Five essential contemporary[ish] reads for emerging social psychologists.

Every field has its landmark papers. You know – the real game changers. In our field, these are often synonymous with those papers that make their way inexorably into almost every single social psychology lecture across the globe (e.g., Milgram, 1963). The papers I’ve listed here are perhaps not quite in that league [yet!]. However, they are papers that I’ve come across in my travels through grad school, to which I’ve found myself returning again and again.

These are the sorts of papers that have been especially illuminating for me, either by broadening my idea of the sorts of questions that are possible in my dual research agendas involving romantic relationships and statistical analysis, or by challenging assumptions about various aspects of psychological science in eye-opening ways. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it is ideal for any student who is looking to sink her or his teeth into something profound. Note that these are all copyrighted articles and chapters, so there are no copies available here. However, the references provided should make it fairly easy for you to track down the paper you need. I’ve gone ahead and included a link to a Google Scholar search for each one. Note that book chapters tend to require a bit more sleuthing to track down, so be prepared to hunt a bit more aggressively for those if you’re interested.

Happy reading!

1)  Cross, S.E., & Markus, H.R. (1999). The cultural constitution of personality. In L. Pervin & O. John  (Eds.), Handbook of Personality Theory and Research (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford. [find in Google scholar]
(hint hint — Iowa State makes this paper publicly available as a PDF [to which I do not direct link here])

Here’s a fun snippet of information: As recently as 2008, a review of papers published in six premier APA journals (e.g., Journal of Abnormal Psychology; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) between 2003 to 2007 showed an estimated 94% of published research was conducted using samples of participants from Western countries, with 62% specifically using American samples (and of that 62%, 67% of those American studies in JPSP were with undergraduate psychology students specifically). This figure climbs to 80% undergraduate psychology student samples when looking at research in non-American Western samples (e.g., conducted at European & Australian universities). This pattern of skewed sampling from such a restricted and privileged segment of the human population is a bit striking, likely exists across lots of other psychology journals, and probably hasn’t changed dramatically since. Think about that for a minute… Now consider what it really might mean when you hear that a recent study has concluded that “people generally tend to [insert thought or behavior here].” When we endeavor to understand and comment on fundamental and universal aspects of the human experience… culture, socioeconomic status — these things matter. A great deal.

This paper by Cross & Markus was the first that I came across that really hammered this point home for me explicitly. Their chapter highlighted the importance of considering what the universality of human personhood and human experience really means (not to mention whether such a thing even exists, and if so, how it can even be captured), and how important it is to broaden your research questions such that they include the diversity of human life that exists beyond the experiences of well-educated, young, college samples (i.e., focus on the majority of the world’s population, not a microscopic segment of it). A must-read for anyone concerned with the validity of taking their research findings and using them to make comments on the universality of human experiences. Culture is a tremendously important factor in explaining innumerable aspects of what it means to be a person. Cross & Markus argue that point very well here (and see their more recent related work for more empirical findings in the area of cross-cultural psychology — I’d also recommend Heine’s (2010) 2 chapter in the Handbook of Social Psychology).

2) Fazio, R. H., & Olson, F. A. (2003). Implicit measures in social cognition research: Their meaning and uses.  Annual Review of Psychology, 54,  297-327. [find in Google scholar]

Implicit measures seem as though they really took off in the wake of the IATs increasing visibility in the popular press (one of my absolute favorites is the online IAT that determines whether you’re dead or alive. A little psychology humor for the public.). The IAT and other implicit measures (e.g., the Go/No-Go task) remain a great option for social psychologists who are interested in examining outcome measures that participants can’t fake easily. However, with the growing popularity of such measures, there is a need to understand precisely what they test vs. what they do not. There is also a need to understand why the correspondence between the implicit and explicit measures of the same attitude tends to be all over the place across different research domains (spoiler alert — it depends on how socially desirable the response is for a particular question).

This paper by Fazio and Olson does a very nice job of laying out those distinctions and issues in a way that the up-and-coming grad student can put to good use in developing new research ideas. If you’re considering social psychological research that involves hard-to-fake responses (e.g., response times, physiological measures), this one’s worth a look.

3) Neuberg, S. L., Kenrick, D. T., & Schaller, M. (2010). Evolutionary social psychology. In Fiske, S. T., Gilbert, D. T., & Lindzey, G. (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition (pp. 761-796). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [find in Google scholar]

Evolutionary psychology is one of those research areas that catches a bad rap for its most prominent findings (i.e., the sex differences stuff). That’s a fair point. Evolution-oriented sex differences research doesn’t tend to paint men and women in a particularly favorable light, especially when it comes to attraction & relationships (i.e., the old trope that men are mainly interested in beauty, while women are mainly interested in status & wealth). Another common criticism is the idea of evolutionary psychology being a post hoc theory that is entirely speculative and incapable of generating testable hypotheses (because species-wide evolutionary changes tend to take thousands of years to actually occur in humans, so, you know… good luck with that longitudinal research).

With that said, this chapter is actually a great place to ground your understanding of this sometimes controversial research aproach, whether you’re a fan of evolutionary psychology or a detractor. Not only is the overarching logic of evolutionary social psychology laid out nicely in this chapter, but common criticisms are addressed as well. A great read for those looking for a new theoretical approach (or technically a metatheoretical approach) to their research, or for those who already apply the evolutionary angle to their research ideas and simply want to enrich their understanding of this complex approach to examining modern-day human experiences.

4) Bargh, J. A. (1994). The four horsemen of automaticity: Awareness, intention, efficiency, and control in social cognition. Handbook of social cognition, 1, 1-40. [find in Google scholar]

An older chapter, but a good read for any students with interest in research involving automatic processes. It features a series of clear and thorough distinctions between four important factors involved in the automatic processing of social stimuli. In it, Bargh examines these factors one by one, highlighting the importance of framing social cognitive phenomena as a matter of degree of automaticity rather than of kind (i.e., automatic vs. nonautomatic) – in particular, by encouraging researchers to specify which aspects of automaticity are of the greatest relevance to their research questions. Dovetails nicely with selection #2 by Fazio & Olson above.

5) Nickerson, R. S. (2000). Null hypothesis significance testing: a review of an old and continuing controversy. Psychological methods, 5(2), 241-301. [find in Google scholar]

What would this list be without a statistics & methodology oriented paper? After all, it’s one of my guilty pleasures. This article reviews the classic limitations and uses of null hypothesis significance testing (or NHST as it’s known among the cool kids). Yes, it’s long, but it’s worth a look.

The old NHST debate is… well, old. Older than me. Older than many up-and-coming students. Interestingly however, many students – graduate and undergraduate alike – are largely unaware of the controversy & how deep its roots in psychological research extend, and continue to utlilize p values as the foundation of their arguments about the importance of their research findings (as well as those of others). This is one paper among a countless horde of papers addressing the NHST debate, so know that it isn’t necessarily the best of its kind. That said, it is a good starting point for those who are attempting to understand the roots of the controversy, common misuses of p values in NHST, more appropriate uses of NHST in research, and alternative techniques to assessing the likelihood of obtaining a particular test statistic given that the null hypothesis is true. Understanding why anyone would care about your “p < .01″ finding and interpreting the substantive meaning of that finding is one of many issues at the core of conducting data analysis & interpreting findings. This paper can give you more stable footing (and I’d highly encourage exploring its references for further information as well).

Other references:

1 Arnett, J. J. (2008). The neglected 95%: why American psychology needs to become less American. American Psychologist, 63(7), 602-614.

2 Heine, S. (2010).  Cultural Psychology.  In Fiske, S. T., Gilbert, D. T., & Lindzey, G. (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition (Chapt. 37). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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