Tag Archives: Deception

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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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The December 2013 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue is an article on psychologist Raleigh M. Drake’s work on musical ability, discussion of cognitivism, and a special section on eros. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The extent of cognitivism,” by V. P. J. Arponen. The abstract reads,

In this article, cognitivism is understood as the view that the engine of human (individual and collective) action is the intentional, dispositional, or other mental capacities of the brain or the mind. Cognitivism has been criticized for considering the essence of human action to reside in its alleged source in mental processes at the expense of the social surroundings of the action, criticism that has often been inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. This article explores the logical extent of the critique of cognitivism, arguing that by positing collectively shared knowledge of criteria as the engine of human action many such critiques themselves display latent cognitivism.

“There is no evidence of ‘latent cognitivism’ in Peter Hacker’s treatment of criteria,” by Michael A. Tissaw. No abstract provided.

“On the extent of cognitivism: A response to Michael Tissaw,” by V. P. J. Arponen. No abstract provided.

“Scent in science and culture,” by Beata Hoffmann. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

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BBC Radio 4: The Truth and Nothing but the Truth

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Truth and Nothing but the Truth in which psychologist Geoff Bunn explores lie detecting technologies, past and present. In this episode, much like in his recent book The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector, Bunn explores the creation of lie detectors by psychologists and others, as well as the link between this work and pop culture icons Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman. An excerpt from the episode can be heard here. As described on the BBC Radio 4 site,

Dr Geoff Bunn discovers that Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman both have starring roles in the history of lie detection. The culture of the comic book influenced the cultural perception of science then, and now colourful brain images from fMRI scans direct the public’s view of what science can achieve. But does seeing parts of the brain light up when a subject lies provide any more concrete proof of what is true and what is not than did measuring heart and sweat rate in the traditional polygraph?

Dr Geoff Bunn investigates the latest lie detecting technology with the help of Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the Open University and Geraint Rees, Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. He discovers that the early history of the lie detector features a psychologist, William Marston, who went on to create the comic book character Wonder Woman, and an amateur magician, Leonarde Keeler, who was an inspiration for the comic strip hero, Dick Tracy.

He explores the history of the American obsession with lie detection, aided by Ken Alder, Professor of History at North Western University and Garyn Roberts, biographer of Chester Gould, who created Dick Tracy. He investigates Wonder Woman at the Travelling Man comic book shop in Manchester with the help of Dr Joan Ormrod, co-editor of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. And he hears from Bruce Burgess, founder of Polygraphs UK, who uses his company’s services.

You can listen to the full episode, The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, here.

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Podcast: BackStory‘s DSM and Deception Episodes

BackStory with the American History Guys is a podcast series hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh. In each episode Ayers, Onuf, and Balogh, along with their guests, explore the historical roots of a topic of current relevance. Two recent podcasts explore issues of interest to historians of psychology. In “States of Mind: Mental Illness in America,” the American history guys use the recent release of the DSM-5 as a springboard for discussion of the history of mental illness in the United States,

…exploring how the diagnostic line between mental health and madness has shifted over time, and how we’ve treated those on both sides of it. We’ll hear how the desire of slaves to escape bondage was once interpreted as a psychological disorder, how a woman’s sleepwalking landed her in the state asylum, and how perspectives on depression altered in the 1970s. Plus, the Guys walk us through a mid-20th century quiz that promised to identify a new kind of mental “disorder” – our susceptibility to fascism.

Bridge for Sale: Deception in America,” features an interview with psychologist Geoff Bunn on the history of the lie detector and its connection to Wonder Woman, which is also detailed in his recent book The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector. In this episode, the American history guys,

…dig into the long story of confidence men and counterfeiters. We discover a time when fake money jump-started the economy, and take a look at the long, strange history of “the truth compelling machine.” And, oh yeah… we try to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.

Check out even more episodes of BackStory here.

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Review: The Science of Deception

Michael Pettit’s The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America is the story of how a particular kind of psychological self emerged in the twentieth century. Focusing on what he terms the deceivable and deceitful selves, Pettit traces how a self understanding rooted in the capacity to deceive and be deceived came to play an important role in both the practice of psychology and in the world of commerce. In doing so, two questions drive the narrative: “How did psychology take root in a culture fascinated by robber barons and confidence men, national brands and their counterfeit, yellow journalism and muckraking exposés?” and “How did the growing presence of psychology on the American cultural landscape transform these concerns about deception?” (p. 7). This is the story of how the mutually reinforcing worlds of the market place and psychology came to craft our current understanding of individuals as both deceivable and deceitful. In the process, Pettit argues, deception has been both normalized and problematized. Everyone deceives, whether themselves or others, and consequently those in the commercial, psychological, and broader social worlds take steps to guard against such deceptions.

Pettit locates the roots of the deceivable and deceitful selves in the growth of the market economy. In a world increasingly populated by swindlers, crooks, and conmen deception was all too common. With the involvement of the courts in cases involving deception, came a move from seeing victims as innocent to an understanding of victims as complicit. To be deceived one had to be in possession of a deceitful self. From here Pettit goes onto describe how deception featured in various realms of commercial and psychological life from the late-nineteenth century into the twentieth century. A psychological understandings of the self as deceivable and deceitful influenced regulatory bodies and court decisions. Although not always the psychological understanding of the self advocated by psychologists themselves, this understanding of the self as in possession of a distinct, deceptive psychology was none the less influential. Increasingly, deception came to be seen as an integral part of selfhood.

In the realm of research, those in the nascent discipline of psychology sought to police the fraudulent activities of psychics and conmen, while themselves using deceptive tools such as visual illusions. Into the twentieth century, ideas of deception continued to make themselves felt within the discipline and larger society. Here Pettit discusses the creation and dissemination of the lie detector, as well as efforts to identity honest personality traits through tools like the Honesty Index. In the latter effort, the discipline began to adopt deception as a key, and seemingly necessary, component of its methodology. To manage a world rife with deception, psychology itself adopted deceptive practices, as it began to be understood that only through deceit could the truth of the human condition be uncovered. Such practices continue in the field to this day.

For anyone interested in the growth of early American psychology, the intertwined histories of psychology and commerce, and the historical development of psychological methods The Science of Deception is an invaluable resource. Inasmuch as this book tells a history of deception, it also sheds new light on both psychology’s current disciplinary formation and the development of one of the central features of selfhood today.

Read AHP’s interview with Pettit on The Science of Deception here and a further post on the subject here.

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Deception and Psychology

AHP is pleased to present an interview with Michael Pettit, author of the newly released book The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America.

Michael Pettit is a faculty member in the History and Theory of Psychology graduate program at York University. This book represents a culmination of Pettit’s research interests. In particular, his research centers on psychology’s emergence as a science, a discipline, and a profession as well as the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the public sphere. The entire interview is below:

AHP: As an historian of the human sciences, what led you to investigate the topic of deception and psychology?

MP: My interest in deception was originally inspired by my training in American history and the history of capitalism. Early in grad school, I had been reading quite a bit about the showman P. T. Barnum, his entertaining hoaxes, and the culture of exhibition. I was curious about the role of the fledging American scientific community and their expertise in the reception of these spectacles. I also wanted to figure out what happened to fraud (legally and culturally) after the golden age of Barnum’s humbugs had passed. As I began the research, I found books by early popular psychologists on the same shelf as Barnum’s exposés which led me to ask about the historical relationships between the two.

AHP: Psychologists have, at various times, sought to detect, deploy, and even diagnose deceptive practices. How has deception become so central to psychology, and is a psychology without deception even possible?

MP: I think deception is important for psychology methodologically because psychologists from a wide range of perspectives define the human as fundamentally a deceitful and deceivable creature. A large part of the psychologist’s authority derives from the conviction that humans cannot understand themselves (their thoughts, feelings, behaviors) without their considerable mediating role. Because there is a deep suspicion (yet reliance) on human testimony, these concerns are particularly acute in psychology compared to other human sciences (e.g. economics). One long-standing narrative about the intellectual history of the twentieth century is that Freud had a tremendous cultural impact because he introduced a view of human nature as profoundly irrational. My book seeks to reorient this narrative. I would argue that concerns about the deceivable and deceitful self figured prominently in late nineteenth-century American culture, especially in discussions of the market, and that created a space into which psychoanalysis was received and transformed into a particularly American form of self talk. Continue reading Deception and Psychology

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