Archive of Sample Searches Podcasts

Ever wonder what's in APA Databases?

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May 2014

Booleans: The Power of No

All things are defined in part by what they are not. What is darkness unless juxtaposed to light, cold to warmth, silence to sound? For most, there’s no hard clear line where one thing stops and another begins. Ideas and language can be particularly challenging, with meanings slippery and sometimes almost impossible to isolate or pin down.

However, let us leave the meaning of being and nothingness to the deconstructionists and focus on the very pragmatic aspect of how to disentangle these comingled results from an indexed database. It can be difficult to tease search criteria from among the various research contexts in which they are indexed. How can we as researchers craft our searches to return the results we do want and carve out the "noise" that we don't?

For APA PsycNET users, we can do that by becoming comfortable with the very powerful Not Boolean, which excludes records from retrieval. Let me share a fairly simple example that came my way not long ago from a researcher who asked for some help crafting a search. What he wanted to find was research in PsycINFO that was specifically about adolescent girls and math. 

Because he knew a thing or two about databases, he had very sensibly crafted a search in which he searched for math* (with an asterisk to capture all variations of the word) as a keyword and used the age limiter to specify that the results would need to include participants between the ages of 13 and 17 and the population limited to female participants. But the results he got were not what he expected. To begin with, he got about 2,000 results, more than he had expected or could easily work with. And when he looked more closely at the records returned, he found that a lot of them were not what he was looking for at all. 

True, all his results did contain the limits he’d specified, and that is certainly important. But looking within the records, he found research that had included preschool children and college age kids, even research on the very old struggling with dementia. And while the results had all included female populations, many of them included male populations as well and did not make distinctions between the genders. Thus, although the results included his desired group, they weren’t limited by it.

Clearly, a step is missing in this search. To correctly focus the results, it’s not enough to stipulate what you do want. You may want to take the additional step of excluding what you don’t want. So let’s take our original search and add two additional criteria: the age will be only 13 to 17, and we’ll use the Boolean Not to eliminate all of the other age groups. Likewise, we will exclude males from our result set.

Our new result set includes 91 records, and a quick look at our result set shows that it looks much more promising. Now we can focus on other attributes of the set as a whole that might not fit into our search. For example, in this fresh set of results, we find quite a few dissertations and conference papers on our topic.

Useful as those sources can be, we don’t really want them at this time. One way to remove them would be to select the “Peer reviewed journals only” checkbox. However, if we do that, we also lose some other content we might want, such as book chapters. Here again the Not Boolean allows us to cut with a scalpel instead of an ax. Instead of restricting our results to peer-reviewed journals, let’s just remove the results we don’t want. In the Document type category, we can remove conference abstracts and dissertations from our findings.

Now if we look at our findings, we have a set of 62 results, all of which are focused on adolescent girls and their relationship to mathematics.

So remember, like the old Bing Crosby song used to say: you’ve got to latch on to the affirmative and eliminate the negative. That will give you the specific results you’re looking for.

Here’s our final search:

Search For:

Keywords: math* AND Age Group: Adolescence (13 to 17 yrs) AND Population Group: Female AND NOT Age Group: Childhood (birth to 12 yrs) OR Neonatal (birth to 1 mo) OR Infancy (2 to 23 mo) OR Preschool Age (2 to 5 yrs) OR School Age (6 to 12 yrs) OR Adulthood (18 yrs & older) OR Young Adulthood (18 to 29 yrs) OR Thirties (30 to 39 yrs) OR Middle Age (40 to 64 yrs) OR Aged (65 yrs & older) OR Very Old (85 yrs & older) AND NOT Population Group: Male AND NOT Document Type: Abstract Collection OR Dissertation

Here is the permalink that let you replicate this search:

APA PsycNET Example Search

January 2014

APA Databases Capture a Lifetime of Research

Fans of Isaac Asimov often point to his work's inclusion in nine of 10 major Dewey decimal classifications (and he should have been in the tenth, philosophy). Astonishingly, Asimov's writings span the spectrum of human knowledge. Although APA's databases don't claim to cover all subjects, they do cover far more than "just" psychology — they include the whole strutting stage of human behavior — covered through many academic sources in seven databases, each with its own focus.

There are some authors who, Asimov like, are so integral to the study of psychology that they can be found represented across our databases (e.g., Kazdin, Zimbardo, Bandura). Among that pantheon is Carol S. Dweck, whose work has bridged developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology and who has examined the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior.

Let us suppose you are a student interested in education. Few questions matter as much practically as what actually works to encourage young people to achieve their best potential, and Dweck's research is directly applicable to reaching that goal. What can we learn by looking for her work across databases?

Using the author lookup, I found four likely variations of Dweck's name in publications and added them to my search. A search at this point shows 157 results in all databases except for our streaming video database PsycTHERAPY. A quick glance at the facets for that set of results tells you a great deal about her work.

The most frequently appearing index term in her research is "motivation"; the author affiliations are topped by Stanford (where Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology), Columbia, University of Illinois, and Harvard. She has had 21 articles published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , and you can see that the bulk of her research has been with young people under the age of 17.

Dig a little deeper by looking at the citations to the individual results, and you'll see that she is heavily cited in the PsycINFO database, often with hundreds citing her work and in a few cases with thousands citing her. Thus, objective evidence indicates that she is an exceptionally authoritative author on the issues of children and motivation.

Let's take a slightly closer look at each of the databases.

In PsycTESTS, Dweck is one of the authors of the Math Sense of Belonging Scale (2012), which measures students' perceptions of their math environment and the idea that women have less innate ability than men in math. "Sense of belonging to math," and the message that success in math is an acquired rather than an innate trait, was found to protect women from negative stereotypes. Sense of belonging increased their likelihood of pursuing math in the future. The test is 30-items and measures how comfortable the student is in a math setting.

For PsycCRITIQUES, let's dip into the past, to 1989, when Dweck was teaching at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She had begun her work in motivation, and thus she was a logical person to review a work like the Handbook of Motivation and Cognition: Foundations of Social Behavior (Sorrentino & Higgens, 1986). She summarized the work at that time as cutting edge: "It is unique as a handbook in that, rather than summarizing an existing body of knowledge, it attempts to define and shape an emerging field." Her field, as it happened.

Her authored entries in PsycEXTRA are a series of 11 conference presentations and abstracts that begin in 2002, when she was teaching at Columbia, and end with an abstract from the most recent APA convention. They show her research exploration of how and why young people act as they do in addition to ways mindsets and stereotypes may limit them.

In PsycBOOKS, Dweck contributed a chapter in the APA book Why Aren't More Women in Science?: Top Researchers Debate the Evidence . Her chapter, "Is Math a Gift? Beliefs That Put Females at Risk," (Ceci & Williams, 2007) explored a fascinating difference between high-IQ girls and high-IQ boys in the 5th grade. When confusion was introduced, the boys did much better than the girls, demonstrating not a difference in ability "but a difference in how students cope with experiences that may call their ability into question — whether they feel challenged by them or demoralized by them."

The 33 articles Dweck has published that appear in PsycARTICLES provide an in-depth look at her research. In addition to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, her research has also appeared in Developmental Psychology , American Psychologist , and Psychological Review . One article, A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality, presented a research-based model of adaptive and maladaptive behavior that has been cited almost 2,200 (!) times.

Finally, to get the full sweep of Dweck's work, PsycINFO brings together a bibliographic record of her work, from a student at Yale in 1970 and her dissertation abstract in November 1972 to a publication last month in Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Almost 45 years of scholarship and counting.

Though few authors can match the overall corpus of work of Carol Dweck, many concentrate on the same major issues throughout their careers. The continuity of indexing and coverage provided in PsycINFO and APA's other research databases make it easy to find relevant authors and their work.

Here are permalinks that let you replicate this search:

November 2013

APA Database Synergy: Recent Help for an Expert Witness

APA's research databases can work together to provide you with a suite of information about a topic.

For example, consider a young psychology professor asked to testify as a defense expert witness on the fallibility of eyewitness identification in a sexual assault case. Although she has a doctorate in psychology and law and is confident of her command of the research, she is new to court testimony and would like practical advice on the behavior of decision makers and successful courtroom testimony. She has an APA PsycNET Gold individual subscription, and so has access to APA's core databases. She has little lead time, and so she needs information she knows is authoritative and she needs it quickly.

An index term search for "expert testimony" and "witnesses" limited to full text published in the past year yields 11 results across databases.

Knowing that PsycCRITIQUES is the place to turn for peer reviews of current works, she looks there first for guidance. Pay dirt! She finds a review of Testifying in Court: Guidelines and Maxims for the Expert Witness (2nd ed.; Brodsky, 2013) that is specifically on point. The reviewer, cognitive psychologist Curt Carlson, is a professor at Texas A&M University whose primary research area is recognition memory and decision making involved in eyewitness identification.

Carlson's review of Testifying in Court describes it as "a practical guide, a kind of do-it-yourself pamphlet on expert courtroom testimony." Our novice expert is pleased to note that there are chapters specifically on eyewitness testimony and how to deal with intimidation from cross-examining attorneys, and Carlson reviewed a couple of the expert witness techniques used in the book and attests to their usefulness from his own experience. He also noted some aspects of the book he found problematic, most notably the alphabetical ordering of chapters.

Overall, the recommendation is positive enough that our novice witness wants to read it, and read it as soon as possible. This is an APA-published work. Though it was published in 2013, within the past year, it is no longer under embargo, and PDFs of all chapters are available in her PsycBOOKS subscription. By going to the Book record in PsycBOOKS, she can access the Table of Contents of the book, review the abstract for each chapter, and go directly to any content she needs.

Among the many chapters that will be right on point for her are the following:

  • Transformative Moments
  • Vigorous Cross-Examinations and Vigorous Answers
  • The Well-Dressed Witness
  • Your Expertise Used Against You

To replicate the search, limit to full-text databases, PsycARTICLES, PsycBOOKS, PsycCRITIQUES, and PsycEXTRA, search for "expert testimony" and "witnesses" as index terms, and restrict the search to the past year.

Database-Specific Sample Searches Podcasts