New Issue: History of Psychology

The February 2012 issue of History of Psychology has just been released online and is chock full of new articles. Included in this issue are articles on the origins of the therapeutic theories of Aaron Beck (right) and Carl Rogers, respectively. Other articles address developments in historical methods, including one on transcending “Great Man” histories and another on the new neurohistory. Further articles recount how Wundt’s philosophical studies influenced his early theory of the unconscious and describe the development of anglophone psychology’s vocabulary. The issue ends with a short piece on the fate of John Dillingham Dodson, the co-creator of the Yerkes-Dodson law. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Aaron T. Beck’s drawings and the psychoanalytic origin story of cognitive therapy,” by Rachael I. Rosner. The abstract reads,

In this essay the author challenges the standard origin story of cognitive therapy, namely, that its founder Aaron T. Beck broke with psychoanalysis to pursue a more pragmatic, parsimonious, and experimentalist cognitive model. It is true that Beck broke with psychoanalysis in large measure as a result of his experimental disconfirmation of key psychoanalytic ideas. His new school of cognitive therapy brought the experimental ethos into every corner of psychological life, extending outward into the largest multisite randomized controlled studies of psychotherapy ever attempted and inward into the deepest recesses of our private worlds. But newly discovered hand-sketched drawings from 1964 of the schema, a conceptual centerpiece of cognitive therapy, as well as unpublished personal correspondence show that Beck continued to think psychoanalytically even after he broke with psychoanalysis. The drawings urge us to consider an origin story much more complex than the one of inherited tradition. This new, multifaceted origin story of cognitive therapy reaches beyond sectarian disagreements and speaks to a broader understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of cognitive therapy.

“The Roosevelt years: Crucial milieu for Carl Rogers’ innovation,” by Godfrey T. Barrett-Lennard. The abstract reads,

This study explores broad features of political culture and event of the 1930s and World War 2 years, viewed in relation to the emergence and rapid early growth of the new therapy of Carl Rogers. The paper traces Rogers’ early professional life and examines distinctive emphases in sociopolitical thought and development during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership as President over the prolonged emergency of the Great Depression and the crisis of the War. The study includes a focus on the President’s own outlook and style, pertinent New Deal innovations, and wartime needs. Twelve features of this larger context are discriminated as together having vital importance for the new therapy and its founder. The congruent courses of the macrocontext and of Rogers’ innovation are followed to the ending of Roosevelt’s life. Direct causation is not attributed, but the evidence adduced newly points to particular contours of a larger environment favorable for the expression of Rogers’ values and rare ability. In sum, the author concludes that a synergy of highly conducive historical circumstance and individual exceptionality contributed to the philosophical underpinnings, attitudinal values and early momentum of Rogers’ client-centered therapy.

“Why did Wundt abandon his early theory of the unconscious? Towards a new interpretation of Wundt’s psychological project,” by Saulo de Freitas Araujo. The abstract reads,

Despite the numerous and important contributions brought by Wundt scholarship in recent decades, some aspects of his work remain unclear and poorly understood. The aim of this paper is to explore one of these aspects, namely, the relationship between philosophy and psychology in Wundt’s thought. To this end, we shall discuss an important yet neglected moment in Wundtian psychology, which remains unexplained to date: Why did Wundt abandon his early theory of the unconscious? According to the interpretation offered here, this can only be adequately explained by his intense philosophical studies in the period preceding the publication of the Grundzüge in 1874. Finally, we will point out some implications of this analysis to the general interpretation of Wundt’s psychological project.

“The long past and short history of the vocabulary of anglophone psychology,” by John G. Benjafield. The abstract reads,

How do particular words come to be part of the vocabulary of Anglophone psychology? The present study sampled 600 words with psychological senses from the Oxford English Dictionary, which not only gives the number of senses for each word but also the date and author for the earliest known occurrence of each sense. Analogous information for the same words was taken from PsycINFO. One can distinguish between words for which their psychological sense is the first to occur in the history of the written language (primary psychological words) and words for which their psychological sense only emerges after one or more other senses have become established in the written language (secondary psychological words). To use a distinction made famous by Ebbinghaus, secondary psychological words have both a past and a history in psychology, while primary psychological words only have a history. Secondary psychological words have more connections to other words and occur more frequently in PsycINFO than do primary psychological words. For secondary psychological words, it is possible to trace a process of metaphoric polysemy that provides a basis for the eventual occurrence of the psychological sense of a word. Some primary psychological words are now developing secondary, nonpsychological senses, showing that they are subject to the same metaphoric process as are any other words.

“Genius without the ‘Great Man’: New possibilities for the historian of psychology,” by Laura C. Ball. The abstract reads,

The Carlylian style of history, more commonly known as the “Great Man” approach, presented the “genius” as an individual worthy of celebration: history as hero worship. This style, which characterized the first wave of the history of psychology, has gone out of historiographic fashion. In its place is the “new history,” which is marked by its external focus and privileging of social factors and cultural context in its explanations. This shift in historiographic sensibilities has also led to a revision in the appropriate subject matter for psychologist-historians. This article argues, in contrast, that it is possible to study eminent individuals without resorting to hagiography, and it presents various methods that could be used for this purpose. The aim of such an endeavor is to create a space for critically and historically informed perspectives on greatness and to suggest a reconsideration of the value of an “historical psychology.”

“History from within? Contextualizing the new neurohistory and seeking its methods,” by Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. The abstract reads,

“Histories from below” sought to give voice to those ordinary folk whose social position had failed to afford them great power, wealth, or responsibility: the neglected undocumented. Now, Lynn Hunt (2009) calls for a revolution that would task historians with giving voice to feelings —what I will call a “history from within.” This is what led her to endorse Daniel Lord Smail’s (2008) suggestion that historians appeal to neuroscience and thereby construct a “new neurohistory.” The purpose would be to introduce a common factor to all human stories: a tool to think with when describing what it was like (cf. Nagel, 1974). If successful, this would be quite powerful: in Hunt’s view, such a project could lead to a universalization of human rights. But the program is not without challenges, one of which is to provide an acceptable explanation for the type of looping causation that applies to bio-cultural kinds . Smail’s solution involves an appeal to evolutionary theory, but how this solves the problem of causation is not clear. Here, therefore, an attempt is made to clarify his solution. Smail and Hunt’s views on the role of evidence in history are also made plain. The paper then concludes by importing related ideas from the recent history of philosophy. If one is going to have a brain-based view of felt-history, then the neurohistorian’s task is to situate historical individuals in contexts of shared experience—to not just read evidence through lenses of intellectual “thought collectives” (generalized from paradeigma ), but also through “experiential” or “moral categories” ( aisthánomai ).

“What ever happened to John Dodson?,” by Thomas Brothen. The abstract reads,

John Dillingham Dodson was the enigmatic, less well-known contributor to the research study that resulted in the creation of the famous Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law is still described in introductory psychology textbooks and entering “Yerkes-Dodson” as a search term in an Internet search engine produces many thousands of hits. This article reveals what became of the junior partner in that classic research.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.