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Psychological Science at the Crossroads

Richard Robins, Samuel Gosling, Kenneth Craik

The Neuroscience Nonrevolution

Fourth, and perhaps surprising, we found little evidence that mainstream psychology is paying increasing attention to neuroscience research. This finding contradicted our intuitions about the field and intrigued us. We searched for further evidence of neuroscience's prominence within psychology. First we expanded the subject-matter analyses to include a broader range of terms ("brain," "MRI" or "PET," for example). Second, instead of restricting our citation analysis to the four core neuroscience journals, we examined citations by the flagship publications to articles published in any journal with "neuro" or "brain" in the title. In neither case did we find more than a minor upward trend for neuroscience.

What, then, accounts for the widespread belief in the growth of neuroscience within psychology? One possibility is that our three indicators of prominence have a lag time, and they will detect the increasing prominence of neuroscience over the next decade or so. Another possibility is that neuroscience is growing in importance, but not within psychology.

Figure 4. Citation analysisClick to Enlarge Image

Indeed, membership in the Society for Neuroscience has skyrocketed since it was founded in 1970, and neuroscience journals have been proliferating rapidly over the past several years. Moreover, when we analyzed citation trends in the journal Science we found a marked increase in citations to the four core neuroscience journals beginning in the late 1980s; in contrast, journals from the other three schools of psychology were rarely if ever cited. Finally, the core neuroscience journals are among the most frequently cited scientific journals when citations from all sources (not just psychology publications) are considered; in fact, two of the journals—the Annual Review of Neuroscience and Trends in Neurosciences—have citation rates comparable to Science and Nature. Clearly neuroscience is rising in prominence but, according to our measures, not within mainstream psychology. At this point, neuroscience seems to be established more centrally in biology than in psychology.

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