Academic work that brings together specialists from many professions who combine knowledge to work on a particular topic has been encouraged for decades in colleges and universities all around the U.S.
A decade's worth of transdisciplinary psychological study was recently attempted to be characterized by University of Kansas academics. Their research has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications by undergraduate Yoshiaki Fujita and Michael Vitevitch, professor and department chair of psychology at KU.
The two used network science to study papers for the years 2008 to 2018 that were classified in the "Psychology, Multidisciplinary" subject category of the Social Sciences Citation Index database of the Web of Science. They discovered that only 25% of citations from papers in these journals referred to studies conducted in disciplines other than psychology.
Even if there are calls for us to become more multidisciplinary, Vitevitch said, "we were a little astonished to find out that we're still really not." "Only approximately 25% of the citations in psychology publications that are classified as multidisciplinary—meaning they ought to be reaching out to other subjects more—are to journals from other disciplines. 25% were to other multidisciplinary psychology publications, and the other half were to other psychology journals."
Some psychology topics, such as those pertaining to physical and mental health, attracted multidisciplinary work steadily throughout the decade, according to Fujita and Vitevitch, who are both graduate students at Indiana University-Bloomington. In contrast, the percentage of multidisciplinary research for other topics would rise and fall.
In order to find any potential gaps, Vitevitch stated, "we looked at issues individuals were researching." What topics are people researching in this multidisciplinary way, and are there any hot topics or topics that have sort of peaked?
The authors believe that their technique might be used by lone researchers to find attractive transdisciplinary research areas.
"Where could you want to explore for things to investigate if you're wanting to become more multidisciplinary?" said Vitevitch. "Even while there may be work being done, no one has really connected those two domains; if you're seeking for a new research topic, becoming that connection might be beneficial. Therefore, the methodology we employ in this study might enable you to locate something of interest. For instance, our keyword research reveals that there is a gap in the themes that people are examining. To become more multidisciplinary, it might be something each individual researcher can accomplish."
The KU study also offers advice to academic institution leaders who seek to promote transdisciplinary scholarship.
Vitevitch questioned, "How can you make transdisciplinary work happen if it's so good? The Red Hot Research Talks at KU are an example of a program that a research administrator can design to bring researchers together to discuss and exchange ideas. "You're a sociologist and the other one is an economist, but one has techniques that could solve the other's problem. Sometimes getting people together helps find interesting theoretical differences.
Additionally, according to peer citations, transdisciplinary research has been shown to be more impactful.
The work of the KU team adds to the increasing body of knowledge known as "the science of science," which frequently uses quantitative data, such as the citation networks examined in this new publication, to address issues regarding the character of scholarly inquiry.
In order to comprehend how science functions and determine whether there are any improvements that can be made, he explained, "it's looking at all of science itself."
According to the authors, other fields of study besides psychology should also be able to measure transdisciplinary research using their methodology.
"We probably would still have the same type of percentage of citations in versus out of the area if we were to have done this with economics, for example," Vitevitch added. "The issues we face in society aren't getting any easier to address, so we need a wider range of ideas, theories, and techniques. They are becoming increasingly complex."
Yoshiaki Fujita, Michael S. Vitevitch. Using network analyses to examine the extent to which and in what ways psychology is multidisciplinary. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 2022; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1057/s41599-022-01175-8