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A general guide for psychological resources

Why use APA PsycInfo?

You need to find five or more peer-reviewed articles that report on experiments about your topic?

Use APA PsycInfo. It's the best database for identifying scholarly and professional literature on psychology and its related fields. It's produced by the American Psychological Association, and its coverage starts in the late 1800s. It uses PennText to link directly to online fulltext, print holdings, and document-delivery services.


Subject headings

Subject headings are tags applied to PsycInfo records to highlight the main topics of the work. Subject headings are often hierarchical, such as:

  • Behavior
    • Social Behavior
      • Social Interaction
        • Interpersonal Relationships


Subject population demographics

  • Age group: The most specific age group is usually applied.
  • Population: Female, Male, Transgender, Human, Animal, Inpatient, Outpatient. Select as many terms as needed are applied.


Methodology used in research

Use the Methodology option to limit your search to specific general methods. Definitions of methodologies are provided on the APA web site.


Classification codes

Use these as "super subject headings" identifying primary subject matter.

  • HINT #1! ProQuest's Classification codes searching is useless. Consult the APA web site for the hierarchical scheme.
  • HINT #2! Search by using the 4-digit Classification code numbers, not the verbiage.3020 OR 3000 = Group & Interpersonal Processes OR Social Psychology222* = Tests & Testing (of all sorts)


References, Cited by, and Documents with shared references

Got an article? Find it in APA PsycInfo, then use Cited By to see more recent articles that included it in their bibliographies.
Use Documents with shared references to identify clusters of articles with similar bibliographies.


Searching for General Topics

Many psychology research topics are more open-ended, more like a sentence than a narrow technical term. This strategy shows you an easy way to find APA PsycInfo subject terms.

Example: "Is body language shared by many cultures around the world?"

Break up the topic into separate searchable elements:

PsycInfo advanced search for "body language" on one line and cultur* on another line

HINT! The * (asterisk) is ProQuest's truncation symbol: cultur* = culture, cultures, cultural

After browsing your search results, consider looking at the left-sidebar Subject filter. See relevant terms? Look for additional subject terms with "More options ...".


Subject box pop-out in PsycInfo with the ability to include or exclude subject terms such as body language, nonverbal communication, and gestures

Write down the relevant terms and then use them in a new "Advanced Search" with subject field tags:

Revised advanced search in PsycInfo for "body language" OR "nonverbal communication" on one line, and "cross-cultural differences" OR "sociocultural factors" on the second line. Both lines are searching in the Subject field dropdown, rather than Anywhere.

WARNING! A filter's "INCLUDE" checkbox adds terms as if they were synonyms - "body language" is NOT a synonym for "cross cultural differences", is it? That's why you do a new search!

Then use the PsycInfo filters to look for peer-reviewed empirical studies.

Discovering Subject Headings

APA PsycInfo's real strength is its Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, subject headings assigned to every PsycInfo record. Searching PsycInfo effectively means discovering and combining these subject headings.

Here are two ways to discover PsycInfo subject headings, using this example: "I'm interested in research on friends lying to each other."

Method 1: Search first, then look at your results, then search again.

  1. For the first advanced search, use the keyword sequence: friends AND (lying OR deceit) and select the accompanying field dropdown: Anywhere.
  2. In the results, click on the right sidebar "Subject" facet. Then click on Subject's "More options ..." area.
  3. Look through the list of most-frequently occurring subject headings: friendship, deception, truth, honesty.
  4. For the second advanced search, search for friendship and select the Subject Heading (all) - SU dropdown. In the second row, make sure AND is selected, and enter the keyword sequence: deception OR truth OR honesty, again selecting the Subject Heading (all) - SU dropdown.

Method 2: Use the Thesaurus to develop subject heading synonym sets.

  1. For the first Thesaurus search, put the cursor in the first search box. Then click on "Thesaurus".
  2. Enter your search term: friends, and check off the "Begins with" box.
  3. The term Friendship comes up. Check off Friendship's "Explode" check box. Then click on "Add to Search".
  4. For the second Thesaurus Search, put the cursor in the second row's search box. Then click on "Thesaurus".
  5. Enter your search term: lying, and check off the "Begins with" box.
  6. This time, there is no check box, or option to explode the term to find more terms! Click on the lying result to find proper term, Deception.
  7. Check on Deception's "Explode check box. Then click on "Add to Search".


APA PsycInfo  offers special features for effective searching. These include filters for peer-reviewed publications, methodologies used in research, and "cited by" references.

Peer-reviewed publications

  • Available as an "Advanced Search" limit option and as a "Search result" side-bar filter.
  • "Peer review" is an official editorial process that involves review and approval by experts in the same subject area as the author. Although books are usually peer-reviewed, the term is almost always intended for article searching and it's determined at the journal level. Articles in a peer-reviewed journal that might not be peer-reviewed include notes, letters, and book reviews.
  • Note! Peer-review status (Peer Reviewed Journal, Non-Peer Reviewed Journal, Peer Reviewed Status-Unknown) is also a PsycInfo Publication Type limit option and search result filter.

Methodology used in research

  • Available as an "Advanced Search" limit option and as a "Search result" side-bar filter.
  • Use the Methodology option to limit your search to specific general methods featured in the article:
    • Empirical Study = Study based on facts, systematic observation, or experiment.
    • Other methodologies might also be relevant for your topic.
  • HINT! Definitions of methodologies are provided on the APA web site.

Cited By

PsycInfo links between the articles it describes through their bibliographies. "Cited By" looks forward in time, showing how many more recent PsycInfo articles used your article in their bibliographies.

You can use "Cited By" to identify heavily-cited - important?, popular?, controversial? - articles:

  1. Sort search results by Publication Date.
  2. Scroll to the page bottom, change to "100 items per page".
  3. Use your browser's "Find" to look for: Cited by. Look at articles with high Cited By counts.

Searching for a Technical Term

Some topics are described using very specific terms or phrases. It's easy to find a few articles in PsycInfo for these topics. The steps below will also work if you're working on a term paper ... but if you're overwhelmed by the search results, ask for help!

Example: Learned helplessness

Start simple: Put your term in the first search box - in double-quotes if it's a phrase - and search "in Anywhere"

a search for the phrase "learned helplessness" in PsycInfo, searching for the phrase in the Anywhere dropdown option

Look at your search results. Look at the right-sidebar "Narrow Results By: Subject" filter. See your term? Click on it to narrow your search to that term as a PsycInfo subject term.

Subject sidebar in PsycInfo showing 2,016 entries tagged with learned helplessness, and other subject terms such as male, rats, attribution, animals, and more

Overwhelming results? Repeat your search: Click on "Modify Search" to return to "Advanced Search". Change "in Anywhere" to "in Major subject - MJSUB"

Field search dropdown in PsycInfo with Major Subject (MJSUB) selected

Then use the PsycInfo filters (righthand column on this page) to look for peer-reviewed empirical studies.

Searching for Two-name Topics

A special version of the technical-term search in APA PsycInfo.

Example: The Dunning-Kruger effect.

Break apart the names:

PsycInfo search for dunning AND kruger

Your search results will include the original experiment's article by Kruger and Dunning. Searching for the phrase "dunning-kruger" won't retrieve it, as the moniker came into use after the report. Can you see any other reasons searching the phrase "dunning-kruger" wouldn't find the original article?

HINT! To highlight the original report, change Sort Order to "Publication date (oldest first)". Then use the PsycInfo filters (righthand column on this page) to look for peer-reviewed empirical studies.

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