Taking this Show on the Road: PsyBorgs at EPA, Mar. 13-16, Boston

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

The PsyBorgs, or at least a subset of us, are taking our digital history of psychology show on the road next month. We’ll – Christopher Green, Jeremy Burman, Daniel Lahham, and I – be travelling to Boston for the Eastern Psychological Association‘s Annual meeting, March 13-16th. If you’re planning to attend the conference, or happen to be in the Boston area, stop by and see us at our Digital History symposium, Saturday March 15th from 3-4:20pm in Winthrop. We’ll be discussing the results of work with a veritable smorgasbord of digital methods: geomapping, networking, and data mining PsycInfo. More details follow below.

Symposium Title: Digital History: Stanley Hall’s Travels, Intellectual Networks, Ethology/Comparative, Trends with PsycINFO

Digital History, in part, is the effort to analyze large electronic databases of historical data by using graphical statistical displays. At York University we have assembled a Digital History of Psychology Laboratory in which faculty and students collaborate on projects to uncover novel aspects of the discipline’s past with these methods. This symposium presents four of those projects. (1) Jacy L. Young presents maps of the many lecture tours made by G. Stanley Hall as he publicized his “Child Study” movement. (2) Christopher D. Green shows how the intellectual structure of early American psychology is revealed by networks of journal articles published during the 1880s­1920s. (3) Daniel E. Lahham uses networks to reveal the impact of European ethology on American comparative psychology in the 1950s. (4) Jeremy T. Burman discusses how to employ APA’s PsycINFO database to investigate intellectual trends in psychology since 1967.

“Mapping the Psychologist as Public Scientist: G. Stanley Hall’s Late-­Nineteenth Century North American Travels,” by Jacy L. Young (York University):

In this paper, I put the methods of digital history to work in psychology by mapping scientific psychology’s engagement with the public during some of the earliest years of the discipline’s existence. To do so, I focus on the travels of highly mobile American psychologist G. Stanley Hall. In the late-­nineteenth century, Hall was quite probably the most widely known scientific psychologist in the United States. The American public’s familiarity with Hall was largely a consequence of his carefully crafted role as an educational expert. In this role, he toured the country speaking to educational associations and parent groups. Newspaper accounts of Hall’s public speaking engagements, from 1881 until the turn of the twentieth century – the period of Hall’s greatest popularity as an educational leader – have been gathered from the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers database (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) and a subset of ProQuest’s Historical Newspapers databases. Using the tools of the Geographical Information System (GIS), available through the online application BatchGeo (http://batchgeo.com/), this data is used to map Hall’s travels across the country. The resulting map reveals both where and when Hall’s, at least putatively, scientifically-­based understanding of education was disseminated and points to sites in which Hall’s form of psychologically-­oriented pedagogy may have had the greatest influence.

“Capturing All of Early American Psychology in a Single Network?,” by Christopher D. Green (York University) and Ingo Feinerer (Vienna University of Technology):

Visually displaying a large collection of published journal articles in the form of a network has proven useful to understanding what intellectual communities were at work in a given discipline at a given time. This is accomplished by computing a matrix of correlations among the vocabularies employed in the articles, then laying out a network such that pairs of articles with high correlations are positioned closely to each other in space. The result is, typically, a network composed of multiple subdisciplinary “clusters” (vision, cognition, comparative, etc.) each employing a distinct “dialect” of psychology’s general “language.” Previously, I presented networks for complete runs of articles published in early volumes of American Journal of Psychology and Psychological Review. These demonstrated that each journal drew upon a “federation” of distinct intellectual communities, the exact composition of which evolved over time as a few indistinct intellectual clumps evolved into a well­articulated disciplinary structure. Here, I bring different journals together into a time­series of unified networks, aiming to capture the entire (published, American) discipline between the 1880s and 1920s. Although there were areas of intellectual overlap among the journals, each journal also had “specialty” topics that were, essentially, offered as “candidates” for inclusion in the “canon” of psychological subspecialties. Some were ultimately successful, gaining admittance to the authoritative institutions of the discipline. Others failed to win general acceptance, or left psychology for inclusion elsewhere or to become disciplines in their own right.

“Networking Ethology’s Impact on the Organisms Studied in the Journal of Comparative Psychology,” by Daniel E. Lahham (York University):

Prior to the 1950s, comparative psychology had been viewed predominately as a discipline focused on the study of maze learning in rats. Indeed, in the 1930s, rats became the most studied organism in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, exceeding the second most popular organism, humans, by nearly five fold. This trend continued into the 1940s. During this same time period, European zoologists began developing classical ethology. By 1950, comparative psychology and European ethology had made full contact with each other. Although relations between the two disciplines were often strained, ethology’s impact on comparative psychology was profound. In this paper, I show that ethology’s influence on the comparative discipline can be traced by studying the organisms studied in the Journal of Comparative Psychology from 1950 to 1959. Presented in the form of a network, the data show that, although the rat remained the most widely studied organism, it was unable to sustain its previous level of dominance. Instead, there was a renaissance in learning studies conducted on invertebrates, and an increase in studies on imprinting among primates and fowl. Moreover, ethology’s influence placed a greater emphasis on field studies, leading to the study of a more diverse array of organisms.

“Mining the Discipline’s Broad Trends: Power and Pitfalls of PsycINFO’s ‘Controlled Vocabulary’,” by Jeremy T. Burman (York University):

The standard approach to “search,” when using electronic databases to find the literature relevant to a particular research topic, is simply to type in a query: to “Google” it. PsycINFO can do this, but it can also take advantage of the layer of “controlled vocabulary” that the American Psychological Association has imposed in order to simplify and standardize its authors’ language. The consequence is a narrower set of results, albeit with fuzzy matches: searching for “memory” also returns results related to “forgetting.” And, indeed, that is how the controlled vocabulary is typically used in search. Here, though, we use it to mine the discipline’s broad intellectual trends. Thus, we see that between 1967 and 2012 (1) English­language psychology shifted its primary focus away from experimental studies and toward clinical intervention, (2) women and gender became serious subjects of scientific investigation, and (3) the influence of child­study dropped substantially from its peak at the height of Piaget’s popularity. We also see reflected the changing influence of Behaviorism and Cognitivism. The final result is the excavation of the five broadest trends in psychology: a single image that describes 807,388 articles (41.1% of all English­language journal articles published in the last forty­five years).

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.