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222009Volume 22, Issue2February 2009

Presidential Column

Walter Mischel
Columbia University
APS President 2008 - 2009
All columns

In this Issue:
All Brains Are the Same Color

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.


  • The financial support provided by the APS Fund for the Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science made the July 2008 Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology (ICTP) viable. Participants shared innovative teaching techniques, course content updates from an international perspective, and new ideas to enhance and broaden their teaching skills.

Up Front

  • All Brains Are the Same Color

    After five columns on the urban legends in our science that may inadvertently undermine some of our efforts to build an integrative and cumulative psychological science, the next few columns will be cheerier. They illustrate innovative, integrative work at the vanguard of the field that crosses the boundaries of our sub-disciplines in new directions.  Richard Nisbett’s  “All Brains are the Same Color,” originally published in the New York Times, gives a taste of what we can expect when he delivers the “Bring the Family” address at the forthcoming APS convention this May, and I am delighted to welcome his work in this space.


  • An Open Letter to Scholarship of Teaching Presenters

    Dear Presenters, I’m your biggest fan and your worst critic. You see, like most instructors in academia, the majority of my work revolves around teaching. Given my predilection towards teaching and teaching-related activities, I often attend conferences, pre-conferences, sessions, and workshops geared toward improving and innovating my and others’ teaching. I’m also one of those psychologists whose audience is primarily future schoolteachers, so I am doubly cognizant about how university teaching models good and bad practice. Over the recent years, I’ve noticed a growing disparity in the quality of presentations and posters during teaching-related conferences. Many presentations are bad examples of “good teaching,” sending me and other attendees away cringing.

First Person

  • Research Opportunities for Health Psychologists in Primary Care

    Behavioral healthcare is being integrated into primary care all over the country in a variety of ways. Various models are being used within primary care settings to address the psychosocial, psychoeducational, and mental health needs of primary care patients. A typical visit to the primary care doctor no longer means just treatment of illness. Now, patients can expect behavioral treatments in addition to traditional biomedical and pharmacological treatment methods, such as relaxation techniques for anxiety over a cancer diagnosis or smoking cessation classes for cardiac patients.

More From This Issue

  • Surrogates for Theory

    ­­­Science walks forward on two feet, namely theory and experiment … Sometimes it is one foot that is put forward first, sometimes the other, but continuous progress is only made by the use of both. Robert A. Millikan, Nobel Lecture 1924 Psychologists treat other people’s theories like toothbrushes – no self-respecting person wants to use anyone else’s. Walter Mischel, Observer 2008 Will 21st-century psychology walk forward on two feet, or hobble on one? Do we teach our graduate students that the goal of science is advancement of explanation through theory and that experimentation is the tool to ensure we actually do advance? It appears to me much of psychology is split into two camps.

  • Memory and Successful Aging: A Conversation with Coach John Wooden

    A few months ago, just before his 98th birthday, I had the unique opportunity to interview John Wooden in his home in Encino, CA, about memory and successful aging. Wooden is the legendary former UCLA basketball coach and educator (1948-1975), is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, and in 2003, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Successful aging can be an elusive process both in terms of definition and practice. As psychologists, we typically collect and examine data and attempt to draw conclusions based on large samples. However, one can also learn a lot by talking to older adults about their memory and life experiences.

  • APS Calls for Change in Behavioral Science at NIH

    The Obama Administration has hit the ground running, and Washington is awash in change. Well before the inauguration, the then President-Elect set up a transition team for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of several such teams that are examining agency policies and priorities in depth. These teams will be enormously influential in shaping the agenda for the federal government for some time to come. The NIH team asked the scientific community to tell them what we think NIH priorities should be. APS’s recommendations were to advance a new model of health that grounds prevention efforts in behavior and to support basic behavioral research at NIH. The full APS statement follows.

  • Ode to Joy and Serenity and Curiosity and . . .

    Young patas monkeys love to play tag on the savannahs of West Africa, and they have an odd play habit. When they are being chased, they fling themselves on to saplings, which bend and catapult them in unexpected directions. This exuberant and quirky behavior disappears as the speedy red monkeys grow into adulthood, with one exception: When fleeing a predator, adults will fling themselves on to saplings, which bend and catapult them to escape. University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Fredrickson uses the antics of patas monkeys as both an example and metaphor for her “broaden and build” theory of positive emotions.

  • APS Members are Professors of the Year, Detweiler-Bedell Receives National Award

    Jerusha Detweiler-Bedell, Associate Professor of Psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon has been named 2008 Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year in a joint award by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Each year, just four professors in the United States are selected as national level winners of this prestigious honor.

  • On the Newsstand

    Being Naughty Has More Impact Than Being Nice Los Angeles Times December 17, 2008 “The study shows that giving and taking produce different patterns of reciprocity. The researchers conducted five experiments in which people played games that assigned them as givers or takers and allowed them to reciprocate acts of giving or taking. They found the positive action of giving is reciprocated in comparable measure whereas the negative action of taking is reciprocated more harshly, which may trigger an escalation of negative social exchanges. ” Coverage of “Reciprocity Is Not Give and Take: Asymmetric Reciprocity to Positive and Negative Acts” in Psychological Science (Boaz Keysar, Benjamin A.

  • Observations

    Healthy Decisions After testing positive for a gene linked to breast cancer, actress Christina Applegate had both breasts removed in an effort to prevent her breast cancer from recurring. Did she make the right decision? Should a man have surgery for prostate cancer, which might affect sexual activity and bladder control, or choose watchful waiting? Can a teenager learn to avoid pregnancy, HIV-AIDS, or cervical cancer by making rational decisions about unprotected sex?