Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.
Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.
The Paris Review currently features a beautifully illustrated piece from historian Andrew Scull. In “Madness and Meaning” Scull discusses the many depictions of mental illness – religious, medical, pharmaceutical – produced through history. Read the full piece, and see all the evocative images, online here.
The Time Capsule section of the December 2014 issue of the APA‘s Monitor on Psychology includes an articles on psychologist David Boder’s work with Holocaust survivors. As Victor Colotla and Samuel Jurado describe,
Boder began his research on the victims of the Holocaust when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme commander of the Allied Forces, invited journalists to “come and see for yourselves” the atrocities that the Allied forces were uncovering in the Nazi death camps. Boder brought with him a magnetic wire recorder that had been developed at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he was heading the psychology department. The idea was to record the experiences of displaced persons in their own languages — something Boder hoped he could accomplish without interpreters since he spoke several languages. After a year of preparation and with limited financial support, he made his way to Europe in July 1946.
Boder interviewed 109 men and women, and three children, most of them Jews, while he traveled through camps of displaced persons in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. He asked each person to tell the story of what happened to them during the war. Boder sat giving his back to the interviewees so that they wouldn’t be affected by his facial reactions to their stories.
The New Yorker recently published a piece by Harvard historian Jill Lepore on the roots of wonder woman. Created by psychologist William Marston in the 1940s wonder woman has become something of a feminist cultural icon. (See our previous posts on the subject here.) As Lepore puts it,
Superman débuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. A press release explained, “ ‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.” Marston put it this way: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
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.
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 Brain Observatory at the University of California San Diego, directed by Jacopo Annese, has made available as part of its Digital Brain Library an atlas of H.M.’s brain. H.M., now known to be Henry Molaison, is one of the best known case studies in memory research. Molaison experienced profound amnesia following a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy and was subsequently studied for more than 50 years. Following his death in 2008, Molaison’s brain was donated to science and sectioned into more than 2400 slices (right), a procedure that was aired live on the web (see a previous AHP post on this process here). As described on the site,
In December 2009, Annese and his team at The Brain Observatory dissected H.M.’s brain into 2,401 thin tissue slices that have been preserved cryogenically in serial order. The collection was meant to support the histological examination of the brain and to better understand the neurological basis of human memory function. While the brain was being sliced, we collected an unabridged series of digital images of the surface of the block each corresponding to individual tissue sections. These images were archived and used to create a 3-D model of the whole brain. A regular series of sections through the brain was stained and digitized at a resolution of 0.37 microns per pixel to reveal cellular-level features. These virtual sections, a matching series of anatomically delineated images, and data from postmortem MRI of the specimen were combined into an atlas of patient H.M.’s brain.
The atlas was conceived as a web-accessible resource to support collaboration and retrospective studies.
TheAtlantic has posted an interview with historian William V. Harris, of Columbia University, on mental illness in the Ancient world. Harris is also the author of the edited volume, Mental Disorders in the Classical World. In the Atlantic interview Harris – a specialist on the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds more generally – emphasizes changing conceptions of mental illness over time, as well as early efforts to medicalized mental illness. As he notes,
Many people in antiquity thought that mental disorders came from the gods. The Greek gods are a touchy lot, quick to take offense. For instance, they took a hard line with Orestes after his matricide. [Ed. Note: After killing his mother, Orestes was tormented by the Furies.] And in a world where many important phenomena such as mental illness were not readily explicable, the whims of the gods were the fallback explanation.
Physicians and others fought against this idea from an early date (the 5th century B.C.), giving physiological explanations instead. Many people sought magical/religious remedies—such as going to spend the night in a temple of the healing god Asclepius, in the hope that he would work a cure or tell you how to get cured—[while physicians sought] mainly medical ones. No one thought that it was the duty of the state to care for the insane. Either their families looked after them, or they ended up on the street—a nightmare situation.
For anyone interested in exploring the history of laboratories, instruments, and the material culture of psychology more generally, I have put together the following bibliography. Sources have been organized into the following categories: Laboratories, Instruments, Online Resources, Instrument Collections, and Introductory Material Culture Readings. For the purposes of this bibliography, “material culture” has been interpreted quite broadly. Rather than focus solely on writings narrowly confined to this field, a variety of sources that touch on the history of material objects – especially those related to the history of science – have been included here. Other items included in the bibliography also look at unconventional instruments, including paper tools, tests, and organisms as instruments. A number of reference works, photographic collections, and online resources are also provided. The bibliography is by no means complete and suggested additions are welcome and appreciated. And don’t forget to check out the full list of our bibliographies on our Resources page. Happy reading!
Update: The post now includes a section of sources, provided by Ryan Tweney, on instruments, experiments, and replication. Additional readings suggested by Rodrigo Miranda – including many in French, Portuguese, and Spanish – have also been added, as has a reading suggested by Gabriel Ruiz. Our thanks to them all.
Bibliography: Laboratories, Instruments, and the Material Culture of Psychology
Benjamin, Jr., L. T. (2000). The psychology laboratory at the turn of the 20th century. American Psychologist, 55(3), 318–321. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.3.318
Capshew, J. H. (1992). Psychologists on site: A reconnaissance of the historiography of the laboratory. American Psychologist, 47(2), 132–142. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.47.2.132
Garvey, C. R. (1929). List of American psychology laboratories. Psychological Bulletin, 26, 652-660. doi:10.1037/h0075811
Brooks, J. I. (1993). Philosophy and psychology at the Sorbonne, 1885–1913. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 29(2), 123–145. doi:10.1002/1520-6696(199304)29:2<123::AID-JHBS2300290204>3.0.CO;2-C
Cirino, S. D., Miranda, R. L., & da Cruz, R. N. (2012). The beginnings of behavior analysis laboratories in Brazil: A pedagogical view. History of Psychology, 15(3), 263–272. doi: 10.1037/a0026306
Green, C. D. (2010). Scientific objectivity and E. B. Titchener’s experimental psychology. Isis, 101(4), 697–721. doi:10.1086/657473
Koutstaal, W. (1992). Skirting the abyss: A history of experimental explorations of automatic writing in psychology. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 28(1), 5–27. doi:10.1002/1520-6696(199201)28:1<5::AID-JHBS2300280102>3.0.CO;2-X
A new comic by Stuart McMillen graphically illustrates the history of psychological research into the role of the social environment on drug use. In Rat Park, the second of two comics McMillen has created on illegal drugs, he describes the work of psychologist Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. In Alexander’s Rat Park studies, conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, he explored the significance of the social environment for drug addiction.
Contrary to the prevailing belief that certain classes of drugs are near instantly addictive, Alexander found that environmental conditions largely determine drug use. Although rats housed alone in Skinner boxes would consume large amounts of morphine, those housed in “Rat Park,” a large, stimulating enclosure shared with other rats, did not. This led Alexander to argue that drug addiction is largely a social issue, rather than a physiological one.
Alexander discusses his views on addiction in more detail in a TV Ontario interview with Steve Paikin here. The process of researching, writing, and illustrating Rat Parkis discussed by McMillen in a blog post on his website. A number of photographs of the original Rat Park experiment (right) are also featured in this post.
Columbia University Professor Carl Hart, recently featured in the New York Times, has extended work on the non-physiological determinants of drug use in studies of crack cocaine and methamphetamines with human populations. Like Alexander, Hart has found that addiction does not necessarily follow from the use of illegal drugs. Even for those who do become regular drug users, social and environmental variables can significantly influence use. In his recent book, High Price (left), Hart argues that addicts make rational decisions when it comes to drug use. When given the choice between drugs now or a monetary reward weeks in the future, both meth and crack users chose the cash, provided the sum was large enough (in this case, $20). As Hart, quoted in the New York Times, says: “If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure.” Ultimately, “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats.”