Guides for the Budding Student Researcher

Teachers are revving up for the start of the school year, and this year many will be teaching students how to conduct their first research project. APA’s new book series, Concise Guides to Conducting Behavioral, Health, and Social Science Research, features short, practical, introductory books that lead undergraduates through the process of developing and conducting a research project, from start to finish. These guides can be used individually or in combination with each other to complement course objectives.

Titles in this growing series include:

Designing and Proposing Your Research Project (by Jennifer Brown Urban and Bradley Matheus van Eeden-Moorefield).  This book helps students develop a compelling and suitably narrow research question, and then choose the research designs, sampling strategies, and measurements that best address that question. By the time students work their way through this brief book, they will have written a rough draft of their research proposal!


Writing Your Psychology Research Paper (by Scott A. Baldwin) gives students everything they need to organize and write a clear, convincing research paper.  From deciding on a topic, to digesting the pertinent literature, presenting ideas, developing a thesis, and editing for clarity and concision, each step is made easy and illustrated with clear examples. A bonus chapter on combating procrastination vividly demonstrates how the best writing is done in chunks, over long periods of time, and that writing is a skill that improves with practice.


Coming soon, in November: Kathy Berenson’s Managing Your Research Data and Documentation will present a straightforward approach to managing and documenting one’s data so that other researchers can repeat the study. Since major research funders now require recipients to meet strict standards for data handling, this book will foster a vital career skill for students, while promoting transparency and replicability of research.





Understanding Violent Men

In June, 2017, APA Books published a special, 25th Anniversary Edition of Violent Men: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Violence, by Hans Toch.  This book first grew out of pioneering studies Toch undertook with police offers, corrections officers and prisoners in the late 1960s.  Later editions arrived in 1992 and now 2017.  Each iteration of the book has coincided with eras in which acts of public violence were a matter of widespread concern and debate, from the urban riots in the ‘60s, to the Rodney King beating and aftermath in the early 1990s, to the recurrent shootings, captured and disseminated today thanks to cellphone videos, of unarmed black men and women by police.  Over the years, Toch’s work has helped illuminate and explain how these and similar violent encounters develop—what perpetrators and victims are thinking, why they are thinking it, and what can be done to stop the violence from occurring.

The impact of Toch’s original book cannot be overstated. It essentially invented criminology as a field of study, and endures today as the ultimate demonstration of how applied psychology can help improve people’s lives.

In his Foreword to this new edition, Series Editor Shadd Maruna explains:

The genius of the work obviously begins with its innovative methodology. In Violent Men, Toch pioneers a methodology that has now become known as “peer interviewing” but at the time of publication surely contradicted every known rule of research and common sense—with prisoners interviewing prisoners, parolees interviewing parolees, and policing veterans interviewing police officers. All of these groups were also involved in the analysis of the qualitative data as it emerged as well. (xiii)

In his Foreword to the 1992 edition—reprinted in the new 25th Anniversary Edition—Bertram Karon writes that Toch’s idea sprang from the recognition that

…both “scientific” investigators and violent individuals understand things, but not the same things, and have biased perceptions, but not the same biases. Furthermore, he knew that people talk openly to people like themselves, but that they do not talk openly to people whom they perceive as likely to look down on them. (xvi)

Toch’s method was useful in ways that went far beyond devising and conducting successful experiments. The book’s practical value is so widespread that it has been used and recommended not just by psychologists, but also social workers, parole and probation officers, juvenile workers, and ward staffs across the world.  Perhaps most importantly, according to Karon:

[Toch’s] technique of including violent individuals in the collaborative study of their own and others’ violence turned out to be a potent technique not only of gathering information and insight but also of enabling violent individuals to understand and master their [own] violence. (xvi)

The implications are profound. As Maruna says, Toch’s work enables

 …even the most disquieting acts of violence become intelligible, even understandable. The book achieves, then, what all great social psychology should strive to do: allow the reader to walk in the shoes of the other and experience the world from their vantage point.  With a title like Violent Men, one might expect (even hope for?) a salacious journey into the deranged mind and cold heart of the “other.” Toch’s readers instead leave the book with just the opposite experience, finding they might have learned more about themselves in the book than about mythological superpredators. (xiii)

To purchase this book or adopt it for a course, click here.


Toch, H. (2017). Violent Men: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Violence, 25th Anniversary Edition.  Washington, DC: APA Books.




Mindfulness Resources

Over the last few decades, the concept of mindfulness has quickly become a hot topic in mainstream Western culture. Workshops in schools and the workplace are popping up more and more to teach exercises to cultivate general wellbeing and provide stress relief.

Broadly, the APA Dictionary of Psychology, Second Edition defines mindfulness as the “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings,” cultivated is through meditation “in which a person focuses attention on his or her breathing and thoughts, feelings, and sensations are experienced freely as they arise.”

These practices can be incorporated into clinical psychotherapy, regardless of therapeutic approach, and modified as the psychologist sees fit. Here is a selection of products from APA Books that incorporate mindfulness-based principles:


APA Books® 

The Art and Science of Mindfulness, Second Edition

Intention is fundamental to any project, endeavor, or journey. Related to intention is the concept of mindfulness—the awareness that arises through intentionally attending to oneself and others in an open, caring, and nonjudgmental way. Authors Shapiro and Carlson draw from Eastern wisdom and practices as well as Western psychological science to explore why mindful awareness is integral to the therapeutic healing process. This new edition integrates the latest theory and research on mindfulness, with new sections describing the neuroscience of mindfulness and mechanisms of change.


Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Insomnia

This clinical guide presents mindfulness based therapy for insomnia (MBTI)—an innovative group intervention that can reduce insomnia symptoms. Combining principles from mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy, MBTI helps participants create meaningful, long-term changes in their thoughts and behaviors about sleep. This book reviews new research on MBTI and teaches mental health professionals how to integrate it into their own practices.


Therapeutic Presence

Therapeutic presence is the state of having one’s whole self in the encounter with a client by being completely in the moment on a multiplicity of levels—physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. The therapeutic relationship is essential to positive outcomes of psychotherapy. In this book, Shari M. Geller and Leslie S. Greenberg argue that therapeutic presence is the fundamental underlying quality of the therapeutic relationship and, hence, effective therapy.


Coming Soon—August 2017!

Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement 

This book serves as a comprehensive resource on the history, theory, and practice of mindfulness in sport.  The authors present mindful sport performance enhancement (MSPE), an empirically-supported, six-session program that can be adapted for specific athletic populations.  Each MSPE session includes educational, experiential, and discussion components, as well as instructions for home practice.



APA LifeTools®

25 Lessons in Mindfulness

This book presents a practical, step-by-step approach for establishing your own mindfulness practice. Brief introductory chapters explain the scientifically proven effects on health, as well as the philosophy behind this ancient practice. The remainder of the book consists of 25 experiential lessons that guide you through various meditative practices. You will learn to be mindful of your breath, sounds, sights, tastes, movements, physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings as you maintain a compassionate attitude toward yourself and others.


APA Videos® 

Mindfulness for Anxiety

Ronald D. Siegel works with a young man who presents with stress-related chronic neck pain. First he helps the client to see that the mind plays a critical role in his presenting problem. Next, using the therapeutic understanding that resistance to mental and physical discomfort exacerbates suffering, Dr. Siegel works to identify the physical sensations and emotions that the client is struggling to avoid. Through practicing acceptance of pain sensations, anxiety, and other emotions, the client is able to become more comfortable with these experiences as they arise, placing him on a path toward freedom from his disorder.


Mindfulness for Well-Being

For most people, even the ordinary demands of life can cause some feelings of unease and stress, and these stressful thoughts and feelings may result in chronic mental and physical fatigue or anxiety. Yet, the seemingly simple act of mindfulness may help reduce the impact of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. In this video, Rezvan Ameli demonstrates three mindfulness exercises within a group therapy setting and also discusses the science and practice of mindfulness.


Mindfulness for Insomnia

In this video, Jason C. Ong works with a group of young male clients who are all suffering from various sleep issues. In this demonstration, Ong teaches behavioral strategies within a mindfulness framework to help the group learn how to cope with periods of wakefulness at night.




Coming Soon—August 2017!

Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement in Practice

For many athletes, engaging competitively in a physical activity while staying in the moment can be quite difficult. Mindful sport performance enhancement (MSPE) is a mental training program designed to help athletes, coaches, and other performers develop a set of core skills that can facilitate peak performance and optimal experience. This approach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness and typically administered in a group format, but it can also be used with individuals.  In this video program, Dr. Keith A. Kaufman works closely with a group of university golfers who wish to improve their performance.



VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Reforming Statistics in Psychology

David BeckerBy David Becker

Are you fed up with those unsightly wrinkles? Have you tried everything to get rid of them, but nothing seems to work? Well, throw away your anti-aging creams and forget about those harmful Botox injections! Did you know that you can reverse the aging process just by listening to music? Scientists have found that listening to songs about growing old will decrease your age by one-and-a-half years. Amazing!

Not only is this finding amazing, it’s also complete lie. The study itself was real, but the researchers (Simmons, Nelson, & Simonsohn, 2016) weren’t actually interested in testing the effects of music on age. Their true intent was to shine a light on researchers’ overreliance on and misuse of significance testing by generating a statistically significant result that has no bearing on reality whatsoever.

Many people believe that a statistically significant result affirms that a study’s findings are real, but that’s not what statistical significance measures. Statistical significance measures the probability of error in a study’s data. It’s indicated by the p value, which determines the likelihood of rejecting the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis essentially opposes the hypothesis that the researchers are testing. In other words, if the researchers hypothesize that a new therapeutic approach will have a meaningful effect or will be superior to an established approach, the null hypothesis refers to the possibility that there will be no meaningful effect or no differences between the two approaches. A lower p value (.05 is the most commonly used cutoff) suggests a higher likelihood that the null hypothesis is false. However, a high probability of rejecting the null hypothesis doesn’t make the researcher’s hypothesis true; it simply reflects greater confidence in the data’s validity (researchers sometimes refer to a confidence level above 95%, which equates to a p value below .05). Even so, it’s very easy to play with the data until you achieve statistical significance.

Simmons and colleagues illustrated in their study how easy it is to get a false positive by manipulating what they refer to as “researcher degrees of freedom.” These are the decisions that researchers make about how to collect, analyze, and report data—decisions that include when to stop collecting data, which variables to analyze, and which subsets of data to report. Many researchers make these decisions throughout the research process. For instance, researchers may decide to stop collecting data as soon as they have achieved significant result. Or they might change their hypothesis based on the data. Practices like this are often referred to as “p hacking,” the idea being that researchers will massage the data until they come up with a low-enough p value. Simmons et al. estimate that abusing researcher degrees of freedom can lead to a false positive rate as high as 61% in a given study, which they admit might be a conservative figure.

Human Mind series. Backdrop of brain, human outlines and fractal elements on the subject of technology, science, education and human mindIt’s important to note that most researchers who p hack aren’t purposefully trying to be deceptive. Many of them don’t fully grasp the potential consequences of what seem like minor decisions. In a recent example, psychologist Dana Carney rejected a psychological phenomenon she helped popularize—power poses—and essentially admitted that she and her fellow researchers unknowingly abused researcher degrees of freedom to achieve a statistically significant result that had no real-world significance (Peters, 2016).

Even when p hacking is unintentional, social psychologist Harris Cooper (2016) argues that researchers have an ethical responsibility to the scientific community and to the greater public good that obliges them to be aware of the decisions they make, and their impact. He advises researchers to make decisions about data collection as early as possible—primarily in the planning phase before the study has even begun—and to stick with them throughout the study. If the researchers change course, they need to fully report their new decisions so that anyone scrutinizing the study’s findings and methodology will understand the full context. As an example, if researchers decide to create new data sets based on the original data—a practice that Cooper advises should be rarely used—the changes need to be explicitly catalogued with clear explanations. And under no circumstances should researchers edit or omit any of the original data, regardless of which data sets they choose to analyze.

In addition to carefully documenting their decisions, researchers need to better understand the true purpose of p values and how to properly use them. Clinical psychologist Rex Kline (2013) notes in his book Beyond Significance Testing: Statistics Reform in the Behavioral Sciences, now in its second edition, that cognitive errors surrounding significance testing are so common that they can be considered a form of “trained incapacity” (p. 10). Even statistics instructors don’t even fully understand p values, according to Kline, which feeds the “ongoing cycle of misinformation” (p. 10). The problem is so pervasive that last year the American Statistical Association (ASA) released a policy statement laying out six principles to help the scientific community better understand and apply p values. This marked the first time in its 178-year history that the ASA decided to take an official position on statistical practices.

The ASA also suggested other approaches that researchers might use in addition to or instead of significance testing, including one of the most popular alternatives proposed by advocates of statistics reform: Bayesian analysis. The premise behind Bayesian statistics is fairly simple: “Begin with an estimate of the probability that any claim, belief, [or] hypothesis is true, then look at any new data and update the probability given the new data” (Novella, 2016, para. 2).

Kline (2013, Chapter 10) supports the Bayesian approach because it reflects the fundamental tenets of science and critical thinking. Namely, extraordinary claims that seem implausible given what we know about the universe (e.g., listening to music will make you younger) need to be supported by extraordinary evidence. Kline further argues that Bayesian analysis allows us to compare the competing hypotheses of researchers who have differing interpretations about our existing body of knowledge and are studying the same subject from alternate perspectives. Being able to examine new and divergent findings against our current understanding of the world encourages scientists to reevaluate the likelihood of existing hypotheses, which is fundamental to science’s self-critical and self-correcting nature.


Courtesy of xkcd

Simmons, Nelson, and Simonsohn (2016), however, are skeptical of Bayesian statistics as an alternative to significance testing. They contend that it gives researchers even more opportunities to manipulate data, in addition to those provided by significance testing. Simonsohn (2015) also argues that the default Bayesian test in psychology is biased against small effects.

If there’s one clear takeaway from this controversy, it’s that there isn’t one perfect alternative to significance testing. In fact, as the ASA points out in their policy statement, significance testing can be useful, so long as it’s properly applied. Therefore, completely avoiding p values doesn’t seem like an ideal, catch-all solution. Rather, scientists must experiment with a variety of solutions to see how best to test the validity of their findings.

In the meantime, it pays to be skeptical. The popular media tends to simplify, overhype, and misinterpret the findings of a single study—much like I did at the beginning of this post—without accounting for the complexities of scientific research. It can be difficult for those of us who are not scientific experts to figure out what to believe and what not to believe, especially when our mental filters are already overwhelmed by the constant deluge of information that floods over us every day.

But look on the bright side: At least you can be pretty confident that you won’t become younger and younger until you vanish from existence just by listening to The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” on repeat.


Cooper, H. (2016). Ethical choices in research: Managing data, writing reports, and publishing results in the social sciences.

Kline, R. B. (2013). Beyond significance testing: Statistics reform in the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.).

Novella, S. (2016, January 8). What is Bayes theorem? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Peters, M. (2016, October 1). ‘Power poses’ co-author: ‘I do not believe the effects are real.’ Retrieved from

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2016). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Methodological issues and strategies in clinical research (4th ed., pp. 547–555).

Simonsohn, U. (2015, April 9). The default Bayesian test is prejudiced against small effects [Blog post]. Retrieved from