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.”
Over the course of the summer months, the Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives in New York have been uploading images from their collection into two new online databases: one for internal users and one that is open to the public. The public database, a part of the Shared Shelf Commons, can be searched directly by selecting “Cornell: New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell” from the drop-down menu. The online collection features both drawings and photographs and includes building interiors and exteriors, staff, and events from the New York Hospital buildings, the Bloomingdale Asylum (later Hospital), the House of Relief, the Lying-in Hospital, the Medical School, and the Nursing School (for background on these institutions, click here). The earliest images date into the late 1700s, with photographs beginning in the late 1800s and running well into the 1970s.
AHP readers may be interested to know that much of the Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives’ print collection is also available digitally via the ever-growing archive.org site. This material includes:
This June, following a successful Cheiron meeting in Dallas, Texas two of AHP’s bloggers (Jacy Young and Jennifer Bazar, the latter also of FieldNotes) along with Kelli Vaughn-Johnson traveled to Robbers Cave State Park in Southeast Oklahoma. Our goal was to track down the Boy Scouts camp used as the site of the now infamous 1954 Robbers Cave experiment and see what remains nearly 60 years later.
In the summer of 1954 psychologist Muzafer Sherif, along with a group of research assistants posing as camp personnel, brought a group of twenty-two eleven and twelve year old boys to Camp Tom Hale in Robbers Cave State Park. The goal of this study, like the two conducted before it in Connecticut and New York State, was to induce and observe intergroup conflict and cooperation. To do so, Sherif and his colleagues instituted a three stage plan. In stage one, the boys were split into two groups (eventually known as the Eagles and the Rattlers) and encouraged to form strong in-groups. Stage two involved initiating competition between the groups through a tournament that saw the the Eagles and Rattlers compete in activities such as baseball and tug-o-war (not to mention various acts of sabotage by the researchers). Once the groups were sufficiently hostile toward each other (coming to refer to those in the other group as “stinkers,” “braggers,” and “sissies,”) the third and final stage was initiated. The aim of this stage was to reduce conflict between the groups. This was done by introducing superordinate goals, which could only be achieved if both groups worked together. These goals included restoring the water supply to the camp and moving the broken down camp truck.
Although conducted on a relatively small scale, Sherif intended the study to have far reaching consequences. It is was his hope that in experimentally inducing both intergroup conflict and cooperation a better understanding of the roots of prejudice and discrimination would be achieved and, more importantly, that insight into ameliorating both would result. Conducted in the post-war era, the Robbers Cave study was an attempt to put psychology to work in the service of world peace. You can read the full account of the study in Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment by Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, and Carolyn W. Sherif.
On the day we visited Robbers Cave the temperature was – as our luck would have it – just shy of a thousand degrees. Despite the heat, we perserved in our goal of tracking down what remained of the 1954 camp, using Sherif’s map of the experiment site (below, numbers in red our addition) as our guide. To be fair, this undertaking it not completely original. In 2012 Gene Perry and Gina Perry (no relation), traveled to Robbers Cave for much the same purpose (you can read an account of that trip here). Unfortunately, according to our reconstruction of the site, the one cabin featured in their story was not in fact used as part of Sherif’s Robbers Cave study.
After hiking up and around Robbers Cave itself (1), and visiting the Stone Corral (2), we made our way past a parking lot and through a field to explore a series of buildings. Although the campsite was occupied, the family renting it out was nice enough to allow us to poke around a bit as we tried to reconstruct the layout of 1954 campsite. Below, numbered to correspond with Sherif’s map, are the buildings and locations we were able to identify. Where possible we’ve paired photographs from the original study with images of the camp today. By far our favourite pairing is the Rattler cabin past and present (4), where the stone facade from 1954 clearly matches that of the cabin as it stands today (although the windows appear to have been changed over the years). Altogether we were able to track down nine locations, including both the Eagle (7) and Rattler cabins, as well as the dock (8) and dam (9). Not wanting to travel too far off the beaten path, and more than a little warm by this point, we skipped venturing past Robbers Cave in search of the Water Tank, Pump House, and Reservoir. During our hunt we saw no sign of the Upper Camp or Athletic Field, but were admittedly overheated and slightly cranky by the end so did not put as much effort into this search as we might have otherwise. The lure of an air conditioned car was strong. On the plus side, we have a great excuse for planning a return trip one day – just preferably at a cooler time of year.
In 1954 at a small national park in rural Oklahoma, Turkish-American psychologist Muzafer Sherif brought two groups of 11-year-old boys to a summer camp. The boys, from Oklahoma city, arrived at the camp excited at the prospect of three weeks outdoors. What they didn’t know and what they were never told was that their behaviour over the next three weeks would be studied, analysed, discussed and used in theories about war, interracial conflict and prejudice for generations to come.
Almost 60 years since it was conducted, it’s still cited in psychology textbooks today. But what’s less well known is that the Robbers Cave was Sherif’s third attempt to generate peace between warring groups. The earlier studies were the 1949 ‘Happy Valley Camp’ study in Connecticut, and the second was his 1953 ‘Camp Talualac’ study.
‘Inside the Robbers Cave’ tells the story of two of the three studies. Producer Gina Perry’s research unearths a tale of drama, failure, mutiny and intrigue that has been overlooked in official accounts of Sherif’s research.
The program features original archival audio from recordings made during 1953 and 1954.
The program Inside Robbers Cave can be heard online here. Perry also discusses her research for the project on her blog here.
Those interested in the history of psychology in France will find the websites created by Serge Nicholas (left), dedicated to prominent early French psychologists, invaluable resources. Together with Bernard Andrieu, Nicholas has put together a website dedicated to the life and work of Alfred Binet. Although best known for his development of the intelligence test, Binet conducted research in a number of other areas. The diversity of this research is well represented on the Alfred Binet (1857-1911) website, which in addition to featuring a biography of Binet and wonderful photographs of Binet and his family, features a complete bibliography of Binet’s works with links to full text versions of most of these publications.
Nicholas has also created similar sites for French psychologists Benjamin Bourdon (together with Christophe Quaireau), Pierre Janet (together with Isabelle Saillot), and Victor Henri, one of Binet’s best known collaborators. A further site on Théodule Ribot appears to be under development. Visit these sites now to learn more about late-nineteenth and early twentieth century French psychology!