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APA Monitor: William James & the 6th Sense

The September 2012 issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology is now online. Included in this issue’s Time Capsule section is a piece by section editor Katharine Milar. In “William James and the Sixth Sense,” Milar discusses William James’s foray into experimental research with his investigation of the function of the inner ear (right) and the experience of dizziness. In the early 1880s, to test whether individuals with inner ear damage experienced dizziness, James

… initiated a study of dizziness in Harvard students and in deaf individuals. Participants closed their eyes and sat on a swing that was rotated until its ropes were tightly twisted together. After the swing ropes were allowed to rapidly unwind, the experimenter asked the participants to open their eyes and try to walk a straight line.

Of the 200 Harvard students and instructors, only one did not experience dizziness. But of the 519 deaf children, a majority reported only slight dizziness or none at all. James reported some preliminary results of the study in 1881 in the Harvard University Bulletin. The following year, he published his complete findings in the American Journal of Otology, acknowledging that more thorough research was needed and “in the hope that some one [sic] with better opportunities may carry on the work.”

Read the full piece online here.

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