Category Archives: General

June Talks – BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

The British Psychological Society’History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next two talks as part of the BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On Monday June  16th Graham Richards will be speaking on Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. Two weeks later Sarah Chaney (right) will be speaking on ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. Full details, including abstracts, follow below.

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Monday 16 June: Dr Graham Richards (UCL), Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. The abstract reads,

This presentation explores the psychological aspects of the debates around Creationism. It explores the psychological character of the ‘Argument from Design’ and how this has changed over time from Ray, via Paley to current Intelligent Design theorists, the underlying motivations of Creationists, and the relevance to these debates of Paul Tillich’s discussion of ‘types of anxiety,’ and the history of ‘literal’ biblical fundamentalism. It signposts how psychology has the potential to illuminate the Creationism/Intelligent Design issue in ways which might break what is currently a log-jam of ritualised argument and counter-argument.

Monday 30 June: Dr Sarah Chaney (UCL), ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. The abstract reads,

This paper explores the emergence of self-harm as a specific category of abnormal individual behaviour in the second half of the 19th century, when ‘self-mutilation’ was defined within asylum psychiatry. I will briefly explain the background of the asylum system and psychiatric profession in Western Europe and the USA in this period, and describe how ‘self- mutilation’ emerged from the interest clinicians had in classifying and defining ‘insane’ behaviour. In particular, this was associated with the widespread publicity given to the increasing decision to regard suicidal acts as evidence of mental illness. While it is often assumed today that Victorian writers made no distinction between suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury, I argue that this was not the case. Psychiatrists in the 19th century frequently claimed that self-mutilation was not carried out for suicidal reasons, although they differed in their method of applying alternative meaning to such acts.

Finally, I will explore why it was that this distinction was made in this particular period, and what led psychiatrists to draw parallels between different kinds of self-inflicted injury to create a universal category. The concept of self-harm today is often used to refer to an act of injury; this application, I argue, emerged from late 19th-century asylum psychiatry. While people had certainly harmed themselves in a variety of ways prior to this period, the late 19th century was the first time these diverse acts – from skin-picking to amputation – became regarded as equivalent behaviours. Combining them under the umbrella term ‘self-mutilation’ prompted the idea that some form of universal meaning might also be discoverable. Self-harm became viewed as an act that had meaning beyond the physical nature of any wounds inflicted or the immediate sensations caused; an act that revealed something of the character of an individual; and, in addition, an act that might help to explain the relationship between individual and society.

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Who Was Little Albert? The Story Continues…

Little Albert and a rat.
Little Albert and a rat. Source: http://hopkins. typepad.com/guest/images/2007/11/03/tanya8.jpg

For generations, psychology students have been asking the question, “Whatever happened to Little Albert?”, the baby who John B Watson and Rosalie Rayner conditioned to fear furry things back in 1919. Five years ago, it seemed that the question had finally been answered when Hall Beck of Appalachian State University in North Carolina and his colleagues published the results of some intensive archive-snooping. They declared that “Albert B.” (as the baby was called in the original report) had actually been Douglas Merritte, a child who died of hydrocephaly just a few years after the experiment. Now, however, two psychologists in Alberta are disputing that claim, and The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published an article on the matter. Continue reading

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Now Available: The Psychology Book

A new book by Wade Pickren, editor of History of Psychology, is now available. The Psychology Book profiles 250 milestone in the history of psychology and features a foreword by Philip Zimbardo. The book is described as follows,

What could be more fascinating than the workings of the human mind? This stunningly illustrated survey in Sterling’s Milestones series chronicles the history of psychology through 250 landmark events, theories, publications, experiments, and discoveries. Beginning with ancient philosophies of well-being, it touches on such controversial topics as phrenology, sexual taboos, electroshock therapy, multiple personality disorder, and the nature of evil.

A perfect book for every psychologist’s coffee table!

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Recent Book: The Psychology of Personhood

AHP readers may be interested to know about the recently published book, The Psychology of Personhood: Philosophical, Historical, Social-Developmental, and Narrative Perspectives, edited by Jack Martin and Mark H. Bickhard.

As described by the book’s title, the included essays cover a range of aspects, and are meant to provide “both an introduction to the psychology of personhood, and an invitation to participate in it” (p. 16). Of particular interest to AHP readers is the “Historical Perspectives” section, including essays by Kurt Danziger, Jeff Sugarman, and James T. Lamiell. With topics from ‘critical personalism’, to ‘historical ontology’, to ‘identity and narrative’, this collection of essays will please historians, theorists, and those in between who have any interest in a psychology of persons that is neither fixated on traits nor statistical methods.

Now available on Amazon.

 

 

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Slate: Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient

Slate Magazine has just published a piece on infamous brain damage survivor Phineas Gage. To tell the story of Gage and his continuing importance in the history of psychology the article draws heavily on the work of Malcolm Macmillan. As the Slate article recounts,

Most of us first encountered Gage in a neuroscience or psychology course, and the lesson of his story was both straightforward and stark: The frontal lobes house our highest faculties; they’re the essence of our humanity, the physical incarnation of our highest cognitive powers. So when Gage’s frontal lobes got pulped, he transformed from a clean-cut, virtuous foreman into a dirty, scary, sociopathic drifter. Simple as that. This story has had a huge influence on the scientific and popular understanding of the brain. Most uncomfortably, it implies that whenever people suffer grave damage to the frontal lobes—as soldiers might, or victims of strokes or Alzheimer’s disease—something essentially human can vanish.

Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication. In truth each generation seems to remake Gage in its own image, and we know very few hard facts about his post-accident life and behavior. Some scientists now even argue that, far from turning toward the dark side, Gage recovered after his accident and resumed something like a normal life—a possibility that, if true, could transform our understanding of the brain’s ability to heal itself.

The full article can be read online here and Macmillan’s website on Gage can now be found hosted on the Center for the History of Psychology site.

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Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part III

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Read Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists: Part I, here & Part II, here.

Conclusion: reform movement & research discussion

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, eminent social sciences educator in Chicago

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, PhD 1901

Along with those in the social services, much of the work done by individuals identified in the previous post as employed in academia can also be classified as fitting within the reform movement: Matilde Castro was director of the Phebe Anna Thorne Open-Air Model preparatory school at Bryn Mawr; in Chicago, Sophonisba Preston Breckenridge, with her 1913 entry reporting the official position “Assistant Dean of Women,” at the University, was also heading research for the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy; Edith Abbott is listed in this year as its Associate Director.

Here again we confront the fact that there are significant limitations to, as well as advantages of, sticking exclusively to the alumni directories in our analyses.    A priority for this project was to explore the possibilities and test the viability of employing primary sources like the directories in collective biography—and while they allowed for a level of precision, they also left our analysis vulnerable to the vagaries of those editors who originally organized the information. The organizational changes made in the 1919 directory render it a considerably less ‘rich’ source than the previous two. Unlike them, it did not organize alumni by their disciplines, or even include the students’ departments in their listings, but instead simply arranged the entire school alphabetically. This factor prevented us from being able to include a third, post-1913 generation in our prosopographical analysis as we could not ascertain from the directory alone who was a social scientist. It also confounded implicit expectations that the information provided would get better over time as the school became better established.

But even taken together as a set, the arbitrariness of the selected years and content can potentially create a historical picture that is inaccurate or misleading, and the integration of information from other sources is necessary for prosopographical purposes. To illustrate, we know from external sources that Breckinridge and Abbott would go on to spearhead the merger of the School of Civics and Philanthropy with the University to become its School of Social Service Administration (Davis, 1984; Muncy, 1991). While the directories can provide an unparalleled opportunity to track the early careers of this cohort, they function best in conjunction with biographical sources to more thoroughly map out the professional trajectories as they developed over a longer period of time. The Breckinridge-Abbott partnership would become highly influential; it can be fairly stated that the many collaborative endeavours over their extensive careers helped lay the theoretical and methodological foundations for the social work industry as it would come to be practiced (Muncy, 1991). Another, lesser known example of a reform oriented career that develops after our alumni directory timeline is that of Elizabeth Laetitia Moon Conard, who after instructing at Grinnell College at the time of the directories, was proactive in Iowa, forming a women’s voting league, advocating for children in poverty, promoting the progressivist party and eventually running for governor on the socialist ticket (Hyman Alonso, 1997).

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New BBC4 Series on Intelligence

BBC Radio 4 begins a new series today on the fraught topic of intelligence. The focus of each of its three half-hour episodes is given by the series title: “Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different.” The series is hosted by BBC4 science regular, Adam Rutherford. It will cover questions such as what intelligence is, how we have tried to measure it, what difference intelligence makes, and, most controversial of all, what relation intelligence may have to genetics.

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Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part II

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Read Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part I, here.

Employment: Academic & Social Services

The self-identified locations of the first cohort of Chicago-trained female social scientists during the years of the alumni directories show that whether or not it was their place of origin, the East Coast was, not surprisingly, where the majority would end up working. This was particularly the case for the early generation in the cohort (pre-1906).

The following three maps illustrate the locations for the pre-1906 generation as identified in the three directories (1906, 1913, 1919):

Employment for pre-1906 group in 1906

Employment locations of pre-1906 gen from the 1906 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

Employment of pre-1906 group from 1913 alumni directory

Employment of pre-1906 gen from the 1913 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

Employment of the pre-1906 group from the 1919 alumni directory. Click image to enlarge.

Employment of the pre-1906 gen from the 1919 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

The pre-1906 individuals move around quite a bit, but as can be seen, the general layout is strikingly similar, with the majority clustered in the North and Mid- East Coast, a contingent in Chicago, and a few scattered in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and California.

Compare that consistency with these following two maps for the post-1906 generation: Continue reading

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History of Psych on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 is starting a new series on the history of psychology Monday. It is hosted by Martin Sixsmith and it is called “In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind.” I don’t know anything else yet, except that you will be able to download it here.

Update: The series will include the following 5 episodes – Jacy Young.

High Anxieties
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Monday 21 April 2014

Psychology is as old as the human race. People have always sought to understand what makes us think, feel and act the way we do.

In Episode 1, Martin examines the government’s plan for a national ‘happiness index’ and traces our search for ourselves back to the ancients.

The term ‘psychology’ was first used in about 1600 and means, literally, ‘study of the soul’. But it was only in the late 19th century that psychology emerged as a separate science. Today it draws on the intellectual legacy of philosophy, physiology and, increasingly, neurobiology and social science.

The author and broadcaster Martin Sixsmith retrained as a psychologist in the last decade, following careers as a BBC correspondent and government adviser. Martin’s experience both studying applied psychology and as a recipient of therapy reflects the growing acceptance of psychological counselling in Britain and the lessening of the stigma attached to mental illness. There has been a growth of interest in the therapeutic aspects of psychology, but many of us still have a frustratingly incomplete knowledge of its history, techniques and broader applications.

This series taps into a defining aspect of modern existence and addresses the widespread desire to know more, charting the path from today’s democratisation of psychological care back to early beliefs, the birth of modern experimental psychology, the related ‘psy professions’ – psychiatry and psychotherapy – and the splits and controversies of the 20th century.

The Freudian Age
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Tuesday 22 April 2014

In Episode 2, Martin traces a line from current government interest in ‘talking cures’ back to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, visiting Freud’s private apartments and also Europe’s oldest mental asylum, the Narrenturm – literally, the Tower of Fools – in Vienna.

It’s All about Sex
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 23 April 2014

Freud’s development of a new psychological science, psychoanalysis, provoked controversy because of his focus on sexuality.

In episode 3, Martin examines Freud’s legacy, with audio archive of his one-time colleague then rival Carl Gustav Jung, his daughter Anna Freud and a new interview with Christopher Hampton, author of the play ‘The Talking Cure’.

Pavlov’s Bell
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 24 April 2014

Starting with the ‘conditioned reflex’ that the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously identified while studying dogs, Martin explores the development of a significant alternative to the Freudian way of thinking, ‘behaviourism’ – including recordings of the controversial American psychologist BF Skinner and an interview with his daughter Deborah, who as a child was the subject of her father’s close scientific observations.

Talking Cures?
Duration: 15 minutes

Martin considers some of the therapies that combined the psychoanalytic principles of Freud and Jung with the behaviour modifying techniques of the mid-Twentieth Century’s other significant psychological movement ‘behaviourism’.

With reference to the ‘Gloria’ tapes that featured the same patient being treated by three different ‘talking cures’ – Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, Fritz Perls’s Gestalt Therapy and Carl Rogers’s Person Centred Therapy.

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New Book: History of Psychology 101

As part of Springer’s Psych 101 series psychologist David Devonis, of Graceland University, has authored History of Psychology 101. As described on the publisher’s website,

Spanning the modern development of psychological science and practice-the era most relevant to today’s psychologists-this concise overview of psychology’s history focuses on how the field has striven to make a positive impact on society and the individuals within it. It not only examines, decade by decade, the key developments in psychology, but goes beyond the usual “schools and systems” approach to illuminate not just how psychological theories developed but how they have been applied and practiced. The text is unique in its focus on connecting the historical development of psychology to present concerns in the field, thus making the information more relevant to today’s student.

Woven throughout the book is thread of optimism regarding the value of psychological ideas for the betterment of humanity. The book considers how psychology has informed-and been influenced by-social and cultural concerns of the past century. Each chapter highlights a theme that typified the science and practice of psychology in a particular era, along with a “historical centerpiece,” an examination of an exemplary psychologist or psychological work that typified the field’s development during that time period.

Key Features:

Presents a concise, accessible overview of the modern history of psychology

Goes beyond the usual “schools and systems” approach to focus on how psychological theories were developed, applied, and practiced

Demonstrates how the field of psychology has endeavored to make a positive impact on society and individuals

Focuses on making historical information relevant to psychological practice today

Embeds psychology in the social and cultural milieu of each era

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