Name:  Lindsay Morgan

Lindsay Morgan

Area of Study: Cognitive

In what program are you currently enrolled?


What year of the program are you currently in?


Citation in APA format

Morgan, D. L. R. & Lacroix, G. (in press). What do students think when asked about psychology as a science? Teaching of Psychology.



The goal of this study was to examine students’ perception of psychology as a science. 570 undergraduate students were shown 30 common academic disciplines and asked to provide the first word that came to mind for each of them (i.e., a free association task following Nelson et al.’s 1998 methodology). They also provided ratings for these disciplines on relevant dimensions (e.g., important and scientific) and were asked “Is psychology a science?” Although students tended to agree that psychology was a science, they rated it to be less scientific than the natural sciences. Moreover, the free association results suggested that psychology was semantically distant from the other sciences. This study expands the literature on psychology students’ misperception of their field of study as something other than science. Furthermore, the results suggest that successful pedagogy will need to focus on conceptual change if students are to accept psychology as a legitimate science.

How did the idea for this research come about? 

In my honours seminar course, the first formal evaluation comprised a book report on Stanovich’s (2010) How to Think Straight About Psychology. This sparked my curiosity in the public’s perception of psychology as unscientific. For my honours thesis, I joined a lab that was beginning to examine the cognitive mechanisms that might explain psychology’s perception as unscientific. My research was the first step: understanding the terminology commonly associated with psychology and science. As such, I conducted a free association study that showed that not one of the 150 psychology students thought of psychology when shown science. However, the words that were evoked by both psychology and science comprised expressions that represent methods common among sciences (e.g., research, study, theory). This might have suggested that even though students were aware that psychology adheres to the scientific method, they were unlikely to call it a science. Unfortunately, I had no explicit measures to demonstrate that students believed psychology to be unscientific. So, I conducted a replication and extension for my MA research with more explicit measures to find out whether we could demonstrate that students do not believe that psychology merits the classification of legitimate science?

How did you collect the data for this project? 

For my honours research, the SONA system was used to recruit 150 participants and to redirect them to an online survey that I had designed in Qualtrics following Nelson et al.’s (1998) free association methodology. The data analysis followed Nelson et al.’s methodology as well. However, they used hand calculations on paper, whereas I ran the same calculations using Excel. For my MA research, I re-designed the Qualtrics study to include the explicit measures and to improve upon some methodological flaws. This time, SONA recruited and redirected 510 students to participate and we used the Social Psychology Network to recruit 19 participants from the general public. After eight months of analyzing data, using essentially Excel-supported hand calculations, I found an error in the dataset that required me to restart. So, I compiled a template within Excel to more efficiently and more automatically analyze the data. I now have the ability to analyze large-scale free association data in an eighth of the amount of time that it would take using Excel-supported hand calculations. This mistake-driven accomplishment is one of my proudest moments as a graduate student.


Was the journal you published in the first journal you submitted this paper to?


Why did you choose this journal?

While it’s important to disseminate these findings to other psychologists, we believed it to be equally important for those who teach psychology. Introductory psychology is where students should begin to learn that psychology is a legitimate science. Moreover, their conceptualization of what constitutes science and how psychology fits into this category ought to be taught. Thus, we believed that publishing our paper in Teaching of Psychology was the best way to have this research be read by those who can make a difference in the public’s perception of psychology as a science: the teachers of psychology.

How many other journals did you submit this paper to before it landed in the journal that eventually published your work? 


What was your revision experience?

Our manuscript went through three rounds of revisions. I was thrilled to discover what thorough lengths, which the reviewers actually went. It was also interesting to witness the differences between reviewers. For instance, one reviewer provided very precise and explicit instructions on how to remedy certain issues. Meanwhile, the other reviewer provided feedback that was more abstract and hence more difficult to address. One key learning experience that I gained from this first publication process is that I am an expert in my research. What I mean is that the comments and concerns, presented by reviewers, might highlight clarity issues within the writing. However, the review process is not meant to be prescriptive. For instance, one reviewer did not agree with one of the choices in analyses that we made. However, I then realized that I could simply provide an explanation for the choice.

How many rounds of revision did you experience?


Did you need to collect new data to satisfy a reviewer?

How long did it take from first submission to acceptance? 

11 months

Was this paper conducted as part of your MA thesis? 


Was this paper conducted as part of your PhD dissertation? 


Was this research conducted with your supervisor? 

Yes, with Dr. Guy Lacroix

Was this research conducted with fellow graduate students in our program? 


Was this research conducted with researchers external to Carleton? 


You can find an in press version of the article here.