Argumentative Research Paper Topics On History Of Psychology

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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

Topics for 2017

Here is a beginning list of ideas for paper topics.  

One of the best strategies at the beginning is to go to the reserve desk at the library and get the Hilgard book to look at.  For most of you, this should be one of your best early sources no matter what your topic is, so you might as well look at it as a beginning source of ideas as well.

You must establish a topic by Thursday, September 21.

I’ll be available to discuss various ideas with you, to help narrow it down once you are in a ballpark. As I explained in class, I want students to select topics in pairs, one on one side of an issue, the other on an apparently opposite side. This is a way to begin your task with a little bit of structure. Your actual topic will be MORE SPECIFIC than stated here. Taking a side of the issues as stated here is a beginning. Part of your project will be to narrow down and focus your topic.


Where there are obvious key words, I have put them in bold.

One very common type of topic is:  Why was person x so famous at one time and so forgotten later?  What does that tell us about change in psychology?   A variation on this theme is:  Why was person x so famous, then forgotten, then rediscovered?

Was Gestalt Psychology a failure or a success?    To begin, I have one paper that argues that Gestalt psychology was a success, and another that argues it was a failure.   Both were written in the same time period.  Obviously you have to know what Gestalt psychology is, immerse yourself in some of it, as well as the context for its promulgation.  By now, more articles on the subject have been written.  In light of where things stand today, how do we evaluate the articles that I alluded to at the beginning?

John B. Watson was the founder of behaviorism and one of the most important psychologists in our history.   Or –Behaviorism was so inevitable that Watson should NOT be regarded as its founder because it was developing anyway and would exist whether Watson had lived or not.

Behaviorism dominated psychology in the 1940’s and 1950’s.   Or — Behaviorism never dominated psychology as much as people say it did.

Cognitive psychology was a true revolution in psychology.   Or — Cognitive psychology was warmed over behaviorism with a few new words allowed.

Chomsky-inspired psycholinguistics changed psychology forever.   Or — The effects of Chomsky passed quickly and had a very small impact.

Developments in neuroscience have led to real progress in psychology.   Or — developments in neuroscience have been a distraction to psychology and have postponed attention to core problems.

Behaviorism was a necessary development in psychology;  Or — Behaviorism should have sold itself as a branch of biology and not psychology. The latter position has been developed by Trinity alum, Robert Epstein (also B. F. Skinner’s last student).

George Miller ushered in the future for Psychologists, time after time.   Or, George Miller was consistently wrong.

Münsterberg — Applied psychology and pure psychology: an important distinction. “Applied psychology” is not possible. “Applied psychology” is quite possible.

The arguments of Tolman vs. Hull and Spence within behaviorism were a very good example of the operation of “normal science” in the sense of Thomas Kuhn. The work of Tolman, as he argued against Hull and Spence sowed the seeds for a scientific revolution, as this concept was developed by Thomas Kuhn.

Titchener “sold” Wundt as an introspectionist — Was this was historically wrong?

Professional organizations emerge as disciplines develop.  At least two have been organized first here at Trinity.  What is their role?  Formation of the APA; Philosophers break off; experimentalists try to break off several times; the founding of the APS. The role of smaller, more specialized organizations like SRCD and the Psychonomic Society.  Interview faculty members as part of this.

Role of Journals – Mind, American Journal of Psychology (AJP  Hall). Hall was an organizer. Up to Ecological Psychology (see me) perhaps.

Clinical Psychology – Witmer; Prince; Putnam; Shakow; Boulder model; WW II (let the Hilgard book be your guide).

Neuroscience –What happened to Lashley?  There was a spate of research in the early to mid 20th century (from Lashley) that showed much complex activity learned by rats was not localized in any particular brain area.   By 1955, emphases changed and the experimental results in neuroscience favored localization of function.   Was this a change in fact or fashion?

Establishing labs – Hall vs. James. “Real” labs? Colleges and universities.  Establishing psychology as a scientific discipline and at particular institutions regarded the founding of laboratories.   What constituted a laboratory?   How much did these really matter?

Intelligence – Binet, Terman, WW I, WW II  — see the Hilgard book.

Language – Wundt, Blumenthal, Chomsky; Whorf-Sapir (Hartford origins), Roger Brown; What happened to syntax?

Trinity issues – Trinity psychology graduates, Edward S. Reed and Robert Epstein have published work in the history of psychology – You could examine the issues explored by either one.  (1)  Reed — In his philosophy (history) of science dissertation (it won an award), Reed argued that modern physics and modern psychology BOTH started with Descartes and that, therefore, psychology is not different from physics because psychology is young.   (2)  Epstein has argued that Watson made a mistake by trying to make behaviorism a part of psychology.  Epstein says that misunderstandings could have been avoided if Watson developed behaviorism as a branch of biology instead.

Psychology at Trinity — from 1903.  Interesting comparisons to Wesleyan.   What are just “accidents” of history?  Explore old catalogues and original text used here.

Developmental psych – from G. Stanley Hall?  Many themes could be developed within developmental psychology, with the important stress that G. Stanley Hall was central in some way to most of it.

Wesleyan.  Interesting comparisons: Charles H. Judd (ended up at Chicago) vs. Edward L. Thorndike  (ended up at Columbia) vs. Walter Dearborn (ended up at Harvard)– All Wesleyan undergrads of about the same time. All ended up in Educational Psychology. But they got there by very different routes. Judd studied with Wundt; Thorndike with William James.  Dearborn was influenced both by Dodge at Wesleyan and by Cattell.

MacDougall vs. Watson – 1924 debate.

Lewin vs. Spence at Iowa.

The effects of adopting English as the language of science around the world — the case of psychology.

Extra special topic — Pierre Janet and ties to developmental psychology and to Piaget.  Janet is not all that well known, but there is a hard core group devoted to promoting him now to wider audiences.

History of Psych Syllabus

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