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252012Volume 25, Issue1January 2012

Presidential Column

Douglas L. Medin
Douglas L. Medin
Northwestern University
APS President 2011 - 2012
All columns

In this Issue:
Subject to Participation

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

  • Subject to Participation

    The following events took place a bit more than a decade ago. Norbert Ross, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the time, and I were appearing before the Menominee Language and Culture Commission in Keshena, Wisconsin, to ask for permission to conduct studies on children’s understandings of biology. We had previously received approval from the Menominee Tribal Legislature for studies with hunters and fishermen, and we expected things to go smoothly. Norbert and I explained that our research assistants would be Native Americans (mainly Menominee), and that we would make a donation to the schools for each child who participated in a study. After our presentation, one elder said, “The Menominee have been studied too much.” She did not go into any detail, but several other commission members nodded in agreement.


  • Tips for Incorporating Writing Into An Introductory Statistics Course

    Statistics educators know all too well that teaching statistics can be a challenge, even for the most experienced instructors. Students often bring with them anxieties and misperceptions that can lead to a tense and frustrating learning environment, compelling many students to delay taking a statistics course or in some cases, avoid pursuing a major that has the completion of a statistics course as a requirement (Sgoutas-Emch & Johnson, 1998). In light of these challenges, what is a statistics instructor to do? One strategy I’ve found to be effective is incorporating writing into the introductory statistics course. Encouraging students to write can minimize statistics anxiety and enhance statistics performance (Sgoutas-Emch & Johnson, 1998).

First Person

  • State of the APS Student Caucus

    Looking  back on the past, assessing the present, and preparing for the future are important for determining goals and evaluating our progress throughout our lives. The goals of the APS Student Caucus (APSSC) are to promote, protect, and advance scientific psychology; to enhance the professional development of its members; and to improve psychological science training. To accomplish these goals, the APSSC coordinates a series of yearly programs and annual convention events designed for APS Student Affiliates. The APSSC Executive Board held its annual Fall Meeting at the APS headquarters in Washington, DC, from September 30 to October 1, 2011, to evaluate our effectiveness and to assess current student needs. We reviewed feedback from students on the annual Student Affiliate survey as well as emails and casual conversations.

More From This Issue

  • Understanding the Impact

    Loved, hated, and a source of widespread controversy, journal impact factors (JIF) have taken on a unique role in scientific publishing. These little numbers are considered a measure of a journal’s importance. However, in an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Peter Hegarty and Zoe Walton question whether JIF actually measures the importance of psychological-science articles. JIFs, which reflect how much individual articles published in that journal are cited, are traditionally created using citations from the database Web of Science.

  • Reflections on Wikipedia in the Classroom

    Learning in today’s internet-dependent world requires new pedagogies. There is a real need to design assignments that better appeal to today’s students and allow them to engage more meaningfully and responsibly in the world we currently live in. I joined the APS Wikipedia initiative for the first time this semester and decided to replace a traditional research paper assignment with a Wikipedia assignment in which students either created or significantly expanded a Wikipedia article. I chose to pilot the Wikipedia project in a General Psychology course. This course is very popular on campus and has the potential to draw many students into the psychology major.

  • Rising Stars

    Bridgid Finn Iris Kolassa Catherine J. Norris Atsushi Senju Victoria Southgate Shannon Wiltsey Stirman Maarten Vansteenkiste Essi Viding Savio Wong Bridgid Finn Washington University, USA What does your research focus on? My research is focused on the cognitive processes that are involved in regulating memory and learning. Much of my research targets how metacognition is used to guide learning. Specifically, I’m interested in identifying the biases that affect how people make assessments about their knowledge, and how these biases affect decisions about learning.

  • Training Grants Encourage Integration of Clinical Science and Practice

    Clinical students often report that they thrive on their work as scientists and researchers, and they also report loving their clinical work — but sometimes they view these two aspects of their training as very separate enterprises. To help address this science-practice gap, the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP) awarded its first annual Clinical Scientist Training Initiative grants in 2011. The grants were awarded to training programs at the predoctoral, internship, or postdoctoral levels so that they could either launch new projects or support ongoing initiatives that effectively integrate science and practice in their training program.

  • Despite Occasional Scandals, Science Can Police Itself

    Due to the fraud investigation of Diederik Stapel, psychological science has recently been put under a magnifying glass, and questions (both fair and unfair) have been raised about the integrity of the field. APS Executive Director Alan Kraut addressed some of these questions in a commentary for the December 9, 2011 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. We have reprinted his column below. The public has always been fascinated with the scientific mind, including its corruption.

  • Researchers Say Drugs Can Boost Cognition, But Only So Much

    Cognition-enhancing drugs, once restricted to the world of science fiction, are now widely available and commonly used. The prevailing assumption is that, in terms of cognitive ability, more is better. But a study in the December 2011 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science raises an important question: If more is better, then why haven’t humans evolved into super geniuses already? The researchers propose that optimal levels of cognitive abilities are determined by trade-offs. Even traits that seem advantageous can’t increase indefinitely; eventually, they’ll level off.

  • Anti-Prejudice Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good?

    A study in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science demonstrated that some anti-prejudice campaigns are not only ineffective, they may actually encourage prejudice. The researchers found that autonomy-focused interventions, which emphasize anti-prejudice as a personal value, can effectively reduce prejudice. But controlling anti-prejudice messages, which focus on what people should and shouldn’t do, may actually increase prejudice. In one experiment, the researchers asked participants to read anti-prejudice brochures with either a controlling or an autonomy-focused message. A third group read no brochure at all. Then, a questionnaire was used to measure prejudice.

  • APS Award Address

    Get smarter fast! This message sounds like the tagline of a late-night infomercial. But when it comes from the mouth of cognitive psychologist John Jonides of the University of Michigan, it carries more weight. In his William James Fellow Award address at the 2011 APS Convention, Jonides described how proper training can increase an individual’s intelligence. “Fluid intelligence is often thought to be highly heritable, and some people draw the conclusion that it is immutable,” said Jonides.

  • A Dynamic Approach to Developmental Disorders

    Before working with Jean Piaget, Annette Karmiloff-Smith was a conference interpreter who thought psychology was just about reaction time and questionnaires. “Piaget made me discover that [psychology] was about everything from logic to epistemology, philosophy, science, and absolutely every topic seemed to come into psychology,” says Karmiloff-Smith. “I got really enthusiastic.” Now Karmiloff-Smith is a professorial research fellow at the Developmental Neurocognition Lab at Birkbeck, University of London. She is an expert on developmental disorders, specifically Williams Syndrome — a rare genetic disorder characterized by moderate learning difficulties and a distinctive facial appearance.

  • Michael Tomasello Honored for Influential Cooperation Research

    On December 2, 2011, Michael Tomasello was awarded the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize in a ceremony held at the University of Zurich. The prize included an endowment of 1.2 million Swiss francs, which will support Tomasello’s research on cooperation between young children. By studying 1- to 4-year-old human children as well as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, Tomasello has provided groundbreaking insights into cooperation and how it influences cognition. He suggests that 2-year-old humans relate to their environment in a similar way that 2-year-olds from other great ape species relate to it.

  • Ovid Tzeng Receives Golden Bell Award

    APS Fellow Ovid Tzeng is a tireless advocate for popular science education in Taiwan. Between introducing Scientific American to Taiwan and urging scientists to give lectures to high school students, he co-hosted a radio show called Science for Everyone. Tzeng and co-host Su-Yen Lai were recently awarded a Broadcast Golden Bell Award by the Taiwanese Government Information Office for their work. Science for Everyone debuted in 2010. Through the program, Tzeng has helped scientific ideas reach a broad audience by highlighting how science applies to everyday life.

  • APS Fellows Receive Prestigious Grawemeyer Award

    APS William James Fellow Award Recipients Leslie Ungerleider and Mortimer Mishkin have been awarded the 2012 Grawemeyer Award in Psychology. They were selected for the prize from more than 20 nominations, and they will receive $100,000 in recognition of their influential work. The two National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers were honored for their pioneering work on visual processing in the brain. Ungerleider and Mishkin were the first to show that the brain uses separate visual processing systems to recognize what objects are and where they are located.