President's Column

With the incredible changes in science and technology, it is timely to consider where psychological science is headed. As I discussed in my June column, "Where have all the psychologists gone," many subfields of psychology are integrating into new multidisciplinary fields and/or dropping psychology from their names: neuroscience, developmental science, behavioral economics, to name a few. There are wonderful new opportunities for basic psychological science and applied research. Even the health-care reform process is creating new research opportunities for psychologists.

There are three areas, in particular, that I would like to highlight:

• Psychology as a STEM Discipline. Psychological science is not always viewed as one of the core Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines, despite our relevance and applications to each of these areas. My presidential Task Force on Psychology as a STEM Discipline will articulate the rationale for identifying psychology as a core discipline. The task force members are Chair John Dovidio, PhD; Frank Durso, PhD; David Francis, PhD; David Klahr, PhD; Jennifer Manly, PhD; and Valerie Reyna, PhD. These scientists represent different aspects of basic and applied psychological science. The task force will develop strategies for solidifying psychology as a STEM discipline, identify resources needed to effectively advocate for psychology as a STEM discipline, identify barriers to implementing these goals and ways to address these barriers, and develop key partnerships to implement the planned advocacy strategy.

The lack of recognition of psychology as a STEM discipline has major implications for funding and policy development. Had it not been for advocacy by APA working with key congressional staff and the efforts of psychologist Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), psychology and behavioral science could have been excluded from National Science Foundation funding. This is one of the reasons that establishing psychology as a STEM discipline is a top priorities in APA's new strategic plan. (See Our first strategic plan.)

• Comparative effectiveness research. CER is a critically important tool for advancing an evidence-based approach to health-care decision-making. Congress added over a billion dollars of new funding for this in the 2009 economic stimulus package (Institute of Medicine, 2009). However, the full public health benefits of such research will only be realized if behavioral, psychosocial and medical interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental and physical health conditions are evaluated individually and in combination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that health behaviors account for at least 50 percent of all health problems and research indicates that health behaviors are related to 40 percent of premature deaths in the United States. Even if we are only looking at medical treatments, it is important that we measure behavioral and psychological outcomes, such as quality of life and adherence to treatment protocols. It is also essential to evaluate promising new models of care, such as integrated, interdisciplinary behavioral and medical teams in primary-care settings.

• Health disparities research. The effectiveness of health interventions across the lifespan and for different minority and gender groups needs to be a major focus in future research. In his recent address to professional associations, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, said that health disparities research should be a priority for funding across all NIH institutes. This is important given the well-documented health disparities that exist between different racial/ethnic, age, socioeconomic status, gender and sexual minority groups. Further, it is critical as the U.S. population becomes more diverse.

Let me hear from you—engage—get involved. This is YOUR APA. Contact me anytime by e-mail.

References:

  • Institute of Medicine (2009). Initial National Priorities for Comparative Effectiveness Research.
    Washington, DC.

  • Mokdad, A. H., Marks, J.S., Stroup, D.F., & Gerberding, J. L. (2004). Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291, 1230-1245.