Maryland Smith Research / March 5, 2019

The Evolution Of Applied Psychology

An ‘Individual-to-Team’ Focus Evolves Over The Journal of Applied Psychology's 100 Years

The Evolution Of Applied Psychology

The Journal of Applied Psychology marked its one-century anniversary in 2017 by exploring the journal’s evolution. It’s mapped out in a “Centennial Special Issue” organized by a group led by the journal’s editor, Gilad Chen, Robert H. Smith Chair in Organizational Behavior at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The retrospective reveals “an evolution ranging from a broad and exploratory applied psychology to a more focused industrial psychology to an industrial and organizational psychology to an organizational psychology.”

The journal was founded in 1917 “with hopeful optimism about the potential of psychology being applied to practical problems could enhance human happiness, well-being, and effectiveness,” note Chen and his co-authors, Steve W. J. Kozlowski (Michigan State University) and Eduardo Salas (University of Central Florida).

To assess this objective, Chen and his colleagues examined the journal’s 100 years of article type, article length, authorship patterns, supplemental materials and research support. The method involved both keyword frequencies and latent semantic analyses of raw content, in both bottom-up and top-down modes. Such quantitative analysis converged with what the authors describe as a review, summary and celebration of “topics relevant to building the workforce, managing the workforce, managing differences within and between organizations and exiting work.”

Among highlighted trends: 

  • Book reviews comprised 20-to-30-percent of journal items over the initial four decades, then abruptly ceased in the mid-1950s.  

  • Articles have grown increasingly longer over time.

  • Author teams are increasingly larger, and sole-authored articles are vanishingly small in frequency.

  • The use of supplemental materials and articles reporting research support have surged dramatically in the most recent period.

The most recent period’s emphasis on organizational topics brought such new subtopics as conflict, employee interaction, family, justice, organizational climate, social behavior, supervisor-employee interaction and teams. The latter topic went from being covered in zero-to-118 articles over the course of the final two decades (1997-2016) analyzed.

“This suggests an extension of the level of analysis from the individual, which dominated the first eight decades, to encompass work groups, teams, and the broader organizational context, as well as the context beyond the organization — to family,” Chen and his colleagues write.

Read more: One Hundred Years of the Journal of Applied Psychology: Background, Evolution and Scientific Trends is featured in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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