Category Archives: Journals

“Now Is a Time for Optimism”: The Politics of Personalized Medicine in Mental Health Research

AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece on mental health and personalized medicine in Science, Technology, & Human Values:

“Now Is a Time for Optimism”: The Politics of Personalized Medicine in Mental Health Research,” by Jonas Rüppel. Abstract:

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, personalized medicine has become one of the most influential visions guiding medical research. This paper focuses on the politics of personalized medicine in psychiatry as a medical specialty, which has rarely been investigated by social science scholars. I examine how this vision is being sustained and even increasingly institutionalized within the mental health arena, even though related research has repeatedly failed. Based on a document analysis and expert interviews, this article identifies discursive strategies that help to sustain this vision and its promises: “complexity talk,” “extension,” and “boundary work.” These practices secure its plausibility, protect it from criticism, and maintain stakeholder support.

The Place of Development in the History of Psychology and Cognitive Science

A new article in Frontiers of Psychology may interest AHP readers: “The Place of Development in the History of Psychology and Cognitive Science,” by Gabriella Airenti. Abstract:

In this article, I analyze how the relationship of developmental psychology with general psychology and cognitive science has unfolded. This historical analysis will provide a background for a critical examination of the present state of the art. I shall argue that the study of human mind is inherently connected with the study of its development. From the beginning of psychology as a discipline, general psychology and developmental psychology have followed parallel and relatively separated paths. This separation between adult and child studies has also persisted with the emergence of cognitive science. The reason is due essentially to methodological problems that have involved not only research methods but also the very object of inquiry. At present, things have evolved in many ways. Psychology and cognitive science have enlarged their scope to include change process and the interaction between mind and environment. On the other hand, the possibility of using experimental methods to study infancy has allowed us to realize the complexity of young humans. These facts have paved the way for new possibilities of convergence, which are eliciting interesting results, despite a number of ongoing problems related to methods.

Measuring souls: Psychometry, female instruments, and subjective science, 1840–1910

Joseph Rodes Buchanan

AHP readers will be interested in a forthcoming piece in History of Science, now available online: “Measuring souls: Psychometry, female instruments, and subjective science, 1840–1910,” by Cameron B Strang. Abstract:

This essay focuses on the history of psychometry, the science of soul measuring. For its founder, Dr Joseph Rodes Buchanan, the soul was simultaneously an object for anthropological research and a measuring instrument capable of revealing human character, interpreting natural history, and demonstrating the reality of an immortal soul. Psychometry taught that human souls, especially those of women, were capable of acting as instruments because they could feel the mysterious energies that people and objects radiated. Although orthodox male scientists rejected the visions of sensitive women as the antithesis of reliable data, psychometric researchers believed that the feelings of women were both the instruments and information that made their science possible. Psychometry promised to revolutionize science by insisting that sympathy and subjectivity, not detachment and objectivity, ought to undergird research. Yet as male experimenters worked to prove psychometry’s effectiveness, they almost invariably cast themselves as detached observers accurately recording the data provided by their female instruments. Thus, despite pushing for scientific reform, the methods and discourse of male psychometric experimenters eroded their field’s core arguments about connectedness and subjectivity and, instead, reinforced the notion that detachment and objectivity were essential to legitimate science. Challenges to objectivity could prove just how thoroughly it dominated scientific discourse and practice. Still, some psychometers, particularly women who practiced at home, were untroubled by the fact that their research was predicated on subjective feelings, and psychometry remained a viable pursuit among spiritualists even as it faded from the realm of science. Psychometry emerged and, ultimately, fractured amid tensions between widespread enthusiasm for sciences that emphasized spiritual connectedness and the mounting pressure to legitimize scientific knowledge through the language and practices of objectivity.

June 2019 History of Psychiatry: Toulouse’s Dementia Test, the Italian Psychiatric ‘Revolution’

The June 2019 issue of History of Psychiatry is now available. Full details follow below.

“Not just a one-man revolution: The multifaceted anti-asylum watershed in Italy,” by Giuseppe A Micheli. Abstract:

The Italian psychiatric ‘revolution’ is the story of a range of flexible, changing formulas, exposed to many ‘contaminations’. Historical reconstructions have remained anchored to the lure of a founding myth and an eponymous hero. This essay aims to shed light on the multi-faceted concept of the Italian ‘moral management revolution’. We especially focus on: the circumstances which triggered the innovation in its various form; the ‘prototypes’ available in other countries which have been variously recombined in the different local contexts; the ‘special path’ of action strategies which has driven the change towards radical closure of the asylums; and the cause–effect relationship between the above ‘special path’ and several aspects of the current state of deadlock.

“Through a glass darkly: Patients of the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane at Jacksonville, USA (1854–80),” by Richard J Howarth, Shirley A Aleguas. Abstract:

The State Hospital for the Insane at Jacksonville, Morgan County, Illinois, was the first public hospital of its kind to be established in the state and among the earliest to be built on the ‘Kirkbride Plan’. It opened for patients in 1851. We describe the background to the establishment of the hospital and, so far as is possible from publicly available sources, its catchment area, the nature of the patients held there up to 1880, its mechanisms of discharge, and supposed causes of death. We end with a plea that after over 150 years, the release of hospital casebooks and similar records in digital form would be of considerable benefit to historians of psychology, scientific biographers, genealogists and demographers.

“Karl Jaspers and Karl Popper: The shared legacy,” by Chris Walker. Abstract:

Jaspers and Popper have nothing in common beyond the legacy of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. Popper dismisses Jaspers ‘existentialism’ as nihilistic and historicist; Jaspers never cites Popper. Jaspers describes Kant as ‘the philosopher for me’; Popper is an unorthodox Kantian whose critical rationalism put the finishing touch to Kant. For Kant, knowledge is not a simple copy of reality, but begins with reason’s questioning. Jaspers and Popper too insist that theory has priority over observation. For Jaspers, ‘there is already theory in every fact’; for Popper, ‘every statement has the character of a theory’. Science begins with metaphysical Ideas which become scientific when tested in experience. They differ in Popper’s rejection of induction in favour of falsification, while Jaspers tacitly accepts induction.

“Confusion about confusion: Édouard Toulouse’s dementia test, 1905–20,” by Elizabeth Nelson. Abstract:

Psychiatrist Édouard Toulouse (1865–1947) is known today for his 1896 psychometric study of the novelist Émile Zola, and his contributions to mental hygiene, sexology, eugenics, and labour efficiency in inter-war France. This paper examines research undertaken in Toulouse’s Laboratory of Experimental Psychology at the Villejuif asylum near Paris. In 1905, Toulouse created a test that could differentiate between dementia and mental confusion, a test that could aid in the classification of patients at the overcrowded Villejuif facility. By 1920, however, the test’s early promise was undercut by unforeseen, ‘machinic’ resistance that emerged in the experimental process. This case study demonstrates the non-linear nature of scientific practice and limits of even the most innovative asylum reforms in this period.

“As good as it gets: An empirical study on mentally-ill patients and their stay at a general hospital in Sweden, 1896–1905,” by Malin Appelquist, Louise Brådvik, Ingemar Ottosson, Marie Åsberg. Abstract:

General hospital care and treatment of mentally ill patients in a Swedish town was studied in records for 503 patients, 1896–1905. Restraint was extremely rare; 65% left the hospital as healthy or improved. Non-psychotic and alcoholic patients spent fewer days in hospital than patients with psychosis or dementia. There was no evidence of a social status bias. For 36% of the patients a certificate for mental hospital care was issued, with additional information. The cause of illness was stated as unknown for 42% of these patients; adverse circumstances were recorded for 18%. Heredity for mental illness was found in 50% of the patients, particularly in those with mania. Patients with a higher social status were underrepresented.

“The theory of symptom complexes, mind and madness,” by Mauricio V Daker. Abstract:

Kahlbaum’s seminal approach to symptom complexes, as opposed to disease entities, is still relevant. Many psychopathologists have approached mental symptom complexes without prejudging them as necessary physical deficits or diseases, favouring a broader dimensional and anthropological view of mental disorders. Discussions of symptom complexes gained prominence in psychiatry in the early twentieth century – through Hoche – and in the period leading up to World War II – through Carl Schneider. Their works, alongside those of Kraepelin, Bumke, Kehrer, Jaspers and others, are reviewed in relation to the theme of symptom complexes, the mind, and mental disorders. A particular feature of symptom complexes is their relationship to aspects of the normal mind and how this affects clinical manifestations. It is further suggested that symptom complexes might offer a useful bridge between the psychic and the biological in theories of the mind.

New Articles: Historiography of Psychiatry and History of ADHD

Two articles in the Spring 2019 issue of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History may interest AHP readers. Full details follow below:

« Imaginaire et sensibilités » : la mise en récit de la déshospitalisation psychiatrique en Ontario, by Marie-Claude Thifault. Abstract:

Ce texte propose une réflexion historiographique basée sur l’article « Les contrecoups de la déshospitalisation psychiatrique. L’exemple du parcours transinstitutionel de Françoise » tiré du récent ouvrage collectif La fin de l’asile ? Histoire de la déshospitalisation psychiatrique dans l’espace francophone au XXe siècle. L’auteure revient sur cet article, afin de mettre au jour le sous-texte et de raconter la méthode ainsi que le raisonnement historique qui ont donné vie au parcours psychiatrique d’une anonyme nommée Françoise. Cet exercice s’articule autour de trois points d’ancrage : son positionnement en tant que chercheure, les enjeux concernant l’approche narrative qu’elle explore et un constat sur le raisonnement historique intriqué dans une perspective interdisciplinaire. Influencée et inspirée des travaux d’Alain Corbin, George Duby, Roy Porter, Natalie Zemon Davis et Arlette Farge, l’historienne insiste sur sa démarche inéluctablement tournée vers une approche soucieuse de repérer dans les sources des traces de sentiments et d’émotions tout en étant connectée à une intuition subjective, loin des réflexes positivistes. En guise de conclusion, en lien avec son expérience dans les sources avec lesquelles elle travaille le plus – les dossiers psychiatriques –, une réflexion sur le renouvellement de l’écriture historienne et sa conviction qu’il est possible d’écrire l’histoire des gens ordinaires tout en les racontant avec sensibilité.

This paper proposes a historiographical discussion based on the article « Les contrecoups de la déshospitalisation psychiatrique. L’exemple du parcours transinstitutionel de Françoise ». Françoise’s transinstitutional journey presented in the collective publication La fin de l’asile ? Histoire de la déshospitalisation psychiatrique dans l’espace francophone au XXe siècle, gives me the opportunity to reveal the subtext of this article, and to describe the method and the historical reasoning that gave life to the psychiatric journey of an anonymous person named Françoise. This process is organized around three main points: my positioning as a researcher, the issues related to my narrative approach, and a statement on my historical reasoning in an interdisciplinary perspective. Influenced and inspired by the work of Alain Corbin, George Duby, Roy Porter, Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge, my approach focusses on the feelings and emotions hidden in historical sources. I remain connected to a subjective intuition, and stay away from positivist reflexes. Based on my research experience with psychiatric records, my conclusion explores the renewal of historical writing , in which I suggest that it is possible to write the history of ordinary people while telling stories with sensitivity.

““Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails”: Boys and Behaviour in the USA,” by Matthew Smith. Abstract:

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain introduced two of the most iconic boys in American literature. Tom and Huck become heroic figures, despite their penchant for bad behaviour. Indeed, it is their propensity to be impulsive, break rules and defy authority that win them the day. Today, however, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have become the posterboys for a psychiatric disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. I trace how and why attitudes about pathological boys’ behaviour reversed during the twentieth century, from a focus on shy, introverted, and physically passive boys to the very opposite – boys like Tom and Huck. I argue that, rather than imposing limits on childhood behaviour, we should be more accepting and encouraging of all types of children.

Dans Les Aventures de Tom Sawyer et Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain a fait connaître deux des garçons les plus emblématiques de la littérature américaine. Tom et Huck deviennent des personnages héroïques en dépit de leur mauvaise conduite. En fait, c’est leur tendance impulsive ; leur inclination à enfreindre les règles et à défier l’autorité qui les aide à sauver la mise. Aujourd’hui, Tom Sawyer et Huck Finn sont toutefois devenus synonymes d’un trouble psychiatrique : le trouble du déficit de l’attention avec ou sans hyperactivité, ou TDAH. Cet article démontre comment et pourquoi le 20e siècle entraîne un revirement des attitudes vis-à-vis des troubles pathologiques du comportement chez les garçons, alors que l’accent n’est plus mis sur les garçons timides, introvertis et physiquement passifs, mais sur des garçons comme Tom et Huck. Cet article conclut que, plutôt que d’imposer des limites au comportement des enfants, nous devrions avoir une attitude plus ouverte et supporter le développement de tous les types d’enfants.