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232010Volume 23, Issue7September 2010

Presidential Column

Mahzarin R. Banaji
Mahzarin R. Banaji
Harvard University
APS President 2010 - 2011
All columns

In this Issue:
‘There Is Something Very Important Going on Here and I Want to Be a Part of It’

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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.

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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

  • ‘There Is Something Very Important Going on Here and I Want to Be a Part of It’

    Lloyd Richards, Dean of Yale’s School of Drama when I first arrived to teach there, was well known for having changed the face of American theater. In 1959, he had dared to direct the first play on Broadway by an African American writer about an African American family — Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which made her the youngest American playwright to have received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play. In an interview, Richards told the story of trying out the play in New Haven and being justifiably nervous about the reception it would receive. He recalled that on opening night, an older black woman arrived at the theatre, obviously directly from work, in her maid’s uniform, and when Richards asked if he could help her purchase a ticket she said, “I don’t know.

APS Spotlight

  • Can We Measure Journal Quality?

    Thomson Reuters (formerly the Institute of Scientific Information or ISI, which I will use for short) recently released the 2009 impact data for journals in psychology, and I have found myself reading many messages about them from various correspondents. The 2009 journal impact factor (IF) is the mean number of times articles published in a journal in 2007 and 2008 were cited in 2009. So the total number of citations in 2009 of papers from 2007 and 2008 in that journal (A), divided by the number of papers published over the preceding 2 years (B), results in the impact factor (A/B) for the journal. For example, the 2009 measure for Psychological Science is 5.090, so the papers published in 2007 and 2008 were cited an average of 5 times (and a tad) in 2009. I am chair of the APS Publications Committee, so I watch the ratings of our journals with interest.


  • Confronting Psychological Misconceptions in the Classroom

    “But, Dr. Jones, I’d always heard that opposites attract. Isn’t that true?” “Dr. Smith, yesterday I heard my political science professor talk about the American people’s schizophrenic attitude toward abortion. So doesn’t that mean that schizophrenics really do have multiple personalities?” “Dr. Allen, my therapist told me that I need to express my anger to get rid of it. So hitting a pillow when I get mad will make me feel better, right?” Anyone who has taught an introductory psychology course has surely heard these kinds of questions from students. That is hardly surprising, because survey data show that many psychological misconceptions — like those exemplified by such questions — are widespread among undergraduates (Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, & Beyerstein, 2009).

More From This Issue

  • Sensing Success: Klatzky Doubly Honored

    2010 has been a banner year for Roberta L. Klatzky, APS Treasurer and Professor of Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University: She has received both a Humboldt Research Award  and the Kurt Koffka Medal. The Humboldt Research Award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, recognizes a lifetime of achievement, honoring internationally recognized researchers who have produced “fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights” and who are expected to continue generating superior research in future.  The award comes with a €60,000 prize (just over $73,000) and the opportunity to spend up to a year working on a research project with scientists in Germany.

  • More to Motor Imagery Than Mental Simulation

    The human brain is a powerful simulation machine. Sports professionals and amateurs alike are well aware of the advantages of mentally rehearsing a movement prior to its execution and it is not surprising that the phenomenon, known as motor imagery, has already been extensively investigated. However, a new study published in the September 2010 issue of  Cortex suggests that there may be more to motor imagery than previously thought. A group of neuroscientists in Italy have shown that the brain is able to invent creative new solutions in order to perform impossible actions.

  • John A. Swets: A Signal Idea, a Singular Life

    Our lives are full of yes-or-no questions: Will it storm today? Will the stock market rebound? Is this plane safe to fly? Is the witness lying? Do I have cancer? We are all diagnosticians in our own worlds, but such questions often lack tidy answers. The evidence is ambiguous and incomplete. So we pick the most reliable indicators, and set thresholds for yes and no, certainty and uncertainty. How many false alarms are acceptable, if we want to spot every lethal brain tumor? How many unsafe planes are acceptable, if we want them mostly flying on time?

  • A Presidential Objective

    "APS and I have grown up together,” says APS President Mahzarin Banaji, “I was a young assistant professor handing out APS buttons in 1988 because I knew something important was happening that would have influence on me and my science.” As APS continues into its third decade,  Banaji’s instinct has been proven right: “APS has become the place to which the world turns when it needs to know what psychology says on any topic of importance,” she says.

  • Medin Returns to APS Board as President-Elect

    The APS Board of Directors is set for 2010-11. Douglas Medin joins the Board as President-Elect while Mahzarin Banaji takes the helm as President and Linda Bartoshuk transitions to Immediate Past President. Newly-elected Board Members Janet Polivy and Morris Moscovitch are beginning their three-year terms on the Board. Heartfelt thanks to outgoing Immediate Past-President Walter Mischel and Board Members Thomas Oltmanns and Sharon Thompson-Schill for their dedicated service to APS. Douglas L.

  • Alan Kazdin: Reconsidering Clinical Psychology

    Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin began his James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award Address at the APS Annual Convention in a rather unusual manner. He declared that the kind of work he’s done in his career — work that not only advanced clinical interventions, but that merited the award for which he now spoke — has failed to solve the serious problem of mental illness in the United States. “My view,” said Kazdin, “is that psychosocial interventions as currently studied, practiced, researched, and delivered, will just not have an impact on mental illness in this country.” Recent data show that roughly 75 million people in the United States meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder.

  • The Psychological Science of Inception

    For three weeks in a row, Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie Inception reigned at the top of the Box Office hit list. Sure, the special effects and imaginative landscapes are exciting, but did you know that the seemingly outlandish concept behind the storyline of Inception is really related to ideas that psychological scientists have been studying for years? Empirical research has shown that ideas can, in fact, be implanted into people’s minds and integrated into a person’s memory. Daniel Wegner, a psychological scientist at Harvard University, has successfully made people think particular thoughts by suggesting just the opposite — to NOT think about them.

  • European Association of Personality Psychology

    The European Association of Personality Psychology (EAPP; promotes and develops empirical and theoretical personality psychology within Europe. EAPP also supports the interchange of personality psychology information between EAPP members and cognate associations throughout the world. The latter goal is achieved through EAPP’s cooperation with other associations and institutions within Europe and around the world. Although the official history of EAPP started in 1984, it was preceded by the organization of the first European Conference on Personality, held in Tilburg, The Netherlands, in May 1982.

  • Skinner Air Crib

    1944, B.F. Skinner and his wife, Yvonne, were expecting their second child. After raising one baby, Skinner felt that he could simplify the process for parents and improve the experience for children. Through some tinkering, he created the “air crib,” a climate controlled environment for an infant. One of these air cribs resides in the gallery at the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio. Skinner had high hopes that the air crib would ease parental burdens and contribute positively to children’s development. Skinner was particularly concerned about rearing a baby in the harsh environment of Minnesota where he lived and worked. Keeping the child warm was a central priority.

  • How Teaching Makes a Difference in Students’ Lives

    Professor Excellent and Professor Good both work in the same psychology department at a medium-sized state university. In fact, they were hired the same year and are now in their third year as assistant professors. Dr. Excellent and Dr. Good teach similarly sized sections of introductory psychology and upper-division courses in their specialty areas. Their trajectories for tenure and promotion look promising — they both have productive labs generating top-notch articles and conference presentations, and their services to the department, college, and the discipline are exemplary. Upon closer inspection though, there is one important difference between Dr Excellent and Dr.