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Research Guides

Psychology 209 : Fundamentals of Psychology Literature Review: From popular to scholarly

An introductory guide to searching for Psychology literature

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Video transcript

As we become more experienced scholars and researchers, we find that it's critical to go beyond the sometimes superficial coverage of complicated ideas we find in newspapers, magazines, and broadcasting media to get to original research data as reported in primary research publications, typically journal articles. We need to know how to find authoritative evidence, not "factoids" or 10-step plans. We want to ask questions like “What is this research really about?” and "What do the original data suggest is true and important to Psychology researchers?" 

Research studies don't spring overnight from a vacuum. They're built on the shoulders of what's come before. Literature review is the process by which researchers discover what is known about a research problem and position their studies within that body of evidence. Research articles typically begin with a review and a research proposal, like the one you will write as your major project this quarter, has to include a review to prove that you're familiar with the literature about your research question and that you have a clear sense of what the evidence will add to an existing and coherent body of knowledge.

Psychology 209 news example


In the example news article below, the text highlighted in italicized red indicate pieces of the article that will serve as evidence when searching for the original research article. From this information, we can choose appropriate keywords and consider necessary database search limiters to refine our search results.

  • The date of publication of the newspaper story gives us evidence that the original study was probably not published later than, say, early 2005.
  • Names of the two principal researchers and the institutions where they work (author affiliation)
  • Title of the journal where the study was to have been published 
  • Some key concepts related to the authors' work (imaginary friends, childhood fantasy, etc.)
  • We also see that this work has been going on for at least 10 years and may have generated a number of studies.


Study shows imaginary friends common for kids: Nearly two-thirds of children under age 7 have a make-believe friend, research shows


A peek into one of the most intriguing childhood mysteries reveals that imaginary playmates are a staple of early development and persist well into the school years - later than researchers once thought.

"I'm beginning to think it never goes away," said Marjorie Taylor, head of psychology at the University of Oregon and a leading researcher on children's pretend play. "What I think is it morphs into a different form."

Taylor and University of Washington researcher Stephanie Carlson explored the hidden world of imaginary companions in a study that appears in the current issue of the journal Developmental Psychology."The phenomenon of the imaginary friend is really misunderstood," Taylor said. "People thought it was rare - it's not. People thought it was a red flag - it's not."

In fact, previous studies have shown that kids who invent imaginary friends - whether invisible beings or personified toys - tend to have better verbal skills and better social understanding. But a lack of such pals is OK, too.

"There are lots of ways to express creativity," Taylor said.

When she and Carlson launched the study about 10 years ago, they expected only 1 in 3 preschoolers would have made-up friends. Their goal was to learn, in a follow-up several years later, how those characters drop out of children's lives....


Complete the worksheet

Use one of the NY Times articles below to complete this exercise. Locate an original research study being referred to in each article. The first page of your worksheet is for recording evidence from the news story. The second page is for reporting what you found in PsycINFO and how you found it. Get as close as you can to the original research and don't forget that the author of the newspaper story is not the researcher who did the study. You will probably not find examples of all the evidence listed on page 1. Fill in all that you do find.

When you open PsycINFO (use the link in the box to the left), familiarize yourself with the search page, what it allows you to do and where. When you use this evidence you've gathered to search PsycINFO, use authors' last name only and a range of dates during which the article you need is likely to have been published. Begin adding other elements (topic keyword, title of journal, where the author did the study, etc.) only as necessary to whittle a huge pool of choices down to a few.