All posts by Christopher Green

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

New BBC4 Series on Intelligence

BBC Radio 4 begins a new series today on the fraught topic of intelligence. The focus of each of its three half-hour episodes is given by the series title: “Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different.” The series is hosted by BBC4 science regular, Adam Rutherford. It will cover questions such as what intelligence is, how we have tried to measure it, what difference intelligence makes, and, most controversial of all, what relation intelligence may have to genetics.

History of Psych on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 is starting a new series on the history of psychology Monday. It is hosted by Martin Sixsmith and it is called “In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind.” I don’t know anything else yet, except that you will be able to download it here.

Update: The series will include the following 5 episodes – Jacy Young.

High Anxieties
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Monday 21 April 2014

Psychology is as old as the human race. People have always sought to understand what makes us think, feel and act the way we do.

In Episode 1, Martin examines the government’s plan for a national ‘happiness index’ and traces our search for ourselves back to the ancients.

The term ‘psychology’ was first used in about 1600 and means, literally, ‘study of the soul’. But it was only in the late 19th century that psychology emerged as a separate science. Today it draws on the intellectual legacy of philosophy, physiology and, increasingly, neurobiology and social science.

The author and broadcaster Martin Sixsmith retrained as a psychologist in the last decade, following careers as a BBC correspondent and government adviser. Martin’s experience both studying applied psychology and as a recipient of therapy reflects the growing acceptance of psychological counselling in Britain and the lessening of the stigma attached to mental illness. There has been a growth of interest in the therapeutic aspects of psychology, but many of us still have a frustratingly incomplete knowledge of its history, techniques and broader applications.

This series taps into a defining aspect of modern existence and addresses the widespread desire to know more, charting the path from today’s democratisation of psychological care back to early beliefs, the birth of modern experimental psychology, the related ‘psy professions’ – psychiatry and psychotherapy – and the splits and controversies of the 20th century.

The Freudian Age
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Tuesday 22 April 2014

In Episode 2, Martin traces a line from current government interest in ‘talking cures’ back to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, visiting Freud’s private apartments and also Europe’s oldest mental asylum, the Narrenturm – literally, the Tower of Fools – in Vienna.

It’s All about Sex
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 23 April 2014

Freud’s development of a new psychological science, psychoanalysis, provoked controversy because of his focus on sexuality.

In episode 3, Martin examines Freud’s legacy, with audio archive of his one-time colleague then rival Carl Gustav Jung, his daughter Anna Freud and a new interview with Christopher Hampton, author of the play ‘The Talking Cure’.

Pavlov’s Bell
Duration: 15 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 24 April 2014

Starting with the ‘conditioned reflex’ that the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously identified while studying dogs, Martin explores the development of a significant alternative to the Freudian way of thinking, ‘behaviourism’ – including recordings of the controversial American psychologist BF Skinner and an interview with his daughter Deborah, who as a child was the subject of her father’s close scientific observations.

Talking Cures?
Duration: 15 minutes

Martin considers some of the therapies that combined the psychoanalytic principles of Freud and Jung with the behaviour modifying techniques of the mid-Twentieth Century’s other significant psychological movement ‘behaviourism’.

With reference to the ‘Gloria’ tapes that featured the same patient being treated by three different ‘talking cures’ – Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, Fritz Perls’s Gestalt Therapy and Carl Rogers’s Person Centred Therapy.

Psychology is… A Google Autocomplete Adventure

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

A few weeks ago, I saw in an article on The Guardian website that the organization UN Women was running an ad campaign aimed a demonstrating how badly women are regarded around the world. The campaign centered on entering phrases like “women should” into a Google search box and seeing what suggestions Google made to “autocomplete” the search string. The idea was that, because Google has a massive database of the ways in which people generally finish search strings, the Google suggestions would reflect the most popular completions. Google’s suggestions were not terribly complimentary toward women. “Women should” was autocompleted with phrases like, “stay at home,” “be slaves,” “be in the kitchen,” and “not speak in church.”

 After recovering from my initial horror, I thought that this might be an interesting approach to finding out about trends in popular belief more generally, so I decided to try it out the phrase, “psychology is.” The suggestions I got were: “not a science,” “bullshit,” “the study of,” “empirical,” and “useless.” These completions were not exactly shocking to me, but they are rather disheartening if you think (as many psychologists do) that the discipline has, over the last century-and-a-third, achieved a relatively secure status among the sciences.

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I sent  off to three psychology e-mail lists to which I subscribe the suggestion that other people might try this out. I did not relay my exact results, but I did indicate that the outcomes would be less happy than they might expect. Soon afterwards, one person wrote back saying that they didn’t understand what I was on about. The autocompletes they had gotten to “psychology is” were “defined as,” “the study of,” “best defined as,” “not a science.” Not exactly favorable – three of the four are incomplete sentences – but not nearly as negative as I had gotten: no “bullshit,” no “useless.”

Only then  did I remember that the Google search engine does not give the same results for everyone. It customizes its responses based on the search history of the person doing the search. So, my question immediately became, how much variability is there between people in this kind of search? Had this one other person and I covered pretty much the entire range, just by coincidence? Or, was everyone going to be wildly different from each other? I decided to ask a number of people to try it out to see what would happen.

I am not one of these people with hundreds or even thousands of Facebook “friends.” I have “only” 104. Many of these people are other historians of psychology, several from my own school. Quite a few are historians of science, psychologists, and baseball researchers, along with a number of old friends who toil in a random assortment of professions. Not exactly a random sample. Nevertheless… Continue reading Psychology is… A Google Autocomplete Adventure

Are we Living in a Golden Age of Mesmerism?

This is part of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

Digital history seems hard to a lot of people. All those fancy computer programs to count and filter and graph data seem complicated and difficult to learn. But it need not be that way. You can get started on basic digital history of psychology right now with nothing more complicated than the web browser you are using to read this message.

Let me show you how: First, go to the Google Ngrams web page (in another browser tab, so that you can continue to read this post as well).  Ngrams is a program that scans the vast holdings of Google Books for words that you select, and then plots them on a line graph. When you have the Ngrams page up, delete the default words  “Albert Einstein,Sherlock Holmes,Frankenstein” from the search box and replace them with the words “phrenology, mesmerism, hypnosis”  (no quotation marks, but be sure to include the commas). Set the date range to between 1800 and 1900. Make sure the corpus is set to “English,” and leave the “smoothing” at the default value of 3. Click on the “Search lots of books” button.

You should get a graph that looks something like this (click on the graph to enlarge it):

Click to enlarge

You can see that immediately see that phrenology had its peak popularity (in English-language published books) in the late 1830s, and then began to fall off rapidly. It is important to note, on the y-axis, that this peak was only about 2/10,000ths of a percent of all words that appeared, but that was its peak none the less. It also had a secondary peak in the late 1840s, at just about the same time as mesmerism began its own rise. Indeed, some people of the time (including Ada Lovelace of computing history fame) wrote of “phreno-mesmerism”; the two practices began to merge in the public mind. They both fell off in the 1850s to a kind of “background” level of about 4/100,000ths of a percent for the rest of the century. In about 1885, however, a new discipline called “hypnosis” began to rise, surpassing both of the older practices in the late 1880s, and reaching its (19th-century) peak in the mid-1890s.

There is problem with doing the graph this way, however. Many authors  discussed these three ideas using alternate forms of the words: phrenologist instead of phrenology, mesmeric instead of mesmerism, hypnotize instead of hypnotism, etc. So we need to include those forms in our search as well. Go back to the Ngrams search box and insert this instead: phrenology+phrenological+phrenologist, mesmerism+mesmeric+mesmerist+mesmerize+mesmerized, hypnotism+hypnotize+hypnotized+hypnotizer+hypnotist. That covers most of the variants. Be sure to click the “Search lots of books” button. Now your graph should look like this:

Click to enlarge

This graph is not that different from the first one, except that the main peak for mesmerism and its variants (let’s call this mesmerism+) now exceeds the secondary peak for phrenology+ around 1850 (because, as it turns out, “mesmeric” was actually used more frequently than the base term “mesmerism”). Note also that there is a bit more of a secondary peak for mesmerism+ around 1890.

Now we are going to vary the corpus of books we use. Go back to the Ngrams page and change the corpus “English” to the corpus “American English.” This includes only books that were published in the US. Remember to click the “Search lots of books” button. Continue reading Are we Living in a Golden Age of Mesmerism?

Anti-Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz Dies at 92

Thomas Szasz
Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz died on 8 Sept 2012 at the age of 92. His death was reported by Jacob Sullum of today.

Szasz was best known for his vehement opposition to psychiatry as it is practiced in North America. He became a “star” of the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s with the publication of his controversial and widely-discussed article, “The Myth of Mental Illness,” which appeared in American Psychologist in 1960. He was also the author of many books critical of psychiatry. Continue reading Anti-Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz Dies at 92