Cinema and Failed “Rat Utopia” Over on the H-Word

The H-Word blog over at The Guardian has just published a piece on the influence of rat experiments on the novel High Rise, the basis for a newly released film of the same name. As author Jesse Olszynko-Gryn notes in his post,

the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.

Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.

The full piece can be read online here.

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Weekend Listening with the CBC and BBC

podcasts combinedA couple of history of psychology related pieces cropped up from podcast land just in time to shift into gear for the weekend. For your listening pleasure, from CBC Radio’s Ideas and BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, episodes on transcultural psychiatry and the early history of Bethlem Royal Hospital, respectively.

 

CBC’s Ideas with Peter Kennedy: Like I Was Talking to Myself in the Mirror 

Synopsis: Early in the twentieth century German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin travelled to Indonesia to see how mental illnesses there compared to what he knew back home. Transcultural psychiatry was born. Today McGill University is a world leader in the research and practice of a branch of psychiatry with links to anthropology, cultural studies and family therapy. David Gutnick steps into a world where treatment relies less on medication and more on talk and understanding.

Click here for highlight clips and reels, and info on the feature psychiatrists.

 

BBC’s In Our Time: Bedlam

Synopsis: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the early years of Bedlam, the name commonly used for the London hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate.

Click here for links and further reading.

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Special Issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology on existential psychotherapy

Those in our readership oriented towards the intersection of therapy and philosophy will be quite keen on the June 2016 issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology because of its theme, existential psychotherapy. The guest editor is Duff Waring.  The format taken is featured articles, two commentaries per and then a response from the article authors:

 

The Lost Language of Being: Ontology’s Perilous Destiny in Existential Psychotherapy. By Erik Craig

Abstract: This article invites conversation regarding what is seen as a pivotal problem in existential psychotherapy today: the loss of its language of being, its foundational understanding of ontology, Being, and the human being, Dasein. The article begins by introducing the disciplinary challenges of being an existential psychotherapist. This is followed by a systematic, multiperspectival discussion of ontology and its language of being and the challenges an ‘ontological eye’ presents for the theory and practice of existential psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. Historical and cultural factors contributing to America’s conceptual and clinical dispersity and disarray in existential thought and practice are summarized before presenting a brief overview of existential psychotherapy’s present standing, especially with respect to its prospects for developing a regional ontological understanding of the human as human and as a whole. 

Commentaries:

Whither Existential Psychotherapy? By James Phillips

Psychotherapy’s Ontic–Ontological Divide: Going Beyond the Hyphen. By René J. Muller

 Response by Erik Craig:  Distinguishing Apples From Trees

 

Abstract: This article attempts to illustrate how an existential ontology has a great deal to offer to psychotherapists. Because this complex interaction may often be difficult to see, three ways in which such philosophical work has been applicable and enriching in the context of a particular psychotherapy practice are presented. These include a) the use of existential themes and concepts in psychotherapy, including the notions of existential guilt, existential anxiety, and bad faith, b) the argument that an existential ontology provides a more suitable philosophical grounding for psychotherapeutic theories and practices, one which better describes the life-world, experiential phenomena in question, and c) the idea that an existential version of the mental status examination, centered around six key dimensions of human experience (derived from an existential ontology) can provide us with a more in-depth understanding of, and better description of, an individual’s experiential world.

Commentaries:

Does a Philosophical Grounding in an Existential Ontology Make for a Better Psychotherapist? By Morris N. Eagle
The Personal Dimension to Ontology. By M. Guy Thompson

 

Abstract: Heidegger’s existential ontology has greatly influenced existential psychiatry and psychotherapy, yet opinions about the psychotherapeutic utility of an ontological perspective remain divided, especially in light of Heidegger’s negative reactions to misappropriation of his ontological analysis. The present discussion questions the universality of existential ontology, not to do away with it, but, rather, to ‘rehabilitate’ Binswanger’s purported ‘mistaken’ take on ontology and his much critiqued notion of “world-design” with Merleau-Ponty’s ideas of the ontological relevance of “emblems of Being.” The concept of world-design is considered here as a clinically illuminating notion that warrants revision and expansion, which I attempt with the concept of implicit world-projection and its relation to emblems of Being. This reformulation is intended to capture the ontologically world-defining meaning horizon and its relationship to the varying degrees of ontological security and insecurity, ontological robustness, sensitivity, and oversensitivity. This revised notion of emblematic implicit world-projection reaches beyond the confines of the pathological and can be situated within the larger context of relational theorizing. It can also serve as a bridging concept to contemporary reformulations of the unconscious as the “implicit.”

Commentaries:

Existential-Ontological Psychotherapy: Attuning to How Being Is at Issue. By Kym Maclaren
Why Ontologize? By Melvin Woody
Response by Angelica M. D. Tratter: Ontological Inquiry and Emblematic Meanings of Life

 

Resources:

 

 

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A brief history of personality psychometrics on The Conversation

scantron graphic

Academic journalism site The Conversation posted a short piece on personality testing that touches on the context-boundedness and reflexive aspects of such measures and how they relate to the history of the field more generally. Titled Psychology by numbers: a brief history of personality tests (and written by Chris Millard, a Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Research Fellow), it’s an example of popularization that is both straightforward but still relatively sophisticated; it could work well as a teaching resource.

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2016 Cheiron Book Prize

LambFrom the Executive Officer David K. Robinson of Cheiron (International Society for the History of Behavioural and Social Sciences):

In acknowledgment of the book’s exceptional contributions to our understanding of Adolf Meyer and the field he singularly shaped, Cheiron awards the 2016 Book Prize to Susan D. Lamb (U. Ottawa) for Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2014.

After becoming the first psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Meyer devoted himself over the next five decades to the scientific acceptance of psychiatry as a methodologically sound specialty of medicine. Although historians of psychiatry have recognized Meyer as a founding father, many of his ideas were not well understood, and his highly influential impact on psychiatry has been partially shrouded in mystery. Having gained access to previously sealed patient records as well as Meyer’s personal correspondence, and having offered such a careful and thoughtful analysis of these precious archival materials, Lamb provides historians of the behavioral and social sciences with a coveted window into Meyer’s thinking and decision making.

Pathologist of the Mind clarifies Meyerian notions of psychobiology, psychotherapy, and evolutionary theory (among others) and places this important figure, as well as the hospital and area of specialty to which he was dedicated, into historical context. In impressively detailed fashion, the book brings the man and the era to life.

Our congratulations to Dr. Lamb! Find out more about her work here.

And find the winning volume here.

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3 year Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Hidden Persuaders

The Wellcome Trust funded ‘Hidden Persuaders? Brainwashing, Culture, Clinical Knowledge and the Cold War Human Sciences, c. 1950-1990’ has announced a new 3-year post-doctoral fellowship. Applications for the position are due April 13th and interviews will take place April 28th. The project, lead by historian Daniel Pick, investigates how

The reputations of the ‘psy’ professions – and the status of their ideas – were altered by controversies, myths and testimonies about ‘brainwashing’ in its various guises during the Cold War. Our project uncovers new source materials and promotes original analyses of the involvement (real and perceived) of clinicians in brainwashing and its cognate practices of interrogation, psychological warfare, subliminal advertisement, and therapeutic experimentation. We consider what ethical guidelines and safeguards, past or present, have been formulated to deal with the dangers of mind control so powerfully articulated during the Cold War.

By exploring these historical debates over mind control and their continuing legacies for psy expertise, Hidden Persuaders offers timely historical analysis of continuing present-day controversies. The language of ‘brainwashing’ continues to influence, in diverse and unexpected ways, present understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state; the nature of the therapeutic encounter between patient and psy-professional; and the borderlands between education, persuasion and indoctrination.

Full details about the post-doctoral fellowship:

The new post-doctoral fellow will work closely with the Hidden Persuaders team to produce original research, organise academic conferences and public events, and also assist with various other outputs in the form of edited volumes, film, web resources and more. The post-doc will join our growing network of historians and practitioners of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychology, and should focus his/her research contributions on one or more distinct strands of the Hidden Persuaders project.

We would welcome applications from academics with prior knowledge of the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and/or psychology. Some previous familiarity with post-war political and/or cultural history would also be an asset. A working knowledge of one or more European languages other than English, e.g., Russian, German, Spanish or French would be useful, as would facility in one or more Asian languages (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer or Malay). The ability and willingness of the appointee to travel and work for several weeks at a stretch in overseas archives (as required) is essential, as part of the post-doctoral fellow’s task will be to gather and analyse data on perceptions and use of psychological warfare and indoctrination in various Cold War campaigns overseas.

The closing date for completed applications is midnight on Wednesday 13 April 2016.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 28 April 2016.

For further information, please consult the job announcement on Birkbeck’s website.

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New History of Psychiatry: Psychogeriatrics, Delusions, & More!

The March 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychogeriatrics in mid-twentieth century England, phenomenological explanations of delusions, the founding of the German Research Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, and more. Full titles, authors and abstract follow below.

“Psychogeriatrics in England in the 1950s: greater knowledge with little impact on provision of services,” by Claire Hilton. The abstract reads,

In the 1950s, the population aged over 65 years continued to increase, and older people occupied mental hospital beds disproportionately. A few psychiatrists and geriatricians demonstrated what could be done to improve the wellbeing of mentally unwell older people, who were usually labelled as having irreversible ‘senile dementia’. Martin Roth demonstrated that ‘senile dementia’ comprised five different disorders, some of which were reversible. These findings challenged established teaching and were doubted by colleagues. Despite diagnostic improvements and therapeutic successes, clinical practice changed little. Official reports highlighted the needs, but government commitment to increase and improve services did not materialize.

“The nature of delusion: psychologically explicable? psychologically inexplicable? philosophically explicable? Part 2,” by J Cutting and M Musalek. The abstract reads, Continue reading New History of Psychiatry: Psychogeriatrics, Delusions, & More!

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Interactive Timeline: “Replication in Psychology: A History Perspective”

Those who’ve been following the most recent controversy over the replicability of psychological findings (see here, here, here, here, and here for a primer), may be interested in the latest output from the PsyBorgs Digital History of Psychology Laboratory. Michael Pettit (left) has created an interactive timeline of replication controversies over psychology’s history:

This interactive timeline offers the reader a brief guide to this longer history. I define replication fairly broadly, but attempt to not simply offer a history of psychology in its entirety. Instead, I have focused on famous replication controversies from the past alongside the development of psychology’s favored research methods.

I am personally quite agnostic as to the value of the current interest in direct replication. My worry is that it distracts (as is often the case in psychology) from questions of external validity. My goal is to provide a richer context for contemporary controversies animating psychology.

I welcome corrections, updates, and suggestions of relevant topics. Please contact me at mpettit at yorku.ca

The timeline can be explored in full here.

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National Museum of Psychology Kickstarter Coming April 13th!

Observations, part of the Association for Psychological Science’s magazine the Observer, has announced that the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a National Museum of Psychology. The campaign will begin at 3pm April 13th and “the crowdsourcing project plans to reward donors with autographed copies of APS Fellow Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, naming opportunities in the museum’s reading room, a trip to the museum’s grand opening, and more.” As Observations reports,

The museum hopes to engage audiences on a personal, intellectual, and scientific level. “We have the unique ability and responsibility to tell the story of what it means to be human, through the acquisition, preservation, and presentation of iconic objects, manuscripts, and media,” said Baker. “As a Smithsonian Affiliate, we are honored to take part in the long-standing tradition of insuring that our nation’s history remains relevant and is preserved with the utmost respect to the bold men and women who were pioneers of this exciting discipline.”

More details here.

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Eysenck’s Centenary in The Psychologist

The March issue of The Psychologist, the flagship magazine of the British Psychological Society, includes an article marking the centenary of psychologist Hans Eysenck’s birth. Eysenck, a controversial and very public figure within psychology, would have celebrated this milestone birthday on March 4th 2016. As the article notes,

Hans J. Eysenck (1916–1997) enjoyed an extraordinary life in British psychology, much of it played out in the limelight of public attention. His fame and influence extended beyond the shores of these isles, to encompass the globe. He inspired generations of psychologists, many of whom were enthralled by his popular books that made psychology seem so vital, relevant and even urgent. His was an open invitation: arise from the supine position on the analytical couch, leap out from the comfort of the philosophical armchair, and visit the psychology laboratory – one chapter in Fact and Fiction in Psychology (Eysenck, 1965a) is titled, ‘Visit to a psychological laboratory’. His easy-to-understand causal theories of ‘what makes people tick’ (exposing the inner working of the human clock) were especially fascinating to an inquisitive public. He also courted controversy: his style of advocating change and some of the positions he took, especially on politically charged issues like race and IQ, attracted criticism of his work, and of him.

The full piece can be read online here.

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