Psychology in South Africa: Two international conferences
South Africa was the host country to two major international conferences this summer. The International Congress for Cross Cultural Psychology was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, followed by the International Congress of Psychology in Cape Town. Although vastly different in size (~600 vs. >5,000 participants) and scope (cross-cultural psychology versus all of psychology), the themes of the two meetings ("Nurturing diversity for sustainable development"; "Psychology serving humanity") brought conference attendees to consider the many ways in which psychological science can serve the public good.
21st Congress of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP)
The IACCP Congress was held on the campus of Stellenbosch University, in the town of the same name. Situated in the wine district, about 90 minutes from Cape Town, Stellenbosch provided a bucolic (if cold!) setting for the almost 600 participants from 68 countries around the world. The program structure, of plenaries interspersed with parallel sessions, allowed participants to both hear major addresses and interact in smaller discussions. The talks allowed lively exchanges, focused on a wide variety of topics from the effects of malaria infection to development of leadership in Africa, but most with an underlying interest in culture, identity, value and the overwhelming importance of context and place on human behavior.
Highlights included talks on resilience across countries, and the point that our constructs always need to be tested and validated within specific cultures of use. This fundamental lesson from cross cultural psychologists is echoed by developmentalists, for whom the behavioral manifestations of any construct change dramatically with age (consider how you would measure intelligence or motor skill at ages 1, 5 and 15). It was clear from many talks that psychology, as a discipline, now has the tools and broad knowledge base to think more deeply about how culture influences behavioral expression (or whether constructs remain constant across culture). There were also several talks on biculturalism, posing issues relevant to today's increasingly multicultural societies.
30th International Congress of Psychology (ICP 2012)
The 30th International Congress of Psychology (ICP2012) hosted more than 5,000 delegates from 103 countries. The first international congress on the African continent took place in the Cape Town Congress Centre, a light-filled building with ample meeting rooms for the many simultaneous sessions. APA was strongly represented at this congress. The APA President, Past President, President Elect, CEO, several board members and many senior staff attended, along with about 660 other American psychologists. In addition, APA hosted a thank you reception on the second night of the congress for about 600 participants and staffed both a books/marketing booth and an information table on APA programs in the exhibit hall.
In addition to direct APA participation, fourteen student and early career psychologists along with seven more senior psychologists were supported by the "APA-USNC Travel Mentor Program," which was developed by APA and funded by both the National Science Foundation and APA. The goal of this program was to enable U.S. scientists to participate in the Congress and to foster mentoring about "how to" attend an international meeting in terms of meeting colleagues, setting agendas and following through after the meeting.
It is hard to even choose highlights from the rich congress program, which included policy, theory and application papers as well as scientific reports. For many conference attendees, the value of this Congress was the opportunity to learn rapidly and in detail about the issues, structure and visions of psychology elsewhere around the globe. From talks on leadership or student issues, to psychology and policy, the congress provided a structure for interesting public debates and intimate followup conversations.
The closing ceremony of ICP2012, attended by a full audience (in a large auditorium room) passed the Congress "baton" to the organizers of the next ICP, which will take place in Yokohama, Japan, in 2016.