May 2023 History of Psychology

The May 2023 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Titles, authors, and abstracts below.

““That imperfect instrument”: Galton’s whistle, Bierce’s damned thing, and the phenomenon of superior nonhuman sensory range,” Burton, Gregory. Abstract:

When the Galton whistle was introduced in the 1870s, it was the first demonstration many had encountered of the phenomenon that nonhumans sometimes exceed humans in sensory range, for example perceiving ultraviolet light and ultrasonic signals. While some empirical research had explored this possibility beforehand, this area of perceptual research progressed slowly. A horror short story by Ambrose Bierce in 1893, “The Damned Thing,” used the concept of superior nonhuman sensory range as a twist ending, seemingly anticipating scientific discoveries to come or at least understanding the implications of the early findings well in advance of the field. This article analyzes Bierce’s possible sources, with Bierce representing the general educated nonscientist and providing insights into the spread of this concept into public and scientific awareness.

““Down with fascism, up with science”: Activist psychologists in the U.S., 1932–1941,” Free to read. Harris, Ben. Abstract:

At the height of the Depression, more psychologists in the U.S. were awarded degrees than could find jobs. Master’s level graduates were particularly affected, holding positions that were tenuous, and they rejected second-class membership offered by the American Psychological Association. In response to this employment crisis, two Columbia University MA graduates created The Psychological Exchange, a journal that offered graduates and established colleagues a forum for news, job ads, and for discussing the expansion of psychology to address problems of the Depression. This article describes the Exchange and its unique window into psychologists debating how to reshape their field. In 1934, it was used by young Marxists to launch The Psychologists’ League, which agitated for colleagues who lost their jobs, tried to make research socially relevant, and connected with movements for the “social reconstruction” of society. It raised the consciousness of its members and sympathizers by linking to worldwide antifascist struggles while fighting antisemitism and nativism at home. While previous accounts make the League seem a spontaneous eruption, this article shows how members of the Communist Party created it, then controlled its agenda and activities. During the Stalin-Hitler pact they followed Stalin’s anti-war ideology and the League became a shell organization. Its members, nonetheless, creatively mixed psychological concepts and political ideology, drawing in colleagues through discussion groups, demonstrations, and social events. Sources for this work include unpublished correspondence, a diary, and Federal Bureau of Investigation files that reveal more complex lives than previously portrayed.

“Charlotte Bühler and her emigration to the United States: A clarifying note regarding the loss of a professorship at Fordham University,” Schneider, Wolfgang; Stock, Armin. Abstract:

Although Charlotte Bühler (1893–1974) was one of the most prominent female psychologists during the first half of the last century, she never received a full professorship in a psychology department. In this paper, we discuss possible reasons for this failure and focus on problems related to an offer from Fordham University in 1938 that never materialized. Our analysis based on unpublished documents indicates that Charlotte Bühler provided incorrect reasons for the failure in her autobiography. Moreover, we found no evidence that Karl Bühler ever received an offer from Fordham University. Overall, our reconstruction of events indicates that Charlotte Bühler came very close to her goal of receiving a full professorship at a research university, but unfavorable political developments and her suboptimal decisions were involved in the unfortunate outcome.

“The diffusion of Bruner’s psychological research in China and its impact,” Wang, Jing; Huo, Yongquan. Abstract:

Jerome S. Bruner (1915–2016) is a legendary figure in psychology and one of the most influential psychologists and educators of this era. His research interests were diverse, and his achievements were impressive. Although Bruner’s contributions are significant, no studies have been undertaken to investigate the value and impact of his theories outside the United States, to the detriment of scholarship. To fill this research gap, this article analyzes Chinese research on Bruner’s work to determine the influence of such research in China. Through a systematic historical investigation and theoretical interpretation, this article indicates the different stages of transmission, outstanding contributions, and future development path of Bruner’s influence on Chinese psychology. This serves to expand the field of research psychology. Promoting the diversified integration of psychology and obtaining an in-depth understanding of the frontier issues that this international psychologist was concerned with has important academic significance for the future development of Chinese psychology.

News & Notes

“Notes from the archives: Margaret Floy Washburn and her cats,” Mitchell, Rebecca; Harris, Ben. Abstract:

Margaret Floy Washburn was one of the leading psychologists of her generation, whose most important work was The Animal Mind (Goodman, 1980). As E. G. Boring noted, that text “reflected her own love of animals and her intense interest in their behavior” (1971, p. 547). What about the role of animals in Washburn’s personal life?

“Giving the history of psychology away in behavior analysis,” Morris, Edward K.; Morris, Cody. Abstract:

Based on a symposium at the 2018 meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI; E. K. Morris, 2018), the December 2022 issue of Perspectives on Behavior Science (PoBS)—ABAI’s house journal—published a special section on teaching the history of behavior analysis. It was inspired by George Miller’s (1969) urging that psychologists promote human welfare by discovering how “to give psychology away” (p. 1074). The special section of PoBS urged readers to promote the history of behavior analysis by giving it away. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved)

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.