New JHBS: The Visual Cliff, POW Stress, Models of Addiction, & More

The Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the forgotten animals of the visual cliff experiment, stress research and the POW experience, the use of animal models in addiction research, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie: Rats, goats, babies, and myth-making in the history of psychology,” by Elissa N. Rodkey. The abstract reads,

Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk’s famous visual cliff experiment is one of psychology’s classic studies, included in most introductory textbooks. Yet the famous version which centers on babies is actually a simplification, the result of disciplinary myth-making. In fact the visual cliff’s first subjects were rats, and a wide range of animals were tested on the cliff, including chicks, turtles, lambs, kid goats, pigs, kittens, dogs, and monkeys. The visual cliff experiment was more accurately a series of experiments, employing varying methods and a changing apparatus, modified to test different species. This paper focuses on the initial, nonhuman subjects of the visual cliff, resituating the study in its original experimental logic, connecting it to the history of comparative psychology, Gibson’s interest in comparative psychology, as well as gender-based discrimination. Recovering the visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie helps to counter the romanticization of experimentation by focusing on the role of extrascientific factors, chance, complexity, and uncertainty in the experimental process.

“Understanding the POW Experience: Stress research and the implementation of the 1955 U.S. Armed Forces code of conduct,” by Robert Genter. The abstract reads,

Facing accusations about weak military discipline following the supposedly poor behavior of American soldiers held captive during the Korean War, President Dwight Eisenhower instituted a Code of Conduct for the Armed Services in 1955. In response, military leaders hired numerous social and behavioral scientists to investigate the nature of the prisoner-of-war (POW) experience. These researchers not only challenged official government accounts of POW activities but opened up a new field of study—stress research. They also changed military training policy, which soon focused more on stress inoculation training, and, in so doing, helped lead the shift in psychology away from behaviorism to ego and cognitive psychology. In this sense, my article ties shifts within the social and behavioral sciences in the 1950s to the military history of the early Cold War, a connection generally missing from most accounts of this period.

“Making animals alcoholic: Shifting laboratory models of addiction,” by Edmund Ramsden. The abstract reads,

The use of animals as experimental organisms has been critical to the development of addiction research from the nineteenth century. They have been used as a means of generating reliable data regarding the processes of addiction that was not available from the study of human subjects. Their use, however, has been far from straightforward. Through focusing on the study of alcoholism, where the nonhuman animal proved a most reluctant collaborator, this paper will analyze the ways in which scientists attempted to deal with its determined sobriety and account for their consistent failure to replicate the volitional consumption of ethanol to the point of physical dependency. In doing so, we will see how the animal model not only served as a means of interrogating a complex pathology, but also came to embody competing definitions of alcoholism as a disease process, and alternative visions for the very structure and purpose of a research field.

“The transnational circulation of scientific ideas: Importing behavioralism in European political science,” Thibaud Boncourt. The abstract reads,

This article aims to deepen our understanding of the transatlantic circulation of scientific ideas during the Cold War by looking at the importation of behavioralism in European political science. It analyses the social, institutional, and intellectual dynamics that led to the creation, in 1970, of a transnational organization that aimed to promote behavioralism in Europe: the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). Using qualitative material drawn from archives and interviews, the study shows that the creation of the ECPR was the joint product of academic, scientific, and political rivalries. It argues that the founding of the organization served a purpose for several agents (chiefly, academic entrepreneurs and philanthropic foundations) who pursued different strategies in different social fields in the context of the Cold War. More broadly, it suggests that the postwar development of the social sciences and the circulation of scientific ideas are best accounted for by mapping sociological interactions between scientific fields and neighboring social spheres.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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