Youth Participation in Psychological Literature: A Semantic Analysis of Scholarly Publications in the PsycInfo Database

Iana Tzankova, Elvira Cicognani


The topic of youth participation in the public sphere has received increasing attention within recent psychological research. The literature remains somewhat fragmented between different conceptualizations varying in their specificity or broadness. The present study aims to map the current state of debate in psychology regarding youth civic and political participation and to identify the prevalent themes that characterize the research in the discipline from 1990 to 2016. A semantic content analysis with the software T-Lab was performed on a corpus of 1,777 publications retrieved from the PsycInfo database. The results highlight the increasing number of academic contributions on the topic, confirming the growing importance of the issue within psychology. The study sheds light on the spheres of participation, in which the discipline has attempted to make a contribution, namely: traditional and online political context, institutional civic education, adolescent development, and rights-based activism. Moreover, the findings reveal the existing opposing priorities of research that focus either on the explanation of specific forms of involvement or on the formation of future citizens. Within the thematic attention to young people’s civic and political development, there seem to be two general approaches that see youth in divergent ways: as citizens whose civic capacities are to be fostered or as targets for top-down training interventions. This systematic thematic review calls attention to the disparate ways in which youth participation is being addressed in psychology and highlights the need for greater theoretical integration in the field of study.


youth; political participation; civic engagement; activism; psychology; semantic content analysis

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