Psychological Science in the Public Interest: An Editorial Perspective

Dr. Nora S. Newcombe took on the Editorship of Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) in 2019 and has thus just completed the third year as editor. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) publishes this unique journal, which commissions three reports per year, on topics chosen to provide comprehensive and compelling reviews of issues that are of direct relevance to the public. Blue-ribbon teams of specialists representing a range of viewpoints write the reports and aim to assess the current state-of-the-science regarding the topic. One way to get a flavor of these reports is simply to survey what appeared in 2021. 

The first report was The Curious Construct of Active Learning with a team of authors headed by Doug Lombardi and Thomas F. Shipley (from Temple's Psychology Department). Active learning has become a ubiquitous construct in education—particularly undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, what is active learning? The term encompasses so many different activities that learning outcomes are hard to evaluate. The report provides a new framework to define active learning. 

Treating Chronic Pain came next, authored by Mary Driscoll, Robert Kerns, Robert R. Edwards, William Becker, and Ted Jack Kaptchuk. Some people experience pain that persists for an extended time or even for their entire lives. Chronic pain has negative consequences beyond physical suffering, also affecting well-being, emotional functioning, and overall quality of life. The high prevalence of chronic pain, its under-treatment, and its societal burden make chronic pain a serious public-health concern. The report examines psychological interventions for the treatment of chronic pain and highlights the gap between the evidence of their effectiveness of several psychological interventions and their availability.

Just before the holidays, the final report appeared:The Science of Visual Data Communication: What Works by Steven Franconeri, Jessica Hullman, Priti Shah, Lace Padilla, and Jeff Zacks. Data can be a powerful way to disseminate science and news, but creating effective data visualizations is both a science and an art. Well-designed figures can help viewers understand data patterns. Poorly designed figures can create confusion and misunderstanding, undermining comprehension and trust. The report provides research-backed guidelines for creating effective and intuitive data visualizations for communicating data to students, policymakers, the public, and other researchers.

In 2021, there was a fourth report, a follow-up to a prior review on eyewitness identification that has appeared in 2017. In Test a Witness's Memory of a Suspect Only Once, John T. Wixted, Gary L. Wells, Elizabeth F. Loftus, and Brandon L. Garrett. The title is the message. In the courtroom, eyewitnesses usually identify defendants as crime culprits with high confidence, and juries and judges tend to interpret confidence as an indicator of accuracy. Data from the Innocence Project suggest that eyewitness testimony contributed to wrongful convictions in 70% (262) of the 375 cases in which DNA evidence later exonerated prisoners. However, by the time of trial, the simple fact that witnesses have identified a suspect several times before leads to exaggerated confidence.