Tag Archives: Google

New HoP: “Active Touch” Pre-Gibson, Health Psych & S. Africa, & Digital History

James Gibson (left) and Julian Hochberg. Ecological Optics conference, Cornell University, 1970. (photo: Sverker Runeson)

The May issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue address the (lack of) health psychology in post-apartheid South Africa , the concept of “active touch” before the work of James Gibson, the Lvov-Warsaw School of historical psychology, and the teaching of the history of psychology in Spain. Two further articles contribute to the digital history of psychology: John Benjamin offers a Zipfian analysis of the anglophone vocabulary of psychology, while Michael Pettit argues for caution in using the Google Books Ngram Viewer as a means of assessing cultural change over time. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Psychology and health after apartheid: Or, Why there is no health psychology in South Africa,” by Jeffery Yen. The abstract reads,

As part of a growing literature on the histories of psychology in the Global South, this article outlines some historical developments in South African psychologists’ engagement with the problem of “health.” Alongside movements to formalize and professionalize a U.S.-style “health psychology” in the 1990s, there arose a parallel, eclectic, and more or less critical psychology that contested the meaning and determinants of health, transgressed disciplinary boundaries, and opposed the responsibilization of illness implicit in much health psychological theorizing and neoliberal discourse. This disciplinary bifurcation characterized South African work well into the postapartheid era, but ideological distinctions have receded in recent years under a new regime of knowledge production in thrall to the demands of the global market. The article outlines some of the historical-political roots of key trends in psychologists’ work on health in South Africa, examining the conditions that have impinged on its directions and priorities. It raises questions about the future trajectories of psychological research on health after 20 years of democracy, and argues that there currently is no “health psychology” in South Africa, and that the discipline is the better for it.

“Pre-Gibsonian observations on active touch,” by Armin Wagner. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HoP: “Active Touch” Pre-Gibson, Health Psych & S. Africa, & Digital History

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NIMH’s Insel moves to Google….

InselAPA’s Monitor reports that after 13 years as director of the American National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel is joining Verily, the Life Sciences Division of Google’s new Alphabet Inc. empire.

His vision for Google’s role in reforming mental health care creates an unprecedented intersection between the fraught social politics of public surveillance, ‘philanthrocapitalism‘ and the psychological industries:

“Google’s strength in data analytics could be leveraged to identify patterns such as changes in cognition and behavior that are difficult to detect in the early stages of psychosis, he says. In many cases, people who were eventually diagnosed with the disease went undiagnosed for years because their initial symptoms masked themselves as traditional adolescent behavior, such as isolation from others and difficulty with academics, Insel says. Smartphones, for example, could collect speech data that would be plugged into an algorithm that detects disorganized speech patterns indicative of psychosis.”

Read the full article here. Conversation on the topic welcome and encouraged.


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Psychology is… A Google Autocomplete Adventure

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.

A few weeks ago, I saw in an article on The Guardian website that the organization UN Women was running an ad campaign aimed a demonstrating how badly women are regarded around the world. The campaign centered on entering phrases like “women should” into a Google search box and seeing what suggestions Google made to “autocomplete” the search string. The idea was that, because Google has a massive database of the ways in which people generally finish search strings, the Google suggestions would reflect the most popular completions. Google’s suggestions were not terribly complimentary toward women. “Women should” was autocompleted with phrases like, “stay at home,” “be slaves,” “be in the kitchen,” and “not speak in church.”

 After recovering from my initial horror, I thought that this might be an interesting approach to finding out about trends in popular belief more generally, so I decided to try it out the phrase, “psychology is.” The suggestions I got were: “not a science,” “bullshit,” “the study of,” “empirical,” and “useless.” These completions were not exactly shocking to me, but they are rather disheartening if you think (as many psychologists do) that the discipline has, over the last century-and-a-third, achieved a relatively secure status among the sciences.

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I sent  off to three psychology e-mail lists to which I subscribe the suggestion that other people might try this out. I did not relay my exact results, but I did indicate that the outcomes would be less happy than they might expect. Soon afterwards, one person wrote back saying that they didn’t understand what I was on about. The autocompletes they had gotten to “psychology is” were “defined as,” “the study of,” “best defined as,” “not a science.” Not exactly favorable – three of the four are incomplete sentences – but not nearly as negative as I had gotten: no “bullshit,” no “useless.”

Only then  did I remember that the Google search engine does not give the same results for everyone. It customizes its responses based on the search history of the person doing the search. So, my question immediately became, how much variability is there between people in this kind of search? Had this one other person and I covered pretty much the entire range, just by coincidence? Or, was everyone going to be wildly different from each other? I decided to ask a number of people to try it out to see what would happen.

I am not one of these people with hundreds or even thousands of Facebook “friends.” I have “only” 104. Many of these people are other historians of psychology, several from my own school. Quite a few are historians of science, psychologists, and baseball researchers, along with a number of old friends who toil in a random assortment of professions. Not exactly a random sample. Nevertheless… Continue reading Psychology is… A Google Autocomplete Adventure

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Are we Living in a Golden Age of Mesmerism?

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.

Digital history seems hard to a lot of people. All those fancy computer programs to count and filter and graph data seem complicated and difficult to learn. But it need not be that way. You can get started on basic digital history of psychology right now with nothing more complicated than the web browser you are using to read this message.

Let me show you how: First, go to the Google Ngrams web page (in another browser tab, so that you can continue to read this post as well).  Ngrams is a program that scans the vast holdings of Google Books for words that you select, and then plots them on a line graph. When you have the Ngrams page up, delete the default words  “Albert Einstein,Sherlock Holmes,Frankenstein” from the search box and replace them with the words “phrenology, mesmerism, hypnosis”  (no quotation marks, but be sure to include the commas). Set the date range to between 1800 and 1900. Make sure the corpus is set to “English,” and leave the “smoothing” at the default value of 3. Click on the “Search lots of books” button.

You should get a graph that looks something like this (click on the graph to enlarge it):

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You can see that immediately see that phrenology had its peak popularity (in English-language published books) in the late 1830s, and then began to fall off rapidly. It is important to note, on the y-axis, that this peak was only about 2/10,000ths of a percent of all words that appeared, but that was its peak none the less. It also had a secondary peak in the late 1840s, at just about the same time as mesmerism began its own rise. Indeed, some people of the time (including Ada Lovelace of computing history fame) wrote of “phreno-mesmerism”; the two practices began to merge in the public mind. They both fell off in the 1850s to a kind of “background” level of about 4/100,000ths of a percent for the rest of the century. In about 1885, however, a new discipline called “hypnosis” began to rise, surpassing both of the older practices in the late 1880s, and reaching its (19th-century) peak in the mid-1890s.

There is problem with doing the graph this way, however. Many authors  discussed these three ideas using alternate forms of the words: phrenologist instead of phrenology, mesmeric instead of mesmerism, hypnotize instead of hypnotism, etc. So we need to include those forms in our search as well. Go back to the Ngrams search box and insert this instead: phrenology+phrenological+phrenologist, mesmerism+mesmeric+mesmerist+mesmerize+mesmerized, hypnotism+hypnotize+hypnotized+hypnotizer+hypnotist. That covers most of the variants. Be sure to click the “Search lots of books” button. Now your graph should look like this:

Click to enlarge

This graph is not that different from the first one, except that the main peak for mesmerism and its variants (let’s call this mesmerism+) now exceeds the secondary peak for phrenology+ around 1850 (because, as it turns out, “mesmeric” was actually used more frequently than the base term “mesmerism”). Note also that there is a bit more of a secondary peak for mesmerism+ around 1890.

Now we are going to vary the corpus of books we use. Go back to the Ngrams page and change the corpus “English” to the corpus “American English.” This includes only books that were published in the US. Remember to click the “Search lots of books” button. Continue reading Are we Living in a Golden Age of Mesmerism?

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