The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States. The APA is based in Washington, DC and had more than 117,000 members in 2017.1 Membership in the APA is not limited to scientists or clinicians; it also includes educators and psychology students.
Functions of the American Psychological Association
So, what role does the American Psychological Association serve? How does the APA contribute to the field of psychology? The APA actually functions in a number of different ways.
Advancing and Promoting Psychology
One of the main roles that the APA plays is to help further psychology as a science. From the APA’s official mission statement:
“The mission of the APA is to advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.”2
Regulating Official Titles
The APA also regulates the use of the word “psychologist” as a professional title.3 In order to be called a psychologist by the APA’s definition, the individual must “…have a doctoral degree in psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school.”
Publishing the Official Style Manual
The American Psychological Association also established APA Style, a set of rules designed to aid in the communication of information in the social sciences.4 APA style is used in psychology as well as other sciences including sociology and education.
All of these writing rules can be found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, which details how to organize professional journal articles, how to cite sources and how to list references.
History of the American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association was established in July 1892 at Clark University. During its first year, the APA had 31 members and G. Stanley Hall served as the organization’s first president. Today, the APA is composed of 54 distinct divisions that each focus on a sub-discipline or topic within psychology, such as educational psychology (Division 15) and behavior analysis (Division 25).5
Some of the past presidents of the American Psychological Association include some of psychology’s most famous thinkers, including:6
- William James, 1894 and 1904
- James McKeen Cattell, 1895
- James Mark Baldwin, 1897
- Hugo Munsterberg, 1898
- John Dewey, 1899
- Mary Whiton Calkins, 1905
- Edward Thorndike, 1912
- Clark L. Hull, 1936
- Carl Rogers, 1947
- Harry Harlow, 1958
- Abraham Maslow, 1968
- Albert Bandura, 1974
- Philip Zimbardo, 2002
- Robert Sternberg, 2003
It is important to note that the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both share the acronym APA. The American Psychological Association is bigger in terms of membership, while the American Psychiatric Association is the publisher of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The APA (American Psychological Association) has played an important role in the history of psychology and will continue to have an important influence on the future direction of psychological research in the future.
American Psychological Association. By the numbers: APA at its 125th anniversary. Updated May 2017.
Kreutzer JS, DeLuca J, Caplan B. Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. New York: Springer; 2011.
American Psychological Association. About APA. Chapter IX. Educational affairs. Updated 2020.
American Psychological Association. About APA style. Updated 2020.
American Psychological Association. APA divisions. Updated 2020.
American Psychological Association. About APA. Former APA presidents. Updated 2020.