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Research report (psychology).
- Criminology & Justice
- Social Work
- Professional Year
- Annotated Bibliography
- Literature Review
- Project Proposal
- Presenting Your Research
- Reflective Essay
- Reflective or Learning Journal
- Research Poster Presentation
- Research: Manuscript Structure and Content
- Research Proposal
- Research Report
- Short argumentative essay
Content Each section in a research report has direct links to the other sections and all sections are logically related. As such, it is possible to predict what needs to be included in any section even if only a few sections are available to read. Some assignments provide students with the method and results sections, and then ask students to write the other sections of the lab report. That is, students are asked to deduce the research question and hypothesis or hypotheses from the method and results sections. One way of beginning this task is to think about creating a research story. The PDF resource below looks more closely at this deductive process.
Structure Research reports have a set structure of Title, Introduction, Literature Review (sometimes this is part of the Introduction), Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion and References. Some research reports may also require a title page, abstract, and/or appendices, so be sure to check the exact requirements for your specific assessment task. The structure of a research report is made clear by headings and sub-headings, which need to be formatted according to APA Style.
Style Research reports need to be written in a formal and clear style. Research reports may present information in paragraphs, and also in bullet points and numbered lists. Some information in the Results section might be best presented as a table or figure and these must also be presented professionally. They need to be labelled with an identifier (e.g. Figure 1 or Table 1) and a title/caption. The information in the table or figure needs to be discussed within the report, that is, you need to explain what it means in words and refer to the graphic being discussed (e.g. As shown in Figure 1, there was an increase in….. ).
- Read the unit outline from cover to cover
- Check your class space for resources about writing a research report for specific assignments
- Attend all unit sessions whether on campus or online; Educators cover the assignment requirements and often give whole sessions to writing research reports
- Attend the unit session scheduled for the experiment
- Attend Peer Assisted Study Sessions available for the units PSYC1022 and PSYC1032
- Get clear about what you are reporting on; the research question and the hypothesis; as these define the focus of the report
- Put your deductive thinking cap on
- Check the APA Website for information on structure, formatting and writing style according to APA 7th.
Lab Report Format: Step-by-Step Guide & Examples
Saul Mcleod, PhD
BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester
Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Learn about our Editorial Process
Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc
Associate Editor for Simply Psychology
BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education
Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.
On This Page:
In psychology, a lab report outlines a study’s objectives, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions, ensuring clarity and adherence to APA (or relevant) formatting guidelines.
A typical lab report would include the following sections: title, abstract, introduction, method, results, and discussion.
The title page, abstract, references, and appendices are started on separate pages (subsections from the main body of the report are not). Use double-line spacing of text, font size 12, and include page numbers.
The report should have a thread of arguments linking the prediction in the introduction to the content of the discussion.
This must indicate what the study is about. It must include the variables under investigation. It should not be written as a question.
Title pages should be formatted in APA style .
The abstract provides a concise and comprehensive summary of a research report. Your style should be brief but not use note form. Look at examples in journal articles . It should aim to explain very briefly (about 150 words) the following:
- Start with a one/two sentence summary, providing the aim and rationale for the study.
- Describe participants and setting: who, when, where, how many, and what groups?
- Describe the method: what design, what experimental treatment, what questionnaires, surveys, or tests were used.
- Describe the major findings, including a mention of the statistics used and the significance levels, or simply one sentence summing up the outcome.
- The final sentence(s) outline the study’s “contribution to knowledge” within the literature. What does it all mean? Mention the implications of your findings if appropriate.
The abstract comes at the beginning of your report but is written at the end (as it summarises information from all the other sections of the report).
The purpose of the introduction is to explain where your hypothesis comes from (i.e., it should provide a rationale for your research study).
Ideally, the introduction should have a funnel structure: Start broad and then become more specific. The aims should not appear out of thin air; the preceding review of psychological literature should lead logically into the aims and hypotheses.
- Start with general theory, briefly introducing the topic. Define the important key terms.
- Explain the theoretical framework.
- Summarise and synthesize previous studies – What was the purpose? Who were the participants? What did they do? What did they find? What do these results mean? How do the results relate to the theoretical framework?
- Rationale: How does the current study address a gap in the literature? Perhaps it overcomes a limitation of previous research.
- Aims and hypothesis. Write a paragraph explaining what you plan to investigate and make a clear and concise prediction regarding the results you expect to find.
There should be a logical progression of ideas that aids the flow of the report. This means the studies outlined should lead logically to your aims and hypotheses.
Do be concise and selective, and avoid the temptation to include anything in case it is relevant (i.e., don’t write a shopping list of studies).
USE THE FOLLOWING SUBHEADINGS:
- How many participants were recruited?
- Say how you obtained your sample (e.g., opportunity sample).
- Give relevant demographic details (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age range, mean age, and standard deviation).
- State the experimental design .
- What were the independent and dependent variables ? Make sure the independent variable is labeled and name the different conditions/levels.
- For example, if gender is the independent variable label, then male and female are the levels/conditions/groups.
- How were the IV and DV operationalized?
- Identify any controls used, e.g., counterbalancing and control of extraneous variables.
- List all the materials and measures (e.g., what was the title of the questionnaire? Was it adapted from a study?).
- You do not need to include wholesale replication of materials – instead, include a ‘sensible’ (illustrate) level of detail. For example, give examples of questionnaire items.
- Include the reliability (e.g., alpha values) for the measure(s).
- Describe the precise procedure you followed when conducting your research, i.e., exactly what you did.
- Describe in sufficient detail to allow for replication of findings.
- Be concise in your description and omit extraneous/trivial details, e.g., you don’t need to include details regarding instructions, debrief, record sheets, etc.
- Assume the reader has no knowledge of what you did and ensure that he/she can replicate (i.e., copy) your study exactly by what you write in this section.
- Write in the past tense.
- Don’t justify or explain in the Method (e.g., why you chose a particular sampling method); just report what you did.
- Only give enough detail for someone to replicate the experiment – be concise in your writing.
- The results section of a paper usually presents descriptive statistics followed by inferential statistics.
- Report the means, standard deviations, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for each IV level. If you have four to 20 numbers to present, a well-presented table is best, APA style.
- Name the statistical test being used.
- Report appropriate statistics (e.g., t-scores, p values ).
- Report the magnitude (e.g., are the results significant or not?) as well as the direction of the results (e.g., which group performed better?).
- It is optional to report the effect size (this does not appear on the SPSS output).
- Avoid interpreting the results (save this for the discussion).
- Make sure the results are presented clearly and concisely. A table can be used to display descriptive statistics if this makes the data easier to understand.
- DO NOT include any raw data.
- Follow APA style.
Use APA Style
- Numbers reported to 2 d.p. (incl. 0 before the decimal if 1.00, e.g., “0.51”). The exceptions to this rule: Numbers which can never exceed 1.0 (e.g., p -values, r-values): report to 3 d.p. and do not include 0 before the decimal place, e.g., “.001”.
- Percentages and degrees of freedom: report as whole numbers.
- Statistical symbols that are not Greek letters should be italicized (e.g., M , SD , t , X 2 , F , p , d ).
- Include spaces on either side of the equals sign.
- When reporting 95%, CIs (confidence intervals), upper and lower limits are given inside square brackets, e.g., “95% CI [73.37, 102.23]”
- Outline your findings in plain English (avoid statistical jargon) and relate your results to your hypothesis, e.g., is it supported or rejected?
- Compare your results to background materials from the introduction section. Are your results similar or different? Discuss why/why not.
- How confident can we be in the results? Acknowledge limitations, but only if they can explain the result obtained. If the study has found a reliable effect, be very careful suggesting limitations as you are doubting your results. Unless you can think of any c onfounding variable that can explain the results instead of the IV, it would be advisable to leave the section out.
- Suggest constructive ways to improve your study if appropriate.
- What are the implications of your findings? Say what your findings mean for how people behave in the real world.
- Suggest an idea for further research triggered by your study, something in the same area but not simply an improved version of yours. Perhaps you could base this on a limitation of your study.
- Concluding paragraph – Finish with a statement of your findings and the key points of the discussion (e.g., interpretation and implications) in no more than 3 or 4 sentences.
The reference section lists all the sources cited in the essay (alphabetically). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).
In simple terms, every time you refer to a psychologist’s name (and date), you need to reference the original source of information.
If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.
References need to be set out APA style :
Author, A. A. (year). Title of work . Location: Publisher.
Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number (issue number), page numbers
A simple way to write your reference section is to use Google scholar . Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the “cite” link.
Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.
Once again, remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.
Psychology Lab Report Example
Quantitative paper template.
Quantitative professional paper template: Adapted from “Fake News, Fast and Slow: Deliberation Reduces Belief in False (but Not True) News Headlines,” by B. Bago, D. G. Rand, and G. Pennycook, 2020, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 149 (8), pp. 1608–1613 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000729 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.
Qualitative paper template
Qualitative professional paper template: Adapted from “‘My Smartphone Is an Extension of Myself’: A Holistic Qualitative Exploration of the Impact of Using a Smartphone,” by L. J. Harkin and D. Kuss, 2020, Psychology of Popular Media , 10 (1), pp. 28–38 ( https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000278 ). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.
Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.
Chapter 11: Presenting Your Research
Writing a Research Report in American Psychological Association (APA) Style
- Identify the major sections of an APA-style research report and the basic contents of each section.
- Plan and write an effective APA-style research report.
In this section, we look at how to write an APA-style empirical research report , an article that presents the results of one or more new studies. Recall that the standard sections of an empirical research report provide a kind of outline. Here we consider each of these sections in detail, including what information it contains, how that information is formatted and organized, and tips for writing each section. At the end of this section is a sample APA-style research report that illustrates many of these principles.
Sections of a Research Report
Title page and abstract.
An APA-style research report begins with a title page . The title is centred in the upper half of the page, with each important word capitalized. The title should clearly and concisely (in about 12 words or fewer) communicate the primary variables and research questions. This sometimes requires a main title followed by a subtitle that elaborates on the main title, in which case the main title and subtitle are separated by a colon. Here are some titles from recent issues of professional journals published by the American Psychological Association.
- Sex Differences in Coping Styles and Implications for Depressed Mood
- Effects of Aging and Divided Attention on Memory for Items and Their Contexts
- Computer-Assisted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Child Anxiety: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial
- Virtual Driving and Risk Taking: Do Racing Games Increase Risk-Taking Cognitions, Affect, and Behaviour?
Below the title are the authors’ names and, on the next line, their institutional affiliation—the university or other institution where the authors worked when they conducted the research. As we have already seen, the authors are listed in an order that reflects their contribution to the research. When multiple authors have made equal contributions to the research, they often list their names alphabetically or in a randomly determined order.
In some areas of psychology, the titles of many empirical research reports are informal in a way that is perhaps best described as “cute.” They usually take the form of a play on words or a well-known expression that relates to the topic under study. Here are some examples from recent issues of the Journal Psychological Science .
- “Smells Like Clean Spirit: Nonconscious Effects of Scent on Cognition and Behavior”
- “Time Crawls: The Temporal Resolution of Infants’ Visual Attention”
- “Scent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues”
- “Apocalypse Soon?: Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs”
- “Serial vs. Parallel Processing: Sometimes They Look Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee but They Can (and Should) Be Distinguished”
- “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words: The Social Effects of Expressive Writing”
Individual researchers differ quite a bit in their preference for such titles. Some use them regularly, while others never use them. What might be some of the pros and cons of using cute article titles?
For articles that are being submitted for publication, the title page also includes an author note that lists the authors’ full institutional affiliations, any acknowledgments the authors wish to make to agencies that funded the research or to colleagues who commented on it, and contact information for the authors. For student papers that are not being submitted for publication—including theses—author notes are generally not necessary.
The abstract is a summary of the study. It is the second page of the manuscript and is headed with the word Abstract . The first line is not indented. The abstract presents the research question, a summary of the method, the basic results, and the most important conclusions. Because the abstract is usually limited to about 200 words, it can be a challenge to write a good one.
The introduction begins on the third page of the manuscript. The heading at the top of this page is the full title of the manuscript, with each important word capitalized as on the title page. The introduction includes three distinct subsections, although these are typically not identified by separate headings. The opening introduces the research question and explains why it is interesting, the literature review discusses relevant previous research, and the closing restates the research question and comments on the method used to answer it.
The opening , which is usually a paragraph or two in length, introduces the research question and explains why it is interesting. To capture the reader’s attention, researcher Daryl Bem recommends starting with general observations about the topic under study, expressed in ordinary language (not technical jargon)—observations that are about people and their behaviour (not about researchers or their research; Bem, 2003  ). Concrete examples are often very useful here. According to Bem, this would be a poor way to begin a research report:
Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance received a great deal of attention during the latter part of the 20th century (p. 191)
The following would be much better:
The individual who holds two beliefs that are inconsistent with one another may feel uncomfortable. For example, the person who knows that he or she enjoys smoking but believes it to be unhealthy may experience discomfort arising from the inconsistency or disharmony between these two thoughts or cognitions. This feeling of discomfort was called cognitive dissonance by social psychologist Leon Festinger (1957), who suggested that individuals will be motivated to remove this dissonance in whatever way they can (p. 191).
After capturing the reader’s attention, the opening should go on to introduce the research question and explain why it is interesting. Will the answer fill a gap in the literature? Will it provide a test of an important theory? Does it have practical implications? Giving readers a clear sense of what the research is about and why they should care about it will motivate them to continue reading the literature review—and will help them make sense of it.
Breaking the Rules
Researcher Larry Jacoby reported several studies showing that a word that people see or hear repeatedly can seem more familiar even when they do not recall the repetitions—and that this tendency is especially pronounced among older adults. He opened his article with the following humourous anecdote:
A friend whose mother is suffering symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) tells the story of taking her mother to visit a nursing home, preliminary to her mother’s moving there. During an orientation meeting at the nursing home, the rules and regulations were explained, one of which regarded the dining room. The dining room was described as similar to a fine restaurant except that tipping was not required. The absence of tipping was a central theme in the orientation lecture, mentioned frequently to emphasize the quality of care along with the advantages of having paid in advance. At the end of the meeting, the friend’s mother was asked whether she had any questions. She replied that she only had one question: “Should I tip?” (Jacoby, 1999, p. 3)
Although both humour and personal anecdotes are generally discouraged in APA-style writing, this example is a highly effective way to start because it both engages the reader and provides an excellent real-world example of the topic under study.
The Literature Review
Immediately after the opening comes the literature review , which describes relevant previous research on the topic and can be anywhere from several paragraphs to several pages in length. However, the literature review is not simply a list of past studies. Instead, it constitutes a kind of argument for why the research question is worth addressing. By the end of the literature review, readers should be convinced that the research question makes sense and that the present study is a logical next step in the ongoing research process.
Like any effective argument, the literature review must have some kind of structure. For example, it might begin by describing a phenomenon in a general way along with several studies that demonstrate it, then describing two or more competing theories of the phenomenon, and finally presenting a hypothesis to test one or more of the theories. Or it might describe one phenomenon, then describe another phenomenon that seems inconsistent with the first one, then propose a theory that resolves the inconsistency, and finally present a hypothesis to test that theory. In applied research, it might describe a phenomenon or theory, then describe how that phenomenon or theory applies to some important real-world situation, and finally suggest a way to test whether it does, in fact, apply to that situation.
Looking at the literature review in this way emphasizes a few things. First, it is extremely important to start with an outline of the main points that you want to make, organized in the order that you want to make them. The basic structure of your argument, then, should be apparent from the outline itself. Second, it is important to emphasize the structure of your argument in your writing. One way to do this is to begin the literature review by summarizing your argument even before you begin to make it. “In this article, I will describe two apparently contradictory phenomena, present a new theory that has the potential to resolve the apparent contradiction, and finally present a novel hypothesis to test the theory.” Another way is to open each paragraph with a sentence that summarizes the main point of the paragraph and links it to the preceding points. These opening sentences provide the “transitions” that many beginning researchers have difficulty with. Instead of beginning a paragraph by launching into a description of a previous study, such as “Williams (2004) found that…,” it is better to start by indicating something about why you are describing this particular study. Here are some simple examples:
Another example of this phenomenon comes from the work of Williams (2004).
Williams (2004) offers one explanation of this phenomenon.
An alternative perspective has been provided by Williams (2004).
We used a method based on the one used by Williams (2004).
Finally, remember that your goal is to construct an argument for why your research question is interesting and worth addressing—not necessarily why your favourite answer to it is correct. In other words, your literature review must be balanced. If you want to emphasize the generality of a phenomenon, then of course you should discuss various studies that have demonstrated it. However, if there are other studies that have failed to demonstrate it, you should discuss them too. Or if you are proposing a new theory, then of course you should discuss findings that are consistent with that theory. However, if there are other findings that are inconsistent with it, again, you should discuss them too. It is acceptable to argue that the balance of the research supports the existence of a phenomenon or is consistent with a theory (and that is usually the best that researchers in psychology can hope for), but it is not acceptable to ignore contradictory evidence. Besides, a large part of what makes a research question interesting is uncertainty about its answer.
The closing of the introduction—typically the final paragraph or two—usually includes two important elements. The first is a clear statement of the main research question or hypothesis. This statement tends to be more formal and precise than in the opening and is often expressed in terms of operational definitions of the key variables. The second is a brief overview of the method and some comment on its appropriateness. Here, for example, is how Darley and Latané (1968)  concluded the introduction to their classic article on the bystander effect:
These considerations lead to the hypothesis that the more bystanders to an emergency, the less likely, or the more slowly, any one bystander will intervene to provide aid. To test this proposition it would be necessary to create a situation in which a realistic “emergency” could plausibly occur. Each subject should also be blocked from communicating with others to prevent his getting information about their behaviour during the emergency. Finally, the experimental situation should allow for the assessment of the speed and frequency of the subjects’ reaction to the emergency. The experiment reported below attempted to fulfill these conditions. (p. 378)
Thus the introduction leads smoothly into the next major section of the article—the method section.
The method section is where you describe how you conducted your study. An important principle for writing a method section is that it should be clear and detailed enough that other researchers could replicate the study by following your “recipe.” This means that it must describe all the important elements of the study—basic demographic characteristics of the participants, how they were recruited, whether they were randomly assigned, how the variables were manipulated or measured, how counterbalancing was accomplished, and so on. At the same time, it should avoid irrelevant details such as the fact that the study was conducted in Classroom 37B of the Industrial Technology Building or that the questionnaire was double-sided and completed using pencils.
The method section begins immediately after the introduction ends with the heading “Method” (not “Methods”) centred on the page. Immediately after this is the subheading “Participants,” left justified and in italics. The participants subsection indicates how many participants there were, the number of women and men, some indication of their age, other demographics that may be relevant to the study, and how they were recruited, including any incentives given for participation.
After the participants section, the structure can vary a bit. Figure 11.1 shows three common approaches. In the first, the participants section is followed by a design and procedure subsection, which describes the rest of the method. This works well for methods that are relatively simple and can be described adequately in a few paragraphs. In the second approach, the participants section is followed by separate design and procedure subsections. This works well when both the design and the procedure are relatively complicated and each requires multiple paragraphs.
What is the difference between design and procedure? The design of a study is its overall structure. What were the independent and dependent variables? Was the independent variable manipulated, and if so, was it manipulated between or within subjects? How were the variables operationally defined? The procedure is how the study was carried out. It often works well to describe the procedure in terms of what the participants did rather than what the researchers did. For example, the participants gave their informed consent, read a set of instructions, completed a block of four practice trials, completed a block of 20 test trials, completed two questionnaires, and were debriefed and excused.
In the third basic way to organize a method section, the participants subsection is followed by a materials subsection before the design and procedure subsections. This works well when there are complicated materials to describe. This might mean multiple questionnaires, written vignettes that participants read and respond to, perceptual stimuli, and so on. The heading of this subsection can be modified to reflect its content. Instead of “Materials,” it can be “Questionnaires,” “Stimuli,” and so on.
The results section is where you present the main results of the study, including the results of the statistical analyses. Although it does not include the raw data—individual participants’ responses or scores—researchers should save their raw data and make them available to other researchers who request them. Several journals now encourage the open sharing of raw data online.
Although there are no standard subsections, it is still important for the results section to be logically organized. Typically it begins with certain preliminary issues. One is whether any participants or responses were excluded from the analyses and why. The rationale for excluding data should be described clearly so that other researchers can decide whether it is appropriate. A second preliminary issue is how multiple responses were combined to produce the primary variables in the analyses. For example, if participants rated the attractiveness of 20 stimulus people, you might have to explain that you began by computing the mean attractiveness rating for each participant. Or if they recalled as many items as they could from study list of 20 words, did you count the number correctly recalled, compute the percentage correctly recalled, or perhaps compute the number correct minus the number incorrect? A third preliminary issue is the reliability of the measures. This is where you would present test-retest correlations, Cronbach’s α, or other statistics to show that the measures are consistent across time and across items. A final preliminary issue is whether the manipulation was successful. This is where you would report the results of any manipulation checks.
The results section should then tackle the primary research questions, one at a time. Again, there should be a clear organization. One approach would be to answer the most general questions and then proceed to answer more specific ones. Another would be to answer the main question first and then to answer secondary ones. Regardless, Bem (2003)  suggests the following basic structure for discussing each new result:
- Remind the reader of the research question.
- Give the answer to the research question in words.
- Present the relevant statistics.
- Qualify the answer if necessary.
- Summarize the result.
Notice that only Step 3 necessarily involves numbers. The rest of the steps involve presenting the research question and the answer to it in words. In fact, the basic results should be clear even to a reader who skips over the numbers.
The discussion is the last major section of the research report. Discussions usually consist of some combination of the following elements:
- Summary of the research
- Theoretical implications
- Practical implications
- Suggestions for future research
The discussion typically begins with a summary of the study that provides a clear answer to the research question. In a short report with a single study, this might require no more than a sentence. In a longer report with multiple studies, it might require a paragraph or even two. The summary is often followed by a discussion of the theoretical implications of the research. Do the results provide support for any existing theories? If not, how can they be explained? Although you do not have to provide a definitive explanation or detailed theory for your results, you at least need to outline one or more possible explanations. In applied research—and often in basic research—there is also some discussion of the practical implications of the research. How can the results be used, and by whom, to accomplish some real-world goal?
The theoretical and practical implications are often followed by a discussion of the study’s limitations. Perhaps there are problems with its internal or external validity. Perhaps the manipulation was not very effective or the measures not very reliable. Perhaps there is some evidence that participants did not fully understand their task or that they were suspicious of the intent of the researchers. Now is the time to discuss these issues and how they might have affected the results. But do not overdo it. All studies have limitations, and most readers will understand that a different sample or different measures might have produced different results. Unless there is good reason to think they would have, however, there is no reason to mention these routine issues. Instead, pick two or three limitations that seem like they could have influenced the results, explain how they could have influenced the results, and suggest ways to deal with them.
Most discussions end with some suggestions for future research. If the study did not satisfactorily answer the original research question, what will it take to do so? What new research questions has the study raised? This part of the discussion, however, is not just a list of new questions. It is a discussion of two or three of the most important unresolved issues. This means identifying and clarifying each question, suggesting some alternative answers, and even suggesting ways they could be studied.
Finally, some researchers are quite good at ending their articles with a sweeping or thought-provoking conclusion. Darley and Latané (1968)  , for example, ended their article on the bystander effect by discussing the idea that whether people help others may depend more on the situation than on their personalities. Their final sentence is, “If people understand the situational forces that can make them hesitate to intervene, they may better overcome them” (p. 383). However, this kind of ending can be difficult to pull off. It can sound overreaching or just banal and end up detracting from the overall impact of the article. It is often better simply to end when you have made your final point (although you should avoid ending on a limitation).
The references section begins on a new page with the heading “References” centred at the top of the page. All references cited in the text are then listed in the format presented earlier. They are listed alphabetically by the last name of the first author. If two sources have the same first author, they are listed alphabetically by the last name of the second author. If all the authors are the same, then they are listed chronologically by the year of publication. Everything in the reference list is double-spaced both within and between references.
Appendices, Tables, and Figures
Appendices, tables, and figures come after the references. An appendix is appropriate for supplemental material that would interrupt the flow of the research report if it were presented within any of the major sections. An appendix could be used to present lists of stimulus words, questionnaire items, detailed descriptions of special equipment or unusual statistical analyses, or references to the studies that are included in a meta-analysis. Each appendix begins on a new page. If there is only one, the heading is “Appendix,” centred at the top of the page. If there is more than one, the headings are “Appendix A,” “Appendix B,” and so on, and they appear in the order they were first mentioned in the text of the report.
After any appendices come tables and then figures. Tables and figures are both used to present results. Figures can also be used to illustrate theories (e.g., in the form of a flowchart), display stimuli, outline procedures, and present many other kinds of information. Each table and figure appears on its own page. Tables are numbered in the order that they are first mentioned in the text (“Table 1,” “Table 2,” and so on). Figures are numbered the same way (“Figure 1,” “Figure 2,” and so on). A brief explanatory title, with the important words capitalized, appears above each table. Each figure is given a brief explanatory caption, where (aside from proper nouns or names) only the first word of each sentence is capitalized. More details on preparing APA-style tables and figures are presented later in the book.
Sample APA-Style Research Report
Figures 11.2, 11.3, 11.4, and 11.5 show some sample pages from an APA-style empirical research report originally written by undergraduate student Tomoe Suyama at California State University, Fresno. The main purpose of these figures is to illustrate the basic organization and formatting of an APA-style empirical research report, although many high-level and low-level style conventions can be seen here too.
- An APA-style empirical research report consists of several standard sections. The main ones are the abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and references.
- The introduction consists of an opening that presents the research question, a literature review that describes previous research on the topic, and a closing that restates the research question and comments on the method. The literature review constitutes an argument for why the current study is worth doing.
- The method section describes the method in enough detail that another researcher could replicate the study. At a minimum, it consists of a participants subsection and a design and procedure subsection.
- The results section describes the results in an organized fashion. Each primary result is presented in terms of statistical results but also explained in words.
- The discussion typically summarizes the study, discusses theoretical and practical implications and limitations of the study, and offers suggestions for further research.
- Practice: Look through an issue of a general interest professional journal (e.g., Psychological Science ). Read the opening of the first five articles and rate the effectiveness of each one from 1 ( very ineffective ) to 5 ( very effective ). Write a sentence or two explaining each rating.
- Practice: Find a recent article in a professional journal and identify where the opening, literature review, and closing of the introduction begin and end.
- Practice: Find a recent article in a professional journal and highlight in a different colour each of the following elements in the discussion: summary, theoretical implications, practical implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research.
Figure 11.1 long description: Table showing three ways of organizing an APA-style method section.
In the simple method, there are two subheadings: “Participants” (which might begin “The participants were…”) and “Design and procedure” (which might begin “There were three conditions…”).
In the typical method, there are three subheadings: “Participants” (“The participants were…”), “Design” (“There were three conditions…”), and “Procedure” (“Participants viewed each stimulus on the computer screen…”).
In the complex method, there are four subheadings: “Participants” (“The participants were…”), “Materials” (“The stimuli were…”), “Design” (“There were three conditions…”), and “Procedure” (“Participants viewed each stimulus on the computer screen…”). [Return to Figure 11.1]
- Bem, D. J. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In J. M. Darley, M. P. Zanna, & H. R. Roediger III (Eds.), The compleat academic: A practical guide for the beginning social scientist (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. ↵
- Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4 , 377–383. ↵
A type of research article which describes one or more new empirical studies conducted by the authors.
The page at the beginning of an APA-style research report containing the title of the article, the authors’ names, and their institutional affiliation.
A summary of a research study.
The third page of a manuscript containing the research question, the literature review, and comments about how to answer the research question.
An introduction to the research question and explanation for why this question is interesting.
A description of relevant previous research on the topic being discusses and an argument for why the research is worth addressing.
The end of the introduction, where the research question is reiterated and the method is commented upon.
The section of a research report where the method used to conduct the study is described.
The main results of the study, including the results from statistical analyses, are presented in a research article.
Section of a research report that summarizes the study's results and interprets them by referring back to the study's theoretical background.
Part of a research report which contains supplemental material.
Research Methods in Psychology - 2nd Canadian Edition by Paul C. Price, Rajiv Jhangiani, & I-Chant A. Chiang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Psychology Research Paper
This sample psychology research paper features: 6000 words (approx. 20 pages), an outline, and a bibliography with 32 sources. Browse other research paper examples for more inspiration. If you need a thorough research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.
History of Psychology
Every day, psychologists make history. It can be in an act as small as sending an e-mail or as large as winning a Nobel Prize. What remains of these acts and the contexts in which they occur are the data of history. When transformed by historians of psychology to produce narrative, these data represent our best attempts to make meaning of our science and profession.
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The meaning that is derived from the data of history is most often made available to students of psychology through a course in the history of psychology. For a variety of reasons, the history of psychology has maintained a strong presence in the psychology curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for as long as there has been a psychology curriculum in America (Fuchs & Viney, 2002; Hilgard, Leary, & McGuire, 1991). As a result, most students will have some exposure to the subject matter and some sense of its importance.
Why are psychologists so interested in their own history? In trying to answer this question, consider the following quotations from two eminent British historians. One, Robin Collingwood (1946), wrote that the “proper object of historical study.. .is the human mind, or more properly the activities of the human mind” (p. 215). And the other, Edward H. Carr (1961), proposed that “the historian is not really interested in the unique, but what is general in the unique” and that “the study of history is a study of causes.. .the historian.. .continuously asks the question: Why?” (pp. 80, 113). Thus, according to these historians, to study history is to study the human mind, to be able to generalize beyond the characteristics of a single individual or single event to other individuals and other events, and to be able to answer the “why” of human behavior in terms of motivation, personality, past experience, expectations, and so forth. Historians are not satisfied, for example, with a mere description of the events of May 4, 1970, in which national guard troops killed four unarmed students on a college campus in Ohio. Description is useful, but it is not the scholarly end product that is sought. By itself, description is unlikely to answer the questions that historians want to answer. They want to understand an event, like the shootings at Kent State University, so completely that they can explain why it happened.
Collingwood (1946) has described history as “the science of human nature” (p. 206). In defining history in that way, Collingwood has usurped psychology’s definition for itself. One can certainly argue about the scientific nature of history and thus his use of the term science in his definition. Whereas historians do not do experimental work, they are engaged in empirical work, and they approach their questions in much the same way that psychologists do, by generating hypotheses and then seeking evidence that will confirm or disconfirm those hypotheses. Thus the intellectual pursuits of the historian and the psychologist are not really very different. And so as psychologists or students of psychology, we are not moving very far from our own field of interest when we study the history of psychology.
Historians of psychology seek to understand the development of the discipline by examining the confluence of people, places, and events within larger social, economic, and political contexts. Over the last forty years the history of psychology has become a recognized area of research and scholarship in psychology. Improvements in the tools, methods, and training of historians of psychology have created a substantial body of research that contributes to conversations about our shared past, the meaning of our present divergence, and the promise of our future. In this research-paper you will learn about the theory and practice of research on the history of psychology.
Historiography refers to the philosophy and methods of doing history. Psychology is certainly guided by underlying philosophies and a diversity of research methods. A behaviorist, for example, has certain assumptions about the influence of previous experience, in terms of a history of punishment and reinforcement, on current behavior. And the methods of study take those assumptions into account in the design and conduct of experiments. A psychoanalytic psychologist, on the other hand, has a very different philosophy and methodology in investigating the questions of interest, for example, believing in the influence of unconscious motives and using techniques such as free association or analysis of latent dream content to understand those motives. Historical research is guided in the same way. It will help you understand history by knowing something about its philosophy and methods as well.
The historical point of view is highly compatible with our notions of our science. Psychologists tend to view individuals in developmental terms, and historians of psychology extend this point of view to encompass the developmental life of the discipline. Like any area of inquiry in psychology, historians of psychology modify their theories, principles, and practices with the accumulation of knowledge, the passage of time, and available technology. One simply needs to compare E. G. Boring’s epic 1929 tome, A History of Experimental Psychology, with Duane and Sydney Ellen Schultz’s 2004 text, A History of Modern Psychology, to see the difference that 75 years can make.
Approaches to history have changed dramatically over the last 75 years. Indeed much of the early research and scholarship in the history of psychology was ceremonial and celebratory. Most often it was not written by historians. It was, and in some circles remains, a reflexive view of history—great people cause great change. Such a view is naive and simplistic. Psychological theories, research practices, and applications are all bound in a context, and it is this dynamic and fluid model that is the trend in historical research today. Just as inferential statistics have advanced from simple regression analysis to structural equation modeling, so too has historical research embraced a notion of multiple determinants and estimates of their relative impact on historical construction. In 1989 historian of psychology Laurel Furumoto christened this “the new history,” a signifier denoting that historic research should strive to be more contextual and less internal.
Postmodern, deconstructionist, and social constructionist perspectives all share an emphasis on context, and have influenced historical research in psychology. The postmodern approach embraces a more critical and questioning attitude toward the enterprise of science (Anderson, 1998). The rise of science studies has led to what some have dubbed the “science wars” and to contentious arguments between those who see science as an honest attempt at objective and dispassionate fact-finding and those who see science (psychological and otherwise) as a political exercise subject to disorder, bias, control, and authority mongering. It is an issue that is present in today’s history of psychology (for examples and discussions see Popplestone, 2004; Zammito, 2004).
Perhaps the largest growth in scholarship on the history of psychology has been in the area of intellectual history. As mentioned earlier, the construction of narrative in these works tends to eschew the older, more ceremonial, and internal histories in favor of a point of view that is more external and contextual. Rather than merely providing a combination of dates and achievements, modern historical scholarship in psychology tends to illuminate. The value of this point of view is in its contributions to our ongoing discussions of the meanings and directions of our field. The ever-expanding universe that psychology occupies and the ongoing debates of the unity of psychology are sufficient to warrant consideration and discussion of how our science and practice have evolved and developed. Historical analysis offers insight into personal, professional, and situational variables that impact and influence the field.
There is also a growing interest in what can be termed the material culture of psychology. The objects and artifacts that occupy psychological laboratories and aid our assessment of mind and behavior are becoming objects of study in their own right (Robinson, 2001; Sturm & Ash, 2005). For example, we continue to study reaction time and memory but we no longer use Hipp chronoscopes or mechanical memory drums. Changes in technology bring changes in methodologies and a host of other variables that are of interest to the historian of psychology.
Another area of increased interest and attention is the impact that racism and discrimination have had on the field. Traditionally underrepresented groups in psychology have often been made invisible by the historical record, but recent scholarship seeks to illuminate the people, places, and practices that have been part of both the problem and the solution to some of the 20th century’s most vexing questions on race, gender, and religion (for examples see Philogène, 2004; Winston, 2004).
Psychologists typically study contemporary events (behaviors and mental processes), whereas historians study events of the distant past. Both might be interested in the same behavior, but the time frame and the methods are usually distinct. Psychologists are interested in marriage, for example, and they might study marriage using surveys, ex post facto methods, or quasi-experimental designs using a sample of married couples (or perhaps divorced couples). Historians, on the other hand, would be likely to look at marriage, for example, as an institution in Victorian England, and they would be unable to use any of the methods listed previously as part of the arsenal of the psychologist. The questions on marriage that would interest psychologists and historians might be similar—how are mates selected in marriage, at what age do people marry, what roles do wives and husbands play in these marriages, what causes marriages to end? But again, the methods of research and the time frame for the events would be different.
History, then, is the branch of knowledge that attempts to analyze and explain events of the past. The explanatory product is a narrative of those events, a story. Central to telling any historical story is the accumulation of facts. We typically think of facts as some kind of demonstrable truth, some real event whose occurrence cannot be disputed. Yet facts are more elusive, as evidenced in the typical dictionary definition, which notes that a fact is information that is “presented” as objectively real. Historians present as fact, for example, that an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Because of detailed records of that event, as well as many eyewitness accounts, that fact seems indisputable; however, there are other kinds of facts.
In addition to the date of the bombing of Hiroshima, historians have also presented a number of facts relevant to the decision made by the United States government to drop that bomb. Not surprisingly, those facts are more debatable. Thus facts differ in terms of their certainty. Sometimes that is because evidence is incomplete and much inference has to be made, sometimes it is because evidence is contradictory, and sometimes it is because of bias introduced in the observation or in the interpretation of these events. Flawed though they may be, facts are the basis of history. It is the job of the historian to uncover these items of the past and to piece them together in an account that is as accurate as can be constructed.
In contemporary historiography, the researcher must always be alert to bias in the selection and interpretation of facts. Objectivity is a critical goal for the historian. Carr (1961) has argued that objectivity is indeed only a dream: “The emphasis on the role of the historian in the making of history tends, if pressed to its logical conclusion, to rule out any objective history at all: history is what the historian makes” (p. 29).
Like psychologists, historians are human too, and they bring to their task a bundle of prejudices, preconceptions, penchants, predispositions, premises, and predilections. Such baggage does not mean that they abandon their hope for objectivity, nor does it mean that their histories are hopelessly flawed. Good historians know their biases.
They use their understanding of them to search for evidence in places where they might not otherwise look or to ask questions that they would not ordinarily ask. When this searching and questioning causes them to confront facts contrary to their own views, they must deal with those facts as they would with facts that are more consistent with their biases.
Bias in history begins at the beginning: “The historian displays a bias through the mere choice of a subject…” (Gilderhus, 1992, p. 80). There are an infinite number of historical subjects to pursue. The historian selects from among those, often selecting one of paramount personal interest. The search within that subject begins with a question or questions that the historian hopes to answer, and likely the historian starts with some definite ideas about the answers to those questions.
Bias is evident too in the data of history. It can occur in primary source material—for example, census records or other government documents—even though such sources are often regarded as quite accurate. Yet such sources are inherently biased by the philosophies underlying the construction of the instruments themselves and the ways in which those instruments are used. Secondary sources too are flawed. Their errors occur in transcription, translation, selection, and interpretation.
Oral histories are subject to the biases of the interviewer and the interviewee. Some questions are asked, while others are not. Some are answered, and others are avoided. And memories of events long past are often unreliable. Manuscript collections, the substance of modern archives, are selective and incomplete. They contain the documents that someone decided were worth saving, and they are devoid of those documents that were discarded or lost for a host of reasons, perhaps known only to the discarder.
After they have selected a topic of study and gathered the facts, historians must assemble them into a narrative that can also be subject to biases. Leahey (1986) reviews some of the pitfalls that modern historians of science want to avoid. These include Whig history, presentism, internalist history, and Great Man theories. Whig history refers to historical narrative that views history as a steady movement toward progress in an orderly fashion. Presentism is the tendency to view the past in terms of current values and beliefs. Internalist history focuses solely on developments within a field and fails to acknowledge the larger social, political, and economic contexts in which events and individual actions unfold. Great Man theories credit single, unique individuals (most often white males) as makers of history without regard for the impact that the spirit of the times (often referred to as the zeitgeist) has on the achievements of individuals. Avoiding these errors of interpretation calls for a different approach, which Stocking (1965) has labeled “historicism”: an understanding of the past in its own context and for its own sake. Such an approach requires historians to immerse themselves in the context of the times they are studying.
These are just some of the hurdles that the historian faces in striving for objectivity. They are not described here to suggest that the historian’s task is a hopeless one; instead, they are meant to show the forces against which historians must struggle in attempts at accuracy and objectivity. Carr (1961) has characterized the striving for this ideal as follows:
When we call a historian objective, we mean, I think, two things. First of all, we mean that he has the capacity to rise above the limited vision of his own situation in society and in history… .Secondly, we mean that he has the capacity to project his vision into the future in such a way as to give him a more profound and lasting insight into the past than can be attained by those historians whose outlook is entirely bounded by their own immediate situation. (p. 163)
In summary, history is a product of selection and interpretation. Knowing that helps us understand why books are usually titled “A History…” and not “The History….” There are many histories of psychology, and it would be surprising to find any historians so arrogant as to presume that their individual narratives constituted “The History of Psychology.”
History research is often like detective work: the search for one piece of evidence leads to the search for another and another. One has to follow all leads, some of which produce no useful information. When all of the leads have been exhausted, then you can analyze the facts to see if they are sufficient for telling the story. The leads or the data of history are most often found in original source material. The published record provides access to original source material through monographs and serials that are widely circulated and available in most academic libraries (including reference works such as indexes, encyclopedias, and hand-books). Hard-to-find and out-of-print material (newspapers, newsletters) are now much more easily available thanks to the proliferation of electronic resources. Too often valuable sources of information (obituaries, departmental histories and records, and oral histories) that are vital to maintaining the historical record are not always catalogued and indexed in ways that make them readily available and visible. The most important of all sources of data are archival repositories. Within such repositories one can find records of individuals (referred to as manuscript collections) and organizations (termed archival collections). Manuscript collections preserve and provide access to unique documents such as correspondence, lab notes, drafts of manuscripts, grant proposals, and case records. Archival collections of organizations contain materials such as membership records, minutes of meetings, convention programs, and the like. Archival repositories provide, in essence, the “inside story,” free of editorial revision or censure and marked by the currency of time as opposed to suffering the losses and distortion of later recall. In much the same way, still images, film footage, and artifacts such as apparatus and instrumentation aid in the process of historical discovery.
There are literally thousands of collections of letters of individuals, most of them famous, but some not. And in those historically significant collections are millions of stories waiting to be told. Michael Hill (1993) has described the joys of archival research in this way:
Archival work appears bookish and commonplace to the uninitiated, but this mundane simplicity is deceptive. It bears repeating that events and materials in archives are not always what they seem on the surface. There are perpetual surprises, intrigues, and apprehensions. Suffice it to say that it is a rare treat to visit an archive, to hold in one’s hand the priceless and irreplaceable documents of our unfolding human drama. Each new box of archival material presents opportunities for discovery as well as obligations to treat the subjects of your… research with candor, theoretical sophistication, and a sense of fair play. Each archival visit is a journey into an unknown realm that rewards its visitors with challenging puzzles and unexpected revelations. (pp. 6-7)
“Surprise, intrigue, apprehension, puzzles, and discovery”—those are characteristics of detective work, and historical research is very much about detective work.
The papers of important psychologists are spread among archives and libraries all over the world. In the United States you will find the papers of William James and B. F. Skinner in the collections at Harvard University. The papers of Hugo Munsterberg, a pioneer in the application of psychology to business, can be found at the Boston Public Library. The papers of Mary Whiton Calkins and Christine Ladd-Franklin, important early contributors to experimental psychology, can be found at Wellesley College and at Vassar College and Columbia University, respectively. The Library of Congress includes the papers of James McKeen Cattell and Kenneth B. Clark. Cattell was one of the founders of American psychology and a leader among American scientists in general, and Clark, an African American psychologist, earned fame when his research on self-esteem in black children was cited prominently in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made school segregation illegal (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).
The single largest collection of archival materials on psychology anywhere in the world can be found at the Archives of the History of American Psychology (AHAP) at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. Founded by psychologists John A. Popplestone and Marion White McPherson in 1965, its purpose is to collect and preserve the historical record of psychology in America (Baker, 2004). Central to this mission is the preservation of personal papers, artifacts, and media that tell the story of psychology in America. In archival terms, “papers” refers to one-of-a-kind (unique) items. Papers can include such things as correspondence (both personal and professional), lecture notes, diaries, and lab journals. Recently named a Smithsonian Affiliate, the AHAP houses more than 1,000 objects and artifacts that offer unique insights into the science and practice of psychology. Instruments from the brass-and-glass era of the late 19th century share space alongside such significant 20th century objects as the simulated shock generator used by Stanley Milgram in his famous studies of obedience and conformity, the flags of the Eagles and Rattlers of the Robbers Cave experiment by Muzafir and Carolyn Sherif, and the props that supported Phillip Zimbardo’s well-known Stanford University prison studies.
Currently, the AHAP houses the personal papers of over 700 psychologists. There are papers of those representing experimental psychology (Leo and Dorothea Hurvich, Kenneth Spence, Ward Halstead, Mary Ainsworth, Frank Beach, Knight Dunlap, Dorothy Rethlingshafer, and Hans Lukas-Tuber), professional psychology (David Shakow, Edgar Doll, Leta Hollingworth, Herbert Freudenberger, Sidney Pressey, Joseph Zubin, Erika Fromm, Jack Bardon, Robert Waldrop, Marie Crissey, and Morris Viteles), and just about everything in between. Also included are the records of more than 50 psychological organizations, including the American Group Psychotherapy Association, the Association for Women in Psychology, Psi Chi, Psi Beta, the Association for Humanistic Psychology, the International Council of Psychologists, and the Psychonomic Society. State and regional association records that can be found at the AHAP include those of the Midwestern Psychological Association, the Ohio Psychological Association, and the Western Psychological Association. The test collection includes more than 8,000 tests and records. There are more than 15,000 photographs and 6,000 reels of film, including home movies of Freud, footage of Pavlov’s research institute, and research film from Arnold Gesell and the Yale Child Study Center. All of these materials serve as trace elements of people, places, and events to which we no longer have access. These archival elements are less fallible than human memory, and if properly preserved, are available to all for review and interpretation. Because an in-person visit to the Archives of the History of American Psychology is not always possible, the AHAP is seeking to make more of its collection available online ( https://www.uakron.edu/ahap ). Indeed, with the advent of the information age, material that was once available only by visitation to an archival repository can now be scanned, digitized, and otherwise rendered into an electronic format. From the diaries and correspondence of women during the civil war to archival collections of animation movies, the digital movement is revolutionizing access to original source material. More information on electronic resources in the history of psychology can be found in the annotated bibliography at the end of this research-paper.
All archives have a set of finding aids to help the researcher locate relevant materials. Some finding aids are more comprehensive than others. Finding aids are organized around a defined set of characteristics that typically include the following:
- Collection dates (date range of the material)
- Size of collection (expressed in linear feet)
- Provenance (place of origin of a collection, previous ownership)
- Access (if any part of the collection is restricted)
- Finding aid preparer name and date of preparation
- Biographical/historical note (a short, succinct note about the collection’s creator)
- Scope and content note (general description and highlights of the collection)
- Series descriptions (headings used to organize records of a similar nature)
- Inventory (description and location of contents of a collection)
Even if an on-site review of the contents of a collection is not possible, reviewing finding aids can still be useful because of the wealth of information they provide.
In the mid-1960s, a critical mass of sorts was achieved for those interested in teaching, research, and scholarship in the history of psychology. Within the span of a few years, two major organizations appeared: Cheiron: The International Society for the History of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Division 26 (Society for the History of Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA). Both sponsor annual meetings, and both are affiliated with scholarly journals (Cheiron is represented by the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences and the Society for the History of Psychology by History of Psychology) that provide an outlet for original research. Two doctoral training programs in the history of psychology exist in North America. One is at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the other is at the University of New Hampshire.
For most students in psychology, the closest encounter with historical research comes in the form of a project or paper as part of a requirement for a class on the history of psychology. Using the types of resources that we have described in this research-paper, it should be possible to construct a narrative on any number of topical issues in psychology.
For example, the ascendancy of professional psychology with its concomitant focus on mental health is a topic of interest to historians of psychology and of considerable importance to many students who wish to pursue graduate training in professional psychology. Using archival materials, original published material, secondary sources, and government documents, a brief example of a historical narrative is provided.
World War II and the Rise of Professional Psychology
America’s entrance into World War II greatly expanded the services that American psychologists offered, especially in the area of mental health. Rates of psychiatric illness among recruits were surprisingly high, the majority of discharges from service were for psychiatric reasons, and psychiatric casualties occupied over half of all beds in Veterans Administration hospitals. Not only was this cause for concern among the military, it also alerted federal authorities to the issue among the general population. At the time, the available supply of trained personnel met a fraction of the need. In a response that was fast and sweeping, the federal government passed the National Mental Health Act of 1946, legislation that has been a major determinant in the growth of the mental health profession in America (Pickren & Schneider, 2004). The purpose of the act was clear:
The improvement of the mental health of the people of the United States through the conducting of researches, investigations, experiments, and demonstrations relating to the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders; assisting and fostering such research activities by public and private agencies, and promoting the coordination of all such researches and activities and the useful application of their results; training personnel in matters relating to mental health; and developing, and assisting States in the use of the most effective methods of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders. (Public Law 487, 1946, p. 421)
The act provided for a massive program of federal assistance to address research, training, and service in the identification, treatment, and prevention of mental illness.
It created the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and provided broad support to psychiatry, psychiatric social work, psychiatric nursing, and psychology for the training of mental health professionals (Rubens tein, 1975). Through the joint efforts of the United States Public Health Service and the Veterans Administration, funds were made available to psychology departments willing to train professional psychologists. Never before had such large sums of money been available to academic psychology. The grants and stipends available from the federal government allowed universities to hire clinical faculty to teach graduate students, whose education and training was often supported by generous stipends. It was these funds that subsidized the Boulder Conference on Graduate Education in Clinical Psychology in 1949 (Baker & Benjamin, 2000).
The chief architect of the Boulder model was David Shakow (1901-1981). At the time, there was no other person in American psychology who had more responsibility and influence in defining standards of training for clinical psychologists. In 1947, Shakow crafted a report on the training of doctoral students in clinical psychology that became the working document for the Boulder Conference of 1949 (APA, 1947; Benjamin & Baker, 2004; Felix, 1947).
By the 1950s, professional psychologists achieved identities that served their members, served their various publics, attracted students and faculty, and ensured survival by maintaining the mechanisms necessary for professional accreditation and later for certification and licensure. In the free-market economy, many trained for public service have found greener pastures in private practice.
The training model inaugurated by the NIMH in 1949 has continued unabated for five decades, planned and supported largely through the auspices of the American Psychological Association. The exigencies that called for the creation of a competent mental health work force have changed, yet the professional psychologist engineered at mid-century has endured, as has the uneasy alliance between science and practice.
This brief historical analysis shows how archival elements can be gathered from a host of sources and used to illuminate the contextual factors that contributed to a significant development in modern American psychology. This story could not be told without access to a number of original sources. For example, the inner workings of the two-week Boulder conference are told in the surviving papers of conference participants, including the personal papers of David Shakow that are located at Akron in the Archives of the History of American Psychology. Papers relevant to the Mental Health Act of 1946 can be found in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Information about the role of the Veterans Administration in contributing to the development of the profession of clinical psychology can be found in the oral history collection available at the archives of the APA. Such analysis also offers an opportunity for reflection and evaluation, and tells us some of the story of the bifurcation of science and practice that has resulted in American psychology. We believe that historical analysis provides a perspective that can contribute to our understanding of current debates and aid in the consideration of alternatives.
Indeed, almost any contemporary topic that a student of psychology is interested in has a history that can be traced. Topics in cognition, emotions, forensics, group therapy, parenting, sexuality, memory, and animal learning, to name but a very few, can be researched. Archival resources are often more readily available than most might think. Local and regional archives and university library special collections all are sources of original material. For example, students can do interesting research on the history of their own psychology departments (Benjamin, 1990). University archives can offer minutes of faculty meetings, personnel records (those that are public), college yearbooks (which often show faculty members, student groups, etc.), course catalogues, building plans, and many more items. Interviews can be conducted with retired faculty and department staff, and local newspapers can be researched for related stories. The work can be informative, instructive, and very enjoyable.
In the end we are left with an important question: So what? What is the importance of the history of psychology? What do we gain? The history of psychology is not likely to serve as an empirically valid treatment for anxiety, nor is it likely to offer a model of how memory works. But that is not the point. It is easily argued that the history of psychology offers some instrumental benefits. The examination of psychology’s past provides not only a more meaningful understanding of that past, but a more informed and enriched appreciation of our present, and the best crystal ball available in making predictions about our field’s future. It aids critical thinking by providing a compendium of the trials, tribulations, and advances that accrue from the enormous questions we ask of our science and profession, and it offers the opportunity to reduce the interpersonal drift we seem to experience. In recent years, psychologists have become estranged from one another in ways that were unknown not all that long ago. Yet we share a connection, however tenuous, and it is found in our shared history.
At the risk of being labeled Whiggish, we would add that the history of psychology, professional and otherwise, has contributed to a corpus of knowledge that is real, tangible, and capable of improving the quality of life of all living things, including our planet. There are few secrets; we know how to encourage recycling, we understand effective ways of treating drug addiction, we have methods for alleviating some of the suffering of mental illness, we can provide tools to improve reading skills, we can design good foster homes—the list could get quite long.
Our knowledge is a powerful tool that has developed over time and is a narrative worth knowing. Like any good story, it has its heroes and its villains, it is set in a time and place, and it offers us a message we can all hear and use.
- American Psychological Association, Committee on Training in Clinical Psychology. (1947). Recommended graduate training program in clinical psychology. American Psychologist, 2, 539-558.
- Anderson, P. (1998). The origins of postmodernity. London: Verso. Archives of the History of American Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.uakron.edu/ahap
- Baker, D. B. (2004). Thirty-five years of archival achievement. In D. Baker (Ed.), Thick description and fine texture: Studies in the history of psychology (pp. vii-x). Akron, OH: The University of Akron Press.
- Baker, D. B., & Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2000). The affirmation of the scientist-practitioner: A look back at Boulder. American Psychologist, 55, 241-247.
- Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (1990). Involving students and faculty in preparing a departmental history. Teaching of Psychology, 17, 97-100.
- Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2006). A history of psychology in letters (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
- Benjamin, L. T., Jr., & Baker, D. B. (2004). From séance to science: A history of the profession of psychology in America. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
- Boring, E. G. (1929). A history of experimental psychology. New York: Century Co.
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