Diane Zabel and Gary W. White
From: Herron, Nancy L. the Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Guide to Selected Sources, 3rd ed. Greenwood Village, Colo. : Libraries Unlimited, 2002. pp. 347-349.
Psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behaviour and is concerned with the mental, social, and biological processes influencing behaviour. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a nineteenth-century German psychologist, characterized psychology as having “a long past but only a short history.” 1 Philosophers and physicians in ancient Greece theorized about the relationship between mind and body. However, psychology did not emerge as a distinct discipline until the late nineteenth century. Thomas Hardy Leahey’s account of psychology’s history is a good choice for those who wish to know more about the development of psychology as a discipline. 2
The association between psychology and philosophy is evident in the treatment of psychology as a branch of philosophy in the Dewey Classification System. The literature of psychology is expansive because psychology has linkage to numerous disciplines beyond philosophy. There are connections to other social sciences, particularly sociology, anthropology, education, and business. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists study behaviour in societies, although from different perspectives. Educators and psychologists are concerned with learning. Business has applied psychology to determine what motivates employees or why consumers behave as they do.
Psychology, more than any other social science, has strong ties to the biological and natural sciences. Both physiology and psychology examine the relationship between the brain and behavior. Zoologists and psychologists study animal behaviour, although psychologists are generally more interested in using animals as substitutes for human populations when the conditions of an experiment make the use of human subjects inappropriate. The integration of mathematics and psychology has been recognised as a separate division of psychology. Because psychology measures and compares various mental processes in individuals and groups, statistics are an important tool. These strong links to the sciences have affected the dissemination of information in psychology. Many types of materials prevalent in the sciences, such as handbooks and annual reviews of research, are also used heavily in psychology.
The interdisciplinary nature of psychology is reflected in the diversity of its major divisions. Research in experimental psychology concentrates on basic processes such as learning, motivation, and perception. Physiological psychology focuses on the relationship between the body and the mind, particularly the roles of the brain and the nervous system in controlling behaviour. Developmental psychologists observe how people interact with others and how society influences behaviour, particularly attitude formation. The diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders is the subject of clinical psychology. Educational psychologists study learning and develop instructional materials and teaching methods. Industrial/organizational psychology is concerned with people in the workplace. Psychometrics involve the design of tests and measures for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, personality, and aptitude.
Psychology is not only a discipline but a profession. In 1988, this dual quality led to a schism within the American Psychological Association (APA), the premier professional organization for psychologists in this country. Academic psychologists charged that the APA was dominated by practitioners and formed a separate group, the American Psychological Society, for psychologists whose focus is teaching and research rather than private practice. 3 Academic psychologists formerly made up the majority of the APA’s membership. This shift parallels a dramatic shift in psychology. Since World War II, applied psychology has grown dramatically. The subfields of clinical, counselling, educational, and school psychology have experienced the greatest growth. 4 Alan Bellack and Michael Hersen, editors-in-chief of a monumental clinical psychology encyclopedia published in 1998, note in their preface to the first of eleven volumes that there has been not only a phenomenal increase in the number of students and professionals in clinical psychology but a corresponding explosion in publishing in this area. 5 They report that hundreds of books are published annually in clinical psychology. In fact, this increasing specialization is an important trend.
Although there may be tensions among factions of the profession, all subfields of the discipline have a common methodology. Psychology uses empirical methods to obtain data. Direct observation and experimentation are standard techniques used in psychological research. Information may also be obtained from case studies, questionnaires, interviews, and standardized tests.
Some psychologists make use of machine-readable data files. Although there is no central source of information on datasets relevant to psychology, psychologists use well-known data archives such as the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Science Research (ICPSR), which is located at the University of Michigan, and the Henry A. Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College. 6
Almost two decades ago, Anne K. Beaubien outlined the nature of psychology literature in an essay on the research process employed by social scientists. 7 Much of what she wrote is still valid. Researchers often contact colleagues directly to exchange findings, but most of the controlled literature exists in the form of journal articles. Psychologists often collaborate on research; multiple authorship of an article or book is common. Psychologists are anxious to disseminate research results quickly, and books take too long to publish. Because the results of empirical research are published in research journals, articles are regarded as primary rather than secondary sources of information. An emphasis on current research contributes to the heavy reliance on journal literature. An early study of citation analyses in the social sciences documented that up to 69 percent of all citations from scholarly research in psychology were to journal articles. 8 In comparison, the citations to journal literature for the social sciences in general ranged from 29 to 43 per cent. 9 There is a large body of literature in psychology (published in both psychology and library science journals) using citation analysis as a tool to predict journal usage, determine core psychology journals, and guide collection development decisions. One of the best ways to identify these studies is through the excellent bibliography accompanying Margaret Sylvia’s 1998 case study on citation analysis as a methodology for assessing a journal collection in the behavioural sciences. 10 Sylvia analyzed the bibliographic citations to journal articles found in research papers written by undergraduate and graduate students in psychology. She found an overwhelming reliance on recent articles. In her study, 60 percent of the citations were to publications from the 1990s; 31 percent were to articles from the 1980s. 11 Prior to this, Sylvia (in conjunction with Marcella Lesher) had conducted a citation analysis of master’s theses and dissertations authored by psychology and counseling students to determine journal usage patterns of graduate students in psychology. 12 This article is important because it serves as a model that can be used in other disciplines. Two Israeli researchers also employed a citation analysis of master’s theses in psychology to determine how graduate students in psychology use library collections. 13 They found that graduate students make significant use of material from fields outside of psychology, reinforcing the notion that psychology is interdisciplinary. What is most interesting is their finding that these students make rather extensive use of publications that are at least twenty years old. This Israeli study showed much greater use of retrospective material (that is, publications that were published two or more decades ago) than Sylvia’s study. At the same time, however, their data indicated that there is limited use of publications published more than fifty years ago. Like other studies, their research demonstrated that the majority of citations were to journal articles. This pattern was also confirmed in a more recent citation analysis of dissertations in the field of clinical psychology. This Wright State University study found that 35 percent of the references were to books and book chapters while 62 percent were to journal articles. 14
Monographs and retrospective bibliographies are viewed as less important for research in psychology. Books often take the form of a collection of readings that are directed to the undergraduate user. However, in the late 1980s the American Psychological Association noticed a trend toward more publishing in the form of chapters within books. The Association estimated that as much as 30 percent of the literature in psychology was in the form of books and book chapters. 15 This finding led to APA’s development of PsycBOOKS in 1989, an index of books and book chapters in psychology. Although PsycBOOKS was only published for four years, book and chapter indexing was added to PsycINFO, the major database in psychology, beginning in 1992. Another trend noted by experts is the notable increase in the number of edited books in psychology, perhaps a reflection of psychology’s collaborative tradition. 16
There are several important German-language and many non-English language monographs published in psychology, but research has indicated that U.S. psychologists rely almost exclusively on English-language material. 17 Professional associations play an important role in the transfer of knowledge. The American Psychological Association alone publishes more than twenty-five research journals and is an important monographic publisher.
Psychology is one of the disciplines that made early use of the Internet to disseminate information. There are vast resources on the Web relating to psychology, many about common psychological problems. Several articles on Internet resources in psychology have addressed this proliferation of sites and the need for review of these sites. Lorrie King’s 1997 article on the Internet as a reference tool in psychology is still useful for background on this topic. 18 Another excellent evaluative article on psychology Web sites appeared in a 1998 “Webwatch” column of Library Journal. 19 In addition to browsing this column, psychology librarians will want to look for articles on Internet resources (as well as other articles pertaining to collection development, reference service, and bibliographic instruction) in Behavioural & Social Sciences Librarian, a scholarly journal focusing on the dissemination and use of information in the social and behavioural sciences.