Tag Archives: temperament

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

Share on Facebook

Toronto Talk Oct. 30th: Testing Temperament at Work

Our Toronto area readers may be interested in an upcoming talk at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Kira Lussier (right), a graduate student at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, will be speaking on “Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America” on Wednesday, October 30th at 4pm. The event is free to the public, but advanced registration is required. Full details follow below.

Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America

Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Time: 4:00PM – 6:00PM
Location: 208N, North House, Munk School of Global Affairs 1 Devonshire Place

Industrial psychologists in interwar America sought to convince corporate personnel departments that the insights of the human sciences, applied at work, would result in a more efficient, harmonious, and productive workforce. The defining methodology of these industrial psychologists was the pencil-and-paper psychological test, which they claimed could reveal a worker’s social and emotional disposition to predict behavior at work. One of the most widely-adopted tests of this kind was the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale, first published in 1935; unlike other psychological instruments, this test was specifically created with industrial use in mind. Its creators—an industrial psychologist and a personnel manager — appealed to extant corporate concerns and drew on the ideology of “human relations,” to market their test as a scientific tool that would result in more harmonious labor relations. This paper argues that the legacy of this temperament testing was to forge a connection between workers’ affective disposition and the large-scale labor relations of the workplace: in selling their test to corporate clients, psychologists claimed that the psychological maladjustment of workers was one cause of labor unrest. These assumptions came under increasing attack by cultural critics like Daniel Bell, who identified personality tests as a particularly egregious management strategy to deflect attention from the broader socioeconomic structure of American capitalism. By unpacking this debate between the creators and critics of temperament testing, this paper explores the intersection of the politics of labor, the ideology of human relations and the practice of industrial psychology in interwar America.

Kira Lussier is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and a Junior Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute. With an undergraduate degree in History from McGill University, her research interests lie at the intersection of the history of the human sciences and American social history. Her dissertation traces the history of personality testing and its critics in North American workplaces from the First World War to the Cold War. She has presented her research at the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Share on Facebook