A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to adorn their coffee table. Psychobookis a lavishly illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.
“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.
As we recently reported on AHP a new book on the infamous case study of H.M. has subjected this work to increasing scrutiny, especially with respect to the actions of psychologist Suzanne Corkin, chief H.M. researcher who also served as gatekeeper of other researchers’ access to H.M. Corkin died in May of this year, while H.M. (now known to be Henry Molaison) died in 2008.
Backlash against Luke Dittrich and his book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, has been growing since a lengthy piece adapted from the book appeared in the New York Times Magazine last week. (Further pieces on Dittrich’s book can be found on Psychology Today and the NYTMag’s Science of Us, among many other sources.) Particularly controversial have been three points: (1) reports that Corkin destroyed the records related to H.M.; (2) claims that Corkin suppressed reports of an additional lesion in H.M.’s brain; and (3) questions regarding the appropriateness of appointing a a non-relative as H.M.’s conservator.
Dr. James DiCarlo, head of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has written a letter to the New York Times disputing these claims. Additionally, reports are circulating that a group of roughly 200 neuroscientists have written to the Times claiming that Dittrich’s work “contains important errors, misinterpretations of scientific disputes, and unfair characterizations of an MIT neuroscientist who did groundbreaking research on human memory” (from here; also see here and here for more). The letter signed by this group can be read in full here.
In response to DiCarlo’s claims Dittrich has written a post for Medium outlining his position and evidence regarding each claim. Included in Dittrich’s post is a 7-minute audio clip from an interview he conducted with Corkin wherein she can be heard asserting that records concerning H.M. were destroyed. The audio can be heard here.
Sabine Arnaud‘s new book explores a history of discursive practices that played a role in the construction of hysteria as pathology. On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820(University of Chicago Press, 2015) considers a wide range of issues that are both specific to the particular history of hysteria, and more broadly applicable to the history medicine. Arnaud pays special attention to the role played by language in the definition of any medical category, basing her analysis on a masterful analysis of a spectrum of written medical genres (including dialogue, autobiography, correspondence, narrative, and polemic) that have largely been forgotten by the history of medicine. Arnaud asks, “What made it possible to view dozens of different diagnoses as variants of a single pathology, hysteria?” The answer can be found in a long process of rewriting and negotiation over the definition of these diagnoses enabled this retrospective assimilation, which was driven by enormously diverse political and epistemological stakes. In a series of fascinating chapters, the book interweaves the history of hysteria with studies of gender, class, literature, metaphor, narrative, and and religion. It’s an expertly-researched and compellingly-written account that will amply reward readers interested in the histories of medicine and gender.
Rebecca Lemov‘s beautifully written Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity (Yale University Press, 2015) is at once an exploration of mid-century social science through paths less traveled and the tale of a forgotten future. The book is anchored around the story of Harvard-trained social scientist Bert Kaplan, who embarked on, in her words, a dizzyingly ambitious 1950s-era project to capture peoples dreams in large amounts and store them in an experimental data bank. While unique in scope, Kaplan’s project can be characterized as the culmination of efforts to apply techniques of personality capture–projective testing, dream analysis, and life history–in cross-cultural research on indigenous peoples, an effort to account for the full spectrum of human life amidst the encroachment of modernity upon cultures based, for example, in oral traditions.
Richly documenting the entanglements of Kaplan and others in their attempts to render subjects as data, Lemov throws the transactional nature of anthropology into relief. A data point for an ethnographer can be many things for a research subject: cash for buying American niceties, a beer, a dream lost in the act of recounting, even a permanent mark of distrust. The book is also a history of a technology which never came to fruition: the futuristic reader for Kaplan’s Microcards was never realized, and the boxes of cards became dispersed and lost their value as a total archive of human personality. Lemov argues that we would do well to regard the fate of Kaplan’s database as a parable for our age by calling attention to the information loss upon which the technologies of documentation that saturate our present rely. What, then, will become of our compressed audio files, forgotten social media accounts, and backup hard drives stashed in the back corners of drawers?
the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.
Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.
In acknowledgment of the book’s exceptional contributions to our understanding of Adolf Meyer and the field he singularly shaped, Cheiron awards the 2016 Book Prize to Susan D. Lamb (U. Ottawa) for Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2014.
After becoming the first psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Meyer devoted himself over the next five decades to the scientific acceptance of psychiatry as a methodologically sound specialty of medicine. Although historians of psychiatry have recognized Meyer as a founding father, many of his ideas were not well understood, and his highly influential impact on psychiatry has been partially shrouded in mystery. Having gained access to previously sealed patient records as well as Meyer’s personal correspondence, and having offered such a careful and thoughtful analysis of these precious archival materials, Lamb provides historians of the behavioral and social sciences with a coveted window into Meyer’s thinking and decision making.
Pathologist of the Mind clarifies Meyerian notions of psychobiology, psychotherapy, and evolutionary theory (among others) and places this important figure, as well as the hospital and area of specialty to which he was dedicated, into historical context. In impressively detailed fashion, the book brings the man and the era to life.
Our congratulations to Dr. Lamb! Find out more about her work here.
Way back in the Spring of 2013 we brought you news that author Andromeda Romano-Lax was working on a fictionalized account of the life of psychologist Rosalie Rayner Watson. That book, now titled Behave, has just been published by SoHo Press. A trailer for the book is featured above and a recent Kirkus review of Behave can be found here.
The book is described on the publishers website:
“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.” Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.
In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs — and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”
With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.
This book represents the first attempt to historicise and theorise appeals for ‘relevance’ in psychology. It argues that the persistence of questions about the ‘relevance’ of psychology derives from the discipline’s terminal inability to define its subject matter, its reliance on a socially disinterested science to underwrite its knowledge claims, and its consequent failure to address itself to the needs of a rapidly changing world.
The chapters go on to consider the ‘relevance’ debate within South African psychology, by critically analysing discourse of forty-five presidential, keynote and opening addresses delivered at annual national psychology congresses between 1950 and 2011, and observes how appeals for ‘relevance’ were advanced by reactionary, progressive and radical psychologists alike.
The book presents, moreover, the provocative thesis that the revolutionary quest for ‘social relevance’ that began in the 1960s has been supplanted by an ethic of ‘market relevance’ that threatens to isolate the discipline still further from the anxieties of broader society. With powerful interest groups continuing to co-opt psychologists without relent, this is a development that only psychologists of conscience can arrest.
Schizophrenia was 20th century psychiatry’s arch concept of madness. Yet for most of this period, schizophrenia was both problematic and contentious. This new history explores changes in the concept of schizophrenia across the 20th century. It provides a broad map of the concept’s mutating symptoms, fluctuating subtypes, social uses, and changing definitions.
This research reveals and cites a long tradition of critical unease towards schizophrenia – by numerous mainstream psychiatrists, psychologists, and schizophrenia authorities. This critical stance is shown to have existed in addition to complaints by so-called anti-psychiatrists (also documented). The book therefore explains how and why North American Psychiatry eventually sought to stabilize its disease concept at an institutional level – through the use of operational definitions in its DSM series.
Among its many remarkable offerings, the research unearths accounts of children being experimentally kept on LSD for over one year, and demonstrates that the stigmatising idea of schizophrenia as a split personality actually stems from Swiss Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler – the concept’s creator. But its principle aim is to serve as a useful introduction to schizophrenia that guides the reader through a complex history of rejection, negotiation, and transformation, in this most contested of 20th century concepts.
This historical contribution to our understanding of schizophrenia draws extensively on primary sources from the schizophrenia literature, and builds on the research of recent historians of psychiatry and related disciplines.