The unfolding of psychology as a discipline


On the 6th of June, it was full house in the C2DH lounge area where the second lecture in the DTU Lecture Series took place. This time, we had the pleasure of inviting prof. dr. Christopher D. Green from York University (Toronto, Canada) who spoke about his Explorations in the Digital History of Psychology.


During his lecture, Christopher Green showed us how he and his colleagues — they call themselves the PsyBorgs — has experienced the journey of embedding digital history into his research on the history of psychology. He explained how his methods and the tools he used changed and developed over the course of different projects. By zooming in on these specific projects he stressed on the one hand the importance of ‘taking the digital turn in psychology’ but on the other hand also larger issues underlying digital history projects, be it in the history of psychology or another field.

He talked about his first steps into the field of digital history that started out with the use of simple word clouds, but he quickly expanded this to using a social network approach. This approach he applied to a project about the different memberships, psychologists had in different associations. This he visualised amongst others geographical aspects. The scientific merit of this exercise was to bring lesser known or unknown psychologists to the surface, who would form new and interesting objects of study. A similar approach was used on multiple decades of the American journal of Psychology, in which articles and its authors were mapped in a network. With the help of this network, Green could trace the sub-disciplines that went in and out of existence, or those that merged or split into different clusters throughout the years, seeing the development of sub-fields such as the birth of Child Development as a sub-field within the domain of psychology; also the growing interest in Cognition, Music, and Language became apparent. This creates an ‘intellectual landscape’ and helped with ‘[re-discovering] a surprising number of once-important writers whose contributions have been nearly lost in historical narratives of recent decades’.



From another project, which was based on crowd-sourcing, we learned how people (most of them being psychologists) in the 21st century perceived the ‘impact’ of 19th and 20th century psychologists. This was done via an online game which was available for approximately seven months. The players could choose between two influential psychologists, estimating who was more important. A striking result of this project was that the ranking was completely dependent on the gender and age of the players. When comparing these crowd-sourced rankings of psychologists, the discrepancy between North and South America was striking, resulting in quasi completely different lists. ‘Are there even two different disciplines of psychology depending on the geographical location?’ Green asked provocatively.

The last project he described was one that focused on the anomalies of statistical practice. For this it is important to know that currently psychology is perceived to have a ‘replication crisis’, meaning the manipulation of test results in order to get published. Green claimed this questionable practice can be made visible by using digital quantitative methods, with showcasing evidence stretching as far back as the 1970s.

Christopher D. Green rounded up his talk by asking ‘Why Digital History?’ at all. The key feature he emphasised was the potential of visualising data. He claims that by applying visualisations — be it word clouds, graphs or networks —patterns become apparent that were hidden before. However, in his final statement he argues that digital methods compliment ‘traditional’ research, and that one approach does not exclude the other to analyse results and form conclusions.

The lecture ended with a constructive discussion on good practices in crowd-sourcing techniques and problems around text mining.


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