Psychological Science in Argentina: A new project

The Association for the Advancement of Psychological Sciences aims to develop a social-scientific model for psychology in Argentina.

By Ezequiel Benito

Introduction

What is today's most important challenge for psychology in Argentina? Almost everyone familiar with Argentina's long standing history of psychoanalysis hegemony would probably reply: "to turn it into a scientific discipline." We, the Association for the Advancement of Psychological Science (AACP), would disagree. As the character of John Nash asserts in the film A Beautiful Mind: the answer is right, but incomplete.

AACP Board of Directors (from left to right): Ezequiel Benito (President), Mariana Elmasian (Treasurer), Corina Calabresi (former member), Fernando Polanco (Vice President), and Milagros Martínez (Secretary)We at the AACP firmly believe that psychology without science is a mere gathering of more or less accurate ideas about human behaviour. But we also believe that science without a purpose is not much more than a collection of more or less relevant knowledge about our world. Some of the major shortcomings in current Argentinean psychology include aged training programs with a widespread emphasis on psychoanalytical theories (to the detriment of evidence-based models), a relatively small scientific research and editorial community, a massive cultural extension of psychoanalysis and the lack of a strong scientific-professional national association.

A framework for scientific training has already been established among the behavioural sciences: the way we formulate and attempt to answer problems, questions and hypotheses; the presence of critical thinking skills; the methodological and statistical tools we have to operate; standards for writing and publishing; and many other imperatives for psychology to function as a fully-grown science. Each of these characteristics must be part of Argentinean psychology's renewal, and AACP is dedicated to making this renewal as effective as possible. The question is how to make a more scientific psychology with increased social relevance. We think that both of these aspects must be considered together, rather than separately. To only strive after the former will take us to a state of affairs where psychological research may be boosted and expanded, but will remain restrained within the well-patrolled academic boundaries.

So how can psychological science reach out to society? We cannot explicitly answer that question here, but we know that when other disciplines face this question, they find several things to address: the way research is conducted and researchers are trained; the way professionals learn their practice; details of the publications process and why this is chosen; the mechanisms for funding science; and the public's understanding of science. If we were to erect the infrastructure for scientific psychology without taking into account its already-identified flaws, we would be building castles (of knowledge) in the sand (of relevance). We are facing a historical moment when decisions may have a profound impact on the future of Argentinean psychology, so this is the time to develop the most contextualized, updated and reviewed version of science, not the textbook one.

Young organization, young ideas

The AACP is a non-profit organization integrated by researchers, professionals, teachers and students who promote the scientific, social and strategic development of psychology in Argentina. As of today, we have over 200 members from different provinces, as well as some from Latin America.

The reference to "psychological science" in the name of our association alludes to our proposal for a social-scientific model in psychology. This perspective promotes scientific development together with considerations about its social role. We believe that both tasks are necessary and are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, our general goal involves a strong scientific commitment along with the endeavour to seek the means to articulate, contextualize, connect and transfer psychological knowledge into professional practice, and to assist policymaking and address the public interest. This goal is pursued by a series of institutional actions, including programs to foster scientific publications, offer complementary training in scientific methods and models, provide scholarships to attend psychological conferences, facilitate access to scientific databases, promote membership with other national and international psychology organizations, and communicate psychological science to the general population and the public policymakers.

The current Board of Directors is integrated by Ezequiel Benito (president), Fernando Polanco (vice president), Milagros Martinez (secretary), Celeste Bogetti (prosecretary), Mariana Elmasian (treasurer) and six additional members: Leandro Casari, Rocío Cataldo, Julieta Echeverría, Esteban Knöbl and Sebastián Scotti. Each member takes part in one of six departments: Training, Communication, Research, Publications, Science & Society and Ethical & Legal Issues.

Main developments in the association include the web portal, where all resources are presented, an e-learning platform that delivers undergraduate and graduate courses and workshops, a bi-monthly newsletter and an email list to achieve communication amongst our community. Since 2009, we've published the Latin American Journal of Psychological Science (PSIENCIA), a bi-annual scientific journal that receives articles related to advancements in psychology at scientific and social, institutional and disciplinary levels that contribute knowledge to strategic development in the region.

History

The AACP was founded in 2005 when I (Ezequiel Benito, president) was an undergraduate student at the University of Buenos Aires. After finding that psychoanalysis was the only theory we were being trained in, I started contacting other students, teachers, researchers and professionals to talk about a scientific approach to psychology, and formed a group called the "COBAND Project" — a generic name to identify something that was a work-in-progress, such as psychology as a science in Argentina. From 2005 to 2006, the organization experienced a major expansion, incorporating students from other universities and acquiring a stronger structure. Between 2007 and 2008, organization members took part in several conferences — promoting student participation in research and discussing proposals for higher education improvements in psychology, such as evidence-based training alternatives. During those years, new courses were taught in Buenos Aires, including Psychobiology, Learning Theories, Behaviour Modification and Epistemology, and eminent researchers were invited to give lectures. Subsequently, an innovative e-learning platform was implemented and has since gathered most of those training activities, widening the attendance scope from Buenos Aires to all of Argentina and Latin America.

By 2009, the first issue of Latin American Journal of Psychological Science (PSIENCIA) was published and a more mature view of psychology took place within AACP as the members advanced in their careers. In 2010, when most of the original members obtained their Degree in Psychology (equivalent to a Master's Degree) and began their PhD studies, the actual organization model emerged as a more systematic commitment to its goals. One year later, in 2011, the fledgling association started to accept membership, which today is more than 200 members. The AACP also established alliances with the Association for Psychological Science and the Chilean Association for Scientific Journals of Psychology. Another organization that is very close to AACP is the Interamerican Society of Psychology (SIP), which seconded our original project and supported our progress since 2005. Along with these connections, a dialogue has been started with the Argentinean Association for Behavioural Sciences (AACC), a scientific-academic organization, to try and work together toward our common goal of a scientific approach to human behaviour.

Our challenges, our future

Argentinean psychology has the potential to overcome its limitations and become a fully grown science, but achieving success in this task involves making advancements toward science and finding mechanisms to incorporate psychological knowledge as one of our national assets. In order to do so, we must ask ourselves what is our role in this process, what we can do and how we can do it. Working together is the key to accomplishing this. In the end, as our aforementioned scientist also asserted, the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what's best for themselves...and the group. For more information about the AACP, please visit the association's website.