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282015Volume 28, Issue9November 2015

Presidential Column

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

In this Issue:
Bayes for Beginners 3: The Prior in Probabilistic Inference

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

  • Bayes for Beginners 3: The Prior in Probabilistic Inference

    In this, the final column in a series on Bayes for Beginners, C. Randy Gallistel explains the role of prior distributions in deciding between competing conclusions that might be drawn from experimental data. For more information, read Bayes for Beginners 1 and Bayes for Beginners 2. As explained in the preceding column, a prior is a probability distribution on the possible values of the parameters of a statistical model for one’s data. The prior distribution allows us to incorporate preexisting knowledge and beliefs into our prediction before we’ve analyzed our data. The Bayesian calculation multiplies a prior distribution by the likelihood function, point by corresponding point. The likelihood function, which was explained in the first column, depends only on the data. It expresses the uncertainty, given the data, about what the values of the model’s parameters could be.


  • 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

  • Grad School Off-Campus

    As a nontraditional doctoral student, I have had an unusual graduate experience: I attend classes online while still working full-time and raising three teenagers. I also am older than most graduate students. Because of my situation, I have had to think creatively to tackle my research responsibilities. Below, I outline my experiences and practical suggestions for students in similar positions. Overcoming Stigma There is a significant amount of stigma surrounding nontraditional students, especially when they study online (Fedynich, Bradley, & Bradley, 2015). Research has found that some people believe nontraditional learning strategies are inferior to traditional learning modalities (Irani, Wilson, & Slough, 2014). Developing a professional attitude and staying current with empirical literature are two strategies that can help combat these biases.

More From This Issue

  • Council of Psychological Science Advisers? It Could Happen…

    Advising policymakers on the creation and potential impact of new legislation typically has been the purview of economists — for example, the Council of Economic Advisers provides research-based advice to the President of the United States on domestic and international economic policy. However, much of the theory and research that people use to understand how individuals and institutions make economic decisions comes from the field of behavioral economics — a melding of psychological science and economics.

  • Open Practice Badges in Psychological Science: 18 Months On

    In May 2014, an open research practices badge program was launched in Psychological Science. After about a year and a half, the results are promising: At least one out of about every three articles published in Psychological Science is conducted with specific attention to openness and transparency meriting a badge. The open practices badge program encourages authors to engage in open research practices and was devised in partnership with the Center for Open Science. Articles accepted for publication in Psychological Science may be awarded badges for meeting any or all of the following criteria: Open Data: The experiment’s data were submitted to an open-access repository.

  • Books to Check Out: November 2015

    To submit a new book, email Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer; Crown Business, September 29, 2015. Memory and Movies: What Films Can Teach Us About Memory by John Seamon; MIT Press, August 7, 2015.

  • De Dreu Receives Hendrik Muller Prize

    The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences will award the €25,000 Dr. Hendrik Muller Prize for Behavioral and Social Sciences to APS Fellow Carsten De Dreu during a December 14 ceremony. De Dreu is a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and affiliated with the Center for Experimental Economics and Political Decision Making. His influential work has contributed insights into group decision-making, conflict, neurobiological factors in social behavior, and creativity. In the domain of decision-making, De Dreu has been praised for challenging models that portray human negotiators as purely rational actors.

  • Massive NIH Effort to Understand Substance Use in Adolescents

    APS Fellow BJ Casey of Weill Medical College of Cornell University is among the researchers receiving funding from 13 grants announced by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in September. The grants, which are being distributed to research institutions around the United States, are part of the newly unveiled Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which will enlist 10,000 young participants for the purpose of studying how drugs affect the teenage brain. In 2013, Casey edited a special issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science that addressed subjects related to the teenage brain.

  • Measuring Pain With a Flash

    Psychological scientists have developed a technique called magnitude matching to measure the intensity of experiences, including pain, more accurately.

  • Much Ado About Titles

    Throughout the 25-year history of APS’s flagship journal, its contributors have borrowed heavily from literature, film, theater, and popular music to develop compelling titles for their research articles. In this installment of a special series celebrating Psychological Science’s silver anniversary, the Observer presents a sampling of those titles: For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls: A Review of The Bell Curve by Robert J. Sternberg September 1995, pp. 257–261 Much ADO About Nothing? Revisionists and Traditionalists Choose an Introductory English Syllabus by Robert J. Robinson and Dacher Keltner January 1996, pp.

  • Rotten Reviews Redux

    Thomas H. Carr Michigan State University Two truly great rejections come immediately to mind. The first was the reaction of the editor of a high-level journal to a response I made to two reviews, one of which said the current version of our paper should be rejected but proposed revisions after which the paper could make a contribution. The other review literally made up “quotes” from the paper, defeated them handily, and recommended rejection.

  • Under New Management

    From the libidinous characters that pervade cable TV to the sheer volume and variety of impulse-buy-ready goodies in the grocery store checkout aisle, today’s cultural landscape seems to suggest that people fundamentally lack self-control and constantly are giving in to temptation. In reality, though, most adults are fairly skilled at managing their attention, emotions, and behavior. Adults’ self-control skills are a far cry from those of children, who, as APS Past President Walter Mischel demonstrated with his renowned marshmallow tests, often can’t hold out even a few minutes once the allure of a sweet treat enters the equation.

  • The Science of Behavior Change

    This year marked the official launch of the next 5-year phase of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) program called the Science of Behavior Change (SOBC). Many institutes and centers across the NIH participate in this program, funded by the NIH Common Fund, Office of the NIH Director. By developing funding opportunities, hosting science meetings and symposia, and disseminating tools to the research community, SOBC seeks to improve our understanding of human behavior change across a broad range of health-related behaviors.

  • Lessons Learned From a Life in Science

    APS Past President Michael S. Gazzaniga’s illustrious career as a researcher, an intellectual, and an advocate for science has led to his elections to the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and appointment to the President’s Council on Bioethics. Gazzaniga’s groundbreaking investigations examining split-brain patients and his instrumental role in the genesis of the field of cognitive neuroscience establish him as a leader in the scientific quest to understand the relationship between brain and mind.

  • Cattell Fund Supports Collaborative Research

    The 2015–2016 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships have been awarded to Peter C. Gordon, Lori Holt, and Greg Hajcak Proudfit. Presented in partnership with APS, the Fellowships allow recipients to extend their sabbatical periods from one semester to a full year. Cattell, an important figure in American psychology, established the fund in 1942 by donating a majority of his holdings in the Psychological Corporation to create a fund in his name. The Fund’s core objective was to support scientific research and disseminate knowledge that would advance the development of psychological science and its functional applications.

  • Using Psychological Science to Teach Psychological Science

    “We are the science of education. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” -APS Fellow Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., APS David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychological Science, 22nd APS Annual Convention In his APS–David Myers Distinguished Lecture at the 2010 APS Annual Convention, esteemed psychological scientist Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., challenged his colleagues to focus our efforts on developing usable interventions for education. He argued that relatively little of our extensive knowledge about learning and education makes its way into classrooms.

  • NIDCR ‘Building Bridges’ APS Convention Travel Award

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invites APS poster submitters to apply for a travel award to attend the 2016 APS Annual Convention in Chicago, IL, USA. These awards are meant to build bridges between two research communities who have not traditionally interacted: researchers in psychological science and researchers in oral health. A poster will be eligible for consideration if it meets one of the following criteria: It describes a study directly relevant to oral health.

  • Cuthbert Named NIMH Acting Director

    APS Fellow Bruce Cuthbert has been named acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) following the announcement that the agency’s longtime director, Thomas R. Insel, is stepping down. Among other things, Cuthbert has spearheaded the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, an NIMH-led initiative to reframe the study of mental health and psychopathology. Cuthbert, who previously served as Chief of NIMH’s Adult Psychopathology and Prevention Research Branch and, more recently, as Director of the Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development, received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.