Pick a Psych Journal, Any Psych Journal

July 19, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’ve been reading Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. As Gilbert warns in the Foreword, it’s not a self-help book on how to be happy. It’s an academic psychologist’s take on how we think about happiness and about other things. Like most academic books, it cites many journal articles, especially those based on psychology experiments.

As I read Gilbert’s summary of one experiment, I said to myself, “That sounds like a JPSP article.” Now, there must be dozens of psychology journals that cover the kinds of topics Gilbert was talking about, but this study seemed like just the kind of thing that would appear in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, at least as I remembered that journal from my days in grad school long ago. I turned to the notes in the back of the book, and I was right.

Amazing. I felt like I was watching myself as a magician – eyes closed, hand pressing his temple in great concentration – calling out the name of the selected card. Jack of Hearts. Maybe I did learn something in grad school. (Full disclosure: mostly out of ignorance, I had enrolled in a social psychology program; my degree is in “psychology and social relations.”)

A few pages later, the same thing happened – from Gilbert’s description of a study, I was almost certain it would be a JPSP article. Again I checked the endnotes, and again I was right.

Unusual powers of perception? Then I recalled one technique that a magician can use to be sure of knowing that the card you selected was the jack of hearts.

So I took a quick look through the endnotes and did a rough count. If journal citations were playing cards . . . .

I’m exaggerating. Other journals were represented. There were “only” 77 JPSP citations. In some chapters, that was one per every three footnotes. Surely, there must be measures of journal influence and dominance in their field. I wonder if the degree of citation inequality varies among disciplines.

1 comment:

yli said...

i listened to stumbling on happiness on audio book and loved it. i didn't try to guess the cite sources, but was aware that he calls participants or subjects "volunteers."