Toward a Global Science of Psychology

Several topics were addressed at a week-long series of scientific panels and meetings at the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP).

By Pamela Flattau

Pamela Flattau, PhD, is 2010 Co-Chair of APA’s Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP), and Senior Analyst at the Institute for Defense Analysis reviews some of the highlights of the ICAP meetings in Melbourne, Australia.

In July, I had the opportunity to attend the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP) in Melbourne at the invitation of the US National Committee for Psychological Science (USNC/IUPsyS). As co-chair of the APA Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) and liaison to the USNC, I also attended the IUPsyS General Assembly which convened at ICAP, as a non-voting member of the US delegation. The week-long series of scientific panels and meetings with international colleagues reinforced by impression of the sweeping advances that continue to made in fostering a global and collaborative science of psychology. The purpose of this communiqué is to highlight just some of the topics addressed at these meetings.


Professor Paul Slovic (USA) presented findings from several carefully designed studies which examined social and cognitive factors contributing to human indifference to genocide. Australian experts joined Slovic in a panel discussion of the topic, describing social service delivery options designed to facilitate recovering from traumatic experiences like the Holocaust (Ida Kaplan), and legal remedies being considered to redress the Australian government treatment of Aborigines (Michael Anderson).

Psychological Consequences of Terrorism

Scientists in Spain have taken important steps in examining adaptive responses to terrorist attacks that have occurred in that country in recent years. Professor Maria Paz Garcia- Vera described the data collection strategies and selected outcomes of post-traumatic stress responses of direct victims, relatives of those victims, emergency personnel, and the general public – studies informed by research in England, Ireland, the US, and Israel.

Environmental Decision-Making

Dr. Helen Ross (Australia) described an approach for integrating social and behavioral scientific research into participatory decision-making for water resource management. Describing her work in Australia as well as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Ross explained how she utilized a Bayesian Belief System model to embed a social resilience study into a social-ecological management system.

Cultural Adaptation and Integration

Faculty of the University of Groningen (Netherlands) have for several years conducted innovative studies of the adaptive strategies of immigrants moving to the Netherlands and the attitudes of the Dutch majority to assimilation and integration. Professor Karen van der Zee described the theories which inform their study designs; Professor Jan Pieter van Oudenhoven presented excerpts from a training film designed to prepare business executives and diplomats for work with and in international settings.

Assessing Leadership Characteristics in Asia

Human resource managers are looking today for cross- cultural predictors of leadership effectiveness, as embodied by the work of Professor Emeritus William H. Mobley (USA). Several efforts are underway to extend leadership studies into Asia, such as the work of Ms. Ying “Lena” Wang (England) who described her research on the differences between Mainland and non-Mainland Chinese in responding to situational cues, one of the traits thought to be related to leadership effectiveness. Ms. Clara To (Hong Kong) is exploring the salience of moral behavior as the “global mindset” of embracing innovation to leverage growth becomes more prevalent among Chinese business leaders.

Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists

Scientific meetings like ICAP continue to serve as a vehicle for promoting the exchange of ideas for advancing both research and practice in psychology. Professor Janel Gauthier (Canada) and his colleagues organized a panel at ICAP to describe the results of two-year effort to develop a culturally sensitive framework to guide psychologists “toward the highest ethical ideals in their professional and scientific work.” The Declaration was adopted by the International Union of Psychological Science in July 2008, as well as by the International Association of Applied Psychology the same year. At the General Assembly in Melbourne, Union delegates discussed the possibility of developing similar guidelines for the collection and application of scientific “evidence” for use in applied psychology.

APA CIRP Strategic Plan

The APA Committee on International Relations in Psychology continues to discuss and refine the strategic plan of the APA Office of International Affairs which aims to further psychology internationally. At the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, for example, CIRP sponsored panels and activities designed to increase members’ understanding of opportunities to work collaboratively with experts in other countries as well as strategies for presenting the results of our work to international leaders located at the United Nations. APA is also working in conjunction with the US National Committee to make it possible for US researchers to participate in and contribute to the 30th International Congress of Psychology (PDF, 653KB) that will take place in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2012. Taken together, these various efforts assure our progress towards a strong and vibrant science of psychology.