Science on the Wild Side

Hyenas and reptiles and seals, oh my! Psychological researchers increasingly are turning to creatures in the wild to better understand the evolution and mechanisms of human cognition and behavior.

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Volume 29, Issue9November 2016

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.

APS members receive the Observer newsletter and may access the online archive going back to 1988.

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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


  • Presidential Column

    In a guest column, APS Past President Susan T. Fiske calls on psychological scientists to tone down the ad hominem research critiques that are spreading across social media.

  • Featured Article

    Whether a complement to a standard classroom environment or a cornerstone of Web-based classes, online discussion boards are becoming a staple in higher education. APS Past President Morton Ann Gernsbacher discusses how to make those discussion boards as engaging and interactive as possible.

Up Front


  • A Call to Change Science’s Culture of Shaming

    New forms of media are making it easier and easier for us to react to, and comment on, research within our community. Although free-flowing comments and criticisms can often push an argument or research program forward in a good direction, they can also derail, and perhaps even threaten, the process. I invited guest columnist Susan Fiske, a former APS president, to think about the impact that the new media are having not only on our science, but also on our scientists. Importantly, Fiske’s column is not intended in any way to be an attack on open science, but rather is a timely reminder that psychological scientists are not immune from using social media in destructive ways. -APS President Susan Goldin-Meadow The premature release of an earlier draft of this column provoked an online firestorm.

Practice


  • Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science

    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 at his blog “Talk Psych”.

First Person


  • How to Get in: Applying to Psychology Grad School

    So you think you want to be a psychological scientist? Well, the first step is applying to graduate school — a long, but exciting, process! To be a competitive applicant, you’ll want to have been involved in research, which is the reason many people pursue graduate school in the first place. It’s typical for applicants to have 2 to 3 years of research experience before applying to graduate school. Some gain that experience by working full-time as lab coordinators or research assistants after graduation; others get involved in research early in their undergraduate education. It’s also becoming increasingly common to take a gap year or two to continue working in a research lab before applying to graduate school. Outlined in this article are some questions to consider and strategies to implement when you begin the process. What kind of graduate program do you want to pursue?

More From This Issue


  • Brain-Training Claims Not Backed by Science, PSPI Report Shows

    The companies behind many popular brain-training games and apps cite a variety of scientific studies as evidence that their products improve cognition in daily life. A new research report puts those claims to the test, providing a comprehensive review of the studies cited by brain-training proponents and companies. While people may improve on the specific tasks they practice, the researchers conclude that there is no compelling scientific evidence that computerized brain-training programs yield broader cognitive benefits or improve real-world outcomes for their users.

  • Exploring How Women’s Reproductive Health and Mental Health Intersect

    Throughout their lives, women’s risk for various mental health problems fluctuates along with reproductive changes. A special series in the September issue of Clinical Psychological Science addresses these intersecting issues directly, presenting a collection of research articles that takes a multilevel, integrative view of women’s mental health in the context of reproductive development. The special series is guest-edited by psychology researchers Jane Mendle (Cornell University), Tory A. Eisenlohr-Moul (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Jeff Kiesner (Universita di Padova, Italy).

  • Improving Research Practices, From Beginning to End

    Efforts to promote replication, preregistration, and new analytic approaches now represent just some of the advances psychological scientists have been making toward improving research practices in the field. With the recognition that long-accepted research practices have certain inherent problems comes the question: What now? As the field tries to answer this question, the important mistake we must not make, says psychological scientist Alison Ledgerwood, is assuming that there will be an easy and obvious fix.

  • Effect of Commitment on Forgiveness Investigated in Large-Scale Replication Project

    After a betrayal of trust, what motivates an aggrieved partner to try and resolve the problem instead of walking away or seeking revenge? Many studies have indicated that how people respond to a partner’s betrayal is associated with how committed they feel to their relationship, raising the possibility that boosting people’s feelings of commitment may lead them to choose less destructive responses. A new multilab research project aimed at replicating the primary evidence for a causal link between commitment and betrayal confirmed the association between feelings of commitment and responses to betrayal.

  • New Government Reports Showcase Behavioral Science

    Evidence-based behavioral strategies are being used to combat everything from tax delinquency to unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. Reports from the US Social and Behavioral Sciences Team and the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team showcase the latest applications of behavioral science in public policymaking.

  • Seven Selfish Reasons for Preregistration

    “Personally, I aim never again to submit for publication a report of a study that was not preregistered.” –D. Stephen Lindsay (2015, p. 1827) in an editorial for Psychological Science With preregistration, researchers stipulate their hypothesis and analysis plan in advance of data collection, essentially tying their own hands and letting the empirical chips fall where they may (Peirce, 1883). The theoretical advantage of preregistration is that it sharpens the distinction between two complementary but separate stages of scientific inquiry: the stage of hypothesis generation (i.e., exploratory research) and the stage of hypothesis testing (i.e., confirmatory research).

  • Between Truth and Advocacy

    Phoebe C. Ellsworth has spent 4 decades applying her expertise as an empirical researcher to hot-button policy debates about decision-making in juries, attitudes toward the death penalty, and eyewitness identification. Like many other researchers bridging the gap between basic science and applied research, the 2016 James McKeen Cattell Fellow has faced the dilemma of balancing her professional values as a researcher with her personal values as an advocate. “Applied researchers may be more biased because we believe our findings will do good for the world, not just good for science,” Ellsworth said during her award address at the 2016 APS Annual Convention in Chicago.

  • Five Tips for Improving Online Discussion Boards

    Whether a complement to a standard classroom environment or a cornerstone of Web-based classes, online discussion boards are becoming a staple in higher education. APS Past President Morton Ann Gernsbacher discusses how to make those discussion boards as engaging and interactive as possible.

  • A Psychology Web Lab for Education: LABPSI

    The increasing number of students enrolling in national universities in Argentina has created a challenge for institutions that need to provide appropriate practice spaces for an increasing number of students. This forces institutions to design innovative and technological solutions in learning management. In disciplines such as psychological science, it is extremely expensive to create opportunities for practice (such as in laboratories) where students can apply the theoretical contents covered in class. Difficulties arise because of physical infrastructure, equipment, insurance, wages for technical maintenance, and equipment obsolescence.

  • Whether Eyewitness Memory or DNA, Contaminated Forensic Evidence Is Unreliable

    There is an almost universal impression that eyewitness memory is inherently unreliable, even though research shows that eyewitness evidence is quite reliable so long as proper procedures are employed (see sidebar on p. 31). This misperception may be largely due to public awareness of cases in which people have been wrongfully convicted of crimes on the basis of eyewitness testimony that later was determined to be unreliable. By the same token, DNA evidence is largely viewed as unassailable, in part because of its publicized role in overturning wrongful convictions.

  • Training for Open Science in Kenya

    The benefits of transparency in scientific research – such as study pre-registration, development of pre-analysis plans, and publication of underlying data and code — are clear. For example, a benefit of sharing the data and code underlying published studies is that it enables others to check the results, and also can be very useful for carrying out further research. Yet in spite of the benefits, many fields have a long way to go when it comes to data-sharing. Why is this? Researchers cite lack of time and funding as major barriers.