Information overload, professionalization, and the origins of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association


This article examines the origins of psychology's adoption of a standardized style and format for its publications and the controversies that this decision engendered. The present account draws on perspectives derived from the history of reading and the sociology of professions to explain the historical appeal of such standards. Archival documents are used to trace the events that led to the drafting of the first set of publication standards in 1929. Where previous historical accounts of the publication manual have stressed the influence of behaviorism, the discipline's leaders embraced these instructions because of the perception of information overload resulting from the rapid expansion and professionalization of psychology following World War I. Under the auspices of the National Research Council, a committee on publication practices surveyed scientists, editors, and publishers in the hopes of making more efficient the communication of psychological knowledge within an increasingly large and anonymous discipline. Archival documents also reveal an animated debate over whether the progress of psychology as a science required the adoption of universally followed rules trusted by all or the cultivation of the scientist's creativity and individuality of expression.

General Review of Psychology, 16(4). doi: 10.1037/a0028531