Barbara A. Spellman on the Impact of Perspectives on Psychological Science

June 2012
Perspectives on Psychological Science

In a recent analysis of Essential Science Indicators (a subset of the Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge), the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science was named a Rising Star in the field of Psychiatry/Psychology. Its current record in this field includes 227 papers cited a total of 2,020 times between the journal's founding in 2006 and February 29, 2012.

Perspectives on Psychological Science is published by the Association for Psychological Science, Washington, DC. The journal is edited by Barbara A. Spellman, Professor of Psychology and Professor of Law at the University of Virginia.

Below, ScienceWatch.com talks with Spellman about the journal’s history and citation record.


SW: Did you expect Perspectives to become highly cited, or is this surprising to you?

Perspectives on Psychological Science (“Perspectives”) was launched in 2006 with the intention of publishing high-quality, important papers in all areas of psychological science. We believed that it would become an influential journal based on that intention and on the success of the other APS (Association for Psychological Science) journals. However, we didn’t have the goal of being highly cited; indeed, some of our publishing policies (e.g., publishing occasional book reviews and humorous pieces) constrain the impact factor. The success of the journal in terms of citations has been a happy and gratifying side effect of our choices.

SW: Would you give us a brief history of the journal?

The idea of starting a new long-format journal was originally discussed at the December 2002 APS Board Meeting. Our hope was to develop a journal in which outstanding researchers would put their best integrative articles along with overviews of research programs, standard literature reviews, meta-analytic reviews, theoretical statements, eclectic articles (e.g., philosophy of science issues, opinion pieces, autobiographical reflections, and even humorous essays and sketches), and book reviews.

My predecessor and founding editor, Ed Diener of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published the first issues, containing solicited manuscripts, in 2006. APS offered Ed a lot of freedom to try out new things, and he decided to take some risks. But, as he notes below, there were a few overarching goals that contributed to the journal’s early success:

One absolute requirement was to publish articles from across the full spectrum of psychological science and not overemphasize one or two areas. Another important goal was that all of the articles be written in a style that would appeal to readers and that could be understood by people from all areas of psychology and not just by individuals working in that area. And another fundamental goal was that the articles be written in an engaging and interesting style. After talking to dozens of psychologists over the years, I came to realize that most scientists did not read journals, but only those papers in their specific area. The danger of this was that psychology was becoming a fractionated science, and I thought this was bad for everyone. We wanted to make sure that we were all aware of the important advances being made across the full spectrum of psychological science because this was the best way to make true advances.

—Ed Diener

When I took over in 2011, I wanted to keep those values and build on Ed’s success. I opened the journal to more unsolicited manuscripts. I also had the goal of making our scientific communication faster and more collaborative. Thus, Perspectives has been trying innovative ways to get scientists to talk to each other in the same issue rather than past each other (e.g., using commentaries, integrative commentaries, forums, etc.).

SW: How would you account for the growing citation rate of Perspectives?

“I opened the journal to more unsolicited manuscripts. I also had the goal of making our scientific communication faster and more collaborative. Thus, Perspectives has been trying innovative ways to get scientists to talk to each other in the same issue rather than past each other.”

First, people read Perspectives because they know they will find well-written papers on the most current and interesting topics across all areas of psychological science.

Then, they cite those papers. The “big review” articles published during Founding Editor Ed Diener’s tenure played a huge role in the journal’s initial impact. However, although people working across a range of areas like to read those types of articles for general knowledge, they tend to get cited only by people working in the particular area.

I think the current citation rate is driven by three types of articles:

  1. Articles about methodology. Although psychological science is made up of different content areas, researchers share methodologies. Perspectives has published articles that describe new research methods and critique old ones.
  2. Large survey-style results on topics of general interest to the field and to the public.
  3. Articles on controversial subjects, such as Kazdin and Blaze’s “Rebooting Psychotherapy Research and Practice to Reduce the Burden of Mental Illness” (http://pps.sagepub.com/content/6/1/21.abstract).

SW: What historical factors have contributed to the success of Perspectives?
Have there been specific developments in the fields served by the journal that may have contributed?

I believe that several things have contributed to our success in addition to those choices noted above:

  1. The other journals published by APS are well respected and well cited (i.e., Psychological Science, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Psychological Science in the Public Interest).
  2. The increasing fragmentation and specialization in psychological science makes it difficult to keep up with areas people are interested in, even those close to one’s own. By publishing integrative review articles that are written to be accessible to anyone in the field, Perspectives provides one-stop shopping — one place where people can read about important issues in the field’s various subdisciplines.
  3. The increasing rate of publishing short empirical reports also makes it hard to keep up with the literature. (So see #2 above.)
  4. The “recent unpleasantness” regarding fraud and non-replicability of empirical research has spurred people to want to read and think more about how our field should advance. Perspectives has and is continuing to publish articles and special issues in which authors reflect on our own science.

SW: How do you see your field(s) evolving in the next few years?

I see more connections within psychology and between psychology and other fields. Psychology has just lived through an explosion of research during the Decade of the Brain (1990s) and the Decade of Behavior (2000s). We don’t have a name for where we are now, but I want it to be the Decade of Putting-It-All-Together. That means both seeing how different areas of psychology can inform each other and enhancing our cross-disciplinary contacts.

Putting it together within psychology — from work on genes and neuroscience, to culture and environment, to development and aging, to cognition and emotion — will make our science stronger. In addition, psychology is a “hub science,” interconnected to many other fields. I believe that the interconnectedness can only grow as people see the foundations and range of our findings. (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2007/september-07/psychology-is-a-hub-science.html)

SW: What, in your view, is this journal’s main significance or contribution in the field of Psychology and what role do you see for your journal in the future?

Perspectives is trying to move our science forward in a variety of ways:

  1. Bringing the field of psychological science together under one roof. I want articles that are not only accessible to a range of psychology researchers, but also are accessible to a range of researchers in allied fields.
  2. Being innovative in providing ways for researchers to talk to each other. For example, Perspectives likes commentaries, debates by people with different viewpoints, on-line discussions, articles that show links across areas; it soon will be starting some new formats that I’m not yet ready to reveal.
  3. Being thought provoking. Not all articles need to “tie-up” all loose ends. Rather, Perspectives wants articles that assess what our science knows and also reveal what still needs to be investigated.
  4. I am hoping Perspectives will be able to publish more articles that show how our growing science can be used to help make decisions in applied areas such as education, law, and health.

Perspectives on Psychological Science
Barbara A. Spellman, Editor


PERSPECTIVES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE’S CURRENT MOST-CITED PAPER IN ESSENTIAL SCIENCE INDICATORS:

Nolen-Hoeksema S, Wisco BE, Lyubomirsky S, “Rethinking rumination,” Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3(5): 400-24, Sep 2008, with 189 citations. Source: Essential Science Indicators from Thomson Reuters

Keywords: 
psychology, psychological research, association for psychological science, aps, journal publishing, editorial policy, scientific communication, primary research papers, reviews, scientific articles, methods papers, book reviews, meta-analysis, specialization, journal citations

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.