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Volume 18, Issue1January 2005

Presidential Column

Robert W. Levenson
Robert W. Levenson
University of California, Berkeley
APS President 2004 - 2005
All columns

In this Issue:
Staffing the 21st Century Psychology Department

About the Observer

Published 6 times per year by the Association for Psychological Science, the Observer educates and informs on matters affecting the research, academic, and applied disciplines of psychology; promotes the scientific values of APS members; reports on issues of international interest to the psychological science community; and provides a vehicle for the dissemination on information about APS.

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Up Front


  • Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

    Newsletters and other missives that I receive seem filled with stories about textbooks and textbook prices, with many wringing their hands over why textbooks are so expensive now relative to the more distant past (usually when the author of the article was in college). I suspect some articles arise from middle-aged parents who suddenly must pay for their own children's college textbooks and they recoil when they see a bill of $500 a semester or thereabouts. What reasons are given for the high price of textbooks? Of course, there's general inflation, but evidence points to textbook prices outpacing inflation. Others point their fingers at the bright colors in many books (relative to older black and white models) and argue that production costs are needlessly pushed up by color. (A quick check of my own bookstore shows that many books without color are more expensive than those with color, probably due to the number of books in the print run.) Another suggested hypothesis is textbook publishers simply seek greater profit margins now than they did in the past.

  • Staffing the 21st Century Psychology Department

    Earlier this year our department had a day-long retreat to discuss, among other things, what it might look like if we recreated it from scratch. During a particularly scintillating discussion of the merits of having four areas versus five, I found my mind wandering to the far more important issue of how I would staff such a department. Most of us work in psychology departments that matured in a very different era. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves living with staffing patterns that clearly reflect times and needs that are but dim remembrances of things long past. Vestiges of the 20th Century Next time you venture out from the confines of your office, look around. Welcome to the remnants of the 20th century. In this era, psychology departments were staffed to accomplish three primary goals: 1) production of the written word (a.k.a. consuming mass quantities of trees); 2) managing money (a.k.a. protecting ourselves from our own fiscal peccadilloes); and 3) gizmo construction. The written word - regardless of whether its final destination was correspondence, articles, grant applications, or whatever - began life as ink on paper.

APS Spotlight


  • Champions of Psychology: Robert Zajonc

    In an ongoing series in which the APS Student Caucus talks with highly recognized professors, Robert Zajonc recently shared his advice for success and challenges facing graduate students. Zajonc is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and an APS Fellow and Charter Member. He has served on the APS Social Science Research Council, and received numerous awards including the APS William James Fellow Award, the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, and the SESP Distinguished Scientist Award. He is renowned for his research on such topics as attitude formation, the effect of birth order on intelligence, and the mere exposure theory. APSSC: What led you to choose psychology as your career path? ZAJONC: Before going to graduate school at the University of Michigan, I worked at a branch of the United Nations where I had contact with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

  • A History of Eating: The Movement to Suppress Passive Eating and the Risks of Side-plate Food

    JULY 15, 2010: With the conquest of the cigarette hazard well in hand in the late 1990s, the attention of American health reformers turned to the next treatable threat to immortality: obesity. Though it was possible to eliminate smoking, even the most passionate reformers recognized that it would not be possible to eliminate eating. Their aim was to reduce it substantially. It was noted that sex was also necessary for survival, but that one could reduce it substantially with no effects on the size of the next generation. The same, perhaps, for food. Two factors that encourage eating had been isolated in the research literature. People eat more when the food is more palatable, and they eat more in the presence of other people. The solution seemed simple: reduce palatability and social eating, hence limiting the obesity-promoting effect of passive eating, or side-plate food. Individual over-eaters argued that it was their right to eat as much food as they wanted, but it became clear that eating palatable food in public was a public health hazard. The anti-eating movement began on January 13, 2005.

Practice


  • Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

    Newsletters and other missives that I receive seem filled with stories about textbooks and textbook prices, with many wringing their hands over why textbooks are so expensive now relative to the more distant past (usually when the author of the article was in college). I suspect some articles arise from middle-aged parents who suddenly must pay for their own children's college textbooks and they recoil when they see a bill of $500 a semester or thereabouts. What reasons are given for the high price of textbooks? Of course, there's general inflation, but evidence points to textbook prices outpacing inflation. Others point their fingers at the bright colors in many books (relative to older black and white models) and argue that production costs are needlessly pushed up by color. (A quick check of my own bookstore shows that many books without color are more expensive than those with color, probably due to the number of books in the print run.) Another suggested hypothesis is textbook publishers simply seek greater profit margins now than they did in the past.

  • What We Can Do to Help Undergraduate Students Not Going on for Graduate Studies

    "I want to go to graduate school and become a professor of psychology." Who doesn't receive a thrill when a promising student declares an intention to become an academic? Is there anything in the world more flattering than someone sharing our ideals, mimicking our behavior, reinforcing our belief that we made "the right career decision" and that we are "really neat people?" Aside from stroking our academic egos, and for some faculty signaling professorial success, our more pragmatic side may view these students as "more valuable" because they can assist us in our careers. We can honestly say that we are helping students, for example, by providing them with research activities in our lab. They will learn more about research than they could from a textbook, they may get a chance to present research at a conference, and they may even find their name on a publication. However, we are also benefiting by finding an employee who is willing to work for "free." The reinforcing nature of these students can easily lead us to design classes that are biased toward the needs of the "pre-graduate" student.

More From This Issue


  • Behavioral and Social Science Research at the National Institutes of Health

    "NIH is the steward of medical and behavioral research for the Nation. Its mission is science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability." -Mission Statement, National Institutes of Health Behavioral science boasts a body of work that provides compelling evidence for its rightful place next to medical research in the opening sentence of the NIH mission statement, and it clearly plays a major role in the prevention of illness and the promotion of good health.

  • Where Art Meets Science

    Xunesis, an interdisciplinary company of scientists, media, and performing artists, will premier the short film on human memory, "Retrieval," along with a companion learning module, at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology conference in January. The project was developed by Xunesis co-founders Robert Morrison, a cognitive psychologist, and Chad Eric Bergman, a theater professor. "Xunesis is dedicated to finding ways to use creative and media arts for science education," Morrison said. In the film's early stages, Morrison and Bergman worked with former APS President and memory researcher Robert A. Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • Observations

    Iowa Lab Vandalized On the weekend of November 13, 2004, vandals dumped chemicals, damaged computers, and freed research animals at the University of Iowa. Most of the damage took place in the behavioral and cognitive science division of the psychology department. "This will be a major setback in terms of research," said APS Charter Member Gregg Oden, chair of the department. "We don't know how much damage has been done." The vandalism included laboratories where research animals were housed. An undetermined number of mice and rats were missing, and more than 30 computers were damaged, university officials said.

  • A Growing Crisis of Overfeeding

    The opening to Kelly D. Brownell's recently published essay "Overfeeding the Future." In its peak year, the primary U.S. government nutrition education program (called 5 a Day) was given $3 million for promotion. The food industry spends 1000 times that much just to advertise fast foods, just to children. The most recognized corporate logo in China aside from Chinese companies is KFC. Ronald McDonald is the second most recognized figure in the world, next to Santa Claus. Creating major news in September of 2002, McDonald's announced that by February, 2003 it would change the oil used for its fried products to decrease (but not eliminate) trans fats.

  • New Year’s Irresolutions

    "A lie, spoken to oneself, that goes in one year and out the other." -Unknown Sadly, this statement rings true: Over half of us who start the year with good intentions will fall back into our bad habits within six months (Norcross et al., 2002). The superior strength of old habits and memories over new ones has been a principle of psychology for over 100 years (Jost, 1897). Why do old habits spontaneously recover over time? At least part of the answer may reside in relatively automatic, unconscious forms of memory. We asked people to first learn one set of cue-response pairs (e.g., coffee-cup, knee-bend), followed by a second set (e.g., coffee-mug, knee-bone).