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Volume 25, Issue6July/August 2012

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.

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  • 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.’

APS Spotlight


  • The Roots of Religious Behavior

    In the beginning of the 20th century, William James delivered a series of lectures that eventually became The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. In it, James grappled with notions of the value of religion in relation to science and argued that religious belief was a basic part of human existence. Therefore, it was worthy of academic inquiry. Fast-forward 110 years to a symposium focusing on new studies of God and religion. Applying experimental scientific methodology to these questions, these psychological scientists focused on how God and religious belief are connected to individual behavior.

  • Thumbs down key on a laptop keyboard

    Bullying Goes Digital

    Researchers explore the causes and consequences of bullying that occurs through Facebook, text messages, and other digital platforms.

  • The Power of Agreeableness

    Michael D. Robinson thinks that figuring out why some people are agreeable can lead to interventions that help disagreeable people avoid anger, aggression, and failed relationships. Surprisingly, his research has shown that the mere presence of hostile thoughts doesn’t actually predict disagreeableness. The same video clip about a drug addict, for example, can lead to feelings of hostility and blame in both agreeable and disagreeable individuals. Yet only disagreeable people translate hostility and blame into anger and aggression. The difference seems to be that agreeable people recruit positive, pro-social thoughts in hostile contexts.

  • Why Misinformation Sticks

    When false information is released, often a retraction or correction will be issue to fix the mistake. Even then, many people will still believe the false information, and despite an organization’s best efforts, the false information will continue to spread. Psychological scientists have learned that interventions such as highlighting errors in the text do not prevent people from absorbing misinformation. The only strategy that works is asking people to closely scrutinize the text. Yet even while people are searching for errors, they need some prior information to reject the misinformation.

  • Sin Has A Bitter Taste

    When writers craft metaphors such as the “warmth of friendship,” they aren’t just making an arbitrary connection between temperature and social bonds. Behavioral scientists have shown that certain metaphors, called embodied metaphors, describe physical experiences that are connected to an individual’s thought processes. The researchers in this symposium were specifically interested in the connection between moral judgment and sensory experiences such as taste, visual perception, and touch.

  • Emotional Decision Making

    As nice as it would be to believe that our decisions are predicated on thoughtful, rational choices, unpredictable emotions play a larger role than we might believe. In fact, a full range of unruly emotions often dominate how we make our decisions. Psychological scientists have long explored emotional influences on decision making, but the scientists involved in this symposium focused on decision making that is pervasive but also out of the ordinary. After a single, but devastating, attack on the London subway system in July, 2005, many Londoners switched from underground travel to bicycles.

  • Romance Vs. STEM

    For men, pursuing a career in science, technology, and engineering (or STEM) fields is viewed as compatible with being romantically desirable, while for many women, pursuing a STEM career can be viewed as incompatible. Women are earning more PhDs than ever and overt discrimination in STEM workplaces may be a thing of the past, but research suggests that women might be holding themselves back through subconscious acknowledgment of gender norms about intelligence. For example, college-aged women were shown pictures to prompt them to think about romantic goals (such as a candlelight dinner) or intelligence goals (such as a stack of library books).

  • Fear of Pain Can Lead to Suffering

    People go to great lengths to avoid pain. And that avoidance, ironically, may be a cause of chronic pain. When a person is injured, they begin to associate the injury with the activity that caused it, and they will avoid that activity, as well as other activities. In the short term, avoidance may promote healing, but over time, fear of pain may actually initiate chronic pain, leading to disability and depression. Psychological scientists in this symposium shared many approaches for investigating this surprising model of pain behavior. One technique was based on classical conditioning, in which volunteers were given a shock in response to a particular movement they performed.

  • Psychological Science, Treatment, and Research in the Digital Age

    In the digital age, when we have something to say we tweet, text, email, post, and blog our hearts out. Researchers have taken note and are recognizing that phone and web-based technology has the potential to be a useful research, treatment, and education tool. One may ask why researchers would want to incorporate technology into treatment and research. The answer is that technology can save clinicians time and money, it can extend their services to those who may be reluctant or unable to come to in-person treatment sessions, and it can help standardize the delivery of therapy. It can also make data collection easier, more efficient, and more accessible to the general public.

First Person


  • Making Contacts: The Best Student Souvenir From Convention

    From the beginning to the very end of the 24th Annual APS Convention in Chicago, APSSC events provided opportunity after opportunity for burgeoning psychological scientists to make connections that will shape their career for the better. Thursday night, APSSC Past-President Jessica Wong, of the University of Chicago, hosted the Student Social at Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub. A record number of student affiliates enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres on a warm, Chicago evening. Attendees wore stickers listing their research area, giving them a chance to connect with other students who share their interests and chat about their research as boats floated by on the Chicago River.  The party kept rolling until midnight and ultimately set the stage for an engaging and productive convention.

More From This Issue


  • Inside the Psychologist’s Studio: Brenda Milner

    Brenda Milner, a pioneer of memory and language science, sat down with Carol A. Tavris at the 24th APS Annual Convention in the “Inside the Psychologist’s Studio” session. This extraordinary 93-year old was described by Tavris as “one of our greatest psychological scientists.” “Her life work has greatly expanded our understanding of the brain and particularly important areas of memory and language,” said Tavris. Milner recounted how in 1959 she presented a paper with her mentor Wilder Penfield at the American Neurological Association in Chicago. Afterward, William Beecher Scoville contacted them to introduce a man named H.M.

  • “Who Owns Science?” Scientists From Diverse Perspectives Answer

    APS President Douglas L. Medin called for “diverse perspectives” when he posed the profound three-word question, “Who owns science?” With observations from the fields of cultural anthropology, philosophy, and, yes, psychological science, he got them. In this symposium, four scholars analyzed diversity in science and explored the ways in which the nature of science may depend on who is doing it. Douglas L. Medin begins with a story about a trip to a Smithsonian museum. “That experience led me to think about who owns and operates no just science museums, but science itself,” he says. Douglas L. Medin begins with a story about a trip to a Smithsonian museum.

  • Researchers and Rock Stars Jam All Night Long

    For one night that will earn the 24th APS Annual Convention a special place in APS history, Sheraton Ballroom V was turned into a swinging club featuring the musical talents of five-time Grammy Award winning bass player Victor Wooten and a band made up of professional musicians and musically gifted psychological scientists. Wooten took the stage first and warmed up the crowd with a soaring version of “Amazing Grace” that morphed from a mellow melody into an explosive, jazzy jam that sent his fingers flying across the strings.

  • Research — and Life — Revolves Around Context

    Context matters, and Margaret Beale Spencer’s life is living proof. In her conversation with APS President Douglas L. Medin at the “Inside the Psychologist’s Studio” session, she spoke about her academic progress and how it impacted her research. Her family supported her, she said, by placing great emphasis on education and achievement, and she went to very progressive schools. But the environment that eventually surrounded her was very different. “After my first three years in elementary school until my graduate experience at the University of Chicago, I had never had a teacher of color,” she said.

  • War on Wisdom

    There are many ways to do the right thing and most of them are flawed. One can meticulously adhere to rules, for example, or eagerly perform for various incentives, financial or otherwise. We can avoid the sticks and savor the carrots. And yet, as Barry Schwartz, the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, told the large audience gathered for his “Bring the Family Address” at the 24th APS Annual Convention, within each of these conventional forms of assuring that the “right” thing is done, reside a small minefield of problems that have crippled us as a society.

  • Building Treatments on Sound Science

    Two sessions in the Clinical Science Forum at the 24th APS Annual Convention explored critical issues facing clinical psychologists. In the first session, psychological scientists shared the benefits and challenges of implementing evidence-based treatments in large organizations — in this case, the military. The second session focused on education and the efforts training programs are making to equip future clinicians with the skills they need to evaluate and implement evidence-based interventions. Both programs demonstrated that clinical psychological science is helping medicine move in a promising direction toward treatments that are effective and empirically sound.

  • Solving Music’s Mysteries

    The set list for the “Music, Mind, and Brain” theme program at the 24th APS Annual Convention featured three leading behavioral scientists discussing their insights into music. Then, as something of an encore, it closed with one leading musician — bassist Victor Wooten — providing his insights into human behavior. “Music has long been a part of the human experience,” said the event’s first speaker, Aniruddh D. Patel of the Neurosciences Institute, pointing out that flutes dating back 35,000 years have been found in archeological caves.

  • How to Spot Pseudoneuroscience and Biobunk

    When it comes to pseudoscience, social psychologist and writer Carol A. Tavris is a self-appointed curmudgeon. “I have spent many years lobbing hand grenades at psychobabble — that wonderful assortment of pop psych ideas that permeate our culture in spite of having no means of empirical support,” said Tavris at the 24th APS Annual Convention.“Today, however, we face an even greater challenge because in this era of the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex, where psychobabble goes, can biobunk be far behind?” In her APS-David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology, Tavris showed how “biobunk” has been perpetuated in neuroscience.

  • Tips for Reeling in Grants From Scientists Who Know

    With tight budgets and dramatic cuts in federal funding, psychological scientists — like everyone else — are feeling the pinch. Knowing where to find funding and knowing the tricks of the grant writing trade, so to speak, gives researchers an edge in the hunt for precious federal resources. Thankfully for researchers, help arrived in the form of the “Federal Funding for Basic Psychological Science” workshop, held at the 24th APS Annual Convention in Chicago.

  • Meet the Editor of Clinical Psychological Science

    His name may not appear in bold face in a celebrity magazine, but for students and seasoned professionals alike, Alan E. Kazdin inspired some of the same awestruck reactions as the arrival of a rock star. Cameras appeared. Fans gathered. But Kazdin is a genial, accessible, modest and intellectual rock star who happens to be the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, Director of the Yale Parenting Center, author of a number of seminal books, and editor of the new Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science.

  • A Glimpse Inside the Brains of Trauma Survivors

    As psychological scientists’ understanding of traumatic events improves, so might the psychological outcomes of people who endure trauma. That hopeful thread connected the talks in the “Disaster, Response, and Recovery” theme program at the 24th APS Annual Convention. “Most people are exposed to what we consider traumatic events at least several times in their life,” said George Bonanno of Columbia University, who set the tone for the program with a question. “Is disaster psychologically harmful to everyone?” Bonanno has demonstrated through statistical modeling that humans are actually quite resilient in the face of disastrous events.

  • Scientists See Beyond Nature and Nurture

    Psychology is, at its heart, an interdisciplinary science. Understanding certain phenomena often requires integrating biological, social, and behavioral constructs. The “Biological Beings in Social Context” symposium at the 24th APS Annual Convention was a chance to highlight research that crosses the boundaries between the biological and social arenas. Joan Y. Chiao of Northwestern University introduced attendees to cultural neuroscience, a relatively new field that fully embraces this integrative perspective. Researchers in this field study how values, practices, and beliefs interact with, and are shaped by, neurological and genetic processes.

  • Going Beyond Easy Solutions for ADHD

    With 10 percent of American children suffering from it, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD) is the most common behavior problem in American schools. The total estimate for the public health cost to American society is over $42 billion, which is roughly the same cost as major depressive disorder. Seven percent of U.S. children take some form of psychiatric medication and nearly all of those medications are part of treatment for ADHD. At the 24th APS Annual Convention, several experts discussed the neuroscience, the public policy, and the clinical science of ADHD. William E.

  • Papers With a Purpose: The APS Wikipedia Initiative’s First Year

    Want to know what zygomaticus means? Chances are you’ll Google it, and Google will point you to Wikipedia. With 450 million unique hits, and a total of 6 billion hits every month, Wikipedia is the fifth most-popular website in the world and has been deemed the “largest collaborative project known to man.” In 2011, then APS President Mahzarin R. Banaji challenged the APS community to get involved by improving psychology-related articles through the APS Wikipedia Initiative (APSWI). One year later, five participants in the APSWI came together to share the benefits and detail the challenges they faced with a huge crowd at the 24th APS Annual Convention in Chicago.