image description
242011Volume 24, Issue6July/August 2011

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.

Read more

Latest Under the Cortex Podcast

Trending Topics >

  • 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.

APS Spotlight

  • Improving Intelligence

    Improving intelligence has preoccupied society since French psychologist Alfred Binet devised the first IQ test. Since then, the notion that intelligence can be calibrated has opened new avenues into figuring out how it can also be increased. Psychological scientists have been on the front lines of modifying intelligence. So much intelligence is genetically determined, it is, to a large extent, hereditary. But there are still some areas in which it can be malleable. Intelligence is generally divided into two categories: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason in an abstract way and solve problems.

  • Gender: A Product of Cultural and Biological Evolution

    Wendy Wood, of University of Southern California, and Alice Eagly, of Northwestern University, chairs of the symposium on the cultural and biological evolution of gender, have been turning heads for the last couple years by casting doubt on the dominant discourse in evolutionary psychology of gender.  By examining the ways men and women choose mates, they’ve shown that the old paradigm of choosy females and willing males doesn’t actually hold up – even though it seems to work in animal populations.

  • Your Attention Please

    Attention underlies our ability to complete all mental tasks. Imagine then, the benefits of being able to improve the ability to focus and maintain attention. Such was the theme for this invited symposium at the 23rd Annual APS Convention. This ability to ‘train attention’ is potentially quite valuable for the treatment of working memory deficits and for patients suffering anxiety disorders, who are known to demonstrate an attentional bias for threatening stimuli.

  • Toucha-Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me: Morality, Leaning, and the Haptic Origins of Cognition

    Touch is the first sense to develop, the most widely spread throughout the human body, and, as Joshua Ackerman suggested in his talk at an APS 23rd Annual Convention symposium, it is the scaffolding around which cognition is built.  And it remains a powerful, if frequently unconscious, force that changes the way we understand other people.

  • Integrative Moral Cognition

    The philosopher John Stuart Mill famously proposed that moral decisions are made according to a principle of utilitarianism: Moral decision makers perform a sort of cost-benefit analysis in an attempt to maximize benefits and minimize harm. According to this view, it’s okay to kill one person if, by doing so, you save the lives of several other people. By contrast, Immanuel Kant believed that morality is not about costs and benefits, but rather about our duty to moral principles and lines that must not be crossed: Harming one person to save five others will not seem morally acceptable if your gut tells you that harming people is wrong.

  • It’s In The Data: Openly Gay Service Won’t Harm The Military

    Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, but what role did research have in the military’s decision to let gay service members serve openly? In an invited symposium, a panel led by Air Force psychologist Howard N. Garb discussed the impact of psychological science on military policies concerning gay service members. The session featured a presentation by Laura L. Miller, a social scientist from RAND Corporation. At the beginning of her talk, Miller clarified some misconceptions: “Historically, sexual orientation has not been a criteria for screening,” says Miller.

First Person

  • Student Events at the 23rd Annual APS Convention

    APS Student Caucus Convention Kickoff and Student Social The APSSC Convention Kickoff and Student Social, held at Buffalo Billiards, drew record crowds. Nearly 300 students enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres while playing pool and chatting. Incoming and outgoing members of the APSSC Board had the opportunity to meet with members and discuss their interests. As in years past, APSSC distributed stickers to help identify an individual’s research areas. Overall, the social was a great success, and the Board thanks all who attended! The Naked Truth I: Getting Into Graduate School Nathaniel S. Ring, Chair The first of three panels in the Naked Truth series provided an excellent opportunity for prospective graduate students to get an insider’s view of the application process from three young scholars.

More From This Issue

  • Larry Erlbaum Collects His Paycheck

    Editor's note: APS Executive Director Alan Kraut’s touching and humorous tribute to Lawrence Erlbaum’s longtime service to psychological science and to APS. Larry Erlbaum is a real-life personal and professional hero. Personal, because of the importance he attaches to the people in his life. Many times I have witnessed the wonderful relationship he has with his lovely wife Sylvia and how proud he is of his daughter’s writing and many accomplishments. I know of his deep and personal friendship with so many of our APS colleagues, and how he reaches out to those in need.

  • Presidential Symposium: Broadband Social Cognition

    The presidential symposium at the APS 23rd Annual Convention began the way any good psychological study should: with a hypothesis. “Man is by nature a social animal,” said APS President and symposium chair Mahzarin Banaji, quoting Aristotle. In keeping with the form of good science, Banaji offered empirical support for her that hypothesis through the combined wisdom of the speakers she assembled, who provided a progression of evidence for human sociality found in evolutionary ancestors, babies, and adults alike. “Twenty-three hundred years later, we have a science of all this,” said Banaji, of Harvard University.

  • Wikipedia Initiative: Demonstrations

    A lot of information is available on the Internet these days, but how accurate and how comprehensive is it? And even more important, how accessible is it to the general public? The APS Wikipedia Initiative (APSWI) is helping APS Members take charge of their science and ensure that Wikipedia, the most widely used general reference encyclopedia on the Internet, represents scientific psychology completely and accurately. To help APS Members write, edit, and update Wikipedia entries, Robert Kraut and Rosta Farzan of Carnegie Mellon University developed a special online portal with resources and  links to Wikipedia articles.

  • Bring the Family Address: Is There The Courage to Change America’s Diet?

    With over 60 percent of the United States, population is overweight, according to the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index; it’s safe to say the traditional medical approach to treating America’s diet-related problems is not working. In light of increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, Kelly Brownell, a psychological scientist at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, says that we must acknowledge this traditional approach as “a failed experiment” and turn to a brand new model for promoting health in the United States.

  • The Family That Researches Together Presents Their Science Together

    My husband Roger and I share a strong belief that education for our daughters is extremely important, but we did not anticipate the turn this belief would take. Since 2009, my daughters and I have presented research that we did as a family at the APS Annual Conventions. I am a Professor of Psychology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, but our daughters Kristin and Karen persued very different academic interests. Kristin pursued a major in operations research at the United States Military Academy at West Point, followed by masters degrees in engineering management (University of Missouri, Rolla) and systems engineering (University of Virginia).

  • APS Journals at Convention

    Leading Researchers Discuss Current Directions in Schizophrenia In a special pre-convention event, five distinguished researchers came together to discuss the latest research on schizophrenia, a debilitating mental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Though each of the researchers examined a different facet of the disease, all five, all five, whose articles were among those in a special issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science last year. agreed that schizophrenia research has come a long way.

  • Recognizing Michele Nathan

    Psychological scientists are trained to do science, and as we all know, writing typically comes second. It’s no secret that the science in a manuscript submission may be a significant contribution to the field but that the prose may be, well, less than stellar. Enter the managing editors and copy editors, the behind-the-scenes fixers. When they do their jobs well, they do much more than catch typos and missing commas. They catch errors in graphs and tables, missing pieces of arguments, and even, on rare occasions, flawed conclusions. It’s painstaking, sometimes tedious work, but the end result is an article that is clear, pleasant to read, and error-free. It’s also a thankless task.

  • When Economics Met Psychology

    This meeting of scholarly minds has led to a booming — and surprising — science of decision making Economists have long sought to understand how people make decisions, but some of their most remarkable insights have occurred only recently, as they have begun a dialogue with psychological scientists. The fruits of this convergence were on full display during the afternoon-long Choices theme program at the APS 23rd Annual Convention. The program began with a lively talk about dishonest decisions by Dan Ariely of Duke University, the popular behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational, who is as comfortable dropping jokes as he is delivering research findings.

  • Not the Mystery it Used to Be

    One of the core concepts of psychology is consciousness. Yet, because consciousness has generally been considered intangible, it has been thought that science will never be able to truly characterize it. But as the four researchers at the Consciousness theme program at the APS 23rd Annual Convention demonstrated, advances in the field are helping scientists tease apart the mysteries of consciousness and turn them into solvable scientific problems. Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, studies how the process of meditation changes the brain. He spoke about how this line of research was influenced by meeting the Dalai Lama in 1992.

  • Saving the Best for Last: Symposia Sunday

    The Impact of Childhood Trauma There are many people who experience traumatizing events who do not develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But does that mean that their mental health is not affected at all? Four researchers came together on Symposia Sunday at the APS 23rd Annual Convention to discuss how childhood trauma can affect neurocognitive functioning in early and late adulthood. Trauma affects the brain region called the hippocampus. Because prior studies have linked PTSD to small hippocampal volume (HV), Shireen Sindi, a researcher from McGill University, investigated the connection between HV and trauma in young adults and older adults without PTSD.

  • Research Not Lost in Translation

    An important motivator for many researchers is to help people — to cure a disease or to improve lives. Translational research describes work that begins in the lab, but also has real-world applications. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) established a “From Bench to Bedside” initiative in 1999 to help support and encourage projects that take basic science from the lab to the doctor’s office. However, it can be years or even decades, before treatments and interventions that seemed promising in initial experiments are routinely used in clinical settings.

  • An Intergenerational Conversation Between Mahzarin R. Banaji and Rebecca Saxe

    Psychological scientists often learn about each others’ work at conferences or in journals, but it’s not often that they actually get the chance to sit down face to face and pick each others’ brains. The Inside the Psychologist’s Studio session at the APS 23rd Annual Convention provided just such an opportunity. The session featured a wide-ranging conversation between Mahzarin Banaji and Rebecca Saxe and allowed attendees to learn the “story behind the story” of these two leading psychological scientists. Banaji, 2010-2011 APS President and a professor at Harvard University, is an established scholar in the field of implicit social cognition.

  • Who Do We Blame for Bad Behavior?

    APS-David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology Classmates may not like him or her, but the teacher always appreciates the “teacher’s pet” — that one favorite student who pays attention, take notes diligently, and participates enthusiastically. Then there is the “slacker,” a teacher’s worst nightmare — the one who shows up to class a half-hour late, smacking gum loudly, cell in one hand, and music blaring loudly from an iPod. Who raised this kid? At this year’s APS-David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology, Douglas A.

  • Bringing Psychological Science to Life

    APS is one of the best meetings I attend, for several reasons. First, it is a great cross section of the science of our discipline: clinical, social, cognitive, developmental, I/O and neuroscience. I love having the opportunity to discover new ideas and meet fellow researchers. Two such events happened in Washington, DC. First, David Diamond presented his time-based neuro-model of emotional memory formation with a mechanism explaining why some memories may seem fragmented. My lab of 12 undergraduates now has a new set of required readings! Second, after many years of covering a paper by Banaji and Crowder (1989), I finally met Mahzarin just before the Bring the Family Address.

  • Aloha! From Hilo, Hawaii to Washington, DC

    In January, when asked by our supervisors from the psychology department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, “Who wants to go to Washington, DC to present posters for the APS convention in May?” seven of us threw our hands up enthusiastically, not realizing the work we had ahead to make this trip a reality. After our five research abstracts were accepted, reality sank in. To send all seven of us almost 5,000 miles away to Washington, DC, we needed to raise some money. We kicked off fundraising with a successful Krispy Kreme donut sale, which encouraged another sale where we received a $1000 donation.

  • Attention Undergraduate and Graduate Students

    The Student Notebook is looking for authors! The Student Notebook wants to share your knowledge with its wide readership. Do you research fascinating topics? Summarize what you know. Have you gained some important experience and insight while applying for a grant, clinical internship, or job? Give the rest of us some pointers! The APS Observer has an international reach, so your printed article gives you a large platform to disseminate your ideas and expertise.

  • Integrative Psychological Science

    Psychological science has been moving in an increasingly interdisciplinary direction, and consequently the field faces both many challenges and many opportunities. The symposium “Outstanding Conceptual Challenges in an Era of Integrative Psychological Science” exemplified the APS 23rd Annual Convention theme of Convergence.

  • A Conversation Between David Brooks and Walter Mischel About Psychological Science

    David Brooks is a featured New York Times columnist and a regular on the PBS “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.” In his NY Times columns “Social Science Palooza” I and II, he summarized examples of recent findings in the scholarly study of human behavior and concluded, “A day without social science is like a day without sunshine.” In this conversation hour, Brooks and social psychology legend Walter Mischel talk about what’s exciting them in psychological science and why it matters outside the academy. Watch the video online at

  • The Many Faces of Network Analysis

    The next big thing in psychological science just may be network analysis. In a packed ballroom with over a hundred in attendance, four psychological scientists discussed the opportunities for studying networks and demonstrated how networks can uncover new trends, in disciplines ranging from social psychology to molecular neuroscience. Psychometrist Denny Borsboom, University of Amsterdam, kicked off the Connected theme program talking about how networks could provide new insight about the symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.