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Volume 25, Issue5May/June 2012

Presidential Column

Douglas L. Medin
Douglas L. Medin
Northwestern University
APS President 2011 - 2012
All columns

In this Issue:
Diversity Makes Better Science

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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Up Front


  • Diversity Makes Better Science

    I’m honored to co-author this column with my colleague and friend Carol Lee. Among Carol’s many honors is having been President of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). – DLM It’s not news that minorities are severely underrepresented in both science and science education. Efforts to increase diversity typically fall into two broad classes: some motivated by a concern for equity and social justice, and others motivated by a concern for increasing the pool of scientists that are prepared to address contemporary needs in science and technology. Our purpose in this column is to draw attention to another compelling rationale for increasing diversity in the sciences, a rationale that is intrinsic to the process of scientific inquiry and to the effectiveness of science education.

APS Spotlight


  • Hard Hat One Day, Suit the Next

    As a scientist in the human factors practice, my work is focused on evaluating and understanding human performance and safety in product and system use. By working to understand the limitations and abilities of people’s cognitive and human behavioral characteristics, such as perception reaction time, anthropometrics, attention, and memory, we provide insight into what a reasonable person in a given situation can be expected to do. My journey to working in the field of human factors consulting has been filled with familial support, chance encounters, and — of course — good networking. I was first exposed to psychology at a very young age. It was actually before I was born.

  • Improving Students’ Writing With Wikipedia

    Most students don’t like writing papers. Honestly, how many of us like grading papers? But to learn how to think critically, they need to learn how to ask questions, find good sources using the library’s abundant resources, read and understand journal articles, and write about those journal articles intelligently. In upper-level courses, we can add the task of developing a new research question, but I’ve found getting new psychology students to write excellent summaries is a good assignment. Good summaries are hard because they require excellent search and reading skills in addition to the ability to communicate about complicated material with style and grace.

  • The Science of Swearing

    Why would a psychological scientist study swearing? Expertise in such an area has different practical significance inside and outside the community of psychological science. Outside the scientific community, expertise on taboo language is justification for

  • New Policy Eliminates Funding Hurdle for Promising Graduate Student

    Edmarie Guzman-Velez studies emotions and memory in dementia such as Alzheimer's disease specifically, looking at whether patients with dementia continue to experience emotions even when they don't remember the event that caused the emotion. During her second year in University of Iowa's clinical psychology training program, she submitted an application for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. After receiving an honorable mention for her application the previous year, Guzman-Velez and her advisor, Daniel Tranel, were almost certain she would receive the fellowship. Instead, Guzman-Velez received a notice of ineligibility.

More From This Issue


  • Funding for Basic Psychological Science at the National Cancer Institute

    The Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch (BBPSB) is housed within the Behavioral Research Program (BRP) [1] which has long been known as the home for psychological and behavioral sciences within the National Cancer Institute (NCI). While BRP also supports and conducts applied research, BBPSB largely funds basic psychological science. BBPSB’s mission is to elucidate the nature of psychological phenomena that are associated with or predict cancer-related behaviors and outcomes, including mechanisms and processes that underlie these psychological phenomenon and interassociations among them.

  • Do Great Results in the Lab Hold Up in the Field?

    It was good news in 1999, when Craig A. Anderson and his colleagues compared laboratory and field research on 38 topics in 21 meta-analyses and found a lot of agreement between the results. Greg Mitchell, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia School of Law, wanted to know if these findings would hold up in a bigger sample. In a paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Mitchell replicated the Anderson study with 217 lab-field comparisons from 82 meta-analyses, in such areas as industrial-organizational (I-O), social, consumer, and developmental psychology.

  • White House Appoints APS Fellow as Neuroscience Research Coordinator

    In March, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that APS Fellow Philip Rubin was named as the first-ever White House coordinator on neuroscience research. In his role as Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences in OSTP, Rubin has taken charge of a new national initiative to stimulate neuroscience research.

  • Daydreams and Working Memory

    It’s the end of the day, and you’ve read the beginning of that article for journal club three times, but whenever you get to the middle of the introduction, your thoughts keep turning to that experiment you’re going to run in the morning. Whether we like it or not, our minds wander frequently, and, as a new study in Psychological Science shows, working memory is partially to blame. Working memory is a sort of mental workspace that allows you to juggle multiple thoughts all at once. Researchers tested the role of working memory in mind wandering by having volunteers perform a visual-search task in which they had to find a target letter contained in a circle of non-target letters.

  • The Perils of Trying to Unlearn

    Some psychological scientists may be drawing bigger conclusions than they should from their data, say the authors of a new paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Studies that claim to reverse some learned response may not be reversing a life-long response, but are instead probably showing another kind of learning. “It came about because I kept encountering a variety of studies with very different questions, areas, and fields of interest,” says Marc Coutanche of the University of Pennsylvania, who cowrote the paper with past APS Board Member Sharon Thompson-Schill.

  • Two Flavors of Relief

    Whether you just miss getting struck by a car or click the Send button for the final revision of a journal article, the feeling you have is the same — it’s relief. Yet even though this feeling is very common, scientists know relatively little about it. Attempting to deconstruct this sensation, Kate Sweeny at the University of California, Riverside, and Kathleen D. Vohs from the University of Minnesota, investigated how individuals experienced relief in different contexts. In this Psychological Science study, adult volunteers were asked to recall an experience of personal relief.

  • Lexicon in the Laboratory

    Not many psychological scientists can list a dictionary on their CV. As Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, APS Fellow and word guru, Steven Pinker leads a group of 200 language experts (including novelists, journalists, and even humorists) who weigh in on the appropriate use and construction for words used in American English. But instead of grammar tips, the Harvard psychological scientist has six articles to recommend for researchers who want to read up on the latest in language science.

  • Basic Clinical Psychological Science? NSF Says “Yes!”

    Following months of discussion with APS and Congress, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has changed the rules for its prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) to allow students from clinical psychology programs to apply. A number of clinical psychological science students have already been funded as a result. NSF is the premier research funding agency for basic science in the United States. The 2011 GRFP announcement said that students from “clinical and counseling programs” were not eligible to apply.

  • Reversal of Fortune

    Perhaps no argument made the case for changing NSF policy as clearly as what a heroic first-year graduate student had to suffer through last year. Lily Brown is in the clinical program at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but her clinical status went undetected as her application made its way through the NSF review process in 2011. (To be clear, although the 2011 announcement did say that no student from a clinical program was eligible, another part of the announcement had enough ambiguity so that Lily was doing nothing improper in applying.