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Robert Kurzban

The Evolutionary Psychology Blog

By Robert Kurzban

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite. Follow him on Twitter: @rkurzban

What are Social Psychologists Talking About (2013)?

Published 22 January, 2013

Last year, I wrote a post with the same title as this one (except for the year) about the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Unlike last time, I was fortunately able to attend this year’s meeting – it’s been far too long since I had a decent po’ boy –  which is in part why it’s been a bit longer than usual between posts. (The other excuse reason is that I damaged my right ankle, and it turned out that the only treatment it responded to was leveling up my High Elf Mage in Skyrim, which left less time for blogging.) Anyway, the meeting took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, consisting of two full days of talks for the main conference, preceded by one day of a large number of small pre-conferences, one of which I attended. (Aside: I seem to have given the wrong impression to some of my friends and colleagues in the social psychology community, so I just want to say that I found much to like in all of the sessions that I attended.)

In any case, like last year, I used a frequency count program to get some sense of the topics presented as the meeting. There are plenty of caveats to using this technique, and it’s obviously a very imperfect assay of the topics of conversation.

Still, there is value in even imperfect measurements, so let’s have a look. This is a pretty informal survey, consisting of me pretty much just looking down the list of words and cherry-picking the ones that caught my attention.

I’ll ignore the first set of words, the little ones such as of, the, and university. (Well, university isn’t a little word, but it’s only in there because the program lists people’s affiliations, which frequently have the word University in them.) The first content word is, unsurprisingly, social (1,814), with self (1,583), just like last year, running a close second. (Personality (1058) doesn’t fare as well as social despite its top billing in the Society’s name.) As was the case last year, the word self gets some help from the fact that it appears not only as a noun, as in “Morality for Self and Other” or “obsessed to the point of fetish with the concept of the self” but also in constructions such as self-esteem and self-regard.

Between 500 and 1,000 are a bunch more little words – for instance logical operators or, and, not – as well as more generic sorts of words such as research (735), results (652), and effects (603).
Around 600, the list seems to get interesting, giving some sense of the topics of interest.

Group (595) makes a strong showing, as do (does?) women (576), men (318), and individuals (507). Don’t tell Marty Seligman that negative (450) outshines positive (430), though only by a little. On the other hand, moral (449) does a ton better than immoral (17), so there’s that. I note in passing that moral did well last year (292), and was one of the leading content words, and interest in the topic seems to be going strong, even accelerating. In contrast – theories, anyone? – prejudice dropped from 288 to 232 from last year to this, possibly reflecting discrimination of some sort against this kind of research.

It seems that social psychologists are still interested in attitudes (395) (the singular version, attitude, tots up 107), society (384), relationships (377), and gender (373). With some trepidation I might add that they’re also interested in sex in various forms, including sexual (211), sexism (58), sexist (47), and, of course, just plain sex (140).

Health (342) and well (329) do well, indicating something, I suppose, as does identity (318).

My sense is that the range of 100 to 300 gives the best sense of what people are actually studying beyond the cornerstones such as groups, morality, relationships and prejudices.  For these, I think it’s best just to give a partial list of what seem to be some content words, first between 300 and 200.

288 affect
286 related
281 status
278 perceptions
275 threat
266 groups
257 motivation
256 goal
253 esteem
253 emotional
243 bias
232 prejudice
225 intergroup
223 emotion
214 cultural
211 sexual
211 partner
204 cognitive
203 emotions

There’s something very satisfying about the fact that the count for sexual = partner, and that cognitive is within one of emotoins. Now a list of some of the words mentioned between 200 and 100 times:

191 attachment
184 perception
178 race
176 conflict
175 satisfaction
171 racial
158 physical
158 judgments
157 romantic
156 white
155 regulation
154 interpersonal
149 anxiety
146 black
145 perspective
143 ingroup
142 stress
142 outgroup
140 sex
139 rejection
138 political
136 target
135 avoidance
133 values
133 risk
132 stereotypes
131 traits
130 stereotype
128 children
125 online
124 decision
120 prosocial
119 identification
119 discrimination
117 face
113 norms
110 affective
109 happiness
109 facial
107 attitude
105 religious
104 strategies
102 development

Last year, there was a discussion in the comments section of how many times words related to evolution appeared in the program, an issue of interest to those who wonder, as I do, the extent to which evolutionary psychology is being incorporated into social psychology. Evol* comes in at 47 – evolutionary (25), evolution (17), evolutionarily (5) – comparable to last year, still trailing well behind facebook, which comes in at 82.

  • http://popsych.org/ Jesse Marczyk

     Any ranking on the word “function”?

    • rkurzban

      A ton, but hard to interpret because the word appears quite frequently in phrases such as this variable “as a function of” that variable. Also a few mentions of attendance at social functions, so… 

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