A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to adorn their coffee table. Psychobookis a lavishly illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.
“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.
Linda Beebe, the senior director of PsycINFO (the psychology search engine), has written a brief history describing the evolution of the world’s premiere resource for psychological literature. [Update: the original link is no longer accessible; see a cached version here.] It provides a fascinating look at a part of the discipline that we often take for granted.
PsycINFO began in 1967 with the first electronic publication of the bibliographic records included in that year’s print Psychological Abstracts. The ability to produce an electronic product so early in the computing revolution came about as a result of grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a Scientific Information Exchange Project.
In 1965 the APA Publications Board approved an experimental study of the feasibility of producing Psychological Abstracts by the Photon process, which would yield magnetic tapes that could be used for information retrieval.
The production process was crude by today’s standards, as the electronic output was the result of a long paper-and-pencil creation process. However, when implemented in 1966, it greatly changed nearly everything about the production of Psychological Abstracts….
With a monthly, rather than a bimonthly, publication schedule, lag times were cut dramatically from as much as 3 years to as little as 3 months. The quantity of abstracts published also increased, moving from 8,381 in 1963 to 13,622 in 1966; and by the end of the decade the annual output had risen to 18,068….
In 1980 PsycINFO published 31,764 abstracts in electronic form…. By 1989, the annual total had grown to 52,442 abstracts….
How great would the harm be if nearly everyone on earth could get free access to all of the figures from the famous Rorschach ink blot test, along with examples of the answers that would be expected? This is the topic of a new article by Noam Cohen of the New York Times.
Images of the ten ink blots have been posted to the Wikipedia entry about the test, first published by its inventor Hermann Rorschach in 1921, along with an account of the popular Exner scoring system. Although the plates are long out of copyright in the US, the outcry from some psychologists has been fervent. Continue reading Rorschach + Wikipedia = Big Fight→
In a recent issue of History of Human Relations, 21(4), Simon Cohn (pictured left) explored the ways in which subjective experiences have been captured objectively through the use of brain-imaging techniques. In his examination, he discovered a potential problem.
Although hidden from final scientific accounts, at the centre of this [imaging] process is the need for the researchers to forge brief but intimate and personal relationships with the volunteers in their studies. With their increasing interest in studying more and more complex mental processes, and in particular as researchers focus on what they term ‘the social brain’, a potential paradox arises from the commitment to the straightforward location of brain function and recognition of the more distributed and intersubjective nature of the objects of their study. Consequently, in order to elicit specific mental activities, such as empathy, the scientists inevitably employ a range of socially based resources, which includes establishing a personal relationship with the volunteers. The scientists themselves see this as ensuring that they can trust that the volunteers will participate in the ways intended. But in contrast, the article argues that the central feature is actually the creation of a sense of intimacy, which serves to align the expectations and experiences of volunteer and researcher. Yet, while this relationship is necessary in order to ensure the required mental state is generated, during the experiment itself a great deal of work is then done to ensure it can be excluded from the final conceptualization of mental activity. (From the abstract.)
In other words, Cohn examines the issue of how “objective measures” can be derived from what is a necessarily an inter-subjective process.
The latest issue of the British Psychological Society’s flagship journal, The Psychologist, has just come out and it is freely available on-line in its entirety.
Of particular interest to historians will be Richard Howard’s piece on the French inventor of the intelligence test (among other things), Alfred Binet. Dr. Howard, who is a Reader in Personality Disorders in the Psychiatry Division at Nottingham University, emphasizes the differences between the value Binet saw in his own test and the uses to which it was put by Lewis Terman and other in the US. He also covers Binet’s wide range of interests prior to the intelligence test, from his work on hysteria and suggestibility in Jean-Martin Charcot’s clinic, to his studies of the unreliability of eyewitnesses in law courts, to his doctorate in insect physiology.
In a recent issue of History of Psychology, 11(3), Robert Gibby and Michael Zickar trace the early history of personality testing by American industry.
Objective personality testing began with Woodworth’s Personal Data Sheet in 1917. That test was developed to identify soldiers prone to nervous breakdowns during enemy bombardment in World War I (WWI). Soon after, many competing personality tests were developed for use in industry. Many of these tests, like Woodworth’s, focused on the construct of employee maladjustment and were deemed important in screening out applicants who would create workplace disturbances. In this article, the authors review the history of these early personality tests, especially the Bernreuter Personality Inventory and the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale, and discuss the implications of personality testers’ obsession with the construct of employee maladjustment. In addition, the authors discuss the industry’s obsession with emotional maladjustment and how this obsession coincided with a cultural shift in norms relating to cultural expression.
In February 1899, the Committee of Physical Culture of the Chicago Public School Board approved an intensive “anthropometric” study of all children enrolled in the city’s public schools. The study was a detailed attempt to measure the height, weight, strength, lung capacity, hearing, and general fitness of Chicago’s student population. Through 1899 and 1900, thousands of Chicago’s primary, grammar, and high school students had their bodies closely scrutinized, measured, weighed, tested, and, in a few cases, diagrammed. What the School Board members wanted to know was the “fitness” of the student body. Were Chicago public school students — many recently arrived immigrants from eastern and southern Europe — vital and vigorous children who could become energetic modern workers and citizens? (p. 341)
The results of this study had social and political implications.
Reassuringly, the authors stated that the students in the Chicago schools… showed “superiority” in “both size and physical development” when compared with children in other cities. Implicit in the social scientists’ comments was a desire to achieve an ideal type of body—an ideal that many Social Darwinist and eugenicists feared was disappearing. For some social reformers in the late 1890s loss of the ideal type was resulting in “a biological deterioration,” a deterioration caused by waves of immigration and resulting in social and economic degeneracy. (p. 343)
In the August issue of Brain and Cognition, 67(3), Paul Eling, Kristianne Derckx and Roald Maes examine the historical and conceptual background of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test.
In this paper, we describe the development of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). We trace the history of sorting tasks from the studies of Narziss Ach on the psychology of thinking, via the work of Kurt Goldstein and Adhémar Gelb on brain lesioned patients around 1920 and subsequent developments, up to the actual design of the WCST by Harry Harlow, David Grant, and their student Esther Berg. The WCST thus seems to originate from the psychology of thinking (‘Denkpsychologie’), but the test, as it is used in clinical neuropsychological practice, was designed by experimenters working within the behaviorist tradition. We also note recent developments suggesting that, contrary to the general impression, implicit learning may play a role in WCST-like discrimination learning tasks.
This fills a gap in the historical literature, as — although PsycInfo lists 2,276 studies using the Wisconsin Test — no history (that I can find) has previously been published.