Reflecting on his more than four decades of research in psychology, Kurt Salzinger, PhD, confesses that his interests have been "all over the map."
"I've studied barking in dogs, the effects of electromagnetic fields on rats' behavior, conditioned reinforcement in goldfish, the acquisition of language in children and verbal behavior in schizophrenic patients--I guess I've always been greedy in wanting to look at all of these different things," he says.
Salzinger modestly describes that quality as "dilettante-like"; his colleagues recognize it as a gift for seeing psychology as a unified discipline.
"Kurt has a breadth of knowledge of psychology that is rare in this age of super-specialization," says Vanderbilt University Dean of Arts and Science Richard McCarty, PhD, whom Salzinger succeeds as APA's executive director for science. "He really is a psychologist in the broadest sense of the term. He recognizes the interconnections among the various subdivisions of psychology."
Salzinger, who assumed his new post on Aug. 15, has long been active in APA's governance.
"He has been a strong and effective advocate for science in APA for many years, as a member of the Council of Representatives, the Board of Directors and the Board of Scientific Affairs," says APA Chief Executive Officer Raymond D. Fowler, PhD. "He is remarkable for his ability to build bridges between science and other constituencies. We are very fortunate to have been able to attract him to APA."
"The knowledge of APA governance is crucial when you're working on a major initiative or when you're looking at the ramifications of actions that may be discussed in the Board or Council," adds McCarty, observing that Salzinger's breadth of knowledge, combined with his understanding of governance, will be indispensable in heading the Science Directorate.
In addition to his leadership in APA's governance and as a former president in Divs. 1 (General) and 25 (Behavior Analysis), Salzinger has held leadership positions in many other scientific organizations, including serving as president of the New York Academy of Sciences and chair of the American Institute of Sciences and Technology, the New York Science Policy Association and the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.
Salzinger also created and served as a program officer for the Applied Experimental Psychology Section of the National Science Foundation. (There, jokes Salzinger, "I learned about the advantages of giving money rather than taking it.")
Before coming to APA, Salzinger was a professor of psychology and director of the graduate program in clinical and school psychology at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y. His research, although spanning a staggering array of topics, has uniformly been guided by the principle that behavior can be understood by understanding the contingencies that influence behavior.
Salzinger's stature as a scientist-- he has written a dozen books and more than 100 scientific papers--will serve him well in his new job, says McCarty.
"He's a powerful intellect and an accomplished person in every respect, and he'll be a great addition to the Science Directorate," McCarty says.
Spreading the word
In his new position, Salzinger plans to continue McCarty's habit of visiting universities and attending meetings of the regional psychological associations and other specialized organizations to consult with psychologists about how APA can best represent them. He's also eager to publicize projects such as the "Decade of Behavior" initiative, Summer Science Institute, Advanced Training Institute and other Science Directorate activities.
"Everybody in APA knows something about what the Science Directorate does, and I always thought I knew a lot," Salzinger says. "But now that I'm taking on this new position, I've discovered what a small part of the directorate's activities I knew about."
He also hopes to give greater voice to scientist-practitioners within APA and to attract more scientists who are not APA members to join the association.
"There is a feeling among some people that APA has been taken over by practitioners," Salzinger says. "I've got to put it on the table: I don't think that's true. I think it's a misapprehension, but that's not something you can demonstrate to people by asserting it--it's something you have to demonstrate through behavior. APA is the one organization that can encompass all kinds of psychologists, and it's an opportunity for us to influence each other, and thereby to help each other."
Finally, Salzinger hopes to heighten psychological science's visibility among nonpsychologists. In particular, he'd like to help the public better understand that basic science endeavors--for example, in the neurosciences--are also the province of psychology.
"Mostly," he remarks, "the layperson views the psychologist as someone who can psychoanalyze them at a cocktail party. That's OK for a cocktail party, but it's not good for us as a science."
Salzinger says he hopes his experience with APA governance will help guide him in his new role.
"This is an exciting opportunity, and I hope I can make a difference," he says. "I come in after some wonderful people who were very effective--I hope to be able to measure up to their standards."