Divided Attention, Divided Self: Race and Dual-mind Theories in the History of Experimental Psychology

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in Science, Technology, & Human Values: “Divided Attention, Divided Self: Race and Dual-mind Theories in the History of Experimental Psychology,” by C. J. Valasek. Abstract:

The duality of attention is explored by turning our focus to the political and cultural conceptions of automatic attention and deliberate attention, with the former being associated with animality and “uncivilized” behavior and the latter with intelligence and self-mastery. In this article, I trace this ongoing dualism of the mind from early race psychology in the late nineteenth century to twentieth century psychological models including those found in psychoanalysis, behaviorism, neo-behaviorism, and behavioral economics. These earlier studies explicitly or implicitly maintained a deficiency model of controlled attention and other mental processes that were thought to differ between racial groups. Such early models of attention included assumptions that Black and Indigenous peoples were less in control of their attention compared to whites. This racialized model of attention, as seen in the law of economy in the nineteenth century, with similar manifestations in psychoanalysis and neo-behaviorism in the twentieth century, can now be seen in present-day dual-process models as used in current psychological research and behavioral policy. These historical connections show that attention is not a value-neutral term and that attention studies do not stand outside of race and structural racism.

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.