Tag Archives: ecological psychology

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

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Roger Barker and Oskaloosa, Kansas as Laboratory

AHP readers interested in the history of ecological and environmental psychology will be interested in a recent piece in Harper’s Magazine (unfortunately accessible in full only to subscribers). In “Our Town: How Roger Barker made Oskaloosa, Kansas, His Laboratory” writer Ariel Sabar describes Barker’s Oskaloosa based “behavior settings” research. He also tracks down one of his research participants, Raymond, the title character of Barker’s study One Boy’s Day. As Sabar describes,

Not long after moving to Oskaloosa, a town of 725 people in the hills of northeastern Kansas, Roger Barker, the new chair of the psychology department at the University of Kansas, approached a young couple who lived near him with a request: Might a group of researchers follow their seven-year-old son around for a day, documenting the boy’s every word and movement?

Jack Birch, a salesman at the town hardware store, and his wife, Joan, a clerk at the county courthouse, said yes, and on April 26, 1949, eight observers with timers and clipboards, working in half-hour shifts, assembled a minute-by-minute account of an ordinary day in the life of Raymond Birch.

Harper & Row published the report in 1951 as One Boy’s Day. An editor of The New York Times Magazine found the book interesting enough to pay Oskaloosa a visit. In an August 1951 article she rhapsodized about how Barker and his colleagues “brought child psychology out of the laboratory to study children in their natural habitat, much as a botanist goes into the fields to study flowers.” Townspeople knew the good that came from agricultural research stations, so they accepted “the idea that perhaps some day as much can be known about raising children as raising corn.”

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