Here are the mock-awards for papers in "top" psychology journals for this month... along with a few real awards! I'm still working on refining the categories and format, but it is starting to feel pretty good. Please, add your own suggestions in the comment section.
Most obviously overstated title:
Psychological Science - "The Road to Language Learning is Iconic: Evidence from British Sign Language."
The authors are interested in iconic meaning - in which a piece of language bears some resemblance to the thing being referenced. Because this is what they are interested in, they (rightly) seek out a language in which such meanings should be both more common and more obvious (e.g., a local variant of sign language). Unsurprisingly, they find that it is important. While the study of iconic meaning in sign language seems interesting in its own right, the authors conclude by making broad hypotheses about all language. Then the paper is titled after their broad hypothesis, not the actual content of the research.
Most obviously true:
Psychological Science - "Optimal social-networking strategy is a function of socioeconomic conditions."
The basic claim of the title is clearly true - optimal social behavior varies as a function of social and economic conditions. The authors support this obviously true claim with a computer simulation that show: If the economy is doing well, and local people move frequently, then you should try to have a loose friendships with many people. On the other hand, if the economy sucks, and people stay around, then you should try to have deeper friendships (which necessitates a smaller overall network). Wow... glad we had the computer simulation to prove that.... It is nice that an online sample of 250 people matched these predictions, and, with the real-people data, the paper clearly deserves to be published. But overall the model is unsurprising, that people do it is unsurprising. In contrast, it is surprising that this justifies a top publication, especially when it is painfully primitive compared to the social models in the animal behavior literature.
Most vacuous title:
First Place - JEP General - "Is optimism real?"
The title implyies a one word answer, but the paper is a bit longer (4 pages). Despite the crappy title, the study itself is quite fun. Football fans were asked to predict the winner of a game involving their team, with a $5 or $50 incentive for guessing correctly (a control group predicted for games involving teams they felt neutrally about). Partisan fans were much more likely to predict their team would win, even when they would be out $50 if they were wrong. Of course, this isn't revolutionary... professional bookies exist because fans will readily lose $50 on a game... but it is still nice to see it in well-controlled lab conditions.
Second Place - Psychological Review - "Exploring the conceptual universe."
This guy tries to set up categories that can accommodate every possible way in which a person could make categories. Then, (surprise!) he finds that past research about how people make categories fit into his schema. My guess is that some will find the system very useful, and but I am not sure how those people will find it given this title.
Psychological Science - "Does this recession make me look black? The effect of resource scarcity on the categorization of biracial faces."
This is normally the type of trying-to-be-clever title that I would find annoying. But in this case it is both cute, and it actually conveys the point of the study. On top of that, it gives a flavor for the methods and results. A+
Most relevant to teaching:
JEP General - "Improving working memory efficiency by reframing metacognitive interpretation of task difficulty."
Is it sad when I see an intervention aimed at helping middle school children and think "Hey, I should do that in my college class"? These authors did a short intervention aimed at informing students that struggling is normal when faced with challenging material. (I.e., "If you are struggling, it is probably not because you are stupid. Struggling with this type of material is normal.") They then give them challenging material. Students who had the intervention did better. I have seen similar studies before, but this one is fortuitously present as I plan for my next advanced undergraduate class.
Most relevant to just about anyone in the field:
First Place: The entire current issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science.
I guess one benefit of Perspectives being published every other month is that I can this give praise to this issue twice! If you want to know what types of challenges our field is facing, and what concerns will be motivating future changes... this is your best source.
Second Place: Review of General Psychology - Information overload, professionalization, and the origins of the publication manual of the American Psychological Association.
See prior post.