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Volume 24, Issue3March 2011

Presidential Column

Mahzarin R. Banaji
Mahzarin R. Banaji
Harvard University
APS President 2010 - 2011
All columns

In this Issue:
Day At The Museum

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

Up Front

  • Day At The Museum

    One of the themes of my work this year has been to encourage psychological scientists to actively engage in improving the public understanding of our science. On one end of the spectrum is the APS Wikipedia Initiative, which we’ve launched in order to improve the quality of information about psychological science in the world’s most widely viewed online encyclopedia. This month’s guest column presents an innovative approach by directly engaging the public in creating new knowledge. The process benefits the science and gives back by education of psychological science through research participation and discussion.

APS Spotlight

  • Weighing the Options

    New Years has come and gone. For many of us, so have our diet resolutions. Each year people turn to weight loss programs to drop the unwanted pounds. As director of the Obesity and Eating Disorders Research Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, my graduate students, staff and I are dedicated to the empirical study of eating behavior and theory. Our work on obesity treatment has developed independently of commercial weight loss programs, but for the past 20 years I have also served as a psychological consultant for Weight Watchers® (WW). My lab’s work incorporates research in clinical, cognitive, behavioral, and social psychology, as well as in clinical nutrition. Our goal is to integrate these approaches, along with more recent developments in genetics and neuroimaging, to ensure that our weight loss studies reflect the latest science.


  • Teaching with Your Gut

    Why do you teach the way you do? As psychological scientists, we are trained to use high-quality evidence when making decisions. You might overhear me telling my students: “Today we are going to use a jigsaw technique, in which each of you teach a portion of the material to each other. There is solid research supporting the effectiveness of the jigsaw classroom for student learning.” Clearly, evidence-based practice has its place in teaching just as in other areas of professional practice. But is empirical evidence the only factor that led me to try the jigsaw classroom (Aronson, 1990)? Taking a logical approach to course design and to interacting with our students is useful but it does not fully make us the teachers we are. As teachers gain experience, our teaching style evolves. Paying attention to your gut reaction of how your courses feel can be a catalyst for that growth process.

First Person

  • Gaining Teaching Experience in Graduate School

    As graduate students, we are indoctrinated to value those three little words: research, teaching, and service. Not the words you had in mind? Welcome to graduate school. Though most of us get plenty of research experience and numerous opportunities for service, teaching experiences may not be as easily available. Given that most jobs in academia require undergraduate teaching, developing the knowledge, resources, and skills to carry out this job are particularly important for graduate students. Teaching experience can give you insight into whether you really want a teaching-focused career. Gaining experiences in teaching throughout your graduate career will aid in the transition to becoming a faculty member. Perhaps most importantly, being able to demonstrate your teaching abilities will make you a more marketable candidate for a job in academia.

More From This Issue

  • APS Fellows Receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring

    In January, President Obama presented APS Fellows Julio Ramirez and Marigold Linton with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. They were recognized for their outstanding contributions and effort in enhancing opportunities for participation by typically underrepresented individuals (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. Candidates for the Presidential Mentoring Awards are nominated by colleagues, administrators, and students in their home institutions. The mentoring can involve students at any grade level from elementary through graduate school.

  • We Can All Share in the Luck of the Irish

    We all have our lucky charms. Whether it’s a four leaf clover, rabbit’s foot, or that “lucky” T-shirt we can’t seem to part with, our charms are with us in times of need. Superstitions may seem like irrational hocus-pocus, but a study published in Psychological Science found that having a lucky charm does in fact enhance performance. Psychological scientists at the University of Cologne, Germany, found that volunteers who used a “lucky ball” performed better in a subsequent golf putting task than participants who used a neutral ball. Similarly, volunteers who kept their fingers crossed finished a dexterity task faster than participants in a control condition did.

  • Perspectives on Psychological Science

    Psychological interventions to treat mental health issues have developed remarkably in the past few decades. Yet this progress often neglects a central goal—namely, to reduce the burden of mental illness and related conditions. The need for psychological services is enormous, and only a small proportion of individuals in need actually receive treatment. Individual psychotherapy, the dominant model of treatment delivery, is not likely to be able to meet this need. Despite advances, mental health professionals are not likely to reduce the prevalence, incidence, and burden of mental illness without a major shift in intervention research and clinical practice.

  • Revealing the Wiring that Allows Us to Adapt to the Unexpected

    Wouldn't life be easy if everything happened as we anticipated? Luckily we have the orbitofrontal cortex, the area of the brain that adapts to the unexpected to make and monitor predictions about the world. Patients with damage to this area confuse memories with reality and continue to anticipate events that are no longer likely to happen. The brain’s ability to react adaptively is crucial for survival when faced with potential dangers, such as snakes and spiders. To what extent does the harmfulness of an anticipated outcome affect our brain’s event monitoring system?

  • Remember When?

    The online magazine Slate has a largely political audience, so last May when it showed readers a picture of Barack Obama shaking hands with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a United Nations conference, many were familiar with the momentous occasion. In the image, a straight-faced and upright Obama receives the hand of the Iranian President, who leans into the gesture wearing a slight grin. About half of Slate’s readers recalled that the handshake had taken place, and roughly a quarter remembered watching the event through various media coverage. Those are impressive figures, not because they demonstrate a high degree of political awareness on the part of Slate’s readership.

  • Monkey Business

    Years ago, in the early days of what’s now known as behavioral economics, researchers began to recognize that people often made decisions rational economic theory failed to predict. Many of these decisions were characterized by extremely negative responses to loss. When a person possessed an item, for instance, he demanded far more compensation to part with it than he was willing to pay for something of similar value that belonged to someone else. In 1980 Richard Thaler named this theoretically peculiar behavior the endowment effect. Over time, the endowment effect held up quite well under scrutiny.