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PsycInfo: APA Thesaurus

Why use the APA Thesaurus?

You can search for documents using one or more of the index terms that represent the subjects of each document.  The index terms are drawn from the APA’s Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, which standardises the words or phrases used to represent concepts, meaning that you do not need to work out which words different authors use to refer to the same concept, such as dysphoria OR melancholia OR depression...

Major and minor controlled terms are assigned to each record in PsycInfo by APA indexers, with a maximum of 15 terms assigned to a record, up to 5 of which can be a 'Major Term'.  Unlike Embase, PsycInfo will not suggest thesaurus terms as you type your search syntax: you must go to the 'APA Thesaurus' in PsycNet, to look for appropriate index term(s).  However, if you can find an appropriate index term you should find relevant documents, regardless of which words the author used.

PsycInfo records include MeSH terms if the document has also been indexed by PubMed (this accounts for approximately 35% of PsycInfo records), but MeSH terms are not mapped to APA Thesaurus terms or vice versa.  A MeSH term in a PsycInfo record is hyperlinked to PubMed, therefore selecting it triggers a PubMed search.

The APA Thesaurus in PsycInfo contains more than 8,400 controlled terms, compared to 30,000 in MeSH (in PubMed) and 60,000 in Emtree (in Embase).

Find a term in the APA Thesaurus

Choose 'APA THESAURUS', enter a word or a phrase, and select the magnifying glass icon to search.  The American spelling of words takes precedence in the thesaurus, e.g. behavioral.

APA Thesaurus search in APA PsycNET

Choose the plus + icon to find out more about a term or select the tick box to search for the records in PsycInfo that have been assigned the term (the current number of records is displayed in the brackets beside the term).

snipping showing how to view or choose an APA Thesaurus term

After selecting the tick box, go to the adjacent query builder ('Selected Terms') and choose 'ADD TO SEARCH'.

Explode an index term

More specific APA Thesaurus terms can be searched for in PsycInfo, if there are any in the thesaurus hierarchy, but this type of search (known as 'explode') does not happen automatically, like it does in Embase or PubMed.

Exploding a thesaurus term in APA PsycNET

To search for a term and all of its 'Narrower Terms', you must select the plus + on the rightIn the example shown above, this will translate to a search for records with the index term Emotional Assessment OR Emotional State Measures OR Motivation Measures, as shown in the snipping below of the query builder ('Selected Terms') in the APA Thesaurus.

Selected Terms in APA PsycNET

Alternatively, you can select Narrower Terms one-by-one, using the tick box beside each. 'Related Terms' (if present in the APA Thesaurus), may closely match your search topic and should also be considered for inclusion in your search.

Focusing a search on major terms

Asterisk preceding Index Term denoting Major Term in APA PsycNET

If an asterisk * has been added in front of an Index Term, it is a 'Major Term' and it is therefore a primary focus of the indexed document.  However, PsycInfo does not provide a means for you to search for major index terms only: if you select a Major Term, PsycInfo will simply run a general search for the Index Term, but it will not limit the results to those in which the Index Term is a Major Term.  If you wish to focus your search on only those records in which a particular Major Term appears, you must either:

  • Select a Major Term in the Index Terms field of a record and screen the results to exclude those where it is a Minor Term.
  • Select the Index Term by using the query builder ('Terms Selected') in the APA Thesaurus and screen the results to exclude those where it is a Minor Term.