Category Archives: opinie

What’s in a name?

Should the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychonomie’ be renamed the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Brein en Cognitie’?

No! That would be a shame of its reputation, says professor of Cognitive Psychology Jan Theeuwes. Yes, argues Floris de Lange, head of the Prediction & Attention group at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, a new name will attract a younger crowd. Who do you agree with?

Why the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychonomie’ should remain the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychonomie’, according to professor Cognitive Psychology Jan Theeuwes.

Our name is part of our tradition. The association was founded in 1968 by renowned scientists, Jef Slangen, Leo Noordman en Paul Keus. By keeping our name, we cherish this association with the important scientists in our field.

Even though the word ‘psychonomics’ does not mean anything to most lay people, everyone in the field, everyone to whom this association is important, does know exactly what it stands for. Furthermore, our American counterpart is called the Psychonomic Society, so our name lines up nicely with them. Besides, do lay people really know what the word ‘cognition’ in the proposed alternative name for the NVP means? I don’t think so.

I fear that the name ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Cognitie en Brein’ will draw the wrong crowd to our conference. We are psychonomists, our core business is studying behavior and understanding which brain mechanisms can bring this behavior about – not the other way around. If we focus too much on brain research and not behavior, we will attract neuroscientists and doctors alike who study dendrites, cell bodies and axons and anomalies in the brain; how the workings of the brain of a person suffering from depression alters from the workings of the brain of a healthy person. That is not the type of research we want to attract.

I fear that the name ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Cognitie en Brein’ will on the other hand alienate people who we do want to keep in our society. Our field has developed from the type of experimental psychology that results in knowledge that can be of practical use in the outside world. How do we design the road infrastructure in such a way that people do not make mistakes while driving? How do we develop icons for trash recycling that help people choose the right container? This real world, practical value of the outcomes of our research is reflected in our current name and we should cherish that.

Why the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychonomie’ should be renamed ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Brein en Cognitie’, according to Floris de Lange, head of the Prediction & Attention group at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.

I do not find ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychonomie’ to be an ugly name, I just do not think many people know what ‘psychonomics’ means, let alone associate with it. When I tell people here at Donders Institute that I am attending the NVP conference they look at me as if I am going to an obscure happening where you really would not wander voluntarily. So ‘we’, some in-crowd, might know it is a really good conference, but many young scientists do not realize it would also be interesting for them to attend.

The research we cover at the conference is research in the field of cognitive neuroscience. We try to understand human behavior, and how it is implemented in the brain. Ninety percent of the presentations at the conference also show some kind of brain data, be it from fMRI, EEG, TMS or some other method to gain insight into neural processes. Almost every university has a cognitive neuroscience track which teaches these types of research and the students that come from those tracks, studying the brain mechanisms underlying behavior, are exactly the people we want to attract to our conference. Therefore, our name should communicate that our conference is relevant to them. Otherwise we miss out and become a conference where only people who already attended for the past thirty years keep on coming.

Psychonomy, ‘measuring the psyche’ was born out of interest into human functioning. Because we could not measure brain processes yet, we measured behavior and tried to understand how those behavioral patterns come about. Over the past twenty years we learned to directly measure brain processes and this enriched our field tremendously. We have a conference that shows this richness already and I do not see why we should not make it an even better conference by acknowledging the fact that we perform cognitive neuroscience; changing the name of the NVP and by doing so including more people that do relevant research.