Slate: Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient

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 full article can be read online here and Macmillan’s website on Gage can now be found hosted on the Center for the History of Psychology site.

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Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part III

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Read Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists: Part I, here & Part II, here.

Conclusion: reform movement & research discussion

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, eminent social sciences educator in Chicago

Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, PhD 1901

Along with those in the social services, much of the work done by individuals identified in the previous post as employed in academia can also be classified as fitting within the reform movement: Matilde Castro was director of the Phebe Anna Thorne Open-Air Model preparatory school at Bryn Mawr; in Chicago, Sophonisba Preston Breckenridge, with her 1913 entry reporting the official position “Assistant Dean of Women,” at the University, was also heading research for the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy; Edith Abbott is listed in this year as its Associate Director.

Here again we confront the fact that there are significant limitations to, as well as advantages of, sticking exclusively to the alumni directories in our analyses.    A priority for this project was to explore the possibilities and test the viability of employing primary sources like the directories in collective biography—and while they allowed for a level of precision, they also left our analysis vulnerable to the vagaries of those editors who originally organized the information. The organizational changes made in the 1919 directory render it a considerably less ‘rich’ source than the previous two. Unlike them, it did not organize alumni by their disciplines, or even include the students’ departments in their listings, but instead simply arranged the entire school alphabetically. This factor prevented us from being able to include a third, post-1913 generation in our prosopographical analysis as we could not ascertain from the directory alone who was a social scientist. It also confounded implicit expectations that the information provided would get better over time as the school became better established.

But even taken together as a set, the arbitrariness of the selected years and content can potentially create a historical picture that is inaccurate or misleading, and the integration of information from other sources is necessary for prosopographical purposes. To illustrate, we know from external sources that Breckinridge and Abbott would go on to spearhead the merger of the School of Civics and Philanthropy with the University to become its School of Social Service Administration (Davis, 1984; Muncy, 1991). While the directories can provide an unparalleled opportunity to track the early careers of this cohort, they function best in conjunction with biographical sources to more thoroughly map out the professional trajectories as they developed over a longer period of time. The Breckinridge-Abbott partnership would become highly influential; it can be fairly stated that the many collaborative endeavours over their extensive careers helped lay the theoretical and methodological foundations for the social work industry as it would come to be practiced (Muncy, 1991). Another, lesser known example of a reform oriented career that develops after our alumni directory timeline is that of Elizabeth Laetitia Moon Conard, who after instructing at Grinnell College at the time of the directories, was proactive in Iowa, forming a women’s voting league, advocating for children in poverty, promoting the progressivist party and eventually running for governor on the socialist ticket (Hyman Alonso, 1997).

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Medical History: Families and 19th c. Colonial Lunactic Asylums

The April 2014 issue of Medical History includes an article of interest to AHP readers. Lindy Wilbraham (left), of Rhodes University, discusses the relationship between families and colonial lunatic asylums in late-nineteenth century South America. Title and abstract follow below.

“Reconstructing Harry: A Genealogical Study of a Colonial Family ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ the Grahamstown Asylum, 1888–1918,” by Lindy Wilbraham. The abstract reads,

Recent scholarship has explored the dynamics between families and colonial lunatic asylums in the late nineteenth century, where families actively participated in the processes of custodial care, committal, treatment and release of their relatives. This paper works in this historical field, but with some methodological and theoretical differences. The Foucauldian study is anchored to a single case and family as an illness narrative that moves cross-referentially between bureaucratic state archival material, psychiatric case records, and intergenerational family-storytelling and family photographs. Following headaches and seizures, Harry Walter Wilbraham was medically boarded from his position as Postmaster in the Cape of Good Hope Colony of South Africa with a ‘permanent disease of the brain’, and was committed to the Grahamstown Asylum in 1910, where he died the following year, aged 40 years. In contrast to writings about colonial asylums that usually describe several patient cases and thematic patterns in archival material over time and place, this study’s genealogical lens examines one white settler male patient’s experiences within mental health care in South Africa between 1908 and 1911. The construction of Harry’s ‘case’ interweaves archival sources and reminiscences inside and outside the asylum, and places it within psychiatric discourse of the time, and family dynamics in the years that followed. Thus, this case study maps the constitution of ‘patient’ and ‘family’ in colonial life, c.1888–1918, and considers the calamity, uncertainty, stigma and silences of mental illness.

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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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Social History of Medicine: Madness & Sexuality, Child Psychiatry, & More

The May 2014 issue of Social History of Medicine includes several articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Madness and Sexual Psychopathies as the Magnifying Glass of the Normal: Italian Psychiatry and Sexuality c.1880–1910,” by Chiara Beccalossi. The abstract reads,

By focusing on Italian psychiatric debates about sexual inversion this article shows how Italian psychiatrists came to argue that there was no clear-cut boundary between normal sexual behaviour and sexual perversion, and traces the debates and fields of knowledge that contributed to the development of such a position. First, it shows how French psychiatry shaped Italian views on sexual psychopathies. Second, it demonstrates that in Italy, psychiatric research on so-called sexual psychopathies was from its inception part of a wider debate about the blurred boundary between sanity and insanity. Third, it reveals how sexologists embraced various theories of evolution, which implied that sexual perversions were latent in any normal individual. The article argues that despite the fact that in Italy same-sex desires were pathologised in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, historical accounts that emphasise such a pathologisation obscure psychiatric positions that endeavoured to normalise same-sex desires.

“The Rise of Child Psychiatry in Portugal: An Intimate Social and Political History, 1915–1959,” by Angela Marques Filipe. The abstract reads,

In recent decades, the study of the history of medicine and psychiatry has grown and interest has been developed in the particular social and institutional configuration of fields such as child psychiatry. That historical literature has, however, accounted mainly for the Anglo-American world and a research gap persists with regard to other national contexts. Drawing on a historiography of medical archives in Portugal, this paper aims to analyse the social, institutional and political conditions behind the rise of child psychiatry. Such an analysis will inquire into the international, national and local factors that played a part in that historical process and suggests a periodisation beginning in 1915, when the Medical-Pedagogic Institute was first created, and concluding in 1959, when ‘child neuropsychiatry’ was finally recognised by the Portuguese Medical Board.

“Heroes and Hysterics: ‘Partisan Hysteria’ and Communist State-building in Yugoslavia after 1945,” by Ana Anti?. The abstract reads,

This article investigates a novel type of war neurosis defined by Yugoslav psychiatrists in the aftermath of the Second World War. This uniquely Yugoslav war trauma—‘partisan hysteria’—was diagnosed exclusively in Communist resistance soldiers—partisans—and did not manifest itself in the form of battle exhaustion or anxiety, as was the case in other armies. Rather, it demonstrated a heightened willingness to fight, and consisted of simulations of wartime battles. Yugoslav psychiatrists argued that ‘partisan hysteria’ most frequently affected uneducated and immature partisans, who were given important political responsibilities but experienced severe trauma due to their own inadequacy. I argue that ‘partisan hysteria’ served as an opportunity for upper-middle-class psychiatric professionals to criticise the increasing upward social mobility after the socialist revolution of 1945. Surprisingly, this touched upon an issue that had already provoked deep disquiet within the Communist Party, and resonated with the Party’s own concerns regarding social mobility.

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J. of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences: LSD as Psychotherapy & Psychiatric Film

US President John F. Kennedy signs the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962.

The April 2014 issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes several items that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Efficacy and Enlightenment: LSD Psychotherapy and the Drug Amendments of 1962,” by Matthew Oram. The abstract reads,

The decline in therapeutic research with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the United States over the course of the 1960s has commonly been attributed to the growing controversy surrounding its recreational use. However, research difficulties played an equal role in LSD psychotherapy’s demise, as they frustrated researchers’ efforts to clearly establish the efficacy of treatment. Once the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962 introduced the requirement that proof of efficacy be established through controlled clinical trials before a drug could be approved to market, the value of clinical research became increasingly dependent on the scientific rigor of the trial’s design. LSD psychotherapy’s complex method of utilizing drug effects to catalyze a psychological treatment clashed with the controlled trial methodology on both theoretical and practical levels, making proof of efficacy difficult to obtain. Through a close examination of clinical trials performed after 1962, this article explores how the new emphasis on controlled clinical trials frustrated the progress of LSD psychotherapy research by focusing researchers’ attention on trial design to the detriment of their therapeutic method. This analysis provides a new perspective on the death of LSD psychotherapy and explores the implications of the Drug Amendments of 1962.

“Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession,” by Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,

In 1943, Basil Wright produced a documentary film about the treatment of servicemen and civilians with psychological disorders at Mill Hill Emergency Medical Service Hospital. Funded by the Ministry of Information, Neuro Psychiatry was shot to convince influential clinicians and policy makers in North America that the British had developed expertise in the management of psychiatric casualties. By emphasizing novel and apparently effective interventions and excluding severe or intractable cases from the film, Wright encouraged an optimistic sense of achievement. Filmed at a time when victory was considered an eventual outcome, the picture presented a health service to which all had access without charge. Children and unemployed women, two groups excluded under the 1911 National Insurance Act, had been required to pay for healthcare in the prewar period and were shown receiving free treatment from the Emergency Medical Service. However, the therapeutic optimism presented in the film proved premature. Most U.K. battle casualties arose in the latter half of the conflict and follow-up studies failed to confirm the positive outcome statistics reported in the film. Aubrey Lewis, clinical director of the hospital, criticized research projects conducted at Mill Hill for a lack of rigor. The cinematographic skills of Wright and director Michael Hankinson, together with their reformist agenda, created a clinical presentation that emphasized achievements without acknowledging the limitations not only of the therapies offered by doctors but also the resources available to a nation at war.

“The Cost of War—Then and Now: Commentary on ‘Neuro Psychiatry 1943′,” by Heiner Fangerau. The abstract reads,

In his essay “Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession” Edgar Jones provides a detailed case study of a single movie that was made under unusual wartime conditions. From this case, he builds a general analysis of the interpretation and portrayal of scientific expertise that shaped the production, distribution, and reception of this genre of documentary. The paper provides a fresh perspective for the historical analysis of film documentaries, while remaining highly topical and germane to present-day issues in medicine and health care.

The film that Jones studied was produced in a British hospital where war victims (mostly soldiers) were treated for war neuroses. The filmmakers documented the therapies employed and the apparently successful posttreatment reintroduction of patients into military service and civilian work. They hoped to convince informed audiences, especially those outside Britain in the United States and Canada, about the effectiveness of the British Health Care Service in …

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New BBC4 Series on Intelligence

BBC Radio 4 begins a new series today on the fraught topic of intelligence. The focus of each of its three half-hour episodes is given by the series title: “Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different.” The series is hosted by BBC4 science regular, Adam Rutherford. It will cover questions such as what intelligence is, how we have tried to measure it, what difference intelligence makes, and, most controversial of all, what relation intelligence may have to genetics.

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Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part II

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Read Mapping Science & Reform: The First Generation of Chicago-Trained Female Social Scientists, Part I, here.

Employment: Academic & Social Services

The self-identified locations of the first cohort of Chicago-trained female social scientists during the years of the alumni directories show that whether or not it was their place of origin, the East Coast was, not surprisingly, where the majority would end up working. This was particularly the case for the early generation in the cohort (pre-1906).

The following three maps illustrate the locations for the pre-1906 generation as identified in the three directories (1906, 1913, 1919):

Employment for pre-1906 group in 1906

Employment locations of pre-1906 gen from the 1906 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

Employment of pre-1906 group from 1913 alumni directory

Employment of pre-1906 gen from the 1913 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

Employment of the pre-1906 group from the 1919 alumni directory. Click image to enlarge.

Employment of the pre-1906 gen from the 1919 alumni directory. Click to enlarge.

The pre-1906 individuals move around quite a bit, but as can be seen, the general layout is strikingly similar, with the majority clustered in the North and Mid- East Coast, a contingent in Chicago, and a few scattered in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and California.

Compare that consistency with these following two maps for the post-1906 generation: Continue reading

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History of Psych on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 is starting a new series on the history of psychology Monday. It is hosted by Martin Sixsmith and it is called “In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind.” I don’t know anything else yet, except that you will be able to download it here.

Update: The series will include the following 5 episodes – Jacy Young.

High Anxieties
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Monday 21 April 2014

Psychology is as old as the human race. People have always sought to understand what makes us think, feel and act the way we do.

In Episode 1, Martin examines the government’s plan for a national ‘happiness index’ and traces our search for ourselves back to the ancients.

The term ‘psychology’ was first used in about 1600 and means, literally, ‘study of the soul’. But it was only in the late 19th century that psychology emerged as a separate science. Today it draws on the intellectual legacy of philosophy, physiology and, increasingly, neurobiology and social science.

The author and broadcaster Martin Sixsmith retrained as a psychologist in the last decade, following careers as a BBC correspondent and government adviser. Martin’s experience both studying applied psychology and as a recipient of therapy reflects the growing acceptance of psychological counselling in Britain and the lessening of the stigma attached to mental illness. There has been a growth of interest in the therapeutic aspects of psychology, but many of us still have a frustratingly incomplete knowledge of its history, techniques and broader applications.

This series taps into a defining aspect of modern existence and addresses the widespread desire to know more, charting the path from today’s democratisation of psychological care back to early beliefs, the birth of modern experimental psychology, the related ‘psy professions’ – psychiatry and psychotherapy – and the splits and controversies of the 20th century.

The Freudian Age
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Tuesday 22 April 2014

In Episode 2, Martin traces a line from current government interest in ‘talking cures’ back to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, visiting Freud’s private apartments and also Europe’s oldest mental asylum, the Narrenturm – literally, the Tower of Fools – in Vienna.

It’s All about Sex
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 23 April 2014

Freud’s development of a new psychological science, psychoanalysis, provoked controversy because of his focus on sexuality.

In episode 3, Martin examines Freud’s legacy, with audio archive of his one-time colleague then rival Carl Gustav Jung, his daughter Anna Freud and a new interview with Christopher Hampton, author of the play ‘The Talking Cure’.

Pavlov’s Bell
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 24 April 2014

Starting with the ‘conditioned reflex’ that the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously identified while studying dogs, Martin explores the development of a significant alternative to the Freudian way of thinking, ‘behaviourism’ – including recordings of the controversial American psychologist BF Skinner and an interview with his daughter Deborah, who as a child was the subject of her father’s close scientific observations.

Talking Cures?
Duration: 15 minutes

Martin considers some of the therapies that combined the psychoanalytic principles of Freud and Jung with the behaviour modifying techniques of the mid-Twentieth Century’s other significant psychological movement ‘behaviourism’.

With reference to the ‘Gloria’ tapes that featured the same patient being treated by three different ‘talking cures’ – Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, Fritz Perls’s Gestalt Therapy and Carl Rogers’s Person Centred Therapy.

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New Book: History of Psychology 101

As part of Springer’s Psych 101 series psychologist David Devonis, of Graceland University, has authored History of Psychology 101. As described on the publisher’s website,

Spanning the modern development of psychological science and practice-the era most relevant to today’s psychologists-this concise overview of psychology’s history focuses on how the field has striven to make a positive impact on society and the individuals within it. It not only examines, decade by decade, the key developments in psychology, but goes beyond the usual “schools and systems” approach to illuminate not just how psychological theories developed but how they have been applied and practiced. The text is unique in its focus on connecting the historical development of psychology to present concerns in the field, thus making the information more relevant to today’s student.

Woven throughout the book is thread of optimism regarding the value of psychological ideas for the betterment of humanity. The book considers how psychology has informed-and been influenced by-social and cultural concerns of the past century. Each chapter highlights a theme that typified the science and practice of psychology in a particular era, along with a “historical centerpiece,” an examination of an exemplary psychologist or psychological work that typified the field’s development during that time period.

Key Features:

Presents a concise, accessible overview of the modern history of psychology

Goes beyond the usual “schools and systems” approach to focus on how psychological theories were developed, applied, and practiced

Demonstrates how the field of psychology has endeavored to make a positive impact on society and individuals

Focuses on making historical information relevant to psychological practice today

Embeds psychology in the social and cultural milieu of each era

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