Chimps Driven to Distraction

We all know how hard it can be to hold out for a big reward rather than take a smaller reward right now. But while pigeons, rats, monkeys and chimps show the similar behavior when offered food treats, only chimps can learn to distract themselves to sustain their self-control.

In a session called “Worth Waiting For — The Evolutionary and Developmental Foundations of Self-Control,” Michael Beran, PhD, of Georgia State University, described experiments he has conducted with chimps, orangutans and rhesus and capuchin monkeys.78779344

Orangutans could learn to wait about a minute if it meant they’d get a larger food treat, Beran said. But “rhesus monkeys were terrible – they just never got good at this.” And capuchin monkeys also struggled – but they could exert some self-control under certain conditions.

Beran and his colleagues designed an experiment in which capuchin monkeys were presented with two pieces of banana on a turntable, one small that was close to the monkey and a larger one that was farther away. The monkeys could see both pieces and they were able to stick their hands out of the cage to take the food. The monkeys would initially impulsively grab the smaller, closer piece of banana but eventually they learned to wait for the turntable to spin around and present the bigger piece, Beran said — although some capuchins were better at the task than others.

89792548Chimps, on the other hand, could learn to wait almost as long as children. (Remember Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiments in which preschoolers had to wait to get two marshmallows instead of one now?) Beran created an accumulation test where chimps would get more food treats if they could wait. The food was given to them through a delivery tube that went into their cages.

“All the chimpanzees learned quickly to wait,” he said, but some would touch or pick up the food (or the food delivery tube) but not eat, having learned that they would still get more as long as they didn’t eat anything. That led Beran to theorize that touching the food or tube might be a distraction that enabled them to wait longer. So he devised another experiment where some chimps were given toys to play with, some could not reach the food delivery tube and some were given no distractions and could reach the tube. The chimps with the toys could wait an additional 500 seconds to get the treats.

“I would make a pretty strong case that this is self-distracting,” he said.



Pauley: Wipe Out ‘Stigma,’ Don’t Fight Among Yourselves

The word “stigma” needs to be banished from any discussion of mental health, according to longtime newswoman Jane Pauley – who as someone with bipolar disorder knows how detrimental that word can be to people who need help.

“I’m all for fighting stigma,” she said. “Just stop talking about it. … Speaking as a mental patient, the word makes me feel awful.”

Janey Pauley at the 2014 APA Annual ConventionIn a free-wheeling conversation with APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, at the convention’s opening session, Pauley wondered why the public is so obsessed with taking advice from celebrities. But she lauded the efforts of actor Michael J. Fox, former first lady Betty Ford and even cyclist Lance Armstrong for using their fame to raise public awareness of, respectively, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and testicular cancer.

But who knew that Pauley could be so self-deprecating and so candid about being bipolar? When she was diagnosed at age 50 (13 years ago, she said – making a point of revealing her age), her doctor said she should tell NBC, her then-employer, that she had a thyroid problem – which was true, she said, but wasn’t the whole story.

“I was supposed to feel shame, but I didn’t,” she said. “I knew that telling my story had the potential to make a difference, and it has.”

Despite Pauley’s being a career interrogator, Kaslow brought her up short with the question, “What recommendations do you have for us for improving the mental health system in this country?”

Pausing, Pauley said, “Recruit as many smart people to your field as possible.”

Another beat. “Don’t fight amongst yourselves.” Audible titters in the audience.

“You’ve stumped me.” Pause again. “Don’t over-promise. … Be gentle with your patients when they fail you or let you down or leave you. … Let them go. We’re not always the right fit for you.”

She closed by talking about her return to journalism after a hiatus, including hospitalization, to deal with her bipolar diagnosis. She returned to “Dateline” on Sept. 10, 2001. And the next day, she said, “Everyone had what I had. We were all depressed, we were all scared. … To be a journalist that week made sense. To be bipolar that week was universal.”

How Do We Stem Gun Violence in America?

Copyright alptraum / 123RF Stock PhotoAmerican women are 11 times more likely to be murdered by someone using a gun than women in other democratic countries with developed economies, according to a presenter at convention panel today on gun violence prevention.

That statistic, revealed by Jacquelyn White, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was one of several sobering facts discussed at the session, entitled “Gun Violence Prediction and Prevention – APA Policy Development, Dissemination and Implementation.” Some others: males constitute 90 percent of gun violence perpetrators and 70 percent of homicide victims. And there is a one in 144,000 chance that a person with schizophrenia will kill a stranger, according to Joel A. Dvoskin, PhD, of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

“The myth is you have to be crazy to shoot a bunch of people,” Dvoskin said. “There is no evidence that people with serious mental illness are more likely to commit gun violence” than people without mental illness.

The common traits among people who commit gun violence are anger, depression, despair and social awkwardness, among others Dvoskin said. “In other words, profiles are stupid,” he said. “Profiles are stereotypes that blind us” to people who pose real risks.

The United States needs to take a science-based public health approach to stemming gun violence, treating guns like other dangerous products, said Robert Kinscherff, PhD, JD, of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. This approach would take into account product design, safety features and improvements in how people store guns.

Finally, more research is required, said Gary D. Gottfredson, PhD, of the University of Maryland-College Park. “We don’t know an awful lot,” he said. “We lack a national system for uniformly collecting information about firearms violence. … That has to end.”

More Social Than Ever

This year’s convention promises more social media engagement than ever before at psychology’s premier meeting. But maybe you’ve already figured that out. You might have landed on this blog by clicking the icon on the dashboard of our convention app. (If you don’t have the app yet, it’s available for iOS, Android and Blackberry. It’s full of features that will help you navigate and enjoy the convention.)

We’ll be posting convention news on our Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter pages. And if you’re tweeting about the convention, please use the #APA2014 hashtag.

tweetwall (2)Once you arrive, look for our first-ever tweetwall. There, you will be able to see what people are tweeting using the hashtag. (Please note: We will be moderating the wall to ensure that the tweets are indeed about our convention and that they follow our social media guidelines – including no political campaigning.)

hashtag_ribbon (2)In addition, we have enlisted about 125 psychology graduate students to tweet their experiences throughout the convention. They are using the #APA2014 hashtag – and sometimes identifying themselves as the APA Twitter Team. You’ll be able to spot members of the Twitter Team in person, too; they will be wearing purple #APA2014 ribbons on their convention badges.

Another new social media feature this year is the presence of four early career psychologists as official bloggers on this site. They are:

  • Nicole Avena, PhD, a psychologist at the New York Obesity Research Center, Columbia University
  • Cedar Riener, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychology at Randolph-Macon College
  • David Songco, PsyD, postdoctoral clinician at New Insights LLC, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and adjunct instructor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
  • Erlanger Turner, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

These bloggers will capture their convention experience by writing about the sessions they attend or their networking experiences at social events and meetings.

So please follow along, join in the conversations and have a wonderful, social-media-filled convention.

Visit the APA Building

One of the many benefits of having the APA Annual Convention in D.C. is the chance for meeting-goers to visit APA’s beautiful headquarters building. Located at 750 First St., NE, it’s slightly over a mile from the Washington Convention Center. We will be offering tours of the building on Saturday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. It’s a quick cab ride away or, if you prefer, take the Metro to Union Station or a Circulator bus.

IMG_1075Even if you’ve been to the APA building before, it’s time for a revisit. The reason: We just completed construction of a stunning, state-of-the-art conference center on the roof.
It features a large central meeting room with a direct sightline to the Capitol dome, a smaller board room, breakout spaces, a catering kitchen and spectacular outdoor terraces with comfortable furniture and plantings. So if you can fit it into your busy convention schedule, please stop by and take one of the two tours.

One Week and Counting

APA’s 122nd Annual Convention is just a week away and the excitement in our office is palpable. We shipped our trunks and boxes full of convention materials yesterday. Staff badges were distributed today. Many of us are putting the finishing touches on our convention schedules and generally gearing up for the big event.

If you haven’t assembled your schedule yet, what are you waiting for?! View the full program and search by keyword, day and time, presenter, continuing education sessions, workshops and more. Highlights include:

  • Opening Session with legendary newscaster and best-selling author Jane Pauley, who will deliver the keynote address. She will talk about her experience with bipolar disorder and her work to inspire life “reinvention.”
  • Opening Reception (NEW) inside the exhibit hall immediately following the Opening Session.
  • Collaborative Programming (NEW) integrating science and practice.

And if you haven’t registered, it’s not too late. You can still register online at Or do it on site when you get to D.C.

Whatever you do, though, don’t miss psychology’s premier annual meeting.