image description
Volume 23, Issue6July/August 2010

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.

APS members receive the Observer newsletter and may access the online archive going back to 1988.

Looking to connect with the Observer? Visit the About page to learn about writing for us, advertising, reprints, and more. We’d love to hear from you. If you have questions about your subscription, please email APS@psychologicalscience.org.

Latest Under the Cortex Podcast

Trending Topics >


  • This is a photo of a piece of paper torn to reveal the phrase "uncover the facts"

    Myths and Misinformation

    How does misinformation spread and how do we combat it? Psychological science sheds light on the mechanisms underlying misinformation and ‘fake news.’

Up Front


  • A Moveable Feast

    How the Mind Perceives Taste You might call the Presidential Symposium at the APS 22nd Annual Convention a three-course meal. As an appetizer, the audience ate lemons and strawberries as part of a test on flavor enhancement. For a main dish, an entrée of experts, from research psychologists to food critics, discussed why people are so attracted to spices. And for dessert, an award-winning chef prepared food for the whole crowd. “Many of you have to be wondering, what does this have to do with psychology?” said program committee chair Tyler Lorig in an e-mail read aloud to the packed room by APS President and symposium chair Linda Bartoshuk, University of Florida.

First Person


  • Student Events at the 22nd Annual APS Convention

    APS Student Caucus Convention Kickoff and Student Social Jeremy Ashton Houska, Chair The nearly 300 attendees at this year’s APSSC Convention Kickoff and Student Social enjoyed complimentary food and beverages provided by APS. Students connected with like-minded colleagues by wearing their research area stickers with pride, and some lucky students won APS swag during an icebreaker activity. The informal student gathering allowed the APSSC Executive Board to introduce themselves to their constituents, answer questions about the APSSC, and promote student events at the Convention. A good time was had by all! The Naked Truth I: Getting Into Graduate School Peter M. Vernig and Nathaniel S.

More From This Issue


  • Who Says Self-Control Is a Good Thing?

    The fundamental goal of human life is the same now as it was during the Stone Age — survive and reproduce. Easy enough, right? Wait, not so fast. As APS Fellow Todd Heatherton demonstrated in his address at the 22nd Annual APS Convention, “Giving in to Temptation: The Neural Basis of Self-Regulation Failure,” the Stone Age brain did not anticipate the advent of fast food, cigarettes, and Playboy.

  • Word to Your Mother

    Eating Habits Form in Early Childhood — Even in the Womb They say a mother’s duty never ends, and according to Julie Mennella, Bring the Family Speaker at the APS Annual Convention, this ceaseless task list should include training a child to appreciate a healthy diet — a job that scientists now think begins well before birth. “It’s very difficult to change dietary habits,” said Mennella, a researcher with the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “But if there is any hope … there probably is no bigger motivator to change than that which occurs during pregnancy and lactation and early motherhood.” It’s no secret that many Americans embrace a diet that’s at odds with their own health.

  • Psychology and Education

    Psychologists should take charge of efforts to reform the failing American education system. That was the bold proposal at the heart of the APS David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology delivered by APS Fellow and Charter Member Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., Texas A&M University, at the APS 22nd Annual Convention. “Psychology could do more than the piecemeal work that our discipline has offered to date,” Benjamin said of psychology’s impact on education.

  • Sometimes Indirect Speech Is the Most Direct Course of Action

    Imagine you’re at the hottest restaurant in Manhattan on a Saturday night. It’s crowded and there’s a long line of people waiting. Few of us, no matter how hungry we are, would directly come out and offer the maitre d’ $20 for a table. However, we may be more willing to quickly (and hopefully smoothly) flash the $20 bill and say something along the lines of, “I was wondering if you might have a cancellation.” The maitre d’ is no fool and it’s obvious in both scenarios what’s really going on, so why do we insist on this charade and an “if you catch my drift” approach?

  • Is Clinical Psychology Broken?

    The distinguished panelists gathered for “The Future of Clinical Psychology,” a special event at the APS 22nd Annual Convention, agreed on one thing: People in the United States can be getting better mental health care. Everything else proved fair game for lively debate. The event grew out of controversy sparked by a Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) report that proposed a new system of accrediting clinical psychology doctoral training programs. Currently, such programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association.

  • The Guide for Getting Risky

    “Creatures inveterately wrong in their judgments and subsequent decisions have a pathetic but praise-worthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.” - Willard Van Orman Quine (1969) I was hoping to slink into the ballroom at the Sheraton Boston hotel unnoticed to catch the first theme program of the APS 22nd Annual Convention, Living on the Edge: A Guide to Risky Behavior. As it turns out, I had tempted fate by pressing the snooze button one too many times and was now running late. But as I made it to the ballroom, I realized I wasn’t the only attendee hoping to find some insight into others’ (and my own, apparently) risky behavior.

  • Can I Take That Back? The Study of Impulsivity

    It doesn’t matter that you know better. It doesn’t matter that you’re aware of the consequences and will regret them later. At some point, your carefully disciplined sense of control will collapse — whether it means a scoop of ice cream for dessert turns into the entire pint, “just a couple of drinks” becomes a steady stream of liquor until the bar shuts down, or you yell at that really annoying guy on the subway.  Impulsivity is part of the human condition; nobody is a paragon of self-control.

  • What’s Love Got to Do With It?

    All we need is love. Can’t help fallin’ in love. Can you feel the love tonight? I will always love you. And so forth. Sure, it sells CDs (and books and flowers and movie tickets to cheesy romantic comedies), but really, what does love have to do with it? It turns out, romantic love may not always be our primary motivation when it comes to who we are attracted to and want to be with. This fascinating theme program at the APS 22nd Annual Convention brought together a number of researchers studying various aspects of love and sex. We’ve all heard radio ads for pheromones, promising immediate popularity with just one spritz.

  • The Social Implications of Preschool Education and Learning Styles

    What do preschool education and learning styles have in common? Both would seem to be cornerstones of any comprehensive educational agenda. Yet the presenters at the APS 22nd Annual Convention’s Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) Symposium argued that the complex issues surrounding each topic suggest the need for closer examination.

  • Hazardous Thinking

    Much of the attention given to risky behavior focuses on affect — how that drink or cigarette will make one feel. But what about cognition? Cognitive processes like prediction, planning, reasoning, and memory also play a role in risky decision making. Several researchers presented the latest research on these cognitive processes in “Viewing Longstanding Issues Through Novel Lenses: Engaging Cognitive Skills in Risky Behavior,” a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored symposium at the APS 22nd Annual Convention, chaired by William P. Klein of NCI and Ellen Peters of Decision Research and The Ohio State University.

  • How Psychological Science Can Make a Difference

    The tobacco industry has been taking advantage of psychology and the power of persuasion to make a killing (no pun intended) on the suggestible human mind. The Marlboro Man, Joe Camel, and Virginia Slims are just a few of the household cigarette brands associated with positive, glamorous images. “Tobacco companies have long appreciated the power of affect,” said APS Fellow and Charter Member Paul Slovic of Decision Research and the University of Oregon. “They use beautiful people in beautiful places doing exciting things for their marketing campaigns.” Now, psychological scientists are joining the fight to give Big Tobacco a taste of their own medicine.

  • Under Pressure: Stress and Decision Making

    A common way that researchers induce stress in study volunteers is by making them give a speech. In that case, there were plenty of opportunities during the APS 22nd Annual Convention to see the stress response in action, joked Mara Mather of the University of Southern California, during her introduction to the symposium “How Stress Alters Decision Making.” Mather presented an overview of biological responses to stress, especially how stress affects striatal dopaminergic reward systems. In addition to causing physical changes, stress can influence our decisions.

  • Sticking to the Rules

    The idea that people are either conscious of something or they’re not seems like common sense. However, research into the development of the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain responsible for executive function — shows that this assumption is not necessarily true.

  • More Than Meets the Eye

    Want someone to like you? Here’s a hint: Crank up the temperature in the room. While most human emotional expressions are communicated via facial expressions and body language, research presented during the symposium “More Than Meets the Eye: Hidden Signals and Social Communication” shows that in addition to verbal and nonverbal visual information, touch, temperature, and olfaction have been found to affect social communication among humans. Body odor is something Denise Chen, Rice University, is very familiar with. No, she doesn’t smell, but she is interested in studying the relationship between chemosensation from body odors and social behavior on both behavioral and neural levels.

  • Inside the Psychologist’s Studio: Linda Bartoshuk

    In a wide-ranging conversation, Linda Bartoshuk, renowned taste researcher now at the University of Florida, shared stories from her life and her rise to scientific prominence at the annual “Inside the Psychologist’s Studio” event at the APS 22nd Annual Convention.

  • Understanding the Interactions Between Emotion and Cognition

    What is the relationship between feeling and thinking — that is, between emotional processes and cognitive processes? How does this relationship affect how we attend to the world and how we govern our impulses? Participants in the symposium “Emotion-Cognition Interactions: Implications for Attentional Processes and Self-Regulation” at the APS 22nd Annual Convention attempted to answer these questions. Greg Hajcak (Stony Brook University) discussed his research involving event-related potentials (ERPs, brain-wave responses measured by electroencephalography) that occur in response to emotionally arousing versus neutral pictures.

  • Aging and Memory: The Glass Is Half Full

    In our youth-obsessed society, we see old age as a disease that deprives us of our physical vigor and mental faculties, reducing us to addled, forgetful creatures living in the past. To some extent, this stereotype is based on a paradox of old age: We can remember things that happened years ago with crystal clarity, but have no idea where we put the car keys a few minutes ago.  In an invited address at the APS 22nd Annual Convention, Lynn Hasher from the University of Toronto presented her laboratory’s groundbreaking research on this paradox.

  • Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology

    The Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology (SMEP) was founded in 1960 to encourage the development of psychological theory and knowledge in the context of multivariate designs, multivariate statistical analysis, and multivariate quantitative methodology.  Its members include specialists in statistics, psychometrics, and methodology as well as psychological researchers of personality, development, cognition, organizations, education, and social psychology who incorporate multivariate systems into their theories and experiments. APS routinely holds several workshops during its annual convention, many of them methodological in nature.

  • Cognitive and Brain Consequences of Learning in the Arts

    Will playing Chopin to your baby in the womb help her get into Harvard? Does teaching your child to paint improve his chances of becoming a latter-day Leonardo da Vinci, capable of mastering art and science? There are many claims that learning to play a musical instrument improves your mathematical, verbal, and spatial skills, as well as your attention and memory. In the invited address at the APS 22nd Annual Convention, Ellen Winner has examined the popular view that the arts stimulate cognitive abilities to see whether there is a scientific basis for it.

  • Evolving From a ‘Knowledge Economy’ to a ‘Creativity Economy’

    Traditionally, creativity has been most often associated with the arts. In some circles, it can even have a negative connotation (think “creative accounting” — Google Enron for details).  However, business organizations actually depend on creativity and, as discussed in “Future Directions in Applied Psychological Research on Creativity,” an invited symposium chaired by Maria Rotundo (University of Toronto) at the 22nd Annual APS Convention, creative thinking involves a lot more than paint brushes and musical instruments. In the current economy, the need for innovation in the workplace is more important than ever.