From the CEO
Ever since (and even before) former APA President George Miller urged the profession to "give psychology away," there have been numerous efforts to increase the flow of information from psychology to the public. For example, just last year, Dr. Ronald Levant made "Making Psychology a Household Word" one of his presidential initiatives, which involved training psychologists to spread information about psychology to their local communities. The APA Practice Directorate's Public Education Campaign has been using various media approaches to educate the public about the importance of addressing mental health concerns. We even have a division of APA-the Division of Media Psychology (Div. 46)-solely devoted to the nexus of psychological knowledge and the media, including our role in radio, television, film, video, newsprint, magazines and newer technologies (see www.apa.org/divisions/div46). Finally, this month's Monitor reports on the APA Science Leadership Conference (SciLC) organized by our Science Directorate. The theme of this first SciLC was "The Public Face of Psychological Science."
One question that arises is how much is psychology really "out there"-that is, how much is the public actually exposed to psychological content in the media? This question is extraordinarily difficult to answer given the vastness of media outlets and the numerous ways "psychological content" is being presented, and even how such content could be defined. But in preparing for a presentation on the future of psychology, I was curious as to what I would find with some very crude analyses of media outlets.
Newspapers and magazines
Several years ago, I conducted a Lexus/Nexus search on the presence of topics in health psychology in newspapers and magazines, and found incredible growth over a 17-year period in the coverage of topics such as stress, diet, exercise, smoking cessation, socioeconomic status and health, and social relationships and health to name a few. It is wonderful that the pubic is increasingly being exposed to these topics. More recently, I was interested in the notion of whether psychology's and psychologists' contributions to these and other topics were being highlighted.
To determine our presence in these media venues, I conducted, with the aid of the APA Research Office, a Lexus/Nexus search on terms "psychologist" and "psychology" in several major newspapers (The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune) and magazines (Time, Newsweek). To just use the data from the term "psychologist" over a 20-year span from 1985 to 2004 in the selected newspapers, we have been running about 2,500 articles a year, with a peek of almost 3,000 in 1994. In magazines, the growth in psychology-related topics has been clear. Again, using the term "psychologist," there were 20 articles in 1985, but 100 in 2004, with a peek of 130 in 2000. Of course, one question is, "compared to what?" That is, how do the numbers for psychologists compare with other disciplines? Comparing psychology with various medical subdisciplines, and using data just from 2004, here was the breakdown for newspapers: Physician (over 4,000 articles), psychologist (2,065), psychiatrist (1,422) and cardiologist (466). For magazines, the breakdown was as follows: Physician (158 articles), psychologist (85), cardiologist (40) and psychiatrists (36).
Of course the Internet is one of the fastest growing media outlets for information, with tens of millions of sites (up from only 18,500 in 1995), with more than 2 million being added per month, according to the 2005 Web Server Survey. The top health sites include NIH (ranked 271 out of all Web sites), WebMD (614), the FDA (2,949), Medscape (3,761) and the New England Journal of Medicine (10,107). The top psychology sites are much further down the list with the Memory Exhibition ranked at 4,460, APA (15,596), Epsych (17,247), Psychology Today (23,807), and Discovering Psychology (24,398) to name a few. Out of tens of millions of Internet sites, the numbers for psychology-related sites are arguably respectable.
Television and radio
Television and radio are principal sources of information for a large percentage of the public. It is very difficult to measure the presence of psychology in these outlets, given the scope and variety of the programming, and the shear number of television and radio stations. But my estimation is that psychology has a significant presence. Psychologists appear regularly on nearly all national and local talk shows, including public access stations. Psychological topics are included frequently on morning and 24-hour news programs, as well as in entertainment programming.
Although the public seems to be exposed to a lot of psychology, it is hard to gauge the impact of this since the competition for their eyes and ears is substantial. My next column will address the more critical question of how much the public actually understands about psychology.