Research Paper Ideas In Psychology

Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper? Sometimes it seems like coming up with a good idea for a paper is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.

Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.

As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor. In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have had the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reaches. Other instances, such as in an abnormal psychology course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.

Focus on a Topic Within a Particular Branch of Psychology

The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.

One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.

Other social psychology topics you might consider include:

Write About a Disorder or Type of Therapy

Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:

Choose a Topic Related to Human Cognition

Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:

Consider a Topic Related to Human Development

In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to early childhood such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Some other topics you might consider include:

Critique a Book or Academic Journal Article

One option is to consider writing a psychology critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.

Professional and academic journals are also a great place to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find what that grabs your attention.

Analyze a Famous Experiment

There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:

Write a Paper About a Historical Figure

One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the history of psychology and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.

While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other eminent psychologists.

Write About a Specific Psychology Career

​Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the field of psychology. This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most. In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and different employment options that are available.

Create a Case Study of an Individual or Group of People

One potentially interesting idea is to write a psychology case study of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography. Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as Piaget's stages of cognitive development or Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development. It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally. In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.

Conduct a Literature Review

I have never regretted choosing to spend my career as a psychologist. There’s the very obvious fact that psychology underlies all of behavior and thus, in my opinion, is the most important scientific discipline of all. However, there’s more to it than the love of science. When you come right down to it, psychology is just very cool.

Psychologists, like many other scientists, enjoy inventing new terms to describe what they study. Sure, we get accused now and then of being too “jargon-y” (itself a jargon-y term). Once you understand what the jargon means, though, most of it not only makes sense, but expands your understanding of behavior.  Narrowing down the thousands of great ideas in psychology to a mere 13 is a bit of a challenge. Therefore, I’ve decided to limit myself to those that are coolest according to these criteria: (a) relatively new (which technically makes them “hot”); (b) not overly commonsensical; (c) based on research; and (d) having applicability to everyday life. See if you agree with this top 13 list (the references for each are listed by number, below).

1.  Mood freezing

We’ve come to believe that by expressing our emotions we’ll feel better. The idea of “catharsis” also implies that by releasing our anger, we’ll rid ourselves of all hostile feelings. In research on “mood freezing,” participants are made to believe that a pill can alter their moods when, in fact, the pill is a placebo. When these participants are artificially riled up in an experimental situation, and then given the fake pill, they both reduce their angry outbursts and – importantly- say that the feel better. You don’t have to give yourself an actual, fake, mood freezing pill to reduce your own angry outbursts the next time you get mad. If you tell yourself you don’t need to express that anger, though, you can derive the same positive benefit.

2.  Facial feedback

According to one theory of emotions, known as the facial feedback model, the expression on your face helps to control the way you feel inside. This theory was put to the test in a study of people who had received Botox treatments, a cosmetic injection that numbs the muscles of the face. The Botoxed participants were less able to empathize with the emotions of others because, presumably, they were unable to flex their facial muscles. The results weren’t accounted for, either, by a selection bias because people getting Botox don’t show unusual patterns of emotion detection prior to their injections.

3.  Self-affirmations

The value of self-affirmations was made famous by SNL character Stuart Smalley (now Senator Al Franken): “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darn it, people like me.” Often, a self-affirmation can boost your inner strength and make you more likely to succeed. However, this strategy may come with a risk. A recent study showed that people who utter self-affirmations may be less inclined to pursue a goal after they experience failure. To the extent that you internalize your failure, you may then feel that you actually have less, rather than more of a chance at succeeding in your future efforts.

4.   Hindsight bias

One of our most common human tendencies is to think that we were right about predicting an event’s outcome even in actuality we were wrong.  Hindsight bias takes the common form of “I knew it all along.” Psychologists have long known about hindsight bias, but a recent study shows that you can be prevented from the lure of hindsight (and the possible negative consequences it can create) by relatively simple reality-testing interventions before you commit this cognitive faux pas.

5.  Mind-wandering

The term mind-wandering isn’t particularly knew to 2013, but recent studies show that it can actually benefit your thinking. We tend to believe that it’s bad for our daily performance, but these studies are showing that you can make better plans for yourself and solve problems more creatively by occasionally letting your mind drift far and wide.

6.  Double foot-in-the-door

The foot-in-the-door is a well-known strategy to manipulate people into fulfilling a large request by first presenting them with a small one. However, we hear less about the double-foot-in-the-door.  In a recent study, researchers found that they could convince participants to engage in energy-saving activities more effectively using the double-foot-the-door. In this process, you make your request in three phases- small, medium, and large- rather than just going from small to large. That staging of your request makes it seem less intimidating, and even if you have to stretch it out over a week or two, in the long run, it will pay off more for you.

7.  Affect heuristic

A heuristic is a “rule of thumb” that allows people to make judgments and solve problems. The affect heuristic refers to our very illogical tendency to predict risk on the basis of how frightening something seems to be rather than on its probability.  For example, people will be more likely to take steps to avoid a rare, very frightening disease, than to avoid a more probable one that carries with it less obvious pain and suffering.

8.  Target template

When we’re searching through a complex set of stimuli, such as a busy street that we’re trying to cross, we need to pick out the sources of danger. The “target template” is a guide to searching these types of complex stimulus arrays. Despite what you hear about videogames being bad for your attention, researchers are finding that action games can actually improve your scanning abilities of these complex scenes. In fact, the more action-oriented the game, the bigger the attentional boost.

9. Thedark triad

The combination of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, or the “dark triad,” sounds bad, and in many cases, it is bad. People high on dark triad traits tend to be unpleasant to be with and can cause you much heartache should you have the bad fortune of falling in love with them.  However, in a longitudinal study of personality traits and career success, it was those high in the dark triad traits who tended to succeed in moving up the career and income ladders. They even out-performed their more conscientious, somewhat obsessive-compulsive, counterparts.

10.  Relationship churning

We can’t completely give psychology credit for this term, as the study in which I found it was conducted by sociologists.  However, it clearly applies to the psychology of relationships. Relationship churning occurs when you are in a series of on/off relationships.  Unfortunately, young adults most likely to experience relationship churning may also be the ones most likely to suffer relationship abuse, both physical and verbal. 

11.  Fear of happiness

Although we seem to idolize happiness as the be-all and end-all of life’s desired outcomes, some people, particularly from certain cultures, actually fear the state of happiness. In cultures that believe worldly happiness to be associated with sin, shallowness, and moral decline will actually feel less satisfied when their lives are (by other standards) going well. 

12.  Self-monitoring

In self-monitoring, as the term implies, you pay careful attention to your steps toward progress in achieving improvement or a desired goal. This term may seem to violate my commonsense principle, above. However, I nevertheless found it interesting that in a study using a behavioral approach to online weight control for people objectively considered obese, it was the participants who stuck to the program by taking advantage both of chatting and online logging-in who achieved the greatest weight gain. The biggest losers, in this study were the ones who got started early on the self-monitoring aspect of the program, which seemed to give them that all-important initial boost.

13.  Vocational callings

I’ll leave you today on this inspirational note that when you think of your job as a “calling,” you’ll be more satisfied with it. People who feel they have a calling believe that their work (be it as a homemaker or in employment outside the home), are more likely to feel the most satisfied and the most motivated. The key to this particular kind of job satisfaction is not only that you feel you have a calling, but that you are able to live out that calling.  Once you have that congruence of your desire and your experiences, you’ll feel more in control of your career’s direction which, in turn, can further help you feel connected to a larger purpose in life.

With this sampling of a mere 13 cool psychology ideas, you can see why psychology has so much to offer and how it can help all of us lead more fulfilling lives.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2013


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