Forthcoming in HoP: Disciplinary Digital History, Temperament Tests, & Little Albert

A number of articles forthcoming in History of Psychology are now available online. These articles explore the disciplinary structure of psychology using digital history methods, the use of the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale in American industry during the interwar years, and the role of bias and logical errors in debates of the identity of Little Albert. Full titles, authors, and abstracts below.

“THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS PsycINFO as an Historical Archive of Trends in Psychology,” by Burman, Jeremy Trevelyan.  Abstract

Those interested in tracking trends in the history of psychology cannot simply trust the numbers produced by inputting terms into search engines like PsycINFO and then constraining by date. This essay is therefore a critical engagement with that longstanding interest to show what it is possible to do, over what period, and why. It concludes that certain projects simply cannot be undertaken without further investment by the American Psychological Association. This is because forgotten changes in the assumptions informing the database make its index terms untrustworthy for use in trend-tracking before 1967. But they can indeed be used, with care, to track more recent trends. The result is then a Distant Reading of psychology, with Digital History presented as enabling a kind of Science Studies that psychologists will find appealing. The present state of the discipline can thus be caricatured as the contemporary scientific study of depressed rats and the drugs used to treat them (as well as of human brains, mice, and myriad other topics). To extend the investigation back further in time, however, the 1967 boundary is also investigated. The author then delves more deeply into the prehistory of the database’s creation, and shows in a précis of a further project that the origins of PsycINFO can be traced to interests related to American national security during the Cold War. In short: PsycINFO cannot be treated as a simple bibliographic description of the discipline. It is embedded in its history, and reflects it.

“Temperamental Workers: Psychology, Business, and the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale in Interwar America,” by Lussier, Kira. Abstract

This article traces the history of a popular interwar psychological test, the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale (HWTS), from its development in the early 1930s to its adoption by corporate personnel departments. In popular articles, trade magazines, and academic journals, industrial psychologist Doncaster Humm and personnel manager Guy Wadsworth trumpeted their scale as a scientific measure of temperament that could ensure efficient hiring practices and harmonious labor relations by screening out “problem employees” and screening for temperamentally “normal” workers. This article demonstrates how concerns about the epistemological and scientific credibility of the HWTS were intimately entangled with concerns about its value to business at every step in the test’s development. The HWTS sought to measure the emotional and social dimensions of an individual’s personality so as to assess their suitability for work. The practice of temperament testing conjured a vision of the subject whose emotional and social disposition was foundational to their own capacity to find employment, and whose capacity to appropriately express, but regulate, their emotions was foundational to corporate order. The history of the HWTS offers an instructive case of how psychological tests embed social hierarchies, political claims, and economic ideals within their very theoretical and methodological foundations. Although the HWTS itself may have faded from use, the test directly inspired creators of subsequent popular personality tests, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

“Framing Psychology as a Discipline (1950–1999): A Large-Scale Term Co-Occurrence Analysis of Scientific Literature in Psychology,” by Flis, Ivan; van Eck, Nees Jan. Abstract:

This study investigated the structure of psychological literature as represented by a corpus of 676,393 articles in the period from 1950 to 1999. The corpus was extracted from 1,269 journals indexed by PsycINFO. The data in our analysis consisted of the relevant terms mined from the titles and abstracts of all of the articles in the corpus. Based on the co-occurrences of these terms, we developed a series of chronological visualizations using a bibliometric software tool called VOSviewer. These visualizations produced a stable structure through the 5 decades under analysis, and this structure was analyzed as a data-mined proxy for the disciplinary formation of scientific psychology in the second part of the 20th century. Considering the stable structure uncovered by our term co-occurrence analysis and its visualization, we discuss it in the context of Lee Cronbach’s “Two Disciplines of Scientific Psychology” (1957) and conventional history of 20th-century psychology’s disciplinary formation and history of methods. Our aim was to provide a comprehensive digital humanities perspective on the large-scale structural development of research in English-language psychology from 1950 to 1999.

“The Little Albert Controversy: Intuition, Confirmation Bias, and Logic,” by Digdon, Nancy. Abstract:

This article uses the recent controversy about Little Albert’s identity as an example of a fine case study of problems that can befall psychologist-historians and historians who are unaware of their tacit assumptions. Because bias and logical errors are engrained in human habits of mind, we can all succumb to them under certain conditions unless we are vigilant in guarding against them. The search for Little Albert suggests 2 persistent issues: (a) confirmation bias and (b) that overconfidence in a belief detracts from reasoning because logical errors are intuitive and seem reasonable. This article uses cognitive psychology as a framework for understanding why these issues might have arisen in the Albert research and passed the scrutiny of peer review. In closing, the article turns to historians’ writings to gain insight into rules of thumb and heuristics that psychologist-historians and historians can use to mitigate these concerns.

Share on Facebook

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *