. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1750 Poor Richard's Almanac that "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self." According to Cornell University psychologist David Dunning, the problem of knowing ourselves hasn't gotten any easier in 250 years; and it is a problem with real-world, not just philosophical, consequences.

  • APS Veterans

    APS Veterans: Helen Murphy and Cyrilla Wideman. To Cyrilla H. Wideman and Helen M. Murphy, John Carroll University researchers who have attended every APS Annual Convention, choosing a favorite one would approach the unthinkable, a task in the absurd realm of naming a most-loved child or picking the prettiest star in the sky. "They've all been good," Murphy said. "The Convention covers a broad area. Here you have an opportunity to see across the spectrum of research." "Also," added Wideman, "we always get to see [APS Executive Director] Alan Kraut!" For Wideman and Murphy, the Convention is also a forum to present their neuroscience research.

  • Empirical Science for the Spotless Mind

    The blank slate, the dominant theory of human nature in modern intellectual life stating that humans are shaped entirely by their experiences and not by any preexisting biological mechanisms, is being challenged and soundly trounced by the cognitive, neural, and genetic sciences, said Steven Pinker, Harvard University, in his Keynote Address. "Everyone has a theory of human nature," Pinker said.

  • Adaptations of the Brain

    In the complex studies of neurons and gray matter, cognitive psychologist Stephen Engel is sticking to the basics. Engel, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, was able to characterize the way learning impacts the primary visual cortex — the first stop in the brain for information from the eyes — and the findings are beautifully fundamental. "What's most exciting is that it's a pretty basic discovery that this part of the brain can change with learning, and it seems like something that could be fundamental to a lot of other stuff," Engel said.

  • Goodness of Fit: The History of the Person-Environment Paradigm

    Matching people to the environments they live and work is centrally important in industrial/organizational psychology. At this year's Annual Convention in Los Angeles, an invited symposium examined the history of the person—environment paradigm. Symposium Chair David Baker, Director of the Archives of the History of America at the University of Akron, said person—environment matching gained popularity in the early 20th century, with the rise of the new urban and industrial order. According to Frank Landy, an APS Fellow and Charter Member, the concept of person—environment fit marked the beginning of studying individual rather than general laws of behavior in applied psychology.

  • Convention Snapshots

    Judy DeLoache discusses how children become symbolminded. Her Bring the Family Address centered on the challenges children face and "how infants and very young children first start to learn about a variety of different kinds of symbols that are all around them, from the beginning of life." Funny Meeting You Here: David Abrams director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and his NIH colleague Richard Nakamura, deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, before the Opening Ceremony. Both were acknowledged by APS President Bob Levenson. Net Worth: Exhibitor Bob Van Meter of Electrical Geodesics, Inc.

  • Codes of Conduct in the Business World

    Though her book The Fountainhead, was written over 60 years ago, Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism remain relevant today, particularly to business ethics, according to APS Fellow Edwin A. Locke, University of Maryland, in his invited talk, "Ethics in Business Organizations: Why Are They Needed? What Should Be Taught? Who Should Do It?" The disturbing and persistent trend of large-scale corporate scandals — Enron, Health South, MCI, and others — has brought new attention to the need for ethics and raised the question of which particular code of ethics is best suited for business.

  • With the Brain, Is Seeing Believing?

    They're everywhere these days: colorful images showing the human brain in action. With the advent of CT and PET scans, and now the growing use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers' ability to correlate psychological processes with the activation of different brain areas is producing startling findings, seemingly every week. But according to APS Charter Member Carole Wade, Dominican University of California, our justifiable enthusiasm over the new imaging technology needs to be tempered with a dose of caution.

  • Genetic Environment

    The researchers used every medium from Canadian lab mice to Indian Rhesus monkeys to human twins, all in the pursuit of deciphering a condition that profoundly changes the way humans function. The disease is alcoholism, and while researchers know the necessary condition for its appearance - alcohol - they are continually baffled by the reasons for its manifestation. "Alcoholism is a product of both genetics and environmental behavior.

  • Dropping The Ball

    "If you don't want to discover true associations, ignore what is going on among modern [statistical] techniques," said Rand Wilcox, University of Southern California, playfully addressing the overflow audience. Wilcox's invited address entitled, "More Reasons Why Discoveries Are Lost by Ignoring Modern Statistical Methods: Some Recent Advances When Comparing Groups and Studying Associations" was part of the popular, new methodology programming at the APS 17th Annual Convention in Los Angeles.

  • New Opportunities in Aging Research

    As a coping mechanism, dwelling on life's daily struggles can end up causing more harm than good. But the good news is, we do less of it as we get older. It's called "rumination," and essentially means that "when you're upset you become passive and have a lot of thoughts without actually doing something," said Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a psychologist from Yale University in a symposium at the APS 17th Annual Convention in Los Angeles.