Psychology’s History and the CIA

CIAThe discussion over the relationship between Psychology and the CIA continues:

In the most recent edition of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), there appears an article by Stephen P. Demanchick and Howard Kirschenbaum entitled “Carl Rogers and the CIA” in which they link Carl Rogers to the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology:

Carl Rogers was a pioneer and leader in the humanistic psychology movement. Although his many professional activities and accomplishments are well known, the story of his association with the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology—a front organization for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—is barely known and has never been explored in any depth. This article attempts to tell that story in the context of America during the 1950s, Rogers’s academic career, and the mission of the CIA.

McCoyThis publication follows on the heels of a recent discussion that appeared in the Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences. In the Spring 2007 edition of the journal, two discussion pieces appear in which each author, Thomas Blass and Richard E. Brown, raise criticisms related to the 2006 publication, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror by Alfred W. McCoy. Though the book extends to present day controversies related to Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, the focus of the JHBS discussion rests on McCoy’s accusations that the research of two historical figures in Psycholoy’s past — Stanley Milgram and Donald Hebb — was funded by the CIA.

Citing the research he conducted for his 2004 biography of Stanley Milgram, The Man who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, Blass asserts that “…Torture presents not a shred of evidence that Milgram received CIA funding, and I have no reason to believe that this claim has any foundation” (p. 200). Similarly, Richard E. Brown, who is currently working on a biography of Donald Hebb, questions McCoy’s conclusions:

Although McCoy did a prodigious amount of research for his book — 15 years in the writing — he, like many others, seems to have confused the work of Hebb with that of Ewen Cameron and others who were involved in the CIA’s mind-control research (p. 205).

McCoy’s response to the criticisms, which appeared in the Fall 2007 edition of JHBS, strongly reiterated his position:

For over half a century, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, psychology has served the U.S. intelligence community as a secret weapon in wars against its ideological enemies, first communism and now Islamic fundamentalism. From the start of the Cold War, the U.S. intelligence community has lavished rewards on the psychology profession, both generous funding for experimental research and employment for clinical specialists, producing a variant of what psychiatrist Robert Lifton has called a “Faustian bargain.” In this case, the price paid has been the APA’s collective silence, ethical “numbing,” and over time, historical amnesia (p. 401).

I have not been able to find a discussion on the American Psychological Association’s official position on these historical accusations. However, their current position on torture can be found here.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Blass, T. (2007). Unsupported allegations about a link between Milgram and the CIA: Tortured reasoning inA Question of Torture. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 43(2), 199-203. DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.20224

Brown, R.E. (2007). Alfred McCoy, Hebb, the CIA and Torture. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 43(2), 205-213. DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.20225

Demanchick, S.P., Kirschenbaum, H. (2007). Carl Rogers and the CIA. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), 6-31. DOI: 10.1177/0022167807303005

McCoy, A.W. (2007). Science in Dachau’s shadow: HEBB, Beecher, and the development of CIA psychological torture and modern medical ethics. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 43(4), 401-417. DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.20271

About Jennifer Bazar

Jennifer Bazar is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Her research focuses on the history of psychiatric institutionalization.