Tag Archives: Michael Pettit

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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International Travel: York HT Professors Visit Brazil!

At the end of April, professors Thomas Teo and Michael Pettit, of York University’s History and Theory of Psychology program, visited the Department of Psychology at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (Department of Psychology, Federal University of Juiz de Fora), which recently established a History and Philosophy of Psychology graduate program. Teo and Pettit spoke about their work at the Seminário de Pós-graduação em Psicologia (Graduate Seminar in Psychology) and were interviewed, along with others, for a video that is now on YouTube (above). 

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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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Interview w/ Hegary, Pettit, & Serlin

In 1922 the National Research Council’s Division of Medical Sciences, together with the Bureau of Social Hygiene and the Rockefeller Foundation, established a Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (CRPS). The committee went on to operate for more than four decades, funding a variety of projects related to problems of sex, broadly conceived. This included projects that spanned the fields of morphology, physiology, and psychology, and perhaps most famously included funding for Alfred Kinsey’s work on human sexuality.

The just released August issue of History of Psychology, includes several articles that detail some of the less discussed work funded by the committee. Together, these articles make up the issue’s Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology. The section’s introduction is provided by Peter Hegarty who then goes on in his article to discuss the work of Catharine Cox Miles on the psychology of sex. Next, David Serlin discusses psychologist Carney Landis’s work on the importance of touch in the sexuality of physically disabled women, while Michael Pettit discusses Frank Beach’s investigation of the queer life of the lab rat. The section ends with commentary by Alexandra Rutherford. (Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below the interview, while full details on all the articles included in this issue of History of Psychology can be found in an earlier AHP post here.)

AHP had the pleasure of interviewing each of the authors, whose articles comprise this special section, about their work. The full text of this interview follows below.

Peter Hegarty (left) is a social psychologist with interests in the history of psychology and LGBT psychology at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom.

AHP: Your article focuses on the work of the little known female psychologist, Catharine Cox Miles. Briefly, who was she and why has she often been overlooked in the history of psychology?

PH: Catharine Cox was a talented Germanist who was honored for her relief work in Berlin with the Society of Friends in the aftermath of World War 1. Her PhD was a ‘historiometric’ attempt to determine the childhood IQs of famous figures from historical sources. After some time spent in clinical psychology in the 1920s, she returned to Stanford where she worked with Terman on the measurement of ‘masculinity-femininity.’ She married psychologist Walter Miles – who was recently widowed – shortly after returning to Stanford, and was known as Catharine Cox Miles thereafter. The Miles couple collaborated on research on cognitive aging. They moved to Yale during the Terman-Miles collaboration, where Catharine was the only Professor of Clinical Psychology during the 1930s. She wrote handbook chapters on sex – which I analyze here – and on gifted children after her departure from Stanford. She also wrote a case history of a person with an intersex condition for an edited book marking Terman’s retirement. After World War II, Catharine and Walter Miles spent some time living and teaching in Turkey.

It would be wrong to say that Miles has been “forgotten.” Certainly her work is frequently enough mentioned in histories of intelligence testing and her career has been mentioned in histories of women psychologists of her generation. However, there has been a tendency to conflate her views with those of Lewis Terman, her PhD advisor. In this article I hoped to bring out aspects of Miles’ thought about sex that distinguished her views from Terman’s.

AHP: Although Miles and Lewis Terman co-authored the CRPS funded volume Sex and Personality, they did not agree on many aspects of the psychology of sex. Can you tell us about some of these differences? Continue reading Interview w/ Hegary, Pettit, & Serlin

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August HoP: Sex, Mesmerism, Addiction, & More

The August 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue is a Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, which examines some of the psychological research funded by the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex. Stay tuned to AHP later in the week for a special interview with Peter Hegarty, Michael Pettit, and David Serlin, the authors whose articles make up this section.

In addition to the Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, the issue includes article that address the history of addiction interventions, the roots of psychology in Italy, behavior analysis in Brazil and its pedagogical connections, Lurena Brackett and mesmerism in the nineteenth century United States, and Jean Piaget’s psychological factory. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology.

“Beyond Kinsey: The committee for research on problems of sex and American psychology,” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads,

This introduction to the Special Section of History of Psychology argues for greater attention to psychological research on sex in the decades before the publication of the Kinsey volumes. Drawing on scholarship by Adele Clarke, Donna Haraway and Wade Pickren, this introduction argues for the centrality of the psychological research projects funded by the Committee for Research on Problems of Sex (CRPS), chaired by psychologist Robert Yerkes after 1921. The three individual papers all speak to opposition to the functionalist approach to sex often attributed to Yerkes’ CRPS.

“Getting miles away from Terman: Did the CRPS fund Catharine Cox Miles’s unsilenced psychology of sex?” by Peter  Hegarty. The abstract reads, Continue reading August HoP: Sex, Mesmerism, Addiction, & More

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Bibliography: Historiography of Psychology

This post is written by Michael Pettit, York University and is part of a special series of bibliographies on topics in the history of psychology.

Making (and reading) these kinds of lists is fun but always tricky. The problem is not so much what to include but exclude. The following gives you a snapshot of how I conceive of the “greatest hits” in the history of psychology (rather broadly construed) over the past fifty years. The list consists entirely of books: this reflects my graduate training if not necessarily my current reading habits. Most authors get only one book. The thought of Michel Foucault definitely has shaped this historiography profoundly, but the response among historians has been quite nuanced and sophisticated. This list of books includes work by historians, sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists, alongside psychologists, demonstrating how interdisciplinary the field has become. An important question to contemplate at the current moment is whether there are new, untapped historiographic directions offered by this tradition or whether we require a new starting point for debate?

Foucault, M. (1966/1970). The Order of Things. New York: Vintage.

Ellenberger, H. (1970). The discovery of the unconsciousness. New York: Basic Books.

Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality: An introduction. New York: Vintage.

Young, R. M. (1985). Darwin’s metaphor: Nature’s place in Victorian culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Digby, A. (1985). Madness, morality and medicine: A study of the York Retreat, 1796-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Donnell, J. M. (1985). The origins of behaviorism: American psychology, 1870-1920. New York: New York University Press. Continue reading Bibliography: Historiography of Psychology

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Raccoon Intelligence in the APA Monitor

The Time Capsule section of the most recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology features an article on the history of raccoon based comparative research in psychology. Authored by Michael Pettit, “Raccoon intelligence at the borderlands of science: Is it time to bring raccoons back to the psychology laboratory?” provides an overview of the appearance and disappearance of raccoon research in American psychology. Pettit writes,

How does intelligence of raccoons compare with other species? That was a topic of heated debate between 1905 and 1915 within the then-nascent field of comparative psychology.

In 1907, psychologist Lawrence W. Cole, who had established a colony of raccoons at the University of Oklahoma, and Herbert Burnham Davis, a doctoral student at Clark University, each published the results of nearly identical experiments on the processes of learning, association and memory in raccoons. They relied on E.L. Thorndike’s puzzle-box methodology, which involved placing animals in wooden crates from which the animal had to escape by opening the latch or sequence of latches. They observed the number of trials required for successful completion and the extent to which the animal retained the ability to solve the same problem more quickly when confronted again with it. Using this method, they sought what Davis called “a tolerable basis” for ranking the intelligence of raccoons on the phylogenetic scale of evolutionary development. They independently concluded that raccoons bested the abilities of cats and dogs, most closely approximating the mental attributes of monkeys.

Despite this promising start, raccoon research has been rare in psychology since the 1910s.

The full article can be found here. AHP’s previous post on Pettit’s research on the history of the raccoon as a research subject can be found here.

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Raccoons & Scientific Biography

The September 2010 issues of The British Journal for the History of Science and Isis each contain an article on the history of psychology. The former journal features an article by Michael Pettit on the history of the raccoon as a psychological research subject and why the animal failed to attain prominence in the discipline in the way of rats and pigeons. In Isis historian of science Michael Sokal uses the case of early American psychologist James McKeen Cattell to argue that scientific biography can be enhanced if one puts to use the insights derived from modern psychology. Also in this issue of Isis is a review of Alexandra Rutherford‘s book Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinner’s Technology of Behaviour from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s by Jill Morawski. AHP has previously discussed Beyond the Box here, here, and here. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The problem of raccoon intelligence in behaviourist America” by Michael Pettit. Continue reading Raccoons & Scientific Biography

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