– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
While dear old Walt was referring to himself in 1855, his words are just as apt to describe the American Psychological Association convention in 2014. Contradictions? Both Peace Psychology (Division 48) and Military Psychology (Division 19) are well represented. Large? Well over 10,000 attendees. But to me, my eyes are drawn to the “contain.” Can psychology contain all this diversity without bursting apart at the seams? I see I am not alone in that the Presidential Theme for this year’s convention is “Unifying Psychology for the Future”
In suitably Whitman-esque fashion (and indeed, like a psychologist), I turn inward for reflection before looking outward for guidance. How do I sustain and inhabit the different identities that “psychologist” means for me? I am a teacher, a scientist and a public scholar, yet a psychologist in each. My research interests range from my primary training in visual perception, to how we internalize the laws of physics, to applying cognitive science to educational settings. As a scientist, I hope to narrow my focus on clear and specific empirical questions, controlling for confounding factors and making my small and gradual contribution to chipping away at those known unknowns. But as a teacher and adviser to psychology majors of diverse interests, I am always on the lookout for creative ways to expand what psychology means in my students’ imaginations. As a public intellectual, I am eager to advocate for psychology’s place at the policy table, as a useful science in improving people’s lives.
Even as I foster an expansive view of psychology, I am wary of going too far, of spinning the lovely multitudes of psychology until they lose their coherence. I am apprehensive of applying uncertain, cutting-edge psychological science before it is ready, thereby undermining public confidence when such application doesn’t effectively address the real-world problem.
So these next few days I hope you will share my convention journey, as I try not to wax poetic too often. I’ll close with how Whitman opens Song of Myself, with just a few words judiciously changed. See you at convention!
I CELEBRATE <Psychology>, and sing <Psychology>,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every <conference talk> belonging to me as good belongs to you.