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202007Volume 20, Issue1January 2007

Presidential Column

Morton Ann Gernsbacher
Morton Ann Gernsbacher
University of Wisconsin, Madison
APS President 2006 - 2007
All columns

In this Issue:
Presidential Column: The Eye of the Beholder

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

  • Presidential Column: The Eye of the Beholder

    I’m at the 15th percentile in height for U.S. females — a ranking I’ve held since birth. When I was growing up, there were certain occupations (e.g., flight attendant and firefighter) for which my height rendered me ineligible, and to this day I’m unable to reach the top shelf of most cupboards, grocery store aisles, or overhead luggage bins. If I immigrated to Japan, I’d rise to the 50th percentile, but if I immigrated to Holland I’d fall to the 1st percentile. Another way to think about my stature is that I’m at the 85th percentile for shortness. I’m pretty facile at getting under limbo poles; I have no qualms riding in the back seat of compact cars; and I’m chipper sitting in coach class on long, transatlantic flights. My six-foot colleagues, who are at the 12th percentile for shortness for U.S. males and below the 1st percentile for U.S.


  • On Taking Attendance

    Dr. Bob: I can’t believe it! I am so frustrated lecturing to a half-empty room. What’s wrong with students today? Why don’t they show up for class? Why don’t they want to learn? Dr. Mary: Hmm, my class is usually full. What percentage of the student’s grade is based on attendance in your class? Dr. Bob: None, I don’t believe in taking attendance. It’s up to the students to decide whether they will attend class or not. I don’t believe I do any good by forcing students to come to class. Dr. Mary: Well, that’s one way to look at it. My way is to offer that little extra motivation to get to class and then to make them see that it’s worth their time. Maybe shift that extrinsic motivation to intrinsic… Undoubtedly this type of conversation has occurred on numerous college campuses over the last 100 years.

First Person

  • Champions of Psychology: Jennifer Eberhardt

    This is an ongoing series in which highly regarded professors share advice on the successes and challenges facing graduate students. Jennifer L. Eberhardt received a PhD in Psychology from Harvard University in 1993. Before coming to Stanford in 1998, she held a joint faculty position at Yale University in Psychology and African & African American Studies where she was also a research fellow at Yale’s Center for Race, Inequality, and Politics. At Stanford, she has conducted programs of research in areas ranging from social neuroscience to the intersection of psychology and law. In her most recent work, she examines how social representations of race can affect visual perception and neural processing. In 2002, she received a Distinguished Alumnae Award for this research from the University of Cincinnati (where she completed her undergraduate education in 1987). She is a research fellow at the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). Additionally, she joins Hazel Markus in directing the Mind, Culture, and Society specialization track for advanced psychology undergraduates. She has served on the Committee of Visitors for the National Science Foundation.

  • Expanding Horizons: Research on Underrepresented Groups

    Working women. Older adults. Individuals with visual impairments. Ethnic minorities. I don't recall ever identifying any one of these groups and specifically thinking that I would do research with them. However, I do remember feeling that something was missing in what I was reading in my psychology textbooks. I think few people today would actually argue that the pool of psychological knowledge accurately reflects all people. Through my current and future research, I hope to make a small contribution to the effort to focus attention on, and expand knowledge of, underrepresented groups in the sciences. What type of research do you conduct? As an undergraduate at Barnard College in New York City, I double majored in anthropology and psychology because I was interested in both the socio-cultural contexts in which people live as well as the science behind individual differences. While at Barnard, I worked in Barbara Woike's research lab on studies investigating personality and emotion. I also completed my honors thesis, in which I investigated conflict between work and relationship motives in young women, under her mentorship.

More From This Issue

  • Some Ins and Outs of Being a Couple in Psychology

    We didn’t begin on an equal footing, which would have been almost impossible in the 1950s, but we began in a not unfamiliar way: George was five years older and an assistant professor in the Social Relations Department at Harvard where I was getting my PhD. George was on my dissertation committee, and while I was working on my thesis he hired me as a research assistant. His research on the auto-nomic nervous system underpinnings of emotion in humans required a set of measurement devices made for us by the Grass instrument company in Quincy, Mass. On the many trips out there from Cambridge to check on progress, love bloomed.

  • Strange Brew

    In side-by-side taste tests, pub-goers agree: “MIT Brew” tastes better than Budweiser — as long as tasters don’t learn beforehand that the secret ingredient is balsamic vinegar. It sounds more like a fraternity prank than a psychology experiment, but the beer-guzzling participants in a recent study were doing their part for psychology. In this case, helping researchers determine just what it is about consumers’ knowledge of food products that affects their taste judgments. Leonard Lee, Columbia Business School, Shane Frederick, MIT, and Dan Ariely, MIT, were not surprised that foreknowledge of the unappetizing secret ingredient in their special brew might bias tasters against it.

  • Where Are You?

    “What are you thinking?” It’s a simple enough question on the surface, and not an uncommon one, especially for intimate partners to ask of one another. Humans have a powerful need to know what others believe at every moment, what they want, what they’re intending to do. It would become tiresome of course if we asked these questions all the time. Which is why most of the time we try to surmise others’ mental states. Indeed, we spend a huge chunk of every waking day theorizing about others’ minds, and we assume we’re pretty good at it. But how does this process really work? Is it reliable? What’s going on in the brain when we attempt to divine other people’s private thoughts?

  • Larry Erlbaum: He Did It His Way

    If there is one thing to know about legendary publisher Lawrence Erlbaum, it’s that he will not go quietly into retirement with what Webster’s describes as “a song of great sweetness said to be sung by a dying swan.” Rubber chicken, yes; swan song, no. Erlbaum will always exit cracking a joke. “Someone in this business cautioned me long ago: ‘You have to watch your step. You kid around too much.’” But who’s laughing now? This past November, Erlbaum — “Larry” to all who know him — sold his publishing firm, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (LEA), to Taylor & Francis, a subsidiary of the London-based global publishing giant, Informa.

  • Learning to Fear

    Like most people, Elizabeth Phelps is afraid of sharks, and rightly so — some species like the Great White (Carcharodon carcharias) are aggressive and will attack without provocation. But many of us have never come in contact with a shark in the wild, and visiting the aquar-ium is as close as we will ever get to a live one. How then, do we develop a fear of something without ever having experienced it? This is one of many questions that Phelps, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, is trying to answer in her research.