Tag Archives: rats

Cinema and Failed “Rat Utopia” Over on the H-Word

The H-Word blog over at The Guardian has just published a piece on the influence of rat experiments on the novel High Rise, the basis for a newly released film of the same name. As author Jesse Olszynko-Gryn notes in his post,

the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.

Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.

The full piece can be read online here.

Share on Facebook

Special Issue: History of Psychosocial Stress

Interested in the history of stress? If so, you will want to check out a just released special issue on the topic. The December 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is guest edited by Rhodri Hayward and dedicated to the subject of “Inventing the Psychosocial: Stress and Social Psychiatry.” Articles in this issue examine a diverse array of subjects including: the work of Hans Selye, somatic disorders during World War Two, the development of psychosocial medicine in Britain, the rat and stress, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The invention of the psychosocial: An introduction,” by Rhodri Hayward. The abstract reads,

Although the compound adjective ‘psychosocial’ was first used by academic psychologists in the 1890s, it was only in the interwar period that psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers began to develop detailed models of the psychosocial domain. These models marked a significant departure from earlier ideas of the relationship between society and human nature. Whereas Freudians and Darwinians had described an antagonistic relationship between biological instincts and social forces, interwar authors insisted that individual personality was made possible through collective organization. This argument was advanced by dissenting psychoanalysts such as Ian Suttie and Karen Horney; biologists including Julian Huxley and Hans Selye; philosophers (e.g. Olaf Stapledon), anthropologists (e.g. Margaret Mead) and physicians (e.g John Ryle and James Halliday).

This introduction and the essays that follow sketch out the emergence of the psycho-social by examining the methods, tools and concepts through which it was articulated. New statistical technologies and physiological theories allowed individual pathology to be read as an index of broader social problems and placed medical expertise at the centre of new political programmes. In these arguments the intangible structure of social relationships was made visible and provided a template for the development of healthy and effective forms of social organization. By examining the range of techniques deployed in the construction of the psychosocial (from surveys of civilian neurosis, techniques of family observation through to animal models of psychotic breakdown) a critical genealogy of the biopolitical basis of modern society is developed.

“The pursuit of happiness: The social and scientific origins of Hans Selye’s natural philosophy of life,” by Mark Jackson. The abstract reads,

In 1956, Hans Selye tentatively suggested that the scientific study of stress could ‘help us to formulate a precise program of conduct’ and ‘teach us the wisdom to live a rich and meaningful life’. Continue reading Special Issue: History of Psychosocial Stress

Share on Facebook

Interview w/ Hegarty, 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/ Hegarty, Pettit, & Serlin

Share on Facebook