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332020Volume 33, Issue10December 2020

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

  • What is Systemic About Systemic Racism?

    On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, a White police officer brutally murdered George Floyd. To eyes watching from every corner of the globe, this tragic incident revealed racism that pervades America. While racism surely is in the heads of people who espouse racist ideologies, these ideologies are also inscribed into our daily social interactions. They are woven into the policies and practices of our criminal justice institutions. They are entrenched in institutions of employment, education, finance, housing, and health. Through this ongoing social process, racist ideas and practices are shared, if often implicitly and subconsciously, among most of us in society (Banaji & Greenwald, 2013; Eberhardt, 2019; Jones, 1996; Jones et al., 2013; Markus & Moya, 2010).

Recent Research

  • Research Briefs

    The Negative Effect of Smartphone Use on Academic Performance May Be Overestimated: Evidence From a 2-Year Panel Study Andreas Bjerre-Nielsen et al. Psychological Science Bjerre-Nielsen and colleagues monitored 470 students’ smartphone usage over 2 years and assessed their academic performance across multiple courses. They found that students who used their smartphones in class more had lower grades than those who used their smartphones less. However, this negative effect was not as large when the researchers used a model to control for stable characteristics of students and courses (e.g., student self-control, teacher quality), including those not observed by researchers. These findings indicate that previous research that controlled only for observed student characteristics might have overestimated the negative effects of smartphone use on academic performance.

Government Relations

  • RDOC at 10: Sharpening the Science of Mental Health

    Ten years ago, a major initiative at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the United States’ leading federal agency for research on mental disorders, set out to address a fundamental weakness in how mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated. The widely accepted diagnostic structures—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)—couldn’t account for many of the complexities of mental disorders, despite providing benefits such as reliability and ease of diagnosis across many contexts. For instance, the varied ways people can qualify for a symptom-based disorder diagnosis can lead to two people being diagnosed with the same disorder despite having few symptoms in common. Similarly, patients who meet criteria for one mental disorder often tend to meet criteria for other mental disorders.

APS Spotlight

  • APS Teaching Fund Showcase

    With support from the APS Fund for Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science, three teams of researchers are providing new resources for educators and their students. Using $5,000 grants from the Small Grants for Teaching Projects program, the teams aim to make learning statistics more accessible to students with disabilities, to inform the public about the science of implicit bias, and to provide more affordable—and ethical—opportunities for animal studies in undergraduate labs. The APS Teaching Fund was established through a $1 million endowment from the David & Carol Myers Foundation. For more information on the fund, visit


  • Teaching: Personality Stability and Change / Building Cultures of Sustainability

    Edited by C. Nathan DeWall Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic covered in this peer-reviewed APS bimonthly journal, which features reviews covering all of scientific psychology and its applications. Understanding Personality Stability and Change Building New Cultures of Sustainability Understanding Personality Stability and Change By C. Nathan DeWall Wagner, J., Orth, U., Bleidorn, W., Hopwood, C. J., & Kandler, C. (2020). Toward an integrative model of sources of personality stability and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(5), 438-444. In November 2020, the Atlantic published a sensational article that identified a hidden network of wealthy parents who urged their children to pursue niche sports (fencing, crew, squash) to gain admission to Ivy League universities.

First Person

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