Category Archives: Interview

New Books in STS Interview: Jamie Cohen-Cole on The Open Mind

Historian Jamie Cohen-Cole (left), author of the recent book The Open Mind:  Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature, has been interviewed by New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network. As the site describes,

Jamie Cohen-Cole’s new book explores the emergence of a discourse of creativity, interdisciplinarity, and the “open mind” in the context of Cold War American politics, education, and society. The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature (University of Chicago Press, 2014) considers how open-mindedness took on a political role (as a model of citizenship contrasted with that of totalitarian states), an academic role (as a model of a scientist or thinker), and a broader role as a model of human nature in the mid-late twentieth century. Cohen-Cole’s book not only offers a fascinating glimpse into the development of mid-century psychology and cognitive science, but also shows the deep connections among what was happening in what might otherwise be considered separate social and political spaces that include laboratories, classrooms, cocktail parties, conferences, academic departments, and various physical and textual loci of political and social engagement. It is exceptionally clear in its narrative structure, prose style, and argument, and it offers a fresh perspective on how we understand the co-creation of science and society in Cold War America.

Listen to the full interview here.

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Interview with Marga Vicedo on The Nature and Nurture of Love

AHP is pleased to present an interview with historian of science Marga Vicedo on her recent book The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War AmericaThe full interview follows below. Many thanks to Marga for agreeing to be interviewed!

AHP: As a historian and philosopher of biology how did you first become interested in the various ways we’ve conceptualized human instincts and the nature of love?

I have always been interested in understanding our views on human nature because those views inform our ideas about how to lead a moral life. How should I act? What should I do in order to be a good person and have a life worth living? Those seem to me the most fundamental questions we all confront in our lives. The more we understand who we are, the better we will be able to answer those questions. Thus, very early in my philosophical and historical studies I wanted to explore what biology and psychology have to say about human nature.

A central debate in those fields focuses on how much and in what ways our biological constitution influences our mental and emotional makeup. Scientists have used different concepts over time: instincts, innate drives, evolutionary stable strategies, human nature, genetic makeup, … but the question is basically the same: how much does biology shape the way we think, feel, and act? The answer to that question is central for explaining human behavior in psychology and biology. In addition, it also informs our ideas about biological or environmental determinism, standards of normality, conceptions of ethics, and views about individual and social responsibility. Trying to understand all those fundamental issues and their interrelations is what led me to focus on instincts.

One striking feature of the discourse on instincts is the profound “gendering” of some behaviors and emotions. Although the search for instincts aims to locate those characteristics that are part of all human beings, many scientists claimed that human nature came in two forms: male and female. Aggession became the defining instinct for males. And the maternal instinct became the defining characteristic of women’s nature. But how did love become “gendered”? How can we differentiate maternal and parental love? And how did we come to think that maternal love is fundamental to the emotional development of a child?

In this book, I explore ideas about mother love in the United States from World War II until the 1970s. My central claim is that during that period prominent researchers from various fields of study established the view that emotions are an integral part of the self and that mother love determines an individual’s emotional development. One theory in particular played a key role in the establishment and permanence of those views: John Bowlby’s ethological theory of attachment behavior. This was not the only theory that put forth maternal care and love as the cradle of the emotional self, but it has become the most enduring and successful one. My book tries to explain why.

AHP: What were some of the factors that supported the post-WWII move toward envisioning maternal love as a biological instinct? Continue reading

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New Books in STS Interview with Michael Pettit on The Science of Deception

New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Michael Pettit (left) on his recent book The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America. (For previous AHP posts on The Science of Deception see here and here.) As New Books in STS describes,

Parapsychology. You may have heard of it. You know, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis. Spoon-bending and that sort of thing. If you have heard of it, you probably think of it as a pseudoscience. And indeed it is. But it wasn’t always so. There was a time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when practitioners and advocates of parapsychology abounded. William James, one of the very founders of modern psychological science, was a fan. Most of the founders of modern psychology, of course, weren’t fans. They considered the parapsychologists frauds peddling cheap tricks to gullible people. These con-men, they said, gave true psychological science a bad name. There was only one thing to do: unmask them.

As Michael Pettit shows in his fascinating book The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013), that is precisely what the scientific psychologists did, or at least tried to do. They worked hard to create a firm boundary between their legitimate practice and what they considered illegitimate trickery. In so doing, they developed a science of deception, one that had far reaching implications for science, the law, and commerce in the United States.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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The Atlantic: Diagnosing Mental Illness in Ancient Greece and Rome

The Atlantic 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 WorldIn 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.

The full interview can be read online here.

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New Books in STS Interview with Gabriel Finkelstein on Emil du Bois-Reymond

New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Gabriel Finkelstein on his recent book Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. As described on the New Books in STS website,

Finkelstein considers how someone so famous and so important could end up so forgotten, and he does a masterful job in rectifying that situation. The book traces du Bois-Reymond’s life and work, from a childhood in Berlin, to an early life and schooling in Bonn, and then back to Berlin and beyond in the course of a mature career in laboratories and lecture halls. We meet the scientist as teacher, as writer, and as public and university intellectual, and follow his transformation from Romantic to Lucretian and his dual existence as simultaneously staunch individual and product of his class and culture. The chapters are beautifully written, and range from exploring diary pages and love letters to laboratory equipment, with stopovers to consider frog pistols and hopping dances of joy along the way. Whether du Bois-Reymond was accepting the advice of his friends (as offered above) or avoiding his underwear-proffering mother-in-law (of which you’ll hear more in the conversation), he emerges here as not just an important historical figure, but also a fascinating person who’s a joy to read about.

The full interview can be found online here.

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Interview: Marga Vicedo on The Nature and Nurture of Love

The podcast series, New Books in Science, Technology, and Society (part of the New Books Network), has just released a new episode featuring an interview with Marga Vicedo on her recent book, The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America (previously on AHP here). In the interview Vicedo, a professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, discusses her work with host Carla Nappi. As described on the podcast website,

Between WWII and the 1970s, prominent researchers from various fields established and defended a view that emotions are integral to the self, and that a mother’s love determines an individual’s emotional development. In Marga Vicedo, The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Marga Vicedo explores the emergence of the science of children’s emotional needs in the twentieth century. Masterfully bringing together approaches from the history and philosophy of the biological sciences, Vicedo’s book focuses on British psychoanalyst and psychiatrist John Bowlby (1907-1990), whose ethological work became one of the most influential and controversial psychological theories of the 20th century. Vicedo uses the story of Bowlby’s science to explore a broader modern history of work on animal and human behavior that includes Konrad Lorenz, Anna Freud, Benjamin Spock, and Niko Tinbergen, among others. Along the way, The Nature & Nurture of Love chronicles the emergence of a kind of anthropomorphic material culture of the human sciences, inhabiting its story with a fascinating cast of robots, dolls, geese, monkeys, and stuffed animals, as well as humans. It is a fascinating and gripping trans-disciplinary story and an absolute pleasure to read.

Listen to the full interview here.

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New Book: The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955

Egbert Klautke, of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, has written a book on the history of Völkerpsychologie. The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955 recounts how Völkerpsychologie struggled to find a foothold in the German university system and its demise by the mid-twentieth century. As described on the publisher’s website,

Völkerpsychologie played an important role in establishing the social sciences, in Germany and abroad, via the works of such scholars as Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim, Ernest Renan, Franz Boas, and Werner Sombart. In Germany, the intellectual history of “folk psychology” in Germany was represented by Moritz Lazarus, Heymann Steinthal, Wilhelm Wundt and Willy Hellpach. This book follows the invention of the discipline in the nineteenth century, its rise around the turn of the century, and its ultimate demise after the Second World War. In addition, it shows that despite the repudiation of “folk psychology” and its failed institutionalization, the discipline remains relevant as a precursor of contemporary studies of “national identity.”

The publisher’s website also includes an interview with Klauptke about the volume,

Berghahn Books: How would you define “Folk Psychology” and what drew you to the study of it?

Egbert Klautke: “Folk Psychology” is an awkward translation of the German term Völkerpsychologie. Originally, it referred to attempts to study the psychological make-up of nations, and as such is a forerunner of today’s social psychology. However, in today’s common understanding, Völkerpsychologie equals national prejudice: it is seen as a pseudo-science not worth considering seriously.

My first book dealt with perceptions of the U.S.A. in Germany and France, and much of these views could be described as Völkerpsychologie: clichés and stereotypes about a foreign nation, which were of a surprisingly coherent nature. Back then, my rather naïve idea was that there must be a general theory behind these perceptions, and I embarked on a study of Völkerpsychologie.

BB: Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research to the time you completed the book?

EK: When I started my research, I shared the general view of Völkerpsychologie as a flawed attempt to present national stereotypes as academic research, and was suspicious of its nationalist agenda and racist undertones. I also considered it typically German. Having completed the book, I have a much more sympathetic view of “folk psychology,” at least of the early attempts by (Moritz) Lazarus, (Heymann) Steinthal and (Wilhelm) Wundt. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Völkerpsychologie was a serious and honorable attempt to introduce a social science to the university curriculum. As such, it influenced pioneers of the social sciences not only in Germany, but also around the world.

The full interview can be found here and The Mind of the Nation can be found on Amazon here.

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Video Interview: Sleep in the Age of Shakespeare


Psychologist Peter Hegarty, of the University of Surrey, has interviewed English scholar Garrett Sullivan, of Pennsylvania State University, on the history of sleep. From ideas about sleep in the age of Shakespeare to Descartes to Freud, Hegarty and Sullivan discuss our changing understandings of sleep and embodiment across the centuries. The full video is featured above.

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Interview: Lamont on Extraordinary Beliefs

As recently announced on AHP, a new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. AHP had the pleasure of interviewing Lamont about his new book: Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological ProblemThe full interview follows below.

AHP: How did you become interested in the history of extraordinary beliefs and the role of psychologists in supporting and challenging the existence of extraordinary phenomena?

PL: Well, I used to be a magician (but I’m alright now). As a history student, I funded my studies by working as a close-up magician. Later, I joined the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, based within the Psychology department, to work on the psychology of magic. Since then, I’ve combined my interests in history, magic and the paranormal, and since I now work as a historian in a Psychology department, it seemed only polite to discuss the role of psychologists in all this.

AHP: It seems as though psychologists have been investigating extraordinary phenomena – including mesmeric, spiritualist, psychic, and paranormal phenomena – since the very beginning of scientific psychology. Why did the discipline take such an early interest in the extraordinary?

PL: One reason, as others have long pointed out, is boundary-work. Psychical Research was an ideal Other by which scientific psychologists could construct their own scientific credentials and worth. But the same arguments were going on well before the birth of the academic discipline, and I think it makes more sense to see this as something with wider relevance, as an opportunity for people (including psychologists, because psychologists are people too) to construct their own expertise and worth. Continue reading

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Inside Robbers Cave on ABC Radio

Psychologist and writer Gina Perry, author of Beyond the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, has a new project that looks at the Sherif’s Robber’s Cave experiment. Perry has just produced an episode for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National’s show Hindsight on this famous psychological study of group relations. The program features interviews with some of the boys who participated in the experiment and audio recorded as part of the study, as well as interviews with historians of psychology David Baker, of the Center for the History of Psychology, and Hank Stam, of the University of Calgary. As described on the program’s website,

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.

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