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212008Volume 21, Issue5May 2008

Presidential Column

John Cacioppo
John Cacioppo
University of Chicago
APS President 2007 - 2008
All columns

In this Issue:
A Letter to Young Scientists

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.

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    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.

Up Front

  • A Letter to Young Scientists

    Psychological science in the 21st century promises to be quite different from that of the preceding century. During the 20th century, we saw a specialization, differentiation, and development of various approaches, methods, and levels of analysis, producing distinct fields — bounded areas whose borders were defended as the turf within was developed. Research questions were simplified to fit behavioral phenomena into these bounded fields and to bring them into the laboratory under experimental control which permitted careful dissection and analysis. Contemporary psychological scientists stand on the shoulders of those who went before. From this perch it is now possible to see that the bounded fields of the 20th century are related parts of the same landscape.


  • Providing “Realistic Course Previews” to Enhance Learning and Satisfaction

    Are you teaching a difficult psychology class? Having only taken a high school Introduction to Psychology classes, many college students are often ill-prepared for and surprised by the rigorous theory, content, and research in many psychology courses. You know what happens then…by the middle of the semester, students are frustrated and complaining, skipping class, and performing poorly on exams. Certain classes and professors soon get a bad reputation for being difficult and students avoid them. These instructors face intense pressures to “dumb down” the class material or artificially inflate grades at the end of the semester in order to appease students, satisfy parents, and keep enrollments up. These are not good options.

First Person

  • To Avoid “ABD,” Follow Steps 1, 2, and 3: How to Complete Your Dissertation Before a Clinical Internship

    Finishing your dissertation before you leave for your internship has many benefits. First, there is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you have successfully jumped through the biggest hoop of your graduate career. Second, it frees up your time so that you can take advantage of the interesting opportunities available to you on the internship. Third, everyone (colleagues, internship interviewers, prospective employers) will ask you about the status of your dissertation and it feels really good to be able to say “finished, done, defended, and submitted!” Lastly, a completed dissertation can really give you a leg up when applying for postdoctoral fellowships or other positions.

More From This Issue

  • Then and Now: The New Face of Psychology

    “Is he ‘famous’ famous, or ‘psychology’ famous?” a young student asked her friend as she passed by the information booth at the APS 19th Annual Convention last year. She was no doubt talking about one of the many pioneers of psychology featured at our annual meeting. Those of us who work to increase the visibility of psychological science understand this dichotomy all too well. Psychologists at the top of the field are known for their innovative research by thousands of, well, other psychologists. But think for a second as a non-scientist: Who comes to mind as the face of psychology? For the public, the concepts associated with B.F.

  • The History Corner: The Lip Key

    The lip key (pictured to the right) was a device used in a variety of early studies in psychology, particularly reaction-time experiments.  It consists of metal plates separated by a spring. Connected to a timing device such as a chronoscope, and a power source (typically a wet battery) the lip key was placed in the mouth and held between the lips to create an electrical circuit. When the subject opened his or her mouth the circuit would break stopping the timing device. Keys of all kinds were common in psychological laboratories in the early 20th century.

  • Science Advisor to the Next President

    The position of Presidential Science Advisor was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in November 1957, a month after the Soviet Union stunned the United States and the world by launching Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. Except for a hiatus between January 1973 and August 1976, every president has nominated a science advisor, all of whom the US Senate has routinely confirmed. Yet today, relatively few US citizens even know that such a position exists, let alone the name or qualifications of the person in the job. Unfortunately, the presidential advisory system has reached its nadir during the current administration.

  • Assessing Trauma and its Effects Without Distress: A Guide to Working with IRBs

    Early in my career, an Institutional Review Board (IRB) I was working with insisted that a proposed study which included questions about sexual abuse was ethically inappropriate to conduct. The IRB members reasoned that since they would not want their family members to answer such personal questions, this study was unethical and should not be conducted. Even information about refusal rates, referral rates, and safety protocols employed in similar studies could not overcome the IRB’s reliance on imagined personal substitution with research participants as its chief source of ethical decision-making. Unfortunately, the IRB decided a priori that studies of sexual violence were improper.

  • Update on NIH Peer Review Changes

    As previously reported (see the December 2007 and January 2008 Observers), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is contemplating significant changes in its peer review system. Peer review has been put under the microscope and dissected, and NIH is now in the process of putting it back together again. Internal and external working groups studying the issue have issued their findings and recommendations, and NIH leadership is currently deciding which of the recommendations they will implement.

  • The Upside of Anger

    Here’s a maxim from the “duh” department: People typically prefer to feel emotions that are pleasant, like excitement, and avoid those that are unpleasant, like anger. But a new study in the April issue of Psychological Science says this may not always be the case. Psychologists Maya Tamir and Christopher Mitchell, of Boston College, and APS Fellow and Charter Member James Gross, of Stanford University, tested whether people prefer to experience emotions that are potentially useful, even when they are unpleasant to experience.

  • On the Newsstand

    Cultural Insights: Brain Scans Support Surprising Differences in Perception Between Westerners And Asians The Boston Globe March 3, 2008 “New brain research is adding high-tech evidence to what lower-tech psychology experiments have found for years: Culture can affect not just language and custom, but how people experience the world at stunningly basic levels – what they see when they look at a city street for example, or even how they perceive a simple line in a square.” Coverage of “Cultural Influences in Neural Substrates of Attentional Control” in Psychological Science (Trey Hedden, Sarah Ketay, Arthur Aron, Hazel Rose Markus, and John D.E. Gabrieli, Volume 19(1), 12-17).