AJP Articles: S. S. Stevens’ Scaling Work, Ecological Psychology, & Digital History

S. S. Stevens in the Psychoacoustics Lab at Harvard University

The Winter 2017 issue of the American Journal of Psychology is now online. Included as part of the journal’s continuing 130th anniversary coverage are articles on S. S. Stevens’s work on scaling and early work foreshadowing ecological psychology. A further article in the issue offers a digital history of authorship in the American Journal of Psychology and the Psychological Review. Full details below.

“S. S. Stevens’s Invariant Legacy: Scale Types and the Power Law,” by Lawrence M. Ward. Abstract:

S. S. Stevens was one of a number of prominent psychologists who published seminal articles in The American Journal of Psychology (AJP). Indeed, the first or, arguably, most important articles in several of his research strands were published there. In this brief treatment of his monumental work, I review these articles and some of their sequelae, both in Stevens’s own work and in that of others, in an attempt to sketch out how Stevens’s contributions in AJP helped form the development of experimental sensory and perceptual psychology throughout the 20th century. I focus on his work in psychophysical scaling, because in my opinion that has been his most important legacy. Indeed, the article that probably generated the flurry of work in psychophysical scaling that persisted into the 1990s was a brilliant work published in 1956 in AJP. In that article Stevens not only demonstrated the validity and reliability of direct scaling (in this case magnitude estimation and production) but also investigated a range of factors that could affect its results, anchoring the later work that led to its adoption as the fundamental and most popular approach to psychophysical scaling still in use today. In this section I also expand on a few of the modern directions in which this work has gone. Stevens also published in AJP classic articles on the localization of sound, the dimensions of sound, the relation of volume to intensity, and the neural quantum in pitch and loudness discrimination. He even contributed an article on scaling coffee odor. His work is a stellar example of how AJP has influenced psychological science then and now.

“Gibson and Crooks (1938): Vision and Validation,” by Patricia R. Delucia and Keith S. Jones. Abstract:

Gibson and Crooks (1938) is a landmark article that was ahead of its time, has had sustained and significant impact, and raised issues that are still being considered now. Although most influential in driving research, the concepts Gibson and Crooks presented influenced other domains, including surgery and naval operations. After summarizing the key concepts in Gibson and Crooks, we show how those concepts foreshadowed key principles of Gibson’s ecological approach to visual perception (Gibson, 1979/1986). We then describe research that validates and builds on the analyses of Gibson and Crooks. We conclude that Gibson and Crooks will continue to have impact and generate research for years to come.

“Between Pink Noise and White Noise: A Digital History of The American Journal of Psychology and Psychological Review,” by John G. Benjafield. Abstract:

The frequency with which authors contribute to The American Journal of Psychology (AJP) or Psychological Review (PR) is analyzed from the inceptions of both journals (1887 for AJP and 1894 for PR) until 2015. In the beginning, a small number of authors tend to make a large percentage of contributions, but this percentage shrinks over time. The slopes of the author distributions for each journal start out close to -1 (pink noise) and then gradually drift toward 0 (white noise). This means that the distributions flatten as the authors become more diverse, which in turn changes the experience of reading the journals. An explanation of these findings focuses on two factors. One is an increase in the amount of congestion as the number of authors grows ever larger. The other is a decline in the cohesiveness of the community of authors.

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.