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242011Volume 24, Issue7September 2011

Presidential Column

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

In this Issue:
Fields for Psychology

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

  • Fields for Psychology

    Before I begin, I want to make a confession: Our Psychology Department has a research participant pool that my lab takes full advantage of each term. There’s an aesthetic appeal from a well-designed, nicely controlled study that bears on some theoretical question, so I love, love, love experiments. I also like chocolate a lot—perhaps more than any other food — but it’s not the only food that I eat. More on this later. Our discipline sometimes has a bit of a Hollywood flair, so if it hasn’t been done before, sooner or later someone will probably come up with a list of the “100 Greatest Studies in Psychology.” Here are three of my favorites, all studies I heard about when I was an undergraduate and all of which happen to come from social psychology.

APS Spotlight

  • Anatomy of a New Federal Program

    Not long ago NIH invited 250 of the best scientific minds from universities across the country to advise on how to start a $120–150 million research project. It’s the kind of meeting NIH often convenes to get expert advice on many scientific issues deemed ready for such a boost: molecular genetics, biochemistry, virology. But this was the first time the agency had asked for guidance on the basic science of psychology and behavioral research. The key question NIH had for the group was how to better study the most fundamental psychological processes: how we learn, think, and remember; how we work and communicate with others, as individuals and in groups and organizations; how we develop attitudes, emotions, and relationships; how we perceive and pay attention to the world around us; and how our brains, genes, and basic biology interact with our environments. It would be easy to miss the historical significance of this meeting.

  • Rising Stars

    In case there was any doubt, the future of psychological science is in good hands. In its continuing series, the Observer presents more Rising Stars, exemplars of today's young psychological scientists. Although they may not be advanced in years, they are already making great advancements in science. Donna Rose Addis Yanchao Bi Paul E. Dux Michael C. Frank Peter Kuppens Shayne Loft Gary Lupyan Malia Mason Stephanie Ortigue Robert Rydell David A. Sbarra Nash Unsworth Donna Rose Addis University of Auckland, New Zealand What does your research focus on? My research combines behavioral, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological methods to investigate how we remember the past, imagine the future, and construct a present sense of self. I have a particular interest in the role of the hippocampus in memory, and I have also examined how memory and future thinking changes with hippocampal dysfunction in temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and healthy aging. What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?


  • Using Fink’s Taxonomy in Course Design

    Lifespan Development is an introductory psychology course at my university. I love teaching this course. However, in the past I found myself bogged down by the volume of content and the rush to cover each of the myriad developmental theories over the course of single semester. I want my students to acquire necessary skills, not simply endure a crash course in developmental content. In 2004, I had the good fortune to attend a conference workshop led by L. Dee Fink entitled Creating Significant Learning. Fink presented his taxonomy for a systematic approach to course design that went beyond the usual focus on content (Fink, 2004). Fink’s taxonomy provided a model for course design that aligned learning goals with a method for assessing student learning (Fallahi, Levine, Nicoll-Senft, Tessier, Watson, & Wood, 2009; Fink, 2003).

First Person

  • Good for the Goose, Bad for the Gander? A Critical Look at the Traditional Graduate Training Paradigm

    Welcome to graduate school! Now get to work and publish something, would you?” Although graduate students may have never heard this phrase explicitly, it is not difficult to infer this message from faculty members in their program, other graduate students, and the field in general. From the time students begin a graduate program, they are pressured to conduct studies and publish early and often, in the hope that top-tier journal publications will best strengthen one’s CV. This view of what constitutes a successful graduate student predominates the field. PhD programs seek to ensure that their students achieve these goals, but are these individual goals also good for the field at large? There are pros and cons to this typical graduate training paradigm for both the individual and for the field. First, let’s take a look at some of the potential disadvantages associated with the usual scholar-training methods. Beginning Research Early Benefits the Student, Not the Field To ensure success on the job market, a graduate student must research, write, and publish multiple articles before graduation.

  • Transitions: Students in Psychological Science

    The field of psychological science is constantly in a state of change. Many legendary psychological scientists have provided the scientific community with the basic concepts, theories, methods of inquiry, and major findings that have shaped our understanding of behavior. Research in psychological science has since exploded into many interdisciplinary collaborations and sub-disciplines, and infinite research directions currently being pursued. As our knowledge of various aspects of psychological science grows, so do our questions and goals. The future of psychological science depends on the work of both emerging and veteran scientists, as well as the engagement of new students in the field. The APS Student Caucus (APSSC) seeks to promote the growth and dissemination of scientific psychology amongst the student members. We provide resources that will foster professional development of both graduate and undergraduate students, such as research awards, peer reviewing opportunities, publications, mentoring, advocacy, funding notifications, and networking connections.

More From This Issue

  • Landau Appointed Johns Hopkins Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs

    APS Fellow Barbara Landau was named Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, where she is currently the Dick and Lydia Todd Professor and Chair of the Department of Cognitive Science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Landau researches the nature, acquisition, and development of human knowledge of space and language. Hoping to advance faculty interests, she plans to use the knowledge and experience she has gained as a department chair, as well as the effective strategies she’s learned from fellow faculty members, in her new role.

  • Gardner and Rizzolatti Honored with Prince of Asturias Awards

    APS Fellow Howard Gardner and 2011 APS Convention Keynote Speaker Giacomo Rizzolatti have been honored with 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards. Gardner of Harvard University is the 2011 recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences for his innovative work on multiple intelligences. This award is one of eight that the Prince of Asturias Foundation presents each year to honor individuals and/or institutions for their outstanding scientific, technical, cultural, social, or humanistic work.

  • Wikipedia in the Classroom

    At Trent University in Ontario, Canada, I teach The History of Psychology, a fourth year undergraduate course. I view this course as a capstone for students’ undergraduate education — one in which they can use their research and communication skills to contextualize what they have learned during their undergraduate degree. Admittedly, this is an ambitious goal. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that even the tastiest scandals in our history (e.g., Watson’s affair with Rosalie Rayner) have not been scintillating enough to elicit from most students the Herculean effort required to fulfill the course’s promise. What to do? The answer was glaringly simple.

  • Insight on Out-of-Body Experiences

    When you hear “out-of-body experience,” you probably think of hallucinations caused by drugs or a mental instability, but a new study published in Elsevier’s Cortex suggests that out-of-body experiences (OBEs) occur in nonclinical populations as well. Jason Braithwaite of the University of Birmingham has been studying OBEs in healthy individuals by looking at the underlying factors that predispose these individuals to have OBEs. Braithwaite and colleagues found that OBEs can and do occur in healthy and psychologically normal people.

  • The Joy of … Theorizing

    There’s the Joy of Cooking, the Joy of Sex, and now … the Joy of Theorizing. Daniel Wegner has created more than his share of influential theories in psychological science, and in his William James Fellow Award Address at this year’s APS Convention, the Harvard researcher reflected on what theories are and why he enjoys them so much. A psychological theory can be defined, he said, as a mechanism of mind that yields predictions of behavior under specified conditions. Putting it more colorfully, we should think of them as “automata” — theories take what people do and say and make them into little, realistic, but simple machines.

  • New APS Officers

    APS welcomes our new officers for 2011–2012. Douglas L. Medin, Northwestern University, takes the helm as APS President, while Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard University, becomes Immediate Past President and Joseph Steinmetz, The Ohio State University, joins the Board as President-Elect. Gün Semin, Utrecht University, has been appointed APS Secretary, succeeding Anne Treisman, Princeton University, in that post. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Northeastern University, and Susan Gelman, University of Michigan, begin their three-year terms as APS Board Members.