“dynamic complexity” of the dolphins’ lives in the sea, forming alliances, raising young and foraging for food. “Dolphins are big-brained, intelligent animals, and like humans, dolphins are individuals each navigating a complex social and physical environment in a unique way. How and why these patterns emerge is the focus of my research,” she says.
Video: Watch an excerpt of a BBC documentary
on Janet Mann and the dolphins of Shark Bay.
Click here for a transcript of the video.
Guiding social justice research
The relationship between research and human rights can
seem theoretical, but for Donna Mertens, PhD, social justice
is the fundamental principle that guides
her research. Mertens, a professor in the
department of educational foundations and
research at Gallaudet University, has worked
with underrepresented communities
internationally to conduct mixed methods
research on issues addressing human
rights for indigenous people, people
with disabilities, women’s rights and sex
workers. Mertens says her role is to ask the
provocative questions and to engage communities that haven’t
had their voices heard or published.
Mertens’s plenary address, “Transformative Mixed Methods
Research,” will address the consequences of accepting certain
assumptions that guide psychological research. Mertens
points out, for example, that the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals do not mention people with disabilities.
Several international organizations recognize that the goals
cannot be achieved without including people with disabilities,
and the lack of explicit attention to this group is linked to
nations’ limiting their collection of data about how these people
are being served. If the goal is to improve human rights and
social justice, then we need to start asking what that means in
terms of methodology, she says.
“We don’t recognize discrimination is around us all the
time — and we do research without recognizing it,” she adds.
“I want people to question how we can include members of
marginalized communities in ways that allow them to express
Why do people hurt themselves?
It’s a question that has puzzled scholars for
thousands of years. Research by Matthew
Nock, PhD, of Harvard University, is
finding that some people injure themselves
to ease their emotional pain.
Using behavioral tests, questionnaires
and heart rate measures, he’s found that
some people are soothed by cutting and similar behaviors, and
that people who hurt themselves have a higher tolerance for
pain than others do. His work has also revealed that teenagers
are quick to move from just thinking about hurting themselves
to trying it. Nock received a five-year MacArthur Fellowship to
further his research on self-injury and suicide last year.
In his plenary talk, Nock will discuss his findings along with
other advances in the understanding of self-harm and suicide
and what work still needs to be done.
“Unfortunately, self-harm continues to be a leading cause
of death worldwide and many fundamental questions remain
unanswered,” he says.
Promoting wellness through social justice
Using years of research on well-being, Isaac Prilleltensky,
PhD, has designed an online game to help people live healthier,
happier lives. He’ll demonstrate the
game and discuss the theories behind it
at his plenary talk, “Wellness as Fairness:
Individual, Interpersonal, Internet and
Key to understanding well-being
and how to promote it among different
populations is appreciating the connection
between wellness and social justice, says
Prilleltensky, of the University of Miami.
“If we live in a society where there’s a lot of equality and
fairness, the chances are higher that the population is thriving,”
he says. “If we live in a society where justice is suboptimal or not
so good, the population won’t be thriving.”
He’ll then discuss interventions for improving well-being,
including a multiplayer online game called “Wellness in Your
Hands.” In the game, players create avatars that first learn about
issues of wellness and fairness and then play games with other
avatars to increase wellness and justice in a virtual community.
“I will show how my game is supposed to work to improve
wellness and fairness in real life,” says Prilleltensky.
Immunizing against poor decisions
Record numbers of parents are not vaccinating their children,
believing the false notion that vaccines contain mercury and
Cornell University psychologist Valerie
Reyna, PhD, believes her “fuzzy trace” theory
can help parents make more informed
decisions about this significant health issue.
The theory holds that people are
driven by a quest for meaning. When we
lack adequate information to support
that meaning — particularly when we
face threats of unknown origin — we use
a “fuzzy trace” of background knowledge, past experience