New Articles: Hypnosis, Possession, and Theoretical Psychology

The February 2019 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Full details follow below.

“Between sacred and profane: Possession, psychopathology, and the Catholic church,” Innamorati, Marco; Taradel, Ruggero; Foschi, Renato. Abstract:

In Catholic culture, and especially within the Italian Catholic environment, there has recently been a significant revival of the practice of exorcism. This is a fact noted by historians such as Levack (2013) and Young (2016). The article intends to show how this phenomenon is related to a series of important historical turning points, the most important of which is the recent collaboration between exorcists and Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists to establish a differential diagnosis between real possession and mere psychopathology. The recent revival of exorcism in Italy is particularly noteworthy because it reverses a slow but clear trend in the Catholic Church, in the course of the 20th century, that increasingly considered possessions either as delusional or very rare. The reality of the devil has never been denied by the Catholic Church, but until the Second Vatican Council, the tendency was to de-escalate the denunciations of its direct and personal presence in the world. The article describes this evolution up to the most recent developments, highlighting the historiographical entanglements related to the coexistence, within the scientific realm, of demonological and psychological themes and beliefs.

“Descartes on emotions, reason, and the adaptive unconscious: The pioneer behind the caricature,” Kirkebøen, Geir. Abstract:

The 17th-century philosopher René Descartes’s radical new understanding of psychological phenomena is usually presented very inaccurately in psychological literature. Two extreme examples are Damasio’s (1994) Descartes’ Error and Wilson’s (2002) Strangers to Ourselves. These two much-cited books contrast the “great” philosopher’s naive mistakes with recent research on, respectively, the relation among emotions, reason, and the brain (Damasio) and the adaptive functions of unconscious processes (Wilson). Both authors do that without referring to either Descartes’s voluminous works on physiology and psychology or the extensive historical research on his works. This article shows that these distinguished scholars’ influential books are historically very misleading. Contrary to what they claim, most of Descartes’s many explanations of psychological phenomena are embodied. He was in particular engaged in understanding the relation among emotions, reason, and the brain. According to the models of understanding Descartes put forward in the 1640s, the author argues that Descartes’s Vision would have been an appropriate title for Damasio’s book. Wilson contrasts throughout his book new insights from recent research on the adaptive unconscious with the familiar caricature of Descartes’s views in the psychological literature. The author shows that Descartes, in fact, to a large extent anticipated Wilson’s argumentation for the necessity of the adaptive unconscious. He concludes that Descartes should be considered the pioneer behind many of the models of understanding presented in Wilson’s book. The author substantiates his conclusions by explicitly contrasting the argumentation and views in Descartes’s own writings with Damasio’s and Wilson’s many incorrect claims.

“Vittorio Benussi, hypnosuggestive methods, and emotional functional autonomy,” by Antonelli, Mauro. Abstract:

This article reconstructs Vittorio Benussi’s (1878–1927) research on autonomia funzionale emotiva [emotional functional autonomy], carried out in Padua between 1920 and 1927. Its aim is to demonstrate that Benussi believed—against the intellectualist mainstream of the psychology of his time and even against the Brentanian-Meinongian tradition in which he was educated—in the fundamental independence of emotions from the cognitive functions that usually accompany them. To study this autonomy, Benussi used hypnosis as an experimental tool designed to disassemble the phenomena of mental life from their global functional unity. Benussi thus compared the work of psychologists with that of physicists or chemists. This was a unique undertaking for theoretical ambitions and experimental techniques, which was completely abandoned after his premature death. To conclude, the legacy of Benussi’s research on emotions is highlighted, and the resumption of his research model within current studies on the relationships between emotion and cognition is encouraged.

“Before the deluge: The 1932 International Congress of Psychology in Copenhagen,” Pind, Jörgen L. Abstract:

The Tenth International Congress of Psychology, held in Copenhagen in late August of 1932, was the last International Congress held before events leading up to World War II came to interfere with the course of the congresses. Despite the difficult times, primarily because of the Great Depression and the fragile political situation, the congress nevertheless managed to bring together participants from many countries, thus emphasizing the international profile of psychology. The 1932 congress was characterized by the wide range of topics presented and discussed. A book of proceedings, containing all the papers delivered, was planned but never appeared, as the organizers of the congress were unable to obtain funds required for the publication. Therefore, relatively little has been written about the congress. The congress, however, aroused great interest in the Danish newspapers. Many participants took part in interviews, casting an interesting light on their approaches to psychology. The newspaper reports, along with archival sources, make it possible to describe the course of the conference. It clearly emerges that psychology had, by this time, shed the narrow experimental focus of its earliest decades. The gathering clouds of international unrest had some effects on the course of the congress. Shortly after the congress, the careers and even the lives of many of the participants faced serious challenges.

“Theoretical psychology at the University of Alberta as social science during the Cold War,” Dawson, Michael R. W.; Baerveldt, Cor; Shillabeer, Evan; Richard, Vickie. Abstract:

We examine the University of Alberta’s Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology (1965–1990) in the context of social science conducted during the Cold War. We begin by considering the center with respect to three important properties of social science at this time: an emphasis on interdisciplinarity, a focus on theory, and a preference for quantitative methods. Our analysis suggests that center activities also exhibited these characteristics. They were highly interdisciplinary, they were concerned with the development of psychological theory, and center members were experts in a variety of formal, mathematical, or statistical techniques. We then discuss the center in relation to a subdomain of research known as Cold War social science, which also was interdisciplinary, theoretical and quantitative, but in addition focused on research that contributed to national security against the rise of communism. Center members also believed that their research had social implications, but these were related to a humanistic psychology that served as a positive social force, and diverged from typical Cold War applications. We end by considering the center as an example of a different kind of Cold War science that emerged from a unique set of contextual influences.

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.