Going to Mars

DSC_0028What amazes me the most about this convention is the diversity of how psychology is applied across disciplines, fields and careers. The panel discussion and presentation titled “How Psychologists Can Help Create Healthy Workplaces” examined the role of psychologists in shaping organizations to promote overall employee health.

Dr. Eduardo Salas of the University of Central Florida shared his experience as a psychologist in working with NASA astronauts to help design and organize a team for a landing mission to Mars. “From the research, there are five characteristics that this team must demonstrate in order to achieve mission success,” Salas said. He described healthy team resilience as incorporating the following:

  • adaptability and the ability to tolerate stress through self regulating
  • the ability to manage conflict within the team through mutual trust
  • mutual support and backup behavior
  • a strong “team coach” who promotes others, develops the team and creates incentives for success
  • organizational conditions that align with the team and the mission, which includes the policies, procedures and senior leadership to promote change

Nasa-MarsAs I reflected on Dr. Salas’ work, I started to think about his role with NASA and team training and considered all of the factors that the general public may discount in the process of selecting and training a team for a mission to Mars. Dr. Salas emphasized the concept of stress inoculation training — cognitive training to help individuals cope with stressors – to help train astronauts how to respond effectively and efficiently in extremely stressful conditions, in particular those conditions that would be unique to a mission to Mars.

“Communication to and from the International Space Station is about one second,” said Salas. “Communication to and from Mars would be 20 minutes in each direction, which can result in a multitude of issues.” He continued to describe many of the likely and possible stressors that these astronauts would encounter, including not being able to see Earth from Mars and living with seven individuals in an enclosed space for a prolonged period. I continued to think of simply how much the field of psychology can be applied to so many different situations. I’m recognizing more and more, despite of how obvious it is, that wherever there are people involved, psychology will always play a role.

The Science Behind Science News

joe Palco

NPR’s Dr. Joe Palca

What is a big science story? Ask Joe Palca, PhD, a science writer at National Public Radio, and he’ll you tell you the answer in five years. That’s because a good science story may not be obvious right away.

To demonstrate his point, Palca — who spoke at the convention Thursday — cited coverage of Nobel Prize winners. Major news outlets report on the Nobel Prize winners, including NPR. But go back a few years to when the award-winning research was published, and you’ll see hardly any articles on the topic. Palca said even he misses those stories because people don’t care as much about the paper until its author wins a Nobel Prize.

So what brings attention to science? One reason science appears in the media is because its connected to a celebrity, he said, citing increased attention to BRCA genes in May 2013, when actress Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about her double mastectomy.

Other stories come from papers that science reporters pick up on, Palca said, joking that sometimes news is what happens to the editor.

“The point is, I don’t know what’s important,” Palca said, adding that articles fly by his desk all the time. Sometimes they are important, but often, they’re not.

And sometimes, no news is good news, he said, recounting how he got a jump on a story about data coming from a Mars rover in 2012. Although the news was exciting, scientists wouldn’t tell Palca until they were sure it wasn’t a fluke. So Palca wrote a story about the “keeping mum” idea behind the tight-lipped scientists.

Science reporting also isn’t as easy as reporting on scientific articles. Sometimes, reporters file stories that are wrong and have to follow up with a piece about how a scientific journal article was retracted, Palca says.

“The dilemma is, ‘OK, everyone else is talking about it, and I don’t want to look like an idiot for not talking about it, but I don’t think it is real. But if I don’t talk about it, then people think I’m an idiot, but if I do talk about it, I’m an idiot because I don’t think it’s real,'” he says. “And you end up in kind of a loop.”

Reporters would rather report on something that’s wrong than not report on it at all, Palca said.

So what’s going to be the next big science news? Palca cited CRISPR, a new genome engineering technique focusing on the CAS9 protein (Nature, 2013).

“Well, just remember that word,” Palca said. “CRISPR. CAS9. And then in a couple of years from now when you read about it in a newspaper, you’ll say, ‘Joe Palca said that was going to win the Nobel Prize.'”


Is Gaming the New Digital Drug?

Everyone loves a good baby photo, but APA convention speaker Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, of the Uniformed Services University School of the Health Sciences, showed his audience a photo of his young son that Doan finds difficult to look at. The picture upsets him because Doan doesn’t remember much of his son at that age — although he does have vivid memories of his favorite video game at the time.

177253792Doan was addicted to video games for 10 years, playing anywhere from 50 to 100 hours per week while also attending The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Doan recovered – though he came close to losing his wife and family – and is now conducting research on how gaming re-programs the brain. He is also working to educate the public about gaming addiction as Head of Addictions and Resilience Research for the U.S. Navy.

Some studies, he pointed out, estimate that one in 11 U.S. children and teenagers are addicted to video games, he said.

At the APA session, Doan provided an overview of research that indicates that such games have a strong impact on us psychologically and physiologically, including that they overdrive the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal system and deplete cortisol supplies.

“How does your body burn [that adrenalin], if you only move your two thumbs?” he asked.

Doan encouraged attendees to pay more attention to gaming addiction and noted that all types of addiction research can inform gaming addiction and other process addictions, such as addiction to pornography.

Fellow speaker Hilarie Cash, PhD, has also seen the addiction firsthand, and shared her treatment approach for people with gaming addiction at the session. Her reSTART Internet Addiction Program in Washington state helps people who need treatment for Internet, video gaming and technology overuse, including day-trading addiction. The program helps people – mostly young men — develop better sleep patterns, eat more healthfully, exercise and shed addictions that accompanied their gaming, such as marijuana and Adderall. Cash and her colleagues also emphasize such practical skills as how to maintain a clean home and nurture social relationships.

“Almost universally, [our clients] lack good strong social skills, so we really emphasize that,” Cash says.

Some Convention Tips and My (Best Laid) Plans

I thought I would share a few convention-attending strategies that I have developed over the years, as well as my own plans for the sessions that seem interesting. Please share your own in the comments below.

First, I plan, but not too much. If I use a convention book, I will highlight or circle talks and posters that I want to go to, but leave myself some choice to see what I feel like in the moment. I also try to be aware that even if I am interested in *all the things,* my poor limited brain will be unable to concentrate for eight straight hours. So programming in breaks helps, or sometimes just skipping a session is necessary for me to maintain adequate attention to make the other sessions worthwhile. I also think a vital part of conferences is making time to talk to people outside the sessions. This is one area in which I have enjoyed using Twitter at conferences, to connect with people in a back-channel way, see what people are interested in and see people’s reactions to the talks and posters they are attending.

As far as a strategy on which kinds of events to attend, I try to get a good mix of many different types of talks and experiences. I attend some scholarship of teaching and learning talks, some research summaries, some practical job help talks (tenure, work-life balance, etc). Finally, I think it is important to attend some talks, especially at a conference such as APA, that just look interesting, but don’t fit into any of my research interests, or typical teaching examples, or any other neat categories. Allowing for moments of spontaneity and serendipity are part of what makes conferences worth it for me.

So, for this convention, I’ve mapped out some of the sessions I am interested in (these are  all on Friday). I thought I would give just a brief sentence or two to indicate why I am interested. I am already wishing I could be two places at once, as you can see, I’ll have some tough choices to make.

Cedar playing catch with Cedar

Here I am very busy in graduate school (playing with photostitching software)

Friday 9 a.m.

A comprehensive examination of resilience (High Risk/Extreme Environments)

Two years ago, I taught a first-year seminar at Randolph-Macon entitled “Kids these Days.” It was a yearlong interdisciplinary course taught with a partner in the English department. She was an expert in children’s literature, and I taught my portion of the course as a history of psychology, viewing historical approaches in psychology through the lens of how they treated and explained children. We read about resilience, and students (and I) found it quite interesting. I am curious about continuing research in this topic. You can read more about the course on my blog. (Convention Center, Room 103B)

Scholarship of teaching and learning across the faculty lifespan

I am always interested in integrating the scholarship of teaching and learning into my classroom, both for my own research in the classroom, but also to apply it to my pedagogical choices. This approach (how does this change as I become more senior) looks interesting. (Convention Center, Room 146B)

Friday 10 a.m.

How psychologists think about environmental issues

I think it is fascinating to see how psychology is applied to hot contemporary issues that many think do not have an immediate application. Environmentalism and climate change are a great example of how psychological science has a broad reach. I am eager to learn more about this. (Convention Center, Room 302)

Neuroimaging in the courtroom: Promises and perils in the coming decade

Many of my students are interested in psychology and legal issues, and I think this is a fascinating topic. I am in general a skeptic of applications of neuroimaging, as I wrote here, but I am open to hearing more. I’ll also add that I have heard Scott Lilienfeld speak a few times and have always learned something new, even when he is talking about something about which I am quite familiar.  (Convention Center, Room 101)

Martin Luther King Jr. and APA — The legacy of his 1967 speech

This looks like a fascinating session. I did not know that Martin Luther King Jr. had given a speech to the American Psychological Association, and I see that one of the presenters (Dr. Nathaniel Granger Jr, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and performer), will be doing a re-enactment and performance of the speech. I hope they have a big room, because I think this will be great. (Convention Center, Room 150A)

Friday 11 a.m.

SAW Woman of the Year – Libby Nutt WIlliams, Ph.D. – The joy of juggling: Ingredients for work-life balance

My wife and I had twin boys when I was a fourth-year doctoral student. When I received my PhD (in my seventh year), my daughter was only 3 months old. Now my wife is entering a doctoral program herself at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. So, yes, work-life balance is a perennial issue. I have made many decisions in favor of spending time with my family, but I know that I am often blinded by the many dimensions of my privilege to the struggles that many face in achieving work-life balance. When I attend these sessions, it is as much for finding tools and strategies for improving my own work-life balance as to remind myself the barriers that others face, and thinking about ways that I might be able to facilitate better balance for others if I find myself in a position to do so.

Deconstructing promotion and tenure – a re-examination of the faculty review process

I just received tenure at the beginning of this summer. While I am happy to have it behind me, I also have thoughts on the process, both at my institution and in general. I am curious about what this panel will discuss, given that this is a topic that is so often political, vague and quite opaque.

Beyond social media – technology tools every student should use

As the new director of our first-year program at Randolph-Macon, I am eager to expand my knowledge of the critical skills and competencies that college students should acquire. I am often amazed that while we may think that our entering students are “digital natives,”  they are often more unfamiliar than we are with even basic elements of technology. This session (should I be able to attend it) should fill me in on some technologies and websites outside of social media that can be helpful for students.

Friday 1 p.m.

Address by MIchael McCrea: Scientific update on sport related concussions: What does the evidence tell us

I am very interested in this, both because I often teach student athletes, and also because my own children are athletes. My boys play soccer, and we watched some horrific looking head injuries earlier this summer during the World Cup, only to see the player quickly get up and go on playing. I am also on the board of my local youth soccer organization, and I hope to be able to pass on scientific insight to my fellow board members and our volunteer coaches.

During the 2-4 p.m. block, I have a meeting scheduled with a colleague to talk about a new project. And perhaps a brief nap or maybe just staring off into space.

Friday 4 p.m.

Capstone experiences in psychology

I currently teach the capstone experience in our psychology department, which is entitled “Systems and Theories of Contemporary Psychology” and is in fact a history and philosophy of science class. I love the history of psychology (I was even a history of science major in college) but students often find this course a bit jarring in that it is different from some of their previous psychology courses. However, I love teaching with Stanovich’s “How to Think Straight About Psychology,” and guiding seniors in some reflection about what makes a psychology major so great. I am hoping to get some more tools and strategies here, and learn what other people do in their capstone courses.

Rethinking massive online classes: The educational, social and economic upsides

I am a MOOC skeptic. What I take that to mean is that I see MOOCs as an excellent supplement to (and even in some cases, replacement for) a traditional college textbook. However, I am highly dubious that a MOOC could come anywhere close to replacing a teacher. I am also wary of pretending we are scaling up to reduce educational costs or solving large educational problems in front of us, when we are merely providing new educational enrichment to the already educationally enriched, what the inestimable Tressie McMillan Cottom refers to as wandering autodidacts. There is a lot of great writing about this, from the excellent Jonathan Rees, but I am curious to see what two excellent teachers of psychology, James Pennebaker and Sam Gosling have to say about their experience.

Friday 5 p.m.

Psychology and Astronauts

Are you kidding me? How could I not turn up for the Right Stuff? I love the example of NASA as a place most people might not expect to have psychologists, whereas in fact there are a wealth of psychological problems, and interesting psychological research. People also often forget that the first A in NASA is Aeronautic — meaning civil aeronautics and commercial aviation. NASA researchers have helped with the design of many air traffic control towers and even in the processes of air traffic control itself. It is a great way of expanding students’ definitions of psychology, as well as a way to see how psychology is out of this world. This panel will talk about behavioral health and performance in high-risk/extreme environments for astronauts. I am really looking forward to hearing what they have to say, and sharing it with students and anyone who will listen to me blabber on about psychology.

What are some sessions you are looking forward to? How do you handle wanting to be two places at once? I’d love to hear your tips and interests in the comments.

Livetweeting: Delightful Sharing or Attentional Scourge?

I expect to be doing some livetweeting of sessions this convention (as I have for recent conventions I have attended) and I thought I would address some common questions and concerns. If you are interested, you can follow along at my twitter account: @criener

What are the benefits of livetweeting?

Signal boost to other interested experts: If you are giving a public presentation at a conference, why not have the signal spread far and wide? While the APA convention is certainly enormous, there are surely many interested parties who might not make it, due to distance or costs. Livetweeting a session can reach interested psychologists who may not be in the room.459894721

Giving psychology away: Some sessions might also be interesting to the general public. At most talks, there is a short section at the beginning with some general context and a summary of the prevailing consensus on that topic. This can be useful for a non-psychologist.

What are the potential drawbacks?

Too may tweets! Many twitter skeptics are wary of the overwhelming nature of tweets flying by in a rapid fire stream. Livetweeting can accelerate that. Excessive or poor livetweeting can seem both overwhelming to your followers, yet obviously a pale comparison with actually attending the talk.

The talk has been prepared for the people in the room, not the hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers represented. My Twitter followers include mathematicians, high school teachers, other liberal arts college professors and science writers. A talk at a convention such as APA may be targeted to psychologists, or even to cognitive psychologists, and livetweeting jargon may be incomprehensible to followers unfamiliar, and unfair to a speaker who is (appropriately) addressing the lecture to the audience present.

How to address the drawbacks?

96106082I think these drawbacks can be addressed, and a successful livetweeting experience can be enriching for everyone involved. For the tweeter, you help spread good knowledge, and raise your reputation as an interesting source for good information. For the speaker, an 8 a.m. conference talk with 20 bleary-eyed travelers can reach thousands.I try to maximize the livetweeting experience with a few general principles. I’ll start with advice for the tweeter, but also include advice for speakers.

For tweeters:

First, Twitter is an oral medium, so don’t worry too much about overwhelming followers. It is not hard for them to mute you, or for your uninterested followers to unfollow or ignore you for a little while. As Ian Bogost once said after a 32 Tweet mini-manifesto about the digital humaniites: “It’s an intentional performative feature” of Twitter.

Second, even given that you shouldn’t worry too much about limiting the number of tweets, don’t try to transcribe what the speaker says. At best, livetweeting is a live precis of what they are saying, with a few tastes of cool stories or quotes. Often, it is just a few choice quotes, perhaps a joke or two and a pithy take-home message. And that is OK. If it is enough to whet the appetite of a small percentage of the audience, it is worth it.

Third, leave space to quote, use last name and conference hashtag. Be careful of quoting without attributing in the same tweet. If I have to do this, I make sure to use quotation marks, and quickly follow that with attribution. Related to this, it is a good idea to ask speakers if they are OK with livetweeting. I tend to think that if one is giving a quasi-public talk, one should be comfortable with the talk reaching a broad audience, but it is a good idea to politely remind and ask the speaker.

Fourth, own your summary, and don’t be afraid to add your own opinions or interests. “This reminds me of …” or “I wonder what she would think about ….”  A little personality and opinions help keep it interesting, and remind your audience that you are not merely transcribing, but reacting. If you can, supplement with links to a speaker’s website, papers or other relevant material. This is a great way to add value to a talk that might not be as easy for people in the room, but for people sitting at their computer in Cardiff, they can read more if they are interested.

Fifth, don’t be afraid to put down the keyboard and just listen.If a section of the talk is untweetable (of course this happens), just give up and wait until the next section, or the next talk. Your followers know they are getting a noisy connection in eavesdropping on the talk, and are just catching snippets anyway.

Finally, a few practical tips for livetweeting. I use an iPad (1!) and a Bluetooth keyboard with a silicone cover, so the keys are very soft. This allows me to be relatively quiet. I will take pictures of slides sometimes, but if no one else is doing it in the audience, or if I am farther back, I try to limit that.

For speakers

Livetweeting and blogging are likely to become more prevalent, so why not plan for it? First, and I may be in the minority on this, but if you would rather your words not leave the room, why say them at all? Conference talks do not strike me as the place to tell secrets to a room full of people. If they are not secrets, but tentative results, then present them as such, and perhaps politely ask people not to take pictures. Second, maybe think about designing your talk for a few tweetable moments. I think imagining a concise take-home message at the beginning and the end of the talk is just good practice for talks in general, but Twitter is just another reason to include a pithy one-sentence summary of your talk. Third, if you are on Twitter, schedule some tweets with links to your website, your papers, etc. Then, you can tell people at your talk to spread those. It becomes a virtual handout for your talk that doesn’t just reach people in the room. Think of tweeting as another way to extend the conversation. The conference talk need not begin and end at the convention center, but can be the continuation of an ongoing conversation.

That’s my $0.02 on livetweeting. Any tweeters out there? What are your impressions/opinions/tips about livetweeting? Any speakers have opinions or tips? Please share in the comments.



Here I am interviewing Dr. Joel Dvoskin on gun violence and mental illness.

If you missed some of your favorite presenters at convention this year — stay tuned. You may be able to hear them on APA’s award-winning monthly podcast series, “Speaking of Psychology.”

As host of this podcast, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some of the top psychological thinkers during this convention. Tucked away in a small, window-less room with a microphone and a computer, we are discussing a wide range of psychology topics, including virtual reality therapy and parenting.

sop-logo-rr_tcm7-160120The discussions are much more intimate than what some of these presenters face in a large convention hall or meeting room. As a result, I’m able to get at what makes their work interesting to a general audience, which is the goal of our podcast. Some of our guests are funny, some have a more personal mission, but all are eager to make psychology exciting and accessible to the general public. Be sure to listen to some of our past episodes — don’t worry, they’re not too long — and you’ll hear what I mean. (The episodes I’m taping at convention will be released in the coming months.) The conversations appear on iTunes and on our website. You can also subscribe to the podcast and be notified when each new episode is posted.