From the Science Directorate

APA has filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policies that are currently under review by the Supreme Court.

APA Member Kicks Off the Congressional Testimony Season

On Wednesday, March 9th, APA member Timothy Wilson, PhD, presented APA's annual testimony in support of psychological research before a House Appropriations Subcommittee in the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Wilson, a social psychologist and Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia, advocated for increased funding at three federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the House VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee: the National Science Foundation (NSF); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Psychological researchers receive grant support from each of these agencies, and NSF in particular is a primary source of funding for scientists.

Testimony highlighted two large-scale grant programs at NSF in FY04—the Human and Social Dynamics research priority area within NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate, and the foundation-wide Science of Learning program. For more information on each, see NSF’s website. Following the official testimony, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Heather Kelly, APA’s Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, met with staff from Rep. Virgil Goode’s office (he is a Republican Congressman from Virginia who sits on the influential VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee) to get his support for psychological science at NSF.


APA Files Amicus Curiae in Support of University of Michigan Admissions Process Psychological Research Shows Why Diversity in Higher Education is Critical to Combating Prejudice

By Keren Yairi

APA has filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policies that are currently under review by the Supreme Court. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against the University by unsuccessful applicants to the institution who argue that admissions decisions considering race and ethnicity are unconstitutional.

The APA brief offers a number of psychological research findings supporting the University’s position. The brief presents research demonstrating not only that racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice persist in American society, but also that many people who do not believe themselves to be biased or racist actually do maintain racial and ethnic stereotypes. Because such biases are usually automatic and unconscious, they cannot be eliminated merely through mindful efforts to change attitudes. However, stereotypes can be conquered over time, according to additional research cited in the brief, when opportunities are provided for students of different races or ethnic groups to interact with and learn from one another.

Why is it important for the psychological science community to address the Court on the subject of affirmative action? According to Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University, who assisted in preparation of the document, “APA's brief does not contain mere aspirations about the assumed benefits of diversity and its role is reducing bias. It provides hard evidence about the depth of prejudice and its consequences, both conscious and unconscious. Nobody who has the capacity to understand the evidence, irrespective of their political leanings, can walk away without admiration and full support for the University of Michigan's position.”

Furthermore, explains Paul Sacket of the University of Minnesota, who also assisted in preparing the brief, “…Opponents of the University of Michigan's admission practices had presented arguments to the Court that seriously misconstrued psychological research showing links between campus diversity and important educational outcomes. I believe it is crucial that psychological science respond to these critics.” Sacket was referring to criticisms of the methodology used in the “Gurin Report,” a research document assembled by University of Michigan psychology professor Patricia Gurin and used by the lower courts in making an initial decision. The APA brief defends the scientific research standards of the Gurin Report and further demonstrates how the critiques themselves depend on numerous flawed assumptions and methods.

Finally, the brief supports the conclusion of lower courts that government has a “compelling interest” in diversity in higher education as a means of fostering positive interracial and inter-ethnic relations. As stated in the Gurin report, students who go to college in a diverse environment "are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic democratic society once they leave such a setting.” Psychology itself also has a “compelling interest” in creating a more diverse student body in higher education, as this will allow for more cultural diversity within the field that will ultimately yield a better understanding of the country’s ethnically and racially varied population. “Diversity is an effective tool for creating cross-fertilization of ideas and contributions in institutions of higher learning," according to Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, President of the APA and the Director of the PACE Center at Yale University. "There are multiple means of creating diversity. Affirmative action is one such legitimate means."

For more information:
APA Resolution on Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (1999) 
APA Resolution on Ethnic Minority Recruitment and Retention (1994)


Work/Family Research Soon to Get Boost in Federal Funding

By Dianne Brown Maranto

National Institutes of Health (NIH) offices (The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, from the Centers for Disease Control), the Child Care Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the Maryland Population Research Center are collaborating with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to assess the state of the science in work-family, health and well-being research to begin to carve out an agenda for future efforts that will build upon existing knowledge.

NICHD and other NIH Institutes have funded work-family research in the past, but much of this work has been funded in response to general calls for research instead of to a specific initiative focused squarely on work, family and health research. According to Lynne Casper, NICHD’s director of this program, “The time has come to build a program specifically targeted at this area of research. We are holding a conference in June 2003 to launch the new work, family, health and well-being initiative. This conference will bring together researchers from a variety of disciplines to help identify theories, methodologies, and constructs that will help to inform a comprehensive model for future research.” Another future conference will examine current workplace policies and practices, state and federal laws pertaining to work, and employees’ notions about workplace policies and programs. This conference will also foster partnerships between employers and researchers. Both conferences will help to shape a future research agenda and funding priorities in this area.

In addition to the previously mentioned NIH research, the military, and some funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), work-family research has had a major benefactor in recent years in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Kathleen Christensen, a former professor of environmental psychology, developed Sloan’s Workplace, Workforce and Working Families program in 1994. Since then, they have sponsored 150 grants totaling over 40 million dollars. Sloan’s program is organized around three goals: (1) understanding the structure of the workplace and how it can be rethought to meet the varied needs of American workers; (2) understanding the daily lives of working families and the issues they face; and (3) promoting public understanding of working families through popular books, radio and television. The first and second goals represent the research foci of Sloan’s centers and grantees, and the third represents a newer, more applied focus of the foundation.

After several years of workplace research, Dr. Christensen recognized that many of the issues confronting families and work, center around the fact that although the demographics and economic needs of the workforce have changed greatly, the setting and demands of the workplace have not. “A workplace that requires, full-time, full-year work, with minimal opportunities for time off or for flexible career paths, subverts the needs of many in today's diverse workforce. The lack of career paths that mirror life cycles makes it difficult for many, including dual earner working parents, older workers, and single parents, to live the lives they would like. Many do not want to work full time, full year, year in and year out, on a rigid lock step career path for their entire lives. But right now they have little choice. The rigidity of the workplace is profoundly mismatched with the needs of the changing workforce.” She has worked to shape Sloan’s research agenda accordingly, with new projects examining career ladders for dual earner families and examining workplace restructuring in specific industries. While the Sloan Foundation continues to support important research on working families and the issues they face, “we have also developed the workplace-workforce mismatch formulation to support action-oriented research that identifies innovative workplace ideas and practices that can form the genesis of a movement towards a more flexible and productive workplace that will be good for children, good for society, and good for business in the future."

With new sources of funding on the way, psychologists may have more opportunities to be active in this area of research. Although multidisciplinary teams are common, the area seems to be dominated by sociologists and labor economists. Rosalind Barnett, a clinical psychologist at Brandeis University’s Community, Families and Work program has been conducting research on worker scheduling and family demands, funded by Sloan and by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “The new funding will encourage more psychologists to consider how their focus on individuals can be broadened to encompass dyadic relationships and the reciprocal effects of work and family on individual and couple health and well-being.” Leslie Hammer, at Portland State University, is another psychologist (industrial/organizational) who has conducted Sloan-funded research, and who feels that psychologists have a valuable perspective to offer.

“Our research on working families caring for both children and parents provides a glimpse of the dynamics, both positive and negative, that occur among dual-earner couples who are managing multiple family and work role demands simultaneously.” Tammy Allen, an industrial/organizational psychologist at University of South Florida, has conducted research on family supportive workplace issues and work-family conflict. "This is an exciting opportunity for industrial/organizational psychologists to contribute to an important research agenda. Our training in understanding both organizational and individual well-being provides an ideal foundation for conducting research on the intersection of work and family roles."

Diane Halpern, APA president-elect, will undoubtedly bring more visibility to this area of research. Placing a high value on influencing public policy, Dr. Halpern sees the work/family balance issue as a natural for science to inform policy. “The world of work is still organized for the fictional family that lived in the world of black-and-white television in the 1950s. There are few real families with a dedicated company man, stay-at-home wife to care for the children or elderly parents, and two children who apparently never needed much care or suffer from serious illnesses. We need a new model of work—one that works for employers and working families and psychologists are in a position to do the research to inform that new model.”