Category Archives: General

Dec HHS: Special Section on Neuro/psychological knowledge in popular debates and everyday life, the ‘Idiot’, Handedness, and More

The December issue of History of the Human Sciences is now available. The issue includes a special section on “Contested narratives of the mind and the brain: Neuro/psychological knowledge in popular debates and everyday life,” as well as pieces on the history of the ‘idiot’ and the gendered history of handedness. Also included is a review article on recent work on autism. Full details below.

Special Section
“Introduction: Contested narratives of the mind and the brain: Neuro/psychological knowledge in popular debates and everyday life,” Susanne Schregel, Tineke Broer. Abstract:

This special section evolved out of a workshop entitled ‘Minds and Brains in Everyday Life: Embedding and Negotiating Scientific Concepts in Popular Discourses’, held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. Our discussions at the workshop and for this special section began with the observation that scientific interpretations and everyday explanations regularly meet and come together in debates about aspects of the mind and the brain. Such entanglements between science and the wider public have already been studied from multiple perspectives in history and the social sciences. Recently, however, warnings have intensified that researchers also need to take into account the limitations that certain scientific claims may encounter in everyday life, and to remain methodologically open to alternative explanations that are not derived from forms of (neuro)psychological knowledge. We suggest that focusing on contested narratives of the mind and the brain may be one approach to studying the interaction between science and the larger public, as well as investigating the ignorance, limits, counterforces, and outright rejection that scientific concepts may encounter in everyday life.

“‘The intelligent and the rest’: British Mensa and the contested status of high intelligence,” Susanne Schregel. Abstract:

This article explores the history of British Mensa to examine the contested status of high intelligence in Great Britain between the late 1940s and the late 1980s. Based on journals and leaflets from the association and newspaper articles about it, the article shows how protagonists from the high IQ society campaigned for intelligence and its testing among the British public. Yet scathing reactions to the group in newspapers suggest that journalists considered it socially provocative to stress one’s own brainpower as extraordinarily high. To better understand such disagreements, the article analyses communicative patterns that were used to make judgements about intelligence. This case study sheds light on how aspects of difference and the ascription of social positions are negotiated in public understandings of intelligence.

“Limitless? Imaginaries of cognitive enhancement and the labouring body,” Brian P. Bloomfield, Karen Dale. Abstract:

This article seeks to situate pharmacological cognitive enhancement as part of a broader relationship between cultural understandings of the body-brain and the political economy. It is the body of the worker that forms the intersection of this relationship and through which it comes to be enacted and experienced. In this article, we investigate the imaginaries that both inform and are reproduced by representations of pharmacological cognitive enhancement, drawing on cultural sources such as newspaper articles and films, policy documents, and pharmaceutical marketing material to illustrate our argument. Through analysis of these diverse cultural sources, we argue that the use of pharmaceuticals has come to be seen not only as a way to manage our brains, but through this as a means to manage our productive selves, and thereby to better manage the economy. We develop three analytical themes. First, we consider the cultural representations of the brain in connection with the idea of plasticity – captured most graphically in images of morphing – and the representation of enhancement as a desirable, inevitable, and almost painless process in which the mind-brain realizes its full potential and asserts its will over matter. Following this, we explore the social value accorded to productive employment and the contemporary (biopolitical) ethos of working on or managing oneself, particularly in respect of improving one’s productive performance through cognitive enhancement. Developing this, we elaborate a third theme by looking at the moulding of the worker’s productive body-brain in relation to the demands of the economic system.

“Conversion disorder and/or functional neurological disorder: How neurological explanations affect ideas of self, agency, and accountability,” Jonna Brenninkmeijer. Abstract:

An estimated 15% of patients seen by neurologists have neurological symptoms, such as paralysis, tremors, dystonia, or seizures, that cannot be medically explained. For a long time, such patients were diagnosed as having conversion disorder (CD) and referred to psychiatrists, but for the last two decades or so, neurologists have started to pay more serious attention to this patient group. Instead of maintaining the commonly used label of conversion disorder – which refers to Freud’s idea that traumatic events can be converted into deviant behaviour – these neurologists use the term functional neurological disorder (FND) and explain that the problems are due to abnormal central nervous system functioning. The situation that some patients with medically unexplained neurological symptoms are diagnosed with CD and treated by psychiatrists while others are diagnosed with FND and stay under the control of neurologists provides a unique case for analysing how neurological and psychological explanations affect subjectivity. In this article, I compare patient reports from English-language websites from the past 15 years to find out how minds, bodies, brains, and selves act and interact in the accounts of both patient groups. I conclude that the change in label from CD to FND has not only influenced ideas of medically unexplained disorders, but also affected ideas of the self and the body; of self-control and accountability.

“Neurobiological limits and the somatic significance of love: Caregivers’ engagements with neuroscience in Scottish parenting programmes,” Tineke Broer, Martyn Pickersgill, Sarah Cunningham-Burley. Abstract:

While parents have long received guidance on how to raise children, a relatively new element of this involves explicit references to infant brain development, drawing on brain scans and neuroscientific knowledge. Sometimes called ‘brain-based parenting’, this has been criticised from within sociological and policy circles alike. However, the engagement of parents themselves with neuroscientific concepts is far less researched. Drawing on 22 interviews with parents/carers of children (mostly aged 0–7) living in Scotland, this article examines how they account for their (non-)use of concepts and understandings relating to neuroscience. Three normative tropes were salient: information about children’s processing speed, evidence about deprived Romanian orphans in the 1990s, and ideas relating to whether or not children should ‘self-settle’ when falling asleep. We interrogate how parents reflexively weigh and judge such understandings and ideas. In some cases, neuroscientific knowledge was enrolled by parents in ways that supported biologically reductionist models of childhood agency. This reductionism commonly had generative effects, enjoining new care practices and producing particular parent and infant subjectivities. Notably, parents do not uncritically adopt or accept (sometimes reductionist) neurobiological and/or psychological knowledge; rather, they reflect on whether and when it is applicable to and relevant for raising their children. Thus, our respondents draw on everyday epistemologies of parenting to negotiate brain-based understandings of infant development and behaviour, and invest meaning in these in ways that cannot be fully anticipated (or appreciated) within straightforward celebrations or critiques of the content of parenting programmes drawing on neuropsychological ideas.

“Consciousness reduced: The role of the ‘idiot’ in early evolutionary psychology,” Simon Jarrett. Abstract:

A conception of the idiotic mind was used to substantiate late 19th-century theories of mental evolution. A new school of animal/comparative psychologists attempted from the 1870s to demonstrate that evolution was a mental as well as a physical process. This intellectual enterprise necessitated the closure, or narrowing, of the ‘consciousness gap’ between human and animal species. A concept of a quasi-non-conscious human mind, set against conscious intention and ability in higher animals, provided an explanatory framework for the human–animal continuum and the evolution of consciousness. The article addresses a significant lacuna in the historiographies of intellectual disability, animal science, and evolutionary psychology, where the application of a conception of human idiocy to advance theories of consciousness evolution has not hitherto been explored. These ideas retain contemporary resonance in ethology and cognitive psychology, and in the theory of ‘speciesism’, outlined by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation (1975), which claims that equal consideration of interests is not arbitrarily restricted to members of the human species, and advocates euthanasia of intellectually disabled human infants. Speciesism remains at the core of animal rights activism today. The article also explores the influence of the idea of the semi-evolved idiot mind in late-Victorian anthropology and neuroscience. These ideas operated in a separate intellectual sphere to eugenic thought. They were (and remain) deeply influential, and were at the heart of the idea of the moral idiot or imbecile, targeted in the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, as well as in 20th-century animal and human consciousness theory.

“An even-handed debate? The sexed/gendered controversy over laterality genes in British psychology, 1970s–1990s,” Tabea Cornel. Abstract:

This article provides insight into the entwinement of the allegedly neutral category of handedness with questions of sex/gender, reproduction, dis/ability, and scientific authority. In the 1860s, Paul Broca suggested that the speech centre sat in the left brain hemisphere in most humans, and that right-handedness stemmed from this asymmetry. One century later, British psychologists Marian Annett and Chris McManus proposed biologically unconfirmed theories of how handedness and brain asymmetry were passed on in families. Their idea to integrate chance into genetic models of handedness was novel, and so was their use of computerized statistics to parse out the incidence of handedness genotypes and phenotypes. Notwithstanding significant conceptual and methodological overlaps, McManus and Annett did not collaborate and proposed competing theories. I analyse the sexed/gendered dimensions of their controversy by drawing on published literature, unpublished documents, and oral history interviews. I first attend to the epistemological importance of sex/gender. Both psychologists published several iterations of their models, which increasingly relied on questions of sex/gender and reproduction. Annett additionally linked handedness with stereotypically gendered cognitive abilities. Second, I argue that using masculine-coded computer technologies contributed to Annett’s professional marginalization whereas similar methods endowed McManus with surplus authority. Finally, I show that Annett’s complicity in stabilizing sociocultural hierarchies within her theory mirrored her personal experience of marginalization based on sex/gender, age, education, and lack of institutional affiliation. This analysis exemplifies the entanglement of cognitive and social factors in scientific controversies and adds to the literature on 20th-century British women psychologists.

Review Article
“Within a single lifetime: Recent writings on autism,” Gregory Hollin. No Abstract.

Hat sizes and craniometry: Professional know-how and scientific knowledge

AHP readers will be interested in a forthcoming piece, now online, from History of the Human Sciences, “Hat sizes and craniometry: Professional know-how and scientific knowledge” by Peter Cryle. Abstract:

This article examines the relation between commercial activity and knowledge-making, looking at hatmakers in order to open up a more general question about the overlap between the knowledge practices of 19th-century science and those of everyday commercial culture of the time. Phrenology also claims attention here, since it can be said to have occupied an intermediate position between science and commerce. From time to time during the first half of the century, phrenologists attended to hatmakers in the hope of gleaning knowledge from their commercial experience, but after about 1860, scientific craniometers took a very different view. Physical anthropologists like Paul Broca believed that the skull was the key source of data on which to build a scientific anthropology of race or ethnicity. Observers drew the attention of Broca and his colleagues to the existence of a commercial device called the conformateur des chapeliers, used by hatters to determine head shape. But Broca was far less inclined to welcome hatmakers into the domain of craniology than the phrenologists had been. Whereas phrenologists had found validation in common sense, any widely available understanding of racial types was considered by Broca to be a distraction from the work of science and a potential distortion of its data. Far from the welcoming curiosity shown by London-based phrenologists, the anthropological enterprise led by Broca defined itself as scientific in part by the strictness with which it considered and dismissed such approximate and informal ways of knowing.

Pathways of Patients at the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, 1890 to 1907

AHP readers will be interested in a new freely available book, Pathways of Patients at the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, 1890 to 1907 by Rory du Plessis. The book is described as follows,

Pathways of patients explores the casebooks of the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum during the superintendence of Dr Thomas Duncan Greenlees, from 1890 to 1907. The hallmark of Pathways of patients is an examination of the asylum’s casebooks to bring into view the humanity of the patients, their distinct personal experiences, and their individuality. The book is underpinned by an allied goal to retrieve the casebook narratives of the patients’ life stories, their acts of agency, and their pathways to and from the asylum, with a view to understanding and portraying the context of patient experiences at the time.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1 The context of the study
2 Methodology
2.1 A blueprint for researching casebooks
2.2 The patients of the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum
3 Outline of this book

2 Committal and pathways into the asylum
1 Introduction
2 Pathways to the asylum
2.1 General hospitals
2.2 The Chronic Sick Hospital
2.3 Gaol

3 Arrival at the asylum
4 Context and circumstances of asylum committal
4.1 Statistical tables and scholarly studies
4.2 Narrative patterns
5 Conclusion

3 Daily life and pathways out of the asylum
1 Introduction
Part I
2 Escape
3 Death
4 Transfers
4.1 Transfers to Robben Island
4.2 Transfers to the Port Alfred Asylum and the Fort Beaufort Asylum
4.3 Transfers to Valkenberg Asylum
5 Repatriation
6 Parole
7 Probation
8 The permeable asylum, family visits, and negotiations
Part II
9 The Chronic Sick Hospital
10 Recovery routes for black subjects
11 Recovery in white women
12 Conclusion

4 Pathways back into the asylum
1 Introduction
2 Readmission narratives for black patients
3 Readmission narratives for white female patients
4 Readmission narratives for white male patients
5 Conclusion

5 Conclusion

NYT article: Happiness Won’t Save You

Philip Brickman via the New York Times

AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece in the New York Times about psychologist Philip Brickman, “Happiness Won’t Save You: Philip Brickman was an expert in the psychology of happiness, but he couldn’t make his own pain go away.” As Jennifer Senior writes in the piece,

Whatever he did achieve, he never considered it good enough. He wore his perfectionism like a hair shirt, and he expected it of others. He’d give people grief if they stapled a paper in the wrong place.

The irony is that, better than almost anyone, Brickman understood that the pursuit of stature, material bounty — and ultimately happiness itself — was a fool’s errand. Early in his career, he grasped that the more we achieve, the more we require to sustain our new levels of satisfaction. Our gratification from the new is fleeting; we adapt in spite of ourselves. “Fulfillment’s desolate attic,” as the poet Philip Larkin once put it. You may as well chase your afternoon shadow. Happiness always looms ahead.

Content warning: the article discusses suicide.

November HoP: Intellectual Communities, Rorschach in Girls Reform School, and More

The November issue of History of Psychology is now online. Full details below.

“Family, friends, and faith-communities: Intellectual community and the benefits of unofficial networks for marginalized scientists.” Rodkey, Krista L.; Rodkey, Elissa N. Abstract:

Throughout the 20th century, female scientists faced barriers to participation in scientific communities. Within psychology, the 1st generation of women fought for inclusion in the university and access to laboratories; the 2nd generation officially gained access to such resources while still in practice being excluded from many areas of psychology and being denied suitable professional opportunities (Johnston & Johnson, 2008; Scarborough & Furumoto, 1987). Scholarship on these challenges tends to focus on power dynamics or on the strategies used by women to overcome obstacles to their full acceptance in the scientific world. In other words, there has been a focus on women’s participation in official intellectual communities. Less attention has been paid to the motivational consequences of belonging to unofficial or informal intellectual communities. In this article, we argue that exploring the nature of unofficial communities illuminates a pattern of strategies that accounts for women’s success in official communities; challenges a masculine, laboratory-centric model of science; and offers a model of intellectual work that has applications for other disenfranchised groups both in the history of science and in the modern world. We focus on 3 psychologists, Milicent Shinn, Eleanor Gibson, and Magda Arnold, whose success was underpinned by the support of unofficial networks. By so doing, we show how unofficial communities address specific needs for the marginalized. Finally, we explore applications to address the problems of the neoliberal university.

“Seeing inside the child: The Rorschach inkblot test as assessment technique in a girls’ reform school, 1938–1948. Bultman, Saskia. Abstract:

This article examines the practice of Rorschach testing as it was applied in a Dutch reform school for girls in the mid-20th century. Considering the assessment technique of Rorschach testing as an “examination” in the Foucauldian sense, this article investigates what type of identity was brought into being for the girls who were tested. Inspired by the praxiographic approach to trace the practices involved in testing, it shows that the Rorschach enacted a wholly new conception of the delinquent girl. Through the test, the reform school pupils were conceptualized as individuals with a literal inner realm, populated with drives, complexes and neuroses, which were said to shape their misbehavior. This notion of interiority was, strikingly enough, a rhetorical construction on the part of the psychologist, but was also produced as a reality in the practices surrounding the test. The article argues that, in the reform school, Rorschach testing not only served to assess the pupils’ reeducability—a lesser known application of the Rorschach, particular to this reformatory context—but also served to govern them, precisely through its enactment of interiority. Through the practices of the test, a situation was created that suggested that the psychologist knew something about the girl that she herself did not; it was the creation of this “secret”–which forced pupils to look inside themselves—that placed the psychologist in a position of power. Utilizing the underused source of test reports, the article explores an application of Rorschach testing that has received little attention, further highlighting the test’s versatility and power.

“From ecstasy to divine somnambulism: Henri Delacroix’s studies in the history and psychology of mysticism.” Iagher, Matei. Abstract:

This article aims at placing Henri Delacroix’s (1908) book on the psychology of mysticism in the context of debates in the psychology of religion in the earlier part of the 20th century. I argue that Delacroix’s work was authored as part of a wider debate that Delacroix maintained with the American school of the psychology of religion regarding the role of emotions in religious experience. As I show, Delacroix sought to counter the primacy of the affective in religious experience, which the Americans maintained, and to introduce the notion of a developmental logic into the mystical life. In addition, Delacroix also tried to disengage mysticism from an exclusive focus on ecstasy, as well as to offer an account of the value of mysticism based on the existence of a specific mental state that underscored it.

“Psychiatrists’ agency and their distance from the authoritarian state in post-World War II Taiwan.” Wu, Harry Yi-Jui. Abstract:

By the end of World War II and in the shadow of the Cold War, many Asia–Pacific nations developed their psychiatric disciplines and strengthened their mental health care provision. This article examines the activities of the first generation of psychiatrists in Taiwan during the postwar period, focusing on their self-fashioning during the transition of a medical discipline. At this time, psychiatry was imagined by the state and by professionals as a science serving different clinical and political objectives. Psychiatrists, however, enjoyed a relatively unrestricted environment that allowed them to gradually form a professional identity. At the height of the Cold War, the state attempted to use psychiatry for political ends. Because of its initially malleable nature and undeveloped content, psychiatry could be employed by various authorities for diverse purposes, including patient care, scientific inquiry, psychological warfare, and even political probes to obtain crucial information. Nevertheless, psychiatrists sought to create spaces where they could develop their professional autonomy and prevent exploitation amid complicated political polemics.

“The origins of the minimal group paradigm.” Brown, Rupert. Abstract:

The minimal group paradigm, published by Henri Tajfel and his colleagues in the early 1970s, is a widely used experimental technique for studying intergroup perceptions and behavior. In its original form, it involved the assignment of participants to one of two meaningless categories and asking them to make allocations of rewards to other (anonymous) members of those groups. Typically, discrimination in favor of the ingroup is observed in those reward allocations. In this article, I examine the historical origins of this paradigm, noting that it was first mooted by another social psychologist, Jaap Rabbie, in the 1960s, although he is seldom credited with this fact. The intellectual disagreements between Rabbie, Tajfel, and Turner over the nature and interpretation of the paradigm are also discussed.

“The butcher on the bus: A note on familiarity without recollection. MacLeod, Colin M. Abstract:

In 1980, George Mandler published an article in Psychological Review that has become very influential in the study of memory. As evidence, according to Google Scholar (as of August 17, 2020), this article has been cited 3,391 times. Writing about recognition memory, Mandler made a fundamental distinction between recognition involving familiarity and recognition involving recollection. Mandler introduced what has since become the label for his illustration, saying that “Specific identification of an event is not possible on the basis of its familiarity alone. The butcher-in-the-bus is one intuitive demonstration of such an assertion.” The purpose of this note is, ironically, to provide context, in this case historical context. Twenty-seven years before Mandler’s (1980) article, Charles Osgood (1953) provided a discussion of retention and interference theory in his book, Method and Theory in Experimental Psychology. Is it possible that Mandler inadvertently borrowed Osgood’s illustration, a case of cryptomnesia?

‘Psychosis of civilization’: A colonial-situated diagnosis

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of Psychiatry, “‘Psychosis of civilization’: a colonial-situated diagnosis,” by Marianna Scarfone. Abstract:

In the late 1930s, when colonial psychiatry was well established in the Maghreb, the diagnosis ‘psychosis of civilization’ appeared in some psychiatrists’ writings. Through the clinical case of a Libyan woman treated by the Italian psychiatrist Angelo Bravi in Tripoli, this article explores its emergence and its specificity in a differential approach, and highlights its main characteristics. The term applied to subjects poised between two worlds: incapable of becoming ‘like’ Europeans – a goal to which they seem to aspire – but too far from their ‘ancestral habits’ to revert for a quiet life. The visits of these subjects to colonial psychiatric institutions, provided valuable new material for psychiatrists: to see how colonization impacted inner life and to raise awareness of the long-term socio-political dangers.

Ideology and science: The story of Polish psychology in the communist period

AHP readers will be interested in a new article in History of the Human Sciences, “Ideology and science: The story of Polish psychology in the communist period” by Leszek Koczanowicz and Iwona Koczanowicz-Dehnel. Abstract:

This article presents a fragment of the history of psychology in Poland, discussing its development in the years 1945–56, which saw sweeping political and geographical transformations. In that maelstrom of history, psychology was particularly affected by the effects of geopolitical changes, which led to its symbolic ‘arrest’ in 1952, when psychological practice was prohibited and all psychology courses were abolished at universities. Amnesty was declared only in 1956, with the demise of the so-called Stalinist ‘cult of personality’ and the onset of a turbulent period when the crimes of the Stalinist era were prosecuted. We have adopted three time frames for our description and analysis of this dramatic period in the development of psychology in Poland. ‘The past’ is a story about the flourishing of Polish psychology before World War Two and the hopes for the discipline’s restoration after the war. ‘The present’, as the core of this narrative, represents the events of 1950–56. ‘The future’ refers to the period when Stalinist abuses were prosecuted during the Thaw, following the collapse of the Stalinist dictatorship, and the resurgence of Polish psychologists’ hopes for resurrecting their discipline. In all these periods, the narrative is interwoven with the story of the Polish psychologist Mieczys?aw Kreutz, who offers a model example of the hypothesized dependence of scientific research on sociopolitical change.

Doing history that matters: Going public and activating voices as a form of historical activism

AHP readers will be interested in an article forthcoming in a special issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences dedicated to public history and now available online, “Doing history that matters: Going public and activating voices as a form of historical activism,” by Erika Dyck. Abstract:

For many of us academics, doing community?engaged research means coming to terms with the significant gaps in experience, privilege, and power, and overall access to knowledge. We are trained to learn through texts, not through direct experience. In some ways, we are even conditioned to tune out experience, or anecdote, to dilute personal subjectivities in favor of a critical analysis informed by a combination of methods and sources, and a reliance on text?based forms of evidence. Whereas for most community members, evidence is experiential. This dynamic also underscores the tremendous power and responsibility we have as historians to shape identities and legacies through the stories we tell. In the end, I believe the risks are worth the rewards.

The relational mind: In between history, psychology and anthropology

AHP readers may be interested in a forthcoming piece from History of Psychology, “The relational mind: In between history, psychology and anthropology” by Y. Rotman. Abstract:

The article examines the new psychological language that developed in late antiquity to formulate a personal relationship with the one God. This language used the Greek term for the soul, the psuch? (Latin anima), and defined it as the relational faculty of the human mind. The perception of the human mind as relational became instrumental to formulate the experience of conversion, that is, a mental and emotional process of self-transformation, psychological in the modern sense of the term. The article analyzes the psychological perspective of the ancient authors who developed the idea of the relational faculty to connect to God by using modern theories that perceive the human mind as relationally configured. In order to analyze ancient and modern writers together, the article develops a new methodological approach to move in between ancient and modern writings without falling into the pit of anachronism. This approach enables the author to define a common theoretical field for historical analysis and psychoanalysis, and to use the historical evidence in order to evaluate and challenge the modern psychoanalytic prism. To bridge between the two disciplines, the present article uses anthropology. Thanks to its psychological aspect, anthropology of religion validates the two-way relationship between history and psychoanalysis. Anthropological field research on the beliefs in tree spirits conducted by the author in an animistic environment has revealed a relational psychological language in the core of the animistic belief, and provides the missing link to connect history and psychoanalysis.

‘The voice of the stomach’: the mind, hypochondriasis and theories of dyspepsia in the nineteenth century

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of Psychiatry, “‘The voice of the stomach’: the mind, hypochondriasis and theories of dyspepsia in the nineteenth century” by E Allen Driggers. Abstract:

Physicians and surgeons during the nineteenth century were eager to explore the causes of stomach and intestinal illnesses. Theories abounded that there was a sympathy between the mind and the body, especially in the case of the dyspepsia. The body was thought to have physical symptoms from the reactions of the mind, especially in the case of hypochondriasis. Digestive problems had a mental component, but mental anguish could also result from physical problems. Dissertations from aspiring as well as established physicians probed the mental causes of irritable bowel diseases and other diseases in the medical literature. Healing was thought to come from contextualizing the link between the problems of the mind and the resulting physical problems of the body.