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,

Psychologist Catharine Cox Miles (1890–1984) is often remembered as the junior author, with Lewis Terman, of Sex and Personality. Written with support from the Committee for Research on the Problems of Sex (CRPS), Sex and Personality introduced the “masculinity-femininity” personality measure to psychology in 1936. Miles has been overlooked by some historians and constructed as a silent, indirect feminist by others. Private letters show that Terman and Miles had different assumptions about the need for library research work to precede the empirical work for Sex and Personality. Miles’s 1935 chapter on the “Social Psychology of Sex” shows that her theoretical formulation of sex differed from Terman’s in its emphasis on female embodiment, respect for the emerging tradition of the sex survey, and its opinions about the determinants of marital happiness, and the variability of intelligence. Ironically, CRPS monies wired to Terman may have funded Miles to develop this early formulation of the psychology of sex.

“Carney Landis and the psychosexual landscape of touch in mid-20th-century America,” by David Serlin. The abstract reads,

In the last quarter of the 1930s, Carney Landis, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University affiliated with the Psychiatric Institute of New York, headed a Committee for Research in Problems of Sex-funded research project in which he conducted interviews with 100 women between the ages of 18 and 35 who self-identified as physically disabled. Landis interviewed the women about their sex lives, their sexual identities, and their relationship to their bodies and published the results in 1942 under the title The Personality and Sexuality of the Physically Handicapped Woman. The book represents conventional psychosexual presumptions about disabled women’s stunted personality and frustrated sexuality stemming from the absence of a Freudian “sexual moment.” Yet, the original research notes, housed at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, reveal that many of these women engaged in acts of erotic touching that played a far more dynamic and complex role in the development of their sexual subjectivities than Landis or his researchers could recognize. This article examines how touch and tactility produced meanings for Landis’ research subjects and thus illuminated forms of sexual subjectivity not regularly associated with either histories of disability or histories of sexuality.

“The queer life of a lab rat,” Michael Pettit. The abstract reads,

The laboratory rat is an important, if neglected, actor in the history of sexuality. From the 1920s and 1940s, a series of reports emerged from American psychology laboratories detailing instances of spontaneous “reversals” in sexual behavior within their rat colonies. Frank Beach, then at the American Museum of Natural History, developed a model for the “nature” of sexuality that stressed that all organisms had the neurological capacity to perform behavior of either sex. Beach enrolled his emerging specialty, behavioral endocrinology, in support of Alfred Kinsey’s controversial findings. Both scientists highlighted the multitude of potential sexual outlets pursued by organisms and the prevalence of nonprocreative sexual behaviors. This article draws on elements of queer theory to elucidate how the landscape of the comparative psychologist’s rat colony with its organisms, apparatus, practices, and rituals served an integral function in the redefinition of sex in the 20th century. Queer theory calls into question easy proclamations about what counts as natural or normal by drawing attention to the presumed binaries that frequently govern the classification of sex. The maintenance of the colony required the careful management of sex with its obstruction devices, hypersexualized indicator animals, segregation cages, and castrated rats injected with hormones. Moreover, Beach’s own writings indicate how his own domestic life became entangled with the sex lives of the rats. An irony animates this Rockefeller-funded sexology: Research funded to elucidate the mechanisms underlying heterosexuality came to question its innateness and universality.

“Problems of sex and the problem with nature: A commentary on ‘Beyond Kinsey’,”Alexandra Rutherford. The abstract reads,

In this commentary on the three articles in the special section ”Beyond Kinsey: The Committee for Research in Problems of Sex and American Psychology,” I focus on the implications of each author’s analysis for understanding scientific constructions of sex and sexuality by examining the complex intersection of sex and nature. I show how each paper illuminates the ways nature was deployed by researchers investigating one of the most intimate yet most political aspects of being human. What did they count as “natural” when it came to sex and sexuality? What did they exclude or overlook? What political and moral work did the rhetoric of “the natural” do?

End of Special Section

“Tough love: A brief cultural history of the addiction intervention,” Claire D. Clark. The abstract reads,

Popular media depictions of intervention and associated confrontational therapies often implicitly reference—and sometimes explicitly present—dated and discredited therapeutic practices. Furthermore, rather than reenacting these practices, contemporary televised interventions revive them. Drawing on a range of literature in family history, psychology, and media studies that covers the course of the last 3 decades, this paper argues that competing discourses about the nuclear family enabled this revival. Historians such as Stephanie Coontz, Elaine Tyler May, and Natasha Zaretsky have demonstrated that the ideal nuclear family in the post-WWII United States was defined by strictly gendered roles for parents and appropriate levels of parental engagement with children. These qualities were supposedly strongly associated with middle-class decorum and material comfort. By the 1970s, this familial ideal was subjected to a variety of criticisms, most notably from mental health practitioners who studied—or attempted to remedy—the problematic family dynamics that arose from, for example, anxious mothers or absent fathers. After psychological professionals began to question the logic of treating maladjusted individuals for the sake of preserving the nuclear family, a therapeutic process for doing exactly that was popularized: the addiction intervention. The delayed prevalence of therapeutic interventions arises from a tension between the psychological establishment that increasingly viewed the nuclear family as the primary site and source of social and psychological ills, and the producers of popular media, who relied on the redemptive myth of the nuclear family as a source of drama.

“The origins of psychology in Italy: Themes and authors that emerge through a content analysis of the Rivista di Filosofia Scientifica [Journal of Scientific Philosophy],” by Chiara Bartolucci and Giovanni Pietro Lombardo. The abstract reads,

This article examines the scientific-cultural context of the second half of the 1800s, during which psychological science emerged in Italy. The article explores the contribution made by the emergence of the primary research traditions of that period, namely, physiological anthropology and phreniatry, by means of a methodology that combines content analysis with a classical historiographical study of the period. Themes and authors deriving from the various disciplines in the human and natural sciences were identified through a content analysis of the Rivista di Filosofia Scientifica [Journal of Scientific Philosophy], a periodical that is representative of Italian positivism. The analysis highlights the epistemological perspective held by scholars who, distancing themselves from the mechanistic reductionism of the proponents of positivism, integrated a naturalistic and evolutionary conceptualization with the neo-Kantian critique. A clearly delineated naturalistic and differential perspective of scientific research that brought about the birth of psychology as an experimental discipline in Italy in the 1900s emerges from the analysis, including psychology and psychopathology as studied by the phreniatrists Gabriele Buccola, Enrico Morselli, and Eugenio Tanzi; Tito Vignoli and Giuseppe Sergi’s work in comparative anthropology; Giulio Fano’s approach and contribution to physiology; and Enrico Ferri’s contribution to criminology.

“The beginnings of behavior analysis laboratories in Brazil: A pedagogical view,” by Sérgio Dias Cirino, Rodrigo Lopes Miranda, and Robson Nascimento da Cruz. The abstract reads,

We introduce the history of behavior analysis in Brazil at the beginning of the 1960s. The behavior analysis laboratory was selected as the focus of this investigation. The time frame of our historical account begins with the visit of Fred Keller to Brazil as a visiting professor at the Universidade de São Paulo. During this period, the first behavior analysis laboratory in Brazil was created, and the first Brazilians were trained in the behavior analysis perspective. We will talk about (a) the zeitgeist of Brazilian higher education, in general, and of psychology, in particular, at the beginning of the 1960s; (b) the background of Keller’s arrival in 1961; (c) the reception of the behavior analysis laboratory as a pedagogical tool; and (d) the first steps in the spread of behavior analysis throughout Brazil by means of the work of the didactic behavior analysis laboratory. Our account highlights certain aspects of the beginnings of behavior analysis as a field of scientific study in Brazil. Furthermore, we can observe the importance of the behavior analysis laboratory and its instruments in helping promote this field in Brazil. We especially note that the laboratory was a pedagogical tool in the Brazilian movement to improve Brazil’s research community.

“Credibility, respectability, suggestibility, and spirit travel: Lurena Brackett and animal magnetism,” Sheila O’Brien Quinn. The abstract reads,

In the 1830s, when 20-year-old medical student Charles Poyen (1815–1844) began the demonstration tour that led to the popularization of animal magnetism in New England, he met with considerable resistance from both the medical profession and the general public. Skeptics argued that the phenomena apparently demonstrated during mesmeric sessions were so extraordinary that they had to be the result of intentional deception. The deception argument was bolstered by referencing the then popular prejudices against the working-class women who served as mesmeric subjects. Conveniently, these prejudices included belief in a special talent for deception that was not found in women from more respectable backgrounds. Mesmerists defended themselves against accusations of dishonesty by publicizing the achievements of Lurena Brackett (1816–1857), a young woman who escaped the prejudices associated with the working-class mesmeric subjects but still demonstrated apparently extraordinary mesmeric phenomena. The well-publicized story of Lurena regaining her sight during mesmeric séances is acknowledged as important in establishing the popularity of mesmerism in the United States. Lurena’s supporters argued that her respectable background made deception impossible. This article uses Shorter’s work on the history of hysteria and Trembinski’s analysis of the history of trauma to argue that some of the seemingly extraordinary phenomena observed during a mesmeric séance can be better understood with reference to conversion disorder and the concept of hypnotic suggestion rather than intentional deception. While Lurena’s respectability made her audience ready to accept her credibility, a conversion disorder would have produced the physical symptoms that responded so convincingly to mesmerism.

“Jean Piaget: Images of a life and his factory,” Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. The abstract reads,

In this article, I use a new book about Jean Piaget to introduce a new historical method: examining “psychological factories.” I also discuss some of the ways that “Great Men” are presented in the literature, as well as opportunities for new projects if one approaches the history of the discipline differently and examines the conditions that made that greatness possible. To that end, the article includes many details about Piaget that have never before been discussed in English. Attention is drawn, in particular, to Piaget’s collaborators: the hundreds of workers at his factory in Geneva, many of whom were women.

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.

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