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Volume 29, Issue3March 2016

Presidential Column

C. Randy Gallistel
C. Randy Gallistel
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
APS President 2015 - 2016
All columns

In this Issue:
The Minimum Description Length Principle

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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  • 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.’

Featured


  • Databrary, a web-based resource that enables developmental scientists to share and reuse research videos.

    APS Fellow Karen Adolph introduces Databrary, a web-based video library funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to enable sharing and reuse of research videos among developmental scientists.

  • Abstract business background

    Longitudinal data collection that used to require hours of manpower, equipment, and logistical coordination now can occur almost instantly, from anywhere in the world and virtually at any time.

  • Editors for Psychological Science are getting a new tool to evaluate methods and statistics used in submitted research articles: Psychological Science Interim Editor in Chief D. Stephen Lindsay and the journal’s Senior Editors have recruited

Up Front


  • The Minimum Description Length Principle

    Both as scientists and in our everyday lives, we make probabilistic inferences. Mathematicians may deduce their conclusions from their stated premises, but the rest of us induce our conclusions from data. As scientists, we do so by examining the extent to which our hypotheses — the conclusions we might draw — explain or predict the data. One problem we face in doing so is that some hypotheses are more complex than others. A colleague once remarked about a conspicuously complicated theory that it was the only theory he knew that was harder to remember than the results it explained. How can we decide when complex hypotheses are justified? Occam’s Razor (also known as the “law of parsimony”) has been recognized as an aspect of scientific thinking since Pythagoras (6th century BC). The principle counsels that when several theories explain the same data, the simplest one is preferable.

Practice


  • Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science

    Edited by C. Nathan DeWall and David G. Myers  Aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom, Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. Current Directions is a peer-reviewed bimonthly journal featuring reviews by leading experts covering all of scientific psychology and its applications and allowing readers to stay apprised of important developments across subfields beyond their areas of expertise. Its articles are written to be accessible to nonexperts, making them ideally suited for use in the classroom. Visit the column for supplementary components, including classroom activities and demonstrations. Visit David G. Myers and C.

First Person


  • Research Ethics at the Graduate Level

    I followed the plight of Michael LaCour, a University of California, Los Angeles, graduate student in the political science department, almost obsessively. I first heard of LaCour’s research on one of my favorite NPR programs, This American Life. The findings from the study he coauthored with Donald Green, a prominent political scientist at Columbia University, were astonishing. Published in the premier journal Science, the study found that interactions with a homosexual canvasser could change a person’s opinion on gay marriage, and that these effects were stable upon follow-up 1 year later. For anyone in research-oriented fields involving human subjects, these findings were impressive. It was shocking to me, then, to hear on a later installment of This American Life that the data used in LaCour’s research had been largely fabricated.

More From This Issue


  • Speed Reading Promises Are Too Good to Be True, Scientists Find

    Learning to speed read seems like an obvious strategy for making quick work of all the emails, reports, and other pieces of text we encounter every day, but a comprehensive review of the science behind reading shows that the claims put forth by many speed reading programs and tools are probably too good to be true. Examining decades’ worth of research on the science of reading, a team of psychological scientists found little evidence to support speed reading as a shortcut to understanding and remembering large volumes of written content in a short period of time.

  • Under the Hood of Mechanical Turk

    When Amazon launched a product called Mechanical Turk (MTurk) just over a decade ago, the e-commerce giant billed it as an online service to enable a marketplace of workers to complete tasks in exchange for payment. But it didn’t take long for the product to become a significant research tool in psychological science worldwide. In 2011, psychological researchers Michael Buhrmester, Tracy Kwang, and APS Fellow Sam Gosling published a paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science titled “Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?” The paper has been cited more than 2,300 times, according to Google Scholar.

  • Investigating Social Contagion With Digital Tools

    Accumulating research provides evidence for a provocative idea that certain behaviors — such as smoking and eating habits — are contagious. Data suggest that we’re influenced not only by the behavior of our friends, family, and acquaintances, but also by the behavior of the people they know, and so on. How do these behaviors diffuse through a series of social connections? A rigorously controlled experiment is impossible on this scale — psychological scientists can’t exactly isolate an entire social network and manipulate the behavior of each of the specific members. But they can if they first represent the network using advanced computer models.

  • Databrary, a web-based resource that enables developmental scientists to share and reuse research videos.

    Video as Data

    APS Fellow Karen Adolph introduces Databrary, a web-based video library funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to enable sharing and reuse of research videos among developmental scientists.

  • Abstract business background

    Across Your Universe

    Longitudinal data collection that used to require hours of manpower, equipment, and logistical coordination now can occur almost instantly, from anywhere in the world and virtually at any time.

  • Leaders in Quantitative Methodology

    The Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology (SMEP) is an honorary-membership organization for professional scholars who work in the area of quantitative methodology. SMEP has exactly 65 members, each of whom was voted in after being nominated by one or more members. SMEP positions become open when a member turns 65 and transitions into emeritus membership, when a member resigns or passes away, or when a member does not participate in the annual SMEP conference for 3 straight years.

  • Replication Report Looks at Verbal Aspect Effects on Perceived Intent

    A multilab replication project found no evidence that the verb form used to describe a crime influences the way people judge criminal intent, in contrast to previously published findings. The Registered Replication Report (RRR), published in the January 2016 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, synthesizes the results from 12 independent replication attempts. In 2011, William C. Hart and APS Fellow Dolores Albarracín published a striking study in Psychological Science examining how the verb aspect in which a passage is written affects how that passage is interpreted.

  • Meet Psychological Science’s New Statistical Advisors

    Editors for Psychological Science are getting a new tool to evaluate methods and statistics used in submitted research articles: Psychological Science Interim Editor in Chief D. Stephen Lindsay and the journal’s Senior Editors have recruited

  • Hebl Wins Top Teaching Award

    APS Board Member Michelle “Mikki” Hebl of Rice University is the winner of this year’s Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. Presented by Baylor University, the “Cherry Award” honors the finest university teachers in the English-speaking world. As the 2016 Cherry Award recipient, Hebl will receive a $250,000 award and an additional $25,000 for the psychology department at Rice University. This is the largest single monetary award for university teaching excellence in the United States. During the 2016-2017 school year, Hebl will be teaching in residence in Baylor University's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.