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Volume 28, Issue6July/August 2015

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.

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  • Student Caucus Brings Energy to New York City

    The APS Student Caucus (APSSC) offered programming that drew students from Shanghai to southern California to New York City for the 2015 APS Annual Convention. The programming began with the “Naked Truth” panels providing perspectives on the before, during, and after of graduate school. Outgoing APSSC Undergraduate Advocate Staci Weiss of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo led the first symposium, “The Naked Truth Part I: Getting Into Graduate School.” Four current graduate students shared their experiences navigating the application process.

More From This Issue


  • The Social Powers of Primates

    The biologist and primatologist Frans B.M. de Waal likes to show a video from the 1930s of two chimpanzees moving a heavy box. They pull in tandem. They break in sync. They’re the ape equivalent of officemates. One of the chimps gets fed, and with his motivation removed, he’s suddenly much less interested in the job. But every time he tries to sneak away, his (still-hungry) partner taps him on the shoulder and gives him a look, as if to say, “Hey, buddy, back to work here!” The clip still gets a laugh some 80 years after its creation, at least judging from the crowd at de Waal’s Bring the Family address at the 2015 APS Annual Convention. But the scene is more than a hoot.

  • The Curse of Knowledge: Pinker Describes a Key Cause of Bad Writing

    The more you know, the less clearly you write. That’s a simple way of summing up one of APS Fellow Steven A. Pinker’s key insights on the cognitive and psycholinguistic factors that fuel arcane, awkward prose — including scholarly text. Pinker, a linguist at Harvard University, discusses this so-called curse of knowledge in his latest book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. During his APS–David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychological Science at the APS Annual Convention in New York City he addressed the points he raises in the book.

  • Why Should Psychological Science Care About Diversity?

    APS Fellow Robert M. Sellers has a novel way of encouraging psychological scientists to increase racial and ethnic diversity in their field: Make it all about the science. “Diverse perspectives, in and of themselves, are just better,” he told the audience in an invited address at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York City. “Diversifying the pool of psychologists will have important benefits for all areas of psychological science. There’s growing research that suggests that functional diversity has an important benefit in two areas of intellectual endeavor: innovation and problem solving.” Sellers, Charles D.

  • First-Rate Science on Symposium Sunday

    Changing Behavior for a Changing Climate Climate change is one of the most profound global crises of the 21st century‚ but a large percentage of the world population seems blithe about its implications or even dismissive of its existence. In a symposium titled “Psychological Responses to Climate Change,” chaired by Past APS Board Member Elke U. Weber (Columbia University) and APS Fellow David V. Budescu (Fordham University), scientists discussed their research into people’s attitudes and actions related to climatic instability.

  • Using Time to Understand Behavioral Development

    Life moves steadily in one direction, but the thoughts, feelings, and decisions that make up our existence are often best examined over varying timelines. A memory begins to form in a matter of moments and minutes. A relationship ebbs and flows in emotional waves over weeks, months, and years. A health outcome from a certain experience (e.g., trauma) or habit (e.g., smoking) might not emerge for decades. “Milliseconds to Decades: Development as a Level of Analysis,” a cross-cutting theme program at the 2015 APS Annual Convention, surveyed the different time windows used by psychological scientists to understand human behavior.

  • New Immigrants, New Research Opportunities

    Since the 19th century, immigration and psychology have shaped each other in the United States — for better or worse. Back then, people who attempted to enter the country at Ellis Island faced psychological tests to determine their “fitness.” In the field of education, experts have long scrambled to integrate students from diverse immigrant cultures into American classrooms. During the cross-cutting theme program “‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor’” at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York City, David Rollock said that immigrants offer psychological scientists the opportunity to make their field stronger.

  • Law and (Dis)order

    The idea of admitting to a crime you didn’t commit seems inconceivable to most people. Take the Central Park Five: teenagers who confessed to raping a jogger in New York City’s Central Park in 1989, quickly recanted, but still went to jail. DNA evidence exonerated them in 2002. Illogical as such admissions may seem to those on the outside, they happen with striking regularity: Of the 329 cases exonerated through the Innocence Project, more than 25% involved at least one false confession (Innocence Project, 2005). “There’s no question anymore that false confessions happen,” says APS Fellow Saul Kassin of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a pioneer in this critical area.

  • Research for Real Life

    At the annual Psychological Science in the Public Interest symposium, PSPI authors Patrick Corrigan (Illinois Institute of Technology) and Maria Kozhevnikov (Harvard University) spoke about their work examining mental-illness stigma and cognitive style, respectively. Their presentations reflected reports each researcher had authored in PSPI, an APS journal featuring comprehensive and compelling reviews of issues that are of direct relevance to the general public.

  • Not Just Fun and Games

    You’re on a sensitive mission and your objectives are clear: Kill enemy combatants, capture territory, reach your target, and, above all, stay alive. This sort of scenario — eliminate the bad guy while avoiding major harm to achieve a particular goal — serves as the basic premise for video games played by millions of people around the world. These action-based games have received considerable scrutiny for their portrayal, even glorification, of violence. And yet, researchers are finding that the unique affordances of these games may shed new light on interactions among the mind, the brain, and technology.

  • The Quest For Replicability

    If it weren't for an attempted replication, Michael LaCour might have gotten away with it. LaCour, who is alleged to have fabricated data for a groundbreaking study on how canvassers can change attitudes toward gay marriage published in — and now retracted from — the journal Science in December 2014, was caught when David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, found red-flag irregularities in the results as they tried to replicate and extend LaCour’s compelling findings.

  • A Seal of Approval for Clinical Treatments

    One of the major changes in clinical psychology during the past decade has been the growing call for — and the rise of — empirically supported treatments (ESTs). With this change has come a need to re-evaluate the standards for empirical support and the way we appraise treatments. At this year’s Clinical Science Forum, researchers David Tolin (The Institute of Living), Evan Forman (Drexel University), APS Fellow Dean McKay (Fordham University), and Brett Thombs (McGill University, Canada) discussed the future of ESTs.

  • In Search of Human Uniqueness

    Aside from sharing more than 95% of our genes, humans and great apes show striking similarities in many brain structures and functions. These biological parallels, however, bear out quite differently on a macro level. After all, humans and chimpanzees both have brain systems for evaluating quantity, but only one species understands complex mathematics; both species have the capacity to use tools, but only one uses them to build automobiles and particle accelerators.

  • Teaching Lessons that Last

    Regan A.R. Gurung thinks of students’ learning using the metaphor of a pearl in an oyster. During the Opening Plenary of the 2015 APS–Society for the Teaching of Psychology Teaching Institute, the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay psychological scientist said that just as a pearl is created by an irritating foreign body being enveloped in layers of nacre by the oyster, so do new ideas become thoughts and engagement in the minds of students. It is the role of the educator to start this process, Gurung said. “Let us be the irritant that makes students think and react,” he said. The pearl that develops is lifelong learning.

  • Overcoming the Classroom Environment

    The modern classroom is a recent development in the evolution of education and an obstacle for teachers: Evidence from cross-species, cross-cultural, and developmental domains demonstrates that the typical lecture hall is an inhospitable environment for learning. As social psychologist Caroline Keating of Colgate University pointed out in her Teaching Institute Closing Plenary talk at the 27th APS Annual Convention, for most of our evolutionary history, humans learned by trial and error and by observing the ways of our kin and our tribe; we adapted to pay close attention to the social cues and nonverbal communication of those we know, respect, and love.

  • The Science and the Injustice of the Central Park Jogger Case

    In 1989, a 28-year-old, female jogger in New York City’s Central Park was brutally attacked and raped. Trisha Meili nearly died of the injuries sustained during the attack. But the tragedy mushroomed when five teenagers falsely accused of the crime were arrested, convicted, and incarcerated — not to be exonerated until years later. A highlight of the “Law & (Dis)Order: Psychological Science in the Legal System” program at the 2015 APS Annual Convention was a screening of The Central Park Five, a documentary film on this failure of the justice system by acclaimed director Ken Burns with Sarah Burns and David McMahon.