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222009Volume 22, Issue1January 2009

Presidential Column

Walter Mischel
Columbia University
APS President 2008 - 2009
All columns

In this Issue:
Becoming a Cumulative Science

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.

Up Front

  • Becoming a Cumulative Science

    In this space, I have been discussing urban legends in psychological science about our multiple roles within academic life. Assuming you are reading (and remembering) these Observer columns the way I did when I didn’t have to write them, I’ll briefly recapitulate some earlier points as they bear on today’s column. Undermining Cumulative Science Our urban legends, and the reality that underlies them, directly reward research and theorizing that emphasizes novelty and newsworthiness in publishing, grant-getting, and tenure requirements, especially in highly competitive universities. You get high marks for autonomy and brand new theories, unconnected to anybody else’s ideas, especially those of one’s mentors. That’s great, when the contribution is really new and solid, and adds to building a cumulative science.

APS Spotlight

  • Champions of Psychology: Philip Zimbardo

    Champions of Psychology is an ongoing series in which highly regarded professors share advice on the successes and challenges facing graduate students in the field of psychology. APS Fellow and Charter Member Philip Zimbardo, one of the most widely recognized modern psychologists, received notoriety in 1971 for his groundbreaking Stanford Prison Experiment. Throughout his career, he has been at the forefront of the social psychology literature, with pioneering work in the areas of shyness, violence, terrorism, and many others. A recipient of the Havel Foundation Prize, Zimbardo has dedicated his life to “giving psychology away” through teaching, writing, and his PBS series Discovering Psychology. Zimbardo holds faculty appointments at the Naval Post Graduate School, Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, and Stanford University, where he has taught since 1968.


  • A Beginner’s Guide to Teaching Abnormal Psychology

    What makes a great abnormal psychology instructor? When I imagine the ideal abnormal psychology instructor, I think of an individual who has had several experiences that have helped to inform his or her teaching. Let’s call our hypothetical ideal instructor Dr. Venerable. Dr. Venerable has been teaching undergraduates and doing clinical work for 30 years. In addition to her teaching duties, she works in a general psychiatric clinic with a diverse population in terms of presenting problems, demographics, and socioeconomic status. Dr. Venerable participates in clinical case conferences and supervises students and less-experienced therapists. Finally, she attends various national conferences and makes it a priority to stay current regarding clinical psychology research. Dr. Venerable has a generation of clinical experience to draw on in her classroom as she explains the various disorders.

First Person

  • APSSC State of the Caucus

    The 2008-09 APS Student Caucus (APSSC) Executive Board (APSSC) began their term in Chicago with two overarching goals for the coming year: (1) the revamping of the Campus Representatives and RiSE-UP programs and (2) modernizing membership communications. Then, in June, we received an amazing 1,023 responses to this year’s annual APSSC post-convention survey that helped us further modify programs in the best interest of the student members.  Like this year’s astonishing election season, the APSSC Executive Board’s October meeting in Washington, DC, showed that when the Caucus speaks, change will come. There are currently 4,523 student members of APS. We represent 1,081 Universities in 45 countries. We are the largest student caucus since APS began. Currently, the highest membership levels are seen in the United States, Canada, China, Singapore, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

More From This Issue

  • The History Corner: Titchener’s Sound Cage

    The sound cage is an instrument once used to study the human ability to localize sounds in space. The best known of these, Titchener’s Sound Cage, was introduced by Edward Bradford Titchener in 1901 in his laboratory manual, Experimental Psychology. There is an example of the sound cage, also known as a sound perimeter, in the collection of the Archives of American Psychology (see Figure 1). Figure 1 Our ability to localize sounds accurately without visual cues as to their source has been known since our ancestors used it as a survival skill, but we have only been able to measure the accuracy of this ability in relatively recent times. In 1875, the English physicist, Lord Rayleigh (J. W.

  • Bailout Envy

    The following is part of the Observer’s series of occasional conversations with a veteran participant in science and government relations, Dr. Grant Swinger, Director of the Center for the Absorption of Federal Funds. Dr. Swinger was interviewed by Washington correspondent Daniel S. Greenberg (DSG). DSG: You look upset. Swinger: I am. There are so many lawyers. He’s a lawyer and his wife is a lawyer. DSG: Who? Swinger: The Obamas. And Joe Biden is a lawyer. And Hillary at the State Department is a lawyer. And Bill, who will be hanging around Washington, he’s a lawyer, too. There’s a lot more of them. And most of the others are economists. DSG: So? Swinger: Where are the scientists?

  • On the Newsstand

    Read All About It: Simpler Fonts Make Simpler Tasks Los Angeles Times November 2, 2008 “Researchers found that the more difficult instructions are to read, the more that task is perceived as challenging. Identical instructions were…given for making sushi to 27 men and women, in both easy and difficult-to-read fonts. They perceived the recipe in the plainer font as taking less time to make and were more inclined to prepare it than the same recipe in the other font.” Coverage of “If It’s Hard to Read, It’s Hard to Do: Processing Fluency Affects Effort Prediction and Motivation” in Psychological Science (Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz, Volume 19(10), 986-988).

  • Gernsbacher Named to NSF Advisory Panel

    APS Past President Morton Ann Gernsbacher has been appointed to the Advisory Committee for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) at  the National Science Foundation. As the only federal science agency dedicated solely to supporting basic research, NSF occupies an irreplaceable niche in the world of science funding. With an annual budget of about $6.06 billion, NSF funds about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted at American colleges and universities.

  • The Lure of Tomorrow

    Late holiday shoppers will soon be rushing out to get the things they'd planned to buy way back in November, when they made those well-intentioned lists. And by New Year's, people will start thinking about projects: updating that resume, cleaning out the attic, starting that exercise routine. But the sad reality is that most of us will not follow through on these commitments, and not because we're insincere. We'll just never get to day one. Tomorrow is always a better time to get going. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Procrastination is a curse, and a costly one.