Cover Story

The presidential speakers at APA's Annual Convention in Toronto will discuss myriad topics related to psychology, the brain and education--from mental time travel to academic administration.

Grover J. Whitehurst, PhD, director of the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, will present some of the opportunities and challenges for psychology in education research at his session, "Psychology and evidence-based education," on Friday, Aug. 8, 10-10:50 a.m.

Whitehurst, who was appointed director by President George W. Bush, says he'll discuss the institute's desire for applied practical research in schools that addresses the needs of educators and policy-makers--something psychologists' training equips them to do. Some of the challenges for psychologists in this arena, he notes, involve working in nontraditional settings with large populations.

"There is a series of arts and crafts that are involved in working with communities and schools and teachers that are different from the crafts taught in [psychology] graduate training programs," says Whitehurst. "Most of the work that will be relevant to educators and policy-makers is work that is done at a sufficient scale to make choices about programs. The research needs to be done in numerous classrooms and several school districts."

The institute will provide significant new funding for such psychological research in education, Whitehurst says. "The challenge here is to turn education into an evidence-based field in the way that clinical psychology has been turned into an evidence-based field in the last 30 years," he explains. "There's a tremendous problem out there, and psychology is ideally situated to address it."

Michael Posner, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon and adjunct professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, will also delve into education--but with a different focus. In his session, "Educating the developing brain," on Saturday, Aug. 9, 1-1:50 p.m., he'll discuss how genetic differences and specific life experiences shape the efficiency of neural networks involved in attention and language.

According to Posner, neural networks develop similarly in everyone--yet the efficiency of individuals' networks can be very different. He'll share early findings from a current study involving 4 -year-olds and from projects on early acquisition of literacy and numeracy.

"There are programs that assist in that type of learning," he says. "They all involve a certain amount of attention and ability of a child to regulate their behavior. Attentional networks are susceptible to training--and we're interested in studying that aspect."

Continuing the theme of learning, Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, APA president, Yale University IBM Professor of Psychology and Education and director of the Yale Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise, will discuss the Rainbow Project--a collaboration of more than 15 high schools, colleges and universities across the country that examined the efficiency of a test based on his theory of successful intelligence and designed to augment the SAT. His session, "The Rainbow Project: what's wrong with college admissions and how psychology can fix it," will highlight the need for new tests for college admissions, what forms these tests might take and why they increase equity in the college admissions process.

"The goal [of the Rainbow Project] was to determine whether the test would improve the prediction of college performance and promote diversity in undergraduate classes," he says. The test--which looks at analytical, creative and practical abilities-- accomplished both objectives. Now, he says, he and the other investigators are starting phase two of the project--a larger study to determine how to improve the test and replicate the results with a larger population.

"The unusual thing about this study is that the collaboration is made up of many investigators--[30 in the first phase]--with widely varying points of view," says Sternberg. "Not all of them believe in my theory [of successful intelligence.] Some are sympathetic, some are unsympathetic and some are indifferent. It doesn't have the usual problem of 'These people all have the same point of view.'"

Sternberg's lecture is on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2-2:50 p.m.

Further Reading

The Presidential Track will also feature:

  • Henry L. Roediger III, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis, on "Aging and false memory: exploring Mark Twain's conjecture."
    Friday, Aug. 8, 11-11:50 a.m.
    Chair: Endel Tulving, PhD, Rotman Research Institute.

  • Peter Salovey, PhD, Yale University, on "Emotional intelligence: What do we know, really?"
    Friday, Aug. 8, 12-12:50 p.m.
    Chair: Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, Yale University.

  • Endel Tulving, PhD, Rotman Research Institute, on "What makes mental time travel possible?"
    Friday, Aug. 8, 1-1:50 p.m.
    Chair: Henry L. Roediger III, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, Indiana University Bloomington, on "The psychology of academic administration: survival tips and significant issues."
    Saturday, Aug. 9, 11-11:50 a.m.
    Chair: William C. Howell, PhD, Arizona State University.

  • Patrick H. DeLeon, PhD, JD, APA past-president, on "The maturation of a health profession: quality psychopharmacological care."
    Saturday, Aug. 9, 12-12:50 p.m.
    Chair: Michael J. Sullivan, PhD, APA Practice Directorate.