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212008Volume 21, Issue11December 2008

Presidential Column

Walter Mischel
Columbia University
APS President 2008 - 2009
All columns

In this Issue:
The Toothbrush Problem

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

  • The Toothbrush Problem

    In these columns, I have been discussing our “urban legends” — the often unspoken but widely shared understandings and misunderstandings about how to build a research-focused academic life in psychology. My goal is to look at how these legends, rooted in the past, may influence our various roles as journal readers, contributors, reviewers and editors, researchers, grant-seekers and grant-givers, perhaps in ways that undermine efforts to become an increasingly cumulative and robust science. First, I focused on legends and realities about getting published in high prestige journals in our science (September Observer), noting the pressures toward newsworthiness, novelty, and “definitive solutions,” as well as their implications for how research is done, communicated, and reviewed.


  • I’d Like to Use Active Learning… But What Can I Do?

    To experience an important psychological phenomenon, carefully follow these instructions: Pick a number between 1 and 50 and write it on a piece of paper Fold the paper in half so that you cannot see the number Hold the paper at eye level about 2 feet out from your face Tilt your head to the right at a 45 degree angle and while concentrating on the number hum the national anthem Solve the rebus below (answer at end of article). O.K., so I could have started this article off by simply talking about obedience research (i.e., how readily people obey commands or, if you didn’t follow the instructions, the conditions under which people defy “authority”) or divergent thinking (i.e., solving the rebus). Instead, these simple demonstrations got you involved with the material (it’s okay to stop tilting your head and humming the national anthem now).

First Person

  • Beyond the t-test and F-test

    For many psychology researchers and students, finding an appropriate statistical tool for analyzing data can be challenging. Moreover, dealing with issues such as outliers and nonnormal distribution can be frustrating. Methods taught in statistic classes and textbooks (such as Student’s t-test, ANOVA F-test, Pearson’s correlation, and least squares regression) often do not seem to be directly applicable to actual experimental design and datasets. But, many alternative statistical techniques have been developed in recent years to address these issues. These techniques overcome the limitations of traditional tools and have been proven to work well in a wide range of situations where traditional tools fall short. Unfortunately, due to various reasons discussed in Wilcox (2002), these modern techniques are rarely mentioned in the conventional curriculum.

More From This Issue

  • The Terman-ator

    For centuries, medicine has approached illness in the same way, essentially trying to discover the magic bullet that kills the bacteria or halts the growth of the tumor. This approach is rooted in the fundamental question “Why do people become ill?” Howard S. Friedman, the 2008 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award recipient and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, has been asking a different question throughout his career. According to Friedman, it isn’t so much determining “why” people become ill but instead “who” becomes ill.

  • Back to B/START

    In the early 1990s, APS Executive Director Alan Kraut sat down with the congressional Appropriations Committee to discuss the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). The Committee had expressed concern about the trend noted in a 1988 report by the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) of falling numbers of new investigators in the behavioral sciences. APS, then a relatively new organization based around the mission of promoting scientifically oriented psychology research, was only too eager to help promote behavioral science research alongside NIMH.

  • Engle Named Editor of Current Directions in Psychological Science

    APS Fellow Randy Engle was the first on either side of his family to go to college; in fact, the first on one side to graduate from high school. The first time he ever heard about the field of psychology was as a freshman at West Virginia State College, when someone he had gone to high school with mentioned that he was majoring in psychology. Interested in this field he had never heard of, Engle decided he had to take a course in the subject. His life has never been the same since. He took his first course in psychology during his sophomore year, and he vividly recalls voraciously reading every chapter of Floyd Ruch’s textbook before the semester was half over.

  • Observations

    Those Were the Days: Counteracting Loneliness with Nostalgia With the days getting shorter (and colder) and the holidays quickly approaching, many of us start thinking back to days gone by. All of us are struck with nostalgic feelings from time to time but a new study in Psychological Science, indicates that nostalgia may serve a greater purpose than just taking us back to the good old days. Psychologists Xinyue Zhou and Ding-Guo Gao from Sun Yat-Sen University, along with Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut from the University of Southampton explored the connection between loneliness and nostalgia.

  • Budget Outlook for Science is Bleak

    If campaign rhetoric has predictive value, science will do well under the Obama administration, both in money and respectful attention by political leaders. Respect comes free and may be counted upon, given the widespread revulsion toward the Bush administration’s science bashing. But when it comes to money, a prudent strategy for those dependent on federal support for research would be to prepare for a continuing drought.

  • IOM Explores Gene-Environment Interplay

    Is biology destiny? That’s the question the Institute of Medicine (IOM) set out to investigate at its annual meeting this fall in Washington, DC. In exploring the interaction of genes and environments, panelists presented a healthy dose of behavioral research, the importance of which biologists and geneticists increasingly realize they can’t overlook. The IOM, which describes itself as “adviser to the nation to improve health,” is a component of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a prestigious independent organization that conducts science policy studies for the U.S. government and other sponsors. Many APS Fellows have been elected to membership in the NAS and the IOM.