It has sometimes been said that psychology has a long history but a short past. Interest in psychology can be traced back to the Greek philosophers, but psychology as a science is relatively new when compared to the natural sciences. Although pop psychology is easy to find, the science of psychology seems to be taking a prominent place in our society. For instance, if you look at the science covers of Time magazine dating back to January of 2002, you'll find 18 cover stories dealing with science. Seven of those cover stories are directly related to psychology (e.g., The Science of Happiness–January 17, 2005) and another six are indirectly related to psychology (e.g., The Science of Staying Healthy–January 21, 2002–is related to health psychology). Therefore, it appears that the benefits of a scientific psychology are being accepted in society. This is certainly a trend psychologists want to continue. However, there are some trends in scientific psychology itself that are interesting to ponder in terms of what they mean for the future of psychology.
Looking toward the future often requires examining the past. Interestingly, critics began seriously questioning the direction of psychology shortly after it began as its own academic discipline. For instance, there are three ideas from the 1940's that I think are important to highlight. First, Gregg (1947) reported that psychology should be represented in a single department on the university campus so that psychologists, despite their diversity in area of inquiry, could be housed together to facilitate their understanding of human behavior. Second, Bruner and Allport (1940) examined 50 years of publications to explore, among other things, changes in methodology. One of their concluding comments essentially dealt with the basic versus applied research distinction. Specifically, they stated that psychologists had two research courses or paths to follow: one for the sake of science and one for the sake of society. Finally, Wolff (1947) surveyed the field to define psychology. He stated that psychology addresses many different points of view; however, these points of view are addressed simultaneously instead of one after another. Together, these three points indicate psychologists in the 1940's were concerned that psychologists from different orientations would not interact with each other, that research may not be relevant to society, and that behavior would not be looked at holistically. These concerns seemed to foreshadow events to come and are still relevant today (cf., Richards, 1997).
The 1960's brought about significant changes in society and in psychology. Technology played a major role in these changes. The computer provided a better analogy for cognitive theories as well as a powerful tool for experimental research. As the information age began to unfold, there was an increase in the number of research outlets (both journals and conferences). The expanding scientific literature allowed (or forced, depending upon your perspective) researchers to focus on specific, even specialized, problems. Unfortunately, as specialization increased, the holistic examination of human behavior began to decline. Specialization also caused psychologists to contemplate the possible fragmentation of their field (e.g., Bower, 1993; Kimble, 1994). Yinger (1965) recognized the negative consequences of such fragmentation and suggested that psychologists instead shift toward a type of field theory emphasizing interdisciplinary (and intradisciplinary) collaborations focusing on the relationships between individual findings as a system. Such a shift is arguably important for contemporary psychology (cf., Richards, 1997; Wheatley, 1994) and consistent with the concerns expressed in the 1940's.
What is the result of years of criticism? Koch (1985) suggested that psychology has come full circle and has "rediscovered" the intentions of its pioneering leaders. These intentions include developing a psychology that can positively contribute to the overall good of society. In fact, the areas currently growing the most in psychology are those addressing individual and societal needs such as clinical, school, developmental, and industrial/ organizational psychology (Pion, 1991). Service-related activities performed by psychologists have risen dramatically (Silvestri & Lukasiewicz, 1987). Industry has also seen the need for scientists and has become the leading employer of scientific personnel in general (National Science Board, 1987). While some of these trends may have resulted from a natural progression of the field, outside influences have also constrained and directed the course psychology has taken (e.g., research funding by NSF and NIH; see Egeth, 2005).
For a final 20 year leap, what about your role in psychology today? Part of Psi Chi's purpose is to encourage and promote scientific psychology. As a result, Psi Chi has developed, and continues to develop, a variety of awards and grants along with opportunities to present and publish research with the ultimate goal of helping members acquire the skills they need to positively influence the future of psychology. Psi Chi also promotes service and leadership so that its members can learn to influence society. How will you use Psi Chi to make scientific psychology relevant to society and shape the future of scientific psychology?
Bower, G. H. (1993). The fragmentation of psychology. American Psychologist, 48, 905-907.
Bruner, J. S., & Allport, G. W. (1940). Fifty years of change in American psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 37, 757-776.
Egeth, H. (2005). The prospects for experimental psychology in view of a tight federal budget and re-organization at the National Institutes of Health. The Experimental Psychology Bulletin, 9(1). Retrieved June 1, 2005, from http://www.apa.org/divisions/div3/Newsletter2005-9-1/Newsletter2004-9-1f.htm
Gregg, A. (1947). The place of psychology in an ideal university. The report of the University Commission to advise on the future of psychology at Harvard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kimble, G. A. (1994). A frame of reference for psychology. American Psychologist, 49, 510-519.
Koch, S. (1985). Afterword. In S. Koch & D. F. Leary (Eds.). A century of psychology as a science (pp. 928-950). New York: McGraw Hill.
National Science Board. (1987). Science & engineering indicators – 1987 (NSB 87-1). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Pion. G. M. (1991). Psychologists wanted: Employment trends over the past decade. In R. R. Kilberg (Ed.) How to manage your career in psychology (pp. 229-246). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Richards. A. C. (1997). Metapsychology, revisiting the past, confronting the present, serving the future. New Ideas in Psychology, 15, 17-33.
Silvestri, G. T., & Lukasiewicz, J. M. (1987). A look at occupational employment trends to the year 2000. Monthly Labor Review, 110, 46-63.
Wolff, W. (1947). What is psychology: A basic survey. Oxford, England: Grune & Stratton.
Wheatley, M. J. (1994). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Yinger, J. M. (1965). Toward a field theory of behavior. Personality and social structure. New York: McGraw Hill.
Summer 2005 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 3, 7), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2005, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.