From the CEO

Turn on the news any day of the week, and you'll hear more questions being raised than answered. Why does it seem that incidents of gun violence are escalating? Are violent video games a threat to our children? How can we eliminate violence against women? At APA, we look to the research to answer such tough, multifaceted questions — often by appointing a task force to study the best available science. These groups of experts work to answer some of society's most pressing questions and offer policymakers and the public evidence-based solutions. For example:

  • APA's Policy Review Task Force on the Prediction and Prevention of Gun Violence, a group of seven psychologists, met in September to develop a policy presented to the association's Council of Representatives last month. Their resolution emphasizes psychologists' role in the public health response to firearm violence, as well as other points such as the need for funding for mental health crisis services. By taking into account the latest and most rigorous research on gun violence, the task force provided an evidence-based answer to the question: how can we reduce the number of firearm-related deaths?
  • APA's Task Force on the Trafficking of Women and Girls also presented a report to the council last month. The group of experts, appointed in 2010, scoured the literature on the psychological, physical and social effects of human trafficking and then summarized what is known. Their report also provides recommendations for all types of psychologists — including social, clinical and forensic — on how best to study and treat victims of human trafficking.
  • APA's Task Force on Violent Media is addressing another timely topic — how violence in video games affects consumers. For example, do they increase aggressive behavior in children, as APA's 2005 resolution concluded? What else is known? APA's seven-member task force on the topic expects to release its report later this year.

While it's too soon to see how the work of these groups will affect public perception and policy, I have confidence that they will. After all, APA's task forces have a strong track record. The association's 2007 Task Force on the Sexualization of Women and Girls, for example, is cited in Congress's "Healthy Media for Youth Act," which would provide grants for youth empowerment programs and research on how media depictions of women and girls affect youth. The task force's report also received extensive media coverage in nearly 200 news outlets worldwide — which, like many of APA's reports, helped educate the public about the value of psychological science.

Another influential report came from APA's 2009 Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which informed a congressional resolution that sought to prohibit programs aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation and/or gender identity. One APA report and two APA resolutions are cited in the resolution, called the Stop Harming Our Kids Act. State legislatures in California and New Jersey also considered APA's report and resolutions when adopting similar laws last year.

More recently, the Obama administration spoke out against school zero-tolerance policies that address minor behavioral problems with major punishments — a policy that APA's Zero Tolerance Policy Task Force, convened in 2005, found to increase poor behavior and dropout rates in middle and high school students. The report released by APA's 2008 Presidential Task Force on Integrated Health Care for an Aging Population continues to provide a strong foundation for our advocacy efforts related to health care reform.

With these and many other task forces as precedents, I look forward to the dissemination of APA's most recent task force reports. When psychological research is coupled with the association's far-reaching ability to make its work known on Capitol Hill, in news media reporting and to the public, APA can, and does, make a real difference.