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182005Volume 18, Issue12December 2005

Presidential Column

Michael Gazzaniga
Michael S. Gazzaniga
University of California, Santa Barbara
APS President 2005 - 2006
All columns

In this Issue:
More Is Sometimes More

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.

Up Front

  • More Is Sometimes More

    Most problems in our everyday lives can be solved in multiple ways. If we want to write, we can use a pencil or a pen or a computer. If we want to warm up we can put on more clothes, make a fire, or eat a bowl of hot soup. Redundant mechanisms are also widespread in biological systems. Biological solutions for thermal regulation include fur, fat, size (larger animals lose heat more slowly), evaporation (a panting dog, a sweating athlete), various metabolic processes, and even anti-freeze molecules. Although such redundancy can be costly (it takes more energy to make both fur and fat), it also confers important advantages. Different mechanisms are likely to have different characteristics. Together they can lead to improved flexibility and reliability. If one mechanism isn't working properly, others are there to take its place, providing a straightforward means for compensation.

APS Spotlight

  • Sesame Street for Adults: A Review of Avenue Q

    Go to Sesame Street, make a sharp turn in any direction, keep on going for 35 years or so, and you'll get to Avenue Q – the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical currently on Broadway. Avenue Q is an irreverent parody of Sesame Street that pokes fun at everything from the television show's foundational belief in the value of education to the prosocial messages it communicates, by adopting its familiar characters and style and twisting them into a vehicle for commentary on life's real lessons. Like its predecessor, Avenue Q portrays a sunny place where a community of diverse characters peacefully resides, sharply highlighting the play's funny and more adult-friendly content.

  • A Few Minutes of Your Time: Tips on Communicating Scientific Information to the Media

    There is an inherent tension that comes with communicating scientific findings through popular media outlets. You have to make the details (well, at least the outline) of your science understandable to those without prior knowledge of the field, but in ways that do not distort the basic facts. The tension of course, is that as you lose detail, you also lose precision. This compromise is one of the reasons why, until recently, I universally declined to comment or to be interviewed when contacted by reporters or editors.

  • The Toughest Job I’ve Ever Loved

    When I applied for the Fulbright Award in Nepal I was asked by the Chair of the Women's Studies Program at the Padma Kanya Campus of Tribhuvan University (the Women's Campus) to teach research methods in the post baccalaureate program diploma program in Women's Studies. I arrived in Kathmandu with the requisite materials prepared to do just that. The only social psychologist in Nepal, Shishir Subba, had been promoted to assistant dean for research in the college of social sciences and within weeks of my arrival the word went out to the academic community that I was in the city and able to fill this newly created need.


  • Engaging Students With Humor

    He wanted to be called Lunch Box instead of his proper name. When I finished writing something on the board, I would usually turn to see him making a comment to a classmate with a devious smile on his face. Lunch Box was enrolled in an inter-session class that met five days a week for three hours with a break in the middle. A little over a week into the class I returned to find my markers and eraser missing. I calmly asked the class, “Would anyone happen to know where the markers and eraser are?” At first nobody said a word, but there were a few giggles and some anxious looks. Lunch Box, smiling like the cat that ate the canary, said, “Oh they're still in here. You just need to find them.” So what would you do in this situation? I was frustrated and could easily understand how an instructor could become angry and demand the location of the items immediately.

More From This Issue

  • Seeing Science From Trunk to Tail

    The third part of an occasional series profiling big psychology grants travels to Chicago's Center for Advanced Research in Behavioral Neurobiology, where researchers are working to integrate the vast knowledge of behavior into a bigger picture. The 19th century lawyer and poet John Godfrey Saxe told a tale of six blind men who encounter an elephant.

  • Observations

    Brownell Delivers APS Lecture at NEPA Kelly Brownell kicked off the New England Psychological Association's 45th annual meeting with his APS-sponsored lecture on “The Toxic Food Environment.” The meeting was held at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT on October 14-15, 2005. Brownell, delivering the APS William James Distinguished Lecture, opened with a slide containing a long list of unhealthy ingredients and scary-looking chemicals; audience members were asked to guess the product.

  • PSPI Editorial: A Cogent Case for a New Child Custody Standard

    The following editorial originally appeared in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Vol. 6, No. 1). This editorial was written in conjunction with the report “A Critical Assessment of Child Custody Evaluations: Limited Science and a Flawed System” by Robert E. Emory, Randy K. Otto, and William T. O'Donohue which appears in the same issue of PSPI. Emery, Otto, and O'Donohue give us an admirably clear and hard-hitting analysis of the way our current legal system functions in attempting to resolve child custody disputes.