Skip to main content

Tracing the historical roots of positive psychology by reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS): A scientometrics perspective


Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that has been developed in recent years. One can look at this almost new emerging field of psychology through different perspectives including scientometrics (and similarly bibliometrics). In this study, the historical roots of positive psychology were traced by a new scientometrics approach called Reference Publication Year Spectroscopy (RPYS) introduced in 2014. 2594 documents (1900–2017) on positive psychology indexed in Web of Science core collection were extracted. Results showed 10 peaks which present historical roots of positive psychology as depicted by RPYS analysis. The RPYS analysis showed that positive psychology dates back to 1900s, humanistic psychology and to the works of authors such as Maslow and Raggers. A turning point was observed in 2000 that highlights Seligman’s works. Afterward, other researches carried out on positive psychology promoted this field.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Science Citation Index (SCI), Social Science Citation Index (SSCI), Art & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI), Conference Proceeding Citation Index-Science (CPCI-S), Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Social Science & Humanities (CPCI-SSH)


  • Alex Linley, P., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., & Wood, A. M. (2006). Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 3–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ballandonne, M. (2018). The historical roots of recent contributions to ecological economics: A note using reference publication year spectroscopy. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from

  • Barth, A., Marx, W., Bornmann, L., & Mutz, R. (2014). On the origins and the historical roots of the Higgs boson research from a bibliometric perspective. The European physical journal plus, 129(6), 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bornmann, L., & Daniel, H. D. (2008). What do citation counts measure? A review of studies on citing behavior. Journal of documentation, 64(1), 45-80.

  • Bornmann, L., de Moya Anego’n, F., & Leydesdorff, L. (2010). Do scientific advancements lean on the shoulders of giants? A bibliometric investigation of the Ortega hypothesis. PLoS One, 5(10), e13327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elango, B., Bornmann, L., & Kannan, G. (2016). Detecting the historical roots of tribology research: A bibliometric analysis. Scientometrics, 107(1), 305–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Garfield, E. (1963). Citation indexes in sociological and historical research. American Documentation, 14(4), 289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hatfield, G. (2001). Psychology Old and New. IRCS Technical Reports Series, 23.

  • Hou, J. (2017). Exploration into the evolution and historical roots of citation analysis by referenced publication year spectroscopy. Scientometrics, 110(3), 1437–1452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kauffman, C. (2006). Positive psychology: The science at the heart of coaching. Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients, 219, 253.

    Google Scholar 

  • Khasseh, A. A., & Mokhtarpour, R. (2016). Tracing the historical origins of knowledge management issues through referenced publication year spectroscopy (RPYS). Journal of Knowledge Management, 20(6), 1393–1404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laver, A. B. (1972). Precursors of psychology in ancient Egypt. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 8(2), 181–195.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leydesdorff, L., Bornmann, L., Marx, W., & Milojević, S. (2014). Referenced publication years spectroscopy applied to iMetrics: Scientometrics, journal of Informetrics, and a relevant subset of JASIST. Journal of Informetrics, 8(1), 162–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marx, W., & Bornmann, L. (2014). Tracing the origin of a scientific legend by reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS): The legend of the Darwin finches. Scientometrics, 99(3), 839–844.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marx, W., Bornmann, L., Barth, A., & Leydesdorff, L. (2014). Detecting the historical roots of research fields by reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS). Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65(4), 751–764.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marx, W., Haunschild, R., Thor, A., & Bornmann, L. (2017). Which early works are cited most frequently in climate change research literature? A bibliometric approach based on reference publication year spectroscopy. Scientometrics, 110(1), 335–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Merton, R. K. (1965). On the shoulders of giants. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Popper, K. R. (1961). The logic of scientific discovery (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rusk, R. D., & Waters, L. E. (2013). Tracing the size, reach, impact, and breadth of positive psychology. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 207–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schui, G., & Krampen, G. (2010). Bibliometric analyses on the emergence and present growth of positive psychology. Applied Psychology. Health and Well-Being, 2(1), 52–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thor, A., Marx, W., Leydesdorff, L., & Bornmann, L. (2016). Introducing CitedReferencesExplorer (CRExplorer): A program for reference publication year spectroscopy with cited references standardization. Journal of Informetrics, 10(2), 503–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wickramasekera, I. I. IE (2014). Early psychological knowledge. History of psychology, 15–42.

  • Wray, K. B., & Bornmann, L. (2015). Philosophy of science viewed through the lense of “referenced publication years spectroscopy” (RPYS). Scientometrics, 102(3), 1987–1996.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mahmoud Najafi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Khademi, R., Najafi, M. Tracing the historical roots of positive psychology by reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS): A scientometrics perspective. Curr Psychol 39, 438–444 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS)
  • Positive psychology
  • Historical roots
  • Scientometrics