From the CEO

The field of psychology produces a wealth of scholarship about important issues facing society. Unfortunately, the reach of this information often does not extend beyond journal publications, and when this happens, the benefits to society are muted.

To remedy this, APA plays an important role in convening experts to reach a consensus on where we stand on particular topics, and disseminating this consensus widely.

A case in point

The recent report of the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls provides a case in point of APA's convening and disseminating power. The task force was composed of six content-expert psychologists and one public member, who met three times during 2005 and 2006. The task force examined published research, psychological theory and clinical experience related to the sexualization of girls in virtually every form of media-from television to music lyrics to the Internet.

The report found that girls are being bombarded with images and messages that link their value to their sex appeal. This is particularly alarming because the report also found evidence that this proliferation of sexualized images is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development and can be linked to common mental health problems in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

The task force also acted on its charge to communicate its findings to the broader public. Among the task force products was the traditional report to the mental health community (which was adopted by APA's Council of Representatives in February) but also included an executive summary version of the report and a tip sheet for parents.

The task force worked closely with the APA Public Affairs Office to prepare for interactions with the news media once the report was released. Talking points were created and task force members were coached on how to handle news media interviews. Kudos are due the task force members who made themselves available for media interviews over a weekend and on short notice.

Exposure for the report-and for psychology

The report earned nearly 200 news placements nationwide and internationally, including a feature segment on the "Today" show, a full-length feature in the Washington Post and coverage on CNN and in USA Today. By the end of the first day, this was the #1 most frequently emailed story on the BBC Web site; print and Web news outlets in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, the Czech Republic, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Ghana covered the report. Additionally, two task force members, Eileen Zurbriggen, PhD (chair) and Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, wrote opinion-editorials about the report's findings, which were published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Denver Post, respectively.

According to Rhea Farberman, APA executive director for public and member communications, "Being prepared to express to reporters the essence and importance of the report's finding in brief and easy-to-understand language was the real key to our success in garnering such a large amount of coverage for the report. Anytime APA can speak from the science in a way that helps illuminate an issue, especially one that involves children and adolescents, the media is going to be interested."

The report was a strong example of APA bringing science-based information to a societal concern. Doing so served two important purposes:

  • We brought vital information to the public about ways to protect and enhance social development and healthy self-image in young people.

  • In doing so, we helped the public better understand what psychological science offers them-the study of human behavior and development. Full text of the report is available on the APA Women's Programs Office site. Request hard copies by contacting the APA Women's Programs Office at the APA address or at (202) 336-6050.

Further Reading

Read more about the report in the April Monitor article "APA task force decries culture's sexualization of girls".