Twenty Years of Canadian Psychology

Corey Bollman, Kathleen Colley, Hin Khoo, Anne Kerins,
Stella Ho, Tanya Stelkia, Katlin Sund,
Chun-Hung Yeung, & Gloria von Muhlen


1.0 Introduction
2.0 Language
3.0 Place of Publication
4.0 Subjects
5.0 Methodology
6.0 Applied Psychology: Gender, Family, and Education
7.0 Cognitive, Clinical, and Developmental
8.0 Conclusion


When most Canadian students think about psychology, it is probable that they think of American psychology. In school, our required readings are generally from American psychology textbooks and, of course, virtually all well known experiments originate in the United States. Milgram and Skinner are Americans that Canadian psychology students are all too familiar with. As Canadians, we must realize, that we also have had an important impact in the area of psychology by contributing a substantial amount of research. Since 1939, when the Canadian Psychological Association was founded, we have had our own (unified) governing body over ethics and practices in psychology.

To find out more about Canadian psychology, we decided to embark upon an examination of psychological literature in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences from 1974 through 1994. After our initial examination of the journals, we found several trends that appeared to run throughout the years. In order to avoid finding a trend that may have been projected (or created) by ourselves, we decided to classify and count the articles that fit into prescribed areas.

As a country with two official languages, the first category the articles were divided into was English or French. The second category was the place of publication: Canadian, American, or other. The third category was subjects: human (Aboriginal, American, Canadian), or animal. The fourth category was the methodology used by the authors: experimental/laboratory, naturalistic, case study, or correlation. The final category was applied (consisting of the different types of psychology) and this was divided up as follows: cognitive, developmental, clinical, educational, family, gender, social, and other. Of course, one study could fit into more than one category.

Each year of the journal from 1974-1994 was examined separately, and a note of the total number of articles was made in order to follow trends throughout the categories.

Overall, we will attempt to show, through analysis of our findings, some of the trends in psychology in the twenty year period. Using graphs to illustrate these changes and knowledge from outside sources, we will try to explain the possible reasons why these trends have occurred.

2.0 Language

The majority of the articles that appeared in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science were in English. From the year 1974 through 1983 the average number of articles written in French was 12 percent of the total number of articles. However, from 1984 through 1994 there was an increase in French articles to an average of 26 percent for those years. The increase in French written articles has roughly doubled in more recent years.

In 1969 Pierre Trudeau passed the Official Languages Act. This legislation recognised both English and French as official languages. Although it did not occur until nearly a decade after the law was passed, this may be why there was a slight increase in the number of articles in French. The reason it took so long for an increase may have been because people took some time to adjust to this new policy.

3.0 Place of Publication

After collecting all the data, three categories of the place of publication have been used. They are Canadian, American and others. Throughout these twenty years, Canada has been the most common place of publication for the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. America, as the second most common place of publication, has maintained a limited numbers of journals published throughout these twenty years. Again, for other countries as the places of publications, limited numbers of journals were maintained among these years. These findings show the journal is mainly concerned with Canadian issues.

4.0 Subjects

There are two main groups of subjects, that have been involved in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. The group division is based on human or animal. If they are human, they would be subdivided into different groups according to their nationality. After collecting all the data, subjects are divided into three categories which are Canadian, Aboriginal and American. During these twenty years, humans have been the major research subjects in the published journals. Human subjects usually participated in experiments, research studies, and correlational studies. Only in 1985 and 1986 were there any journal articles that included animal subjects. Among different groups of people, Canadians were the most common subjects in these published journals. Since there were only limited numbers of journals published in the United States as the place of publication, American subjects were many fewer than Canadian subjects. American subjects only appeared in the years of 1974,1975,1981, and 1982.

5.0 Methodology

Through rigorous scientific methods and procedural designs, we can study many subjective issues that are central to our lives. Most importantly, scientific studies rely on research methods. In the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences, we found four broad classes of methodology: 1) correlational, 2) case study, 3) laboratory experiment, and 4) naturalistic research.

Correlational studies remained generally consistent with a slight increase throughout the time period. Perhaps, this method was preferred by psychologists because relationships between the problems of society (such as alcoholism and abuse) can be observed. Also, correlational studies are relatively inexpensive and easy to conduct.

According to our findings, very few case studies were conducted throughout the twenty year period. This may be due to the idiosyncratic nature of the case study. Their results cannot be applied to the general population. Furthermore, this method of study is often very time consuming.

From 1974 to the mid 1980s, the laboratory experiment had been the most commonly used method. After the mid 1980s there appears to be a decline. This trend can be explained by the falling of behavioural and cognitive psychology, which mostly relied on the method of experimental research.

Naturalistic research shows two peaks between 1974 and 1994. The first peak occurred in the mid 1970s when cognitive psychology was becoming most influential. Scientists discovered naturalistic methods for the second time, when family and gender issues were addressed, due to changes in society.

6.0 Applied Psychology: Gender,Family, and Education

From the data obtained, it appears that family and gender issues both have become increasingly popular during the late 1980s, as reflected by the significant amount of research related to these issues found in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences. There are several reasons for the large number of studies concerning the increase in gender issues during the late 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, women were entering the work force in increasing numbers. The issues of gender equality in the home and in the work place, that were initially raised in the late 1960s, were becoming a reality in Canadian society. The changing roles of women within society posed many diverse questions for psychologists to study.

One frequent area of study was to examine differences between men and women in the workplace and in the home. Variables such as stress levels, time spent working, and time spent with children were all examined and compared during this period.

Legislation that promoted equality in the work place not only provided women with opportunities to expand their roles, but also allowed them to gain a new sense of independence. Perhaps it is this independence, in addition to the stress that two careers place on marriages that led to an increasing divorce rate during the late 1980s.

The current analysis demonstrates that family psychology peaked in 1987. The high divorce rate and increase in single parent households led to an interest among psychologist in studying these issues in relation to children and the family unit. In addition to studying the emotional and developmental effects of divorce on children, other issues such as the effects of fetal drug and alcohol abuse were also becoming evident in children with in the school system during this time.

7.0 Cognitive, Clinical, and Developmental

Although, cognitive psychology had been around since the 1950s, it did not gain acceptance until scientists became skeptical of behaviourism. Behaviourists' stimulus-response model could not address concerns about the human mind. They saw perception as a passive process and regarded humans and animals as machines. Moreover, many scientists were hesitant to accept the claim that behaviour is entirely controlled by the environment.

Psychologists were interested in the human mind and began to look for answers outside of experimental psychology. Among the many fields of applied psychology cognitive psychology gained popularity because it attempted to answer questions about process of thinking. Unlike behaviourists, cognitive psychologists saw perception as an active process which involved both unconscious and conscious mental activities.

Two new journals, "Cognitive Psychology", and "Cognition and Reality" sparked interest in other fields of psychology, such as social, developmental, and clinical psychology. Because cognitive psychology is concerned about theories of thought processing, social psychology soon adopted cognitive views on thought processing. Over the years, cognitive psychology maintained its influence on articles examining social issues. Cognitive psychology had the largest impact on developmental psychology. This field adopted cognitive ideas on learning, memory, and improving memory. In therapy, cognitive psychology helped clinical patients to replace their negative self- perceptions with positive way of thinking. Cognitive science, Artificial Intelligence, and educational psychology are all interrelated and influence each other. Beginning in the mid 1970s, computer and cognitive ideas assumed a dominant position in the education system. Consequently, in the early 1980s there was a moderate rise in articles concerning educational psychology.

Cognitive psychology almost entirely used human subjects. They helped scientists to create a machine that thinks and makes decisions like humans. Subsequently, there were two peaks, in the mid 1970s and early 1980s, of studies on human perception, thinking, and language. Nevertheless, cognitive psychology was beginning to loose its popularity around 1978. Scientists began to question cognitive ideas, whether we can create a human-like machine. Cognitive psychology began to be seen as similar to behaviourism. Psychologists also began to recognize that an information processing approach neglects human nature, specifically, motivation, and emotion. There was one more attempt to return to mainstream psychology, but cognitive ideas were left behind because it did not deal with practical problems, like clinical psychology.

Beginning in the late 1970s, as the economy and the political climate stabilized, growing number of citizens could afford therapy. Because clinical psychology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of behavioural disorders, concern over improved living conditions may be one reason why there was a sudden interest in clinical psychology.

In the early 1980s articles of the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science began to contain studies of people who suffer from mental or physical abuse. Moreover, they focused on family issues for the first time. As a result of increasing awareness of abuse, there was a rising demand for therapy centres to treat victims of abuse. Clinical psychology was the most popular in the mid and late 1980s, but today it still enjoys a fair amount of popularity.

Also, in the late 1980s, developmental psychology had to expand its perspective on age related issues. Advanced medical care and healthier lifestyles raised life-expectancy. As a result of an aging population, it was in the minds of developmental psychologists to now address issues from birth, well into late adulthood. With increased knowledge in developmental psychology, families became better educated about their children's mental capacities. This may explain the sudden rise in studies on family issues in the late 1980s.

An other area addressed by developmental psychology is business related. In the late 1980s, as Canada was experiencing a recession, businesses became concerned about workers' productivity, especially, the changing attitude toward work. Businesses looked for stable employees. Developmental psychology could address these issues successfully. This field also remains fairly popular as we moved into the 1990s.

8.0 Conclusion

The results of this exploratory study into the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences (CJBS) have provided insight surrounding psychology in Canada as having a progressive nature in addition to the societal, political, and economic issues influencing the direction of the study within the field of psychology.

Several social and political influences became apparent while examining the CJBS between the period of 1974 and 1994. The written content of the journal over this time period reflects the legislation and social movement toward the implementation of both of Canada's official languages act and its influence on Canadian publications. Increasing public awareness of this issue becomes evident when the language content of the CJBS is examined. In the twenty year period between 1974 and 1994 the number of publications submitted and printed in French increased by over 100 percent.

In addition to the written content, the preferred issues of study are also rooted in the movements and policies based in society. As demonstrated, family, gender, clinical and developmental areas of study peaked in the mid 1980s. It is highly possible that the transit towards these fields of study was influenced by social and political factors also. The expanding opportunity for women in the work force appears to be a major influence in the field of psychology over the time period examined. Again, social movements such as women's liberation groups and legislation for equal opportunity in the work force allowed women to expand on their roles within society. The changing roles of women spurred research in to the fields of applied psychology, such as, in the areas of family, gender and developmental psychology. Psychologists began to focus on developmental issues such as "latch key" children, and gender issues examining topics relating to male and female differences in the work place (i.e. stress differences).

Other social issues also effected the direction of applied psychology in the late 1980s. Increasing divorce rates, an increase in the longevity of North Americans, and the awareness of wide spread child abuse. Perhaps due to women's new found independence there was an increase in the divorce rate during this time. As this became apparent psychologists began to study the impact of divorce on individuals and their children, this appears to be one of the main factors contributing to the increase in family psychology of the time. People were also living longer then ever before due to medical and technological advancements. The increasing life span of individuals raised questions about developmental issues in later life as well as childhood, accounting for the increase in developmental psychology in the late 1980s. During this time clinical psychology also began to show increasing popularity. Issues such as the acknowledgment of wide spread child abuse created a need for developing methods to assist individuals in therapy. All of these issues were in the forefront during the mid to late 1980s and prompted psychologists to examine them from a scientific viewpoint.

As different areas of applied psychology shifted with social and political influences so did the methodology used to study psychological issues. During the mid to late 1970s there appears to have been a shift away from behaviourism towards cognitive processes such as thinking, language, and perception. During this time experimental psychology was extremely popular. Many of these cognitive issues relied on data such as reaction times, and perception apparatuses. However, by the late 1970s there was a severe drop in the experimental laboratory techniques use in psychology and a gradual trend toward correlation and naturalistic methods. This shift away from experimental methods may be due in part to the growing interest in issues that were centred in the applied fields of family, gender, educational, clinical and developmental psychology. Although the experimental lab methods had proved extremely useful in the field of behaviourism and cognitive psychology, they were not so useful in the study of complex human behaviour. It is difficult to apply a experimental laboratory approach to issues such as child abuse that take place outside the realm of a lab setting, and involve the study of complex emotions and human functioning. The nature of the methods used, therefore, had to adapt to the issues of study and correlation and naturalistic observations began to increase in popularity in the early 1980s.

The results of the current study suggest the direction of all aspects of psychological research are rooted deeply in society. Political, economic and social issues have all had a major impact on the direction and content of the field of psychology in Canada in the past and will continue to influence its direction in the future.