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2020 SPSP New Orleans Convention

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Invited Sessions

What Do We Know and What Should We Be Teaching Others About Our Field?

Sharing Psychology: The View From Other Disciplines

2020 Symposium Panel

E.J. Masicampo headshot

E.J. Masicampo
Wake Forest University

Negin Toosi  headshot

Negin Toosi
California State University East Bay

What Do We Know and What Should We Be Teaching Others About Our Field?

Chair: E.J. Masicampo

What can we confidently consider to be the knowledge or wisdom of our field? How can we make sense of competing theories, incompatible results, and failed replications in a way that advances theory? And considering the state of our knowledge, what should we be teaching others about our discipline, both in the classroom and beyond? In this session, four leaders in social and personality psychology will share and discuss their perspectives on these issues. Joe Simmons will discuss developing skills in scientists to help them recognize credible versus incredible findings. Susan Fiske will speak to the advancement of theory in the face of incompatible theories and results. Beth Morling will discuss approaches to teaching our discipline in the classroom. Simine Vazire will present on the responsible dissemination of psychological science to the public. Together, these presenters will help us to reflect on a way forward in our research, teaching, and outreach as the field continues to move toward more open and rigorous science.


Joe Simmons headshot
Joe Simmons
University of Pennsylvania
Susan T. Fiske headshot
Susan T. Fiske
Princeton University
Beth Morling headshot
Beth Morling
University of Delaware
Simine Vazire headshot
Simine Vazire
University of California, Davis

The public cannot know what is true vs. false about human psychology if our journals do not distinguish between what is true vs. false about human psychology. Editors and reviewers are the gatekeepers of our journals, but while many of them can expertly assess experimental design and theoretical impact, many are poorly trained to assess whether statistical results are credible. We need to better train all of our scientists to understand what valid vs. invalid results look like. I will discuss some ways to do this including (1) having PhD students run high-quality replications (of both obvious and non-obvious effects) to observe what results actually look like, and (2) teaching PhD students what both p-hacked findings and fraudulent findings look like, and (3) teaching PhD students basic facts about sample size requirements. Getting a PhD in experimental psychology should involve acquiring a good, experience-based intuition about which kinds of results are credible vs. incredible.

Advances in science concern not only methods and statistics, but also theory development. Beyond refining tools and procedures, reconciling contradictory results requires a deeper understanding of the theoretical underpinnings guiding research. Theories rarely collaborate: Using other people's theory is like using their toothbrush (Mischel, 2008). Because people own them, theories compete; and requiring some to lose incentivizes destructive critique of seemingly incompatible views.

Conflict resolution processes for opposing research results provided a promising precedent for how to manage competing theories. As a constructive response to contradictory evidence and failed replications, adversarial collaboration on research has integrated incompatible results (Kahneman, 2003). Building on this idea, we further propose and illustrate "adversarial synthesis" of competing conceptual frameworks. five-way adversarial synthesis tackled competing models of social evaluation, aiming to negotiate areas of agreement and disagreement. The resulting cumulative meta-theoretical consensus advances science.

What's an instructor to do when the research foundation of our courses seems to shift like sand? I suggest we affirm the real foundation for undergraduate education in psychology: Quantitative, empirical reasoning about human behavior. In the wake of the credibility revolution, the curriculum can both change and stay the same. Methods courses should modernize to address preregistration over p-hacking, effect sizes over p-values, open science over competition, and skepticism over "proof." Content courses should teach theories and findings, mainly as a vehicle for delivering the liberal arts core of psychology. At this core are the critical thinking skills of theory testing, evidence-based argument, clear writing, and learning how to learn.

A defining feature of science should be that scientists are critical, skeptical, and not easily impressed by our own results. However, scientists are susceptible to motivated reasoning and self-serving biases and thus are likely to believe that our own results mean more than they actually do. As a result, when we communicate our findings directly to the public, we often (intentionally or not) exaggerate their implications. This undermines public trust in science because it erodes our reputation as critical, skeptical people. I propose that scientists should avoid playing the role of cheerleader for our own findings, and instead, that most dissemination of scientific findings to the public should be mediated by professional journalists. Journalists can serve as neutral arbiters of the meaning of scientific findings and can be held accountable for the accuracy of their reporting. Scientists who wish to engage in science communication can educate the public about the process of science and how to think critically about scientific evidence. These more complex narratives could lead to greater trust in science if the public comes to see us as a careful, calibrated source of knowledge.

Sharing Psychology: The View From Other Disciplines

Chair: Negin Toosi

Inspired by the concurrent calls to "give psychology away" and to "decolonize psychological science", this symposium provides a chance to reflect on what happens when we share psychology with others – from their perspective. The presentations will highlight projects in the fields of economics and law. First, psychologist Laura Babbitt will introduce Drusilla Brown, economist and head of the Labor Lab, who will reflect on their interdisciplinary collaboration addressing working conditions for garment factory workers in countries around the world. Second, psychologist Sam Sommers will introduce Lisa Kavanaugh, public defender and director of the CPCS Innocence Program, who will describe her work and the role that psychology can play. She will in turn introduce Fred Clay, who, after being wrongfully imprisoned for almost four decades, was exonerated with the assistance of psychologists who served as expert witnesses. Dr. Brown, Ms. Kavanaugh, and Mr. Clay will all be invited to share their thoughts on what psychologists do well and what we could do better.

Drusilla Brown headshot
Drusilla Brown
Tufts University
Laura Babbitt headshot
Laura Babbitt
Tufts University
Lisa M. Kavanaugh headshot
Lisa M. Kavanaugh
CPCS Innocence Program (Massachusetts)
Frederick Clay headshot
Frederick Clay
Lowell, MA
Sam Sommers headshot
Sam Sommers
Tufts University

We will begin by introducing the work of the Labor Lab at Tufts University, a collaborative institute employing the tools of social psychology, management science, and economics to understand the determinants of and remedies for harsh working conditions in factories around the world. Using a formal analytical framework of common labor management practices such as verbal abuse, sexual harassment, human trafficking, forced labor, excess hours, pay deception and occupational safety and health, the Labor Lab works to identify the interventions that should induce factory managers to choose compliant and more humane work environments. These interventions have and are currently being tested using panel data, natural experiments and randomized controlled trials, in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America and the Caribbean, and the U.K. Finally, Dr. Brown will share her insights as an economist on the unique contributions psychology has made and can make to understanding these issues affecting millions of workers.

A few weeks after Mr. Clay turned 16, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. His conviction was based exclusively on testimony from two eyewitnesses, one of whom identified Clay only after he had been put under hypnosis by a police detective and the other of whom suffered from a serious cognitive disability. After almost 38 years spent in prison, Clay was finally exonerated in August 2017. He won his freedom with the help of lawyers from the CPCS Innocence Program and psychologists who served as expert witnesses who demonstrated that the murder conviction was deeply flawed. Sam Sommers, one of the expert witnesses, will introduce Lisa Kavanaugh, the director of the CPCS Innocence Program, who will share her experience working with psychologists and in turn, introduce Fred Clay. The speakers will present their insights into the potential contributions of psychologists to educate juries and the public about the limitations of eyewitness memory and the challenges of racial bias, thereby increasing the odds of justice for those who are caught up in the legal system.

2020 Annual Convention
February 27-29, 2020
New Orleans, LA USA