New JHBS: Child Science, Ink Blots, Subconscious Conflict, & More

V. M. Bekhterev

The Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work of V. M. Bekhterev, patient experiences of “subconscious conflict” in prewar America, the history of the Rorschach test in Britain, and the mid-twentieth century relationship between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.

“V. M. BEKHTEREV IN RUSSIAN CHILD SCIENCE, 1900S–1920S: “OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGY”/“REFLEXOLOGY” AS A SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT,” by ANDY BYFORD. The abstract reads,

In the early 20th century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter’s name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled “objective psychology” and from the 1910s renamed “reflexology.” The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev’s “objective psychology” and “reflexology” occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20th century. While Bekhterev’s prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that “objective psychology” and “reflexology” had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, “experimental pedagogy” in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet “pedology” during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev’s program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned “objective psychology”/“reflexology” as a transformative scientific movement.

““MY RESISTING GETTING WELL”: NEURASTHENIA AND SUBCONSCIOUS CONFLICT IN PATIENT-PSYCHIATRIST INTERACTIONS IN PREWAR AMERICA,” by SUSAN LAMB. The abstract reads,

This study examines experiences of individual patients and psychiatrists in the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins between 1913 and 1917. The dynamics of these patient-psychiatrist interactions elucidate the well-known conceptual shift in explanations of mental illness during the twentieth century, from somatic models rooted in the logic of “neurasthenia” and damaged nerves to psychodynamic models based on the notion of “subconscious conflict.” A qualitative analysis of 336 cases categorized as functional disorders (a catchall term in this period for illnesses that could not be confirmed as organic diseases), shows that patients explained their symptoms and suffering in terms of bodily malfunctions, and, particularly, as a “breakdown” of their nervous apparatus. Psychiatrists at the Phipps Clinic, on the other hand, working under the direction of its prominent director, Adolf Meyer, did not focus their examinations and therapies on the body’s nervous system, as patients expected. They theorized that the characteristic symptoms of functional disorders—chronic exhaustion, indigestion, headaches and pain, as well as strange obsessive and compulsive behaviors—resulted from a distinct pathological mechanism: a subconscious conflict between powerful primal and social impulses. Phipps patients were often perplexed when told their physical symptoms were byproducts of an inner psychological struggle; some rejected the notion, while others integrated it with older explanations to reconceptualize their experiences of illness. The new concept also had the potential to alter psychiatrists’ perceptions of disorders commonly diagnosed as hysteria, neurasthenia, or psychoneuroses. The Phipps records contain examples of Meyer and his staff transcending the frustration experienced by many doctors who had observed troubling but common behaviors in such cases: morbid introspection, hypochondria, emotionalism, pity-seeking, or malingering. Subconscious conflict recast these behaviors as products of “self-deception,” which both absolved the sufferer and established an objective clinical marker by which a trained specialist could recognize functional disorder. Using individual case studies to elucidate the disjunction between patients’ and psychiatrists’ perspectives on what all agreed were debilitating illnesses, this analysis helps to illuminate the origins of a radical transformation in psychiatric knowledge and popular culture in the twentieth century—from somatic to psychodynamic explanations of mental illness.

“BLOTS AND ALL: A HISTORY OF THE RORSCHACH INK BLOT TEST IN BRITAIN,” by KATHERINE HUBBARD and PETER HEGARTY. The abstract reads,

Despite the easily recognizable nature of the Rorschach ink blot test very little is known about the history of the test in Britain. We attend to the oft-ignored history of the Rorschach test in Britain and compare it to its history in the US. Prior to the Second World War, Rorschach testing in Britain had attracted advocates and critiques. Afterward, the British Rorschach Forum, a network with a high proportion of women, developed around the Tavistock Institute in London and The Rorschach Newsletter. In 1968, the International Rorschach Congress was held in London but soon after the group became less exclusive, and fell into decline. A comparative account of the Rorschach in Britain demonstrates how different national institutions invested in the ‘projective hypothesis’ according to the influence of psychoanalysis, the adoption of a nationalized health system, and the social positioning of ‘others’ throughout the twentieth century. In comparing and contrasting the history of the Rorschach in Britain and the US, we decentralize and particularize the history of North American Psychology.

““PROPAGANDISTS FOR THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES”: THE OVERLOOKED PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE CARNEGIE CORPORATION AND SSRC IN THE MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY,” by EMILY HAUPTMANN. The abstract reads,

The Carnegie Corporation’s role as a patron of the behavioral sciences has been overlooked; its support for the behavioral sciences not only began earlier than the Ford Foundation’s but was also at least equally important to their success. I show how the close postwar collaboration between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to promote the behavioral sciences emerged after a struggle between Carnegie and the Rockefeller Foundation over the direction and leadership of the SSRC. I then focus on three postwar projects Carnegie helped conceive and fund that were publicized as the work of the SSRC: Chase’s The Proper Study of Mankind (1948), Stouffer et al.’s The American Soldier (1949, 1950), and the Michigan’s Survey Research Center 1952 election study. In each of these projects, Carnegie deliberately muted its own role and promoted the remade SSRC as a major advocate for the behavioral sciences.

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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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