Best Practices in Psychobiographical Research


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Abstract

Psychobiography has been a mainstay in psychology since Freud's (1910/1957) influential psychoanalytic profile of the creative genius, Leonardo da Vinci. Recent evidence indicates that interest and momentum in psychobiographical research is on the increase across multiple psychology specialties. However, there has been little in the way of recent methodological and ethical guidelines to direct best practices in psychobiography. This article serves two primary purposes. First, it reviews briefly the history and current status of psychobiography in psychology, and highlights select challenges in conducting psychobiography, namely, reductionism, limits of single theory application, and crossing cultures and time in understanding historical subjects. Second, eight best practices for psychobiographical research centered on methodology are presented and address: the researcher's horizon of understanding; accurate and balanced assessment; specifying the operating research paradigm; theoretical specificity and flexibility; embedding the study in proper socio-cultural–historical context; understanding iteration and triangulation in data collection and analysis; thick description and verisimilitude; and considering alternate explanations during interpretation. An online supplement to this article presents additional best practices in the area of ethics and preparing psychobiographies for publication in a variety of outlets.

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