American Psychological Foundation

Major advances in psychology can be surprisingly affordable. Sometimes all you need is a laptop, a fervent psychologist and a $10,000 grant.

That's all it took for Michael Inzlicht, PhD, now a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. In 2004, while Inzlicht was completing a postdoctoral fellowship at New York University, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) awarded him a $10,000 grant to fund research on the ways negative stereotypes affect academic performance. He found that people perform poorly in situations where they feel they are being stereotyped, mostly due to a loss of self-control as a result of feeling stigmatized.

These results paved the way for 12 grants from other entities, totaling more than $3.75 million in additional funding, which Inzlicht has used to study the short- and long-term effects of stigmatization, including at the level of the brain.

"The APF grant was instrumental in not only getting other grants, but also in helping me establish myself as an independent researcher," Inzlicht says.

It also furthered a career dedicated to using psychological science to dispel the effects of stigmatization that undermine the core of a healthy, well-functioning society — one of several focus areas of APF's Campaign to Transform the Future.

Launched at the end of 2012 and officially announced at APA's Annual Convention last month, APF's Campaign to Transform the Future seeks to raise at least $5 million to provide financial support to promising early career psychologists like Inzlicht, who conduct innovative research and develop programs that enhance psychology's ability to advance human potential, says Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD, APF's president. The campaign, which will run until 2016, seeks to fund four core priorities: understanding and fostering the connection between behavior and health; reducing stigma and prejudice; understanding and preventing violence; and addressing long-term psychological needs in the aftermath of disaster.

Unique focus

APF was founded in 1953 with just $550. Today, the foundation gives away more than $700,000 each year to support innovative research, scholarships and projects for students and early career psychologists working to make a difference in people's lives. The need to increase APF's granting capacity is compelling.

"Right now, we can only support one out of every nine grant applications we receive, so the goal of this campaign is to help us increase capacity and make a dent in important social issues, while at the same time changing the career trajectories for people who could really make a difference and who might not get funding otherwise," says Elisabeth R. Straus, APF's executive vice president and executive director.

APF is one of the only organizations devoted to jumpstarting the careers of young psychologists, says David H. Barlow, PhD, who serves on the foundation's Board of Trustees and is chair of the Campaign Leadership Cabinet.

"The average age of people receiving grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and other federal agencies is in the mid-40s," says Barlow, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Boston University. "This campaign will provide large grants that fill a niche not currently filled between getting your dissertation done and getting an NIMH grant."

The multiplier effect

In addition to making a difference today, gifts to APF's new campaign also have the potential to contribute to discoveries in psychology for years to come, Barlow says.

"When a psychologist does groundbreaking work, that person goes on to train and influence others, which often leads to even more discoveries," he says, adding that the Campaign to Transform the Future is about accelerating the rate of change in an effort to tackle some of today's toughest problems.

"Psychology affects so many issues that can change the way we live our lives," Cantor says. For more information on the Campaign to Transform the Future or to contribute to the initiative, visit APF.

Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.