The Study of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

In recognition of the new school year beginning in many parts of the world, the Observer examines a host of psychological research on learning — not just in the classroom, but across the life-span.

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Volume 27, Issue7September 2014

Presidential Column

Nancy Eisenberg
Nancy Eisenberg
Arizona State University, Tempe
APS President 2014 - 2015
All columns

In this Issue:
Is Our Focus Becoming Overly Narrow?

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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    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.’

Up Front


  • Is Our Focus Becoming Overly Narrow?

    As is evident from the fact that the beginning of my career preceded the birth of APS (indeed, I was at the initial meetings that spawned our organization), I have been in the field for a long time, having received my PhD more than 38 years ago. As a consequence, I have observed changes in the field over 4 decades. Many of these have been very positive, but some trouble me. One of the perks of being President of APS is that I have a forum for expressing some of those concerns. In this initial column, I would like to draw attention to several related issues that concern me about our discipline. In the past 20 or so years, there have been major advances in our understanding of the role of genetics, neural processes, and physiological processes (e.g., hormones, respiratory sinus arrhythmia) in human functioning. These domains of research have contributed immensely to our understanding of an array of issues in psychology and will no doubt continue to do so. However, as a consequence of the visibility and excitement about biologically oriented work, I have noticed a tendency toward reductionism by some individuals in the field and by some funding agencies.

  • Twelve Tips for Department Chairs

    Being chair of a department is hard work. Like being a journal editor or a parent, a person not in the situation can vaguely appreciate the difficulty but cannot really know the depth of it until in the role. I have been a chair once, for 8 years. I was an “external hire,” meaning I came into a new department from the outside. I had never previously served as chair. At the time I took the job, I had observed seven chairs of departments at three universities. I thought I knew a few things via observational learning, and I did, but the relevant word in this sentence is few. Many of the tasks that a chair performs are hidden from view to members of the department. One important step I took immediately was to ask a trusted colleague whom I had known for a long time (Dave Balota) to be my associate chair. He could tell me about the folkways and mores of the department and university, because he had years of experience. He kept me from making many blunders. One of the first jobs of the chair is to create a vision for what he or she wants to accomplish and a realistic plan to move ahead. That plan should include how to bring people along with you, not to dictate to them.

Practice


  • Twelve Tips for Department Chairs

    Being chair of a department is hard work. Like being a journal editor or a parent, a person not in the situation can vaguely appreciate the difficulty but cannot really know the depth of it until in the role. I have been a chair once, for 8 years. I was an “external hire,” meaning I came into a new department from the outside. I had never previously served as chair. At the time I took the job, I had observed seven chairs of departments at three universities. I thought I knew a few things via observational learning, and I did, but the relevant word in this sentence is few. Many of the tasks that a chair performs are hidden from view to members of the department. One important step I took immediately was to ask a trusted colleague whom I had known for a long time (Dave Balota) to be my associate chair. He could tell me about the folkways and mores of the department and university, because he had years of experience. He kept me from making many blunders. One of the first jobs of the chair is to create a vision for what he or she wants to accomplish and a realistic plan to move ahead. That plan should include how to bring people along with you, not to dictate to them.

  • 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 David G. Myers and C. Nathan DeWall’s new blog “Talk Psych.” Similar to the APS Observer column, the mission of their blog is to provide daily updates on psychological science. Brain Size Matters Inspiring Interest in Interests Brain Size Matters By C. Nathan DeWall Dunbar, R. I. M. (2014). The social brain: Psychological underpinnings and implications for the structure of organizations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(2), 109–114.

First Person


  • Using Positive Psychology to Survive and Thrive in Grad School

    Graduate school is a very stressful period for developing professionals in the field of psychological science. In any given week, students may attend classes, conduct research, teach classes, conduct therapy, write up grant and research proposals, and/or do service learning or outreach work (e.g., reviewing grant applications or manuscripts). All of these responsibilities can wear down even the most resilient students, negatively impacting their physical and mental health. We all know about the advice that’s commonly given to individuals when they feel stressed: exercise, eat right, maintain hobbies, have a social life, etc. These are all basic self-care practices that are certainly important for psychology graduate students to maintain their well-being. However, these practices alone may not be enough to fully buffer students against the day-to-day grind of graduate school.

More From This Issue


  • Literary Character

    Whether it’s Oliver Twist or Harry Potter, Hester Prynne or Katniss Everdeen, literary characters offer us a chance to vicariously experience life in all its drama, humor, mystery, and adventure. Through Atticus Finch, we fight a moral cause in the face of prejudice. Through Lizzy Bennet, we defy class boundaries to find romantic happiness. Through Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, we lament society’s refusal to recognize our individuality. Although many students would rather be watching TV or playing video games than working through classic tomes, science has documented how a steady dose of books can fuel their academic success, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

  • Getting It in Writing

    Stringing together words on a page to communicate something meaningful, insightful, intriguing, or persuasive is an essential skill that serves us throughout our personal and professional lives, no matter our interests or discipline. And yet, this essential and complex ability starts with a more basic skill that may be disappearing in the age of computers and mobile devices: handwriting. It’s not surprising that some education initiatives and policies, including the Common Core, are shifting away from writing by hand now that many children are exposed to media devices as early as infancy.

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    Nervous About Numbers

    Research shows how math anxiety impacts students and suggests interventions to buffer these negative effects.

  • ‘The First State’ Achieves a First for Science-Based Clinical Training

    Delaware and Illinois have become the first US states to enact legislation designed to strengthen science-centered education and training in clinical psychology and behavioral health. Delaware Governor Jack Markell on July 28 signed House Bill 358 into law, permitting graduates from training programs accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) to qualify for a state professional license. And on August 1, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a similar piece of legislation. PCSAS focuses on the quality and outcomes of scientific training of doctoral-level clinical psychologists.

  • Meet the APS Board for 2014–2015

    The Observer profiles new leaders of the APS Board for 2014–2015: Nancy Eisenberg, Arizona State University, becomes APS President, C. Randy Gallistel, Rutgers University, joins the Board as President-Elect, and Elizabeth A. Phelps of New York University becomes Immediate Past President. Thomas H. Carr, Sandra Graham, and Mikki Hebl begin their terms as Members at Large. We thank outgoing Immediate Past President Joseph E. Steinmetz of the Ohio State University and outgoing board members Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University and Susan A. Gelman of the University of Michigan for their leadership and service to APS.

  • Google Scientist Searches the Workplace

    Are managers really necessary? Using her workplace as a laboratory, Google’s Jennifer Kurkoski seeks answers to that question and other organizational puzzles.

  • Decoding Words on a Page

    When most of us read, we probably don’t think about the complex neurological processes that go on behind the scenes. Subtle and rapid eye movements, invisible without eye tracking technology, relay information to the brain, setting in motion a chain of events that helps the reader internalize, encode, and finally understand the meaning of the words on the page in front of them. During his award address at the 2014 APS Annual Convention, APS William James Fellow Keith Rayner, University of California, San Diego, explored these critical processes and the fundamental contributions they make to our ability to read.

  • Fostering Budding Writers

    “Easy reading is damn hard writing,” Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said. Indeed, writing text that is clear and engaging for the reader is no simple task. Learning the craft is a lifelong process, but the fundamentals should begin early. Acquiring strong writing skills is not an option for young people today, it is a necessity. It is critical to success at school, in the workplace, and in the community. Meta-analyses of the writing-intervention literature provides convincing evidence that we have effective tools for helping beginning writers become more skillful writers. One challenge at this point is how to put these tools into the right hands — those of teachers.

  • A Stay at Camp Cope-a-Lot for Anxious Kids

    It’s easy to assume anxious kids are just going through a phase and will naturally “come out of their shells” or learn to cope over time. Evidence suggests otherwise, says APS Fellow Philip C. Kendall of Temple University, who accepted the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology at the 2014 APS Annual Convention. Even healthy children experience anxiety, Kendall said in his award address, but an inability to manage anxiety-related distress predicts mood disorders and substance abuse in adulthood.

  • Tips From a Self-Taught Teacher

    If you are anything like me, your graduate program gave you the right training to become a researcher but did little to prepare you for teaching. Yet every college and university expects (if not demands) excellent teachers. Even at large research universities, a record of quality teaching is usually required for tenure and promotion. I am a self-taught teacher, meaning that virtually everything I know about teaching has come from my own experiences in the classroom. Looking back, this was a tough and quite painful way to become a teacher, but I am proud to have reached a point where I have received teaching awards and consistently achieve high evaluations.

  • A Boost for Psychology Education in Uganda

    In November 2012, Peter Baguma of Makerere University, Uganda, met with colleagues to discuss what they saw as the most pressing issues confronting psychology education in Uganda, among them quality and consistency across public and private universities and national colleges. The meeting addressed “Improving the Teaching of Psychology in Higher Institutions in Uganda Through a Harmonized Curriculum,” and its main purpose was to “develop a common vision on teaching psychology at higher institutions regarding the qualifications, resources, and sustainability through research,” as well as establishing the needs and challenges faced by teachers of psychology.

  • Books to Check Out: September 2014

    To submit a new book, email apsobserver@psychologicalscience.org. Train Your Mind for Peak Performance: A Science-Based Approach for Achieving Your Goals by Lyle E. Bourne, Jr., and Alice F. Healy; American Psychological Association, November 15, 2013. Evidence-Based Child Forensic Interviewing: The Developmental Narrative Elaboration Interview by Karen J. Saywitz and Lorinda B. Camparo; Oxford University Press, January 2014. Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes by Joyce Benenson; Oxford University Press, February 5, 2014. Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond (Paperback) by Robert R. Provine; Harvard University Press, May 12, 2014.

  • Tracy to Speak at Inaugural ICPS

    Psychological scientists have done extensive research on the links between emotion and mental illness as well as on the connections between emotion and emotional experience. Until recently, these two channels of investigation had remained relatively separate, but a Special Series on Emotions and Psychopathology in the new issue of Clinical Psychological Science aims to connect these two areas of study by bringing the most recent research from affective science to bear on the ways that clinicians and researchers think about, diagnose, and treat clinical disorders.

  • Two APS Fellows Elected to National Academy of Sciences

    Two APS fellows are among the 84 newly chosen members and 21 foreign associates recognized by the National Academy of Science for their outstanding contributions to scientific research. The April 29 announcement featured newly elected member Marcia Johnson, professor of psychology at Yale University, and foreign associate Helen Neville, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Oregon, who holds Canadian citizenship. Both Johnson and Neville are APS William James fellows. Johnson is known for her research in memory and cognitive processes.

  • New Journals App Offers APS Members Mobile Access to Articles

    A new iOS app that offers mobile access to all five APS journals is now available for free in the Apple iTunes Store under Journals@APS. Any user can access APS journal content that is free to the public, such as tables of contents, abstracts of current and previously published APS journal articles, and open access articles. APS members can take advantage of full-text downloads of individual articles and issues.