Gestalt psychology, frontloading phenomenology, and psychophysics

A new article in a special issue of Synthese on “Gestalt Phenomenology and Embodied Cognitive Science” may interest AHP readers. “Gestalt psychology, frontloading phenomenology, and psychophysics,” by Uljana Feest. Abstract:

In his 1935 book Principles of Gestalt Psychology, Kurt Koffka stated that empirical research in perceptual psychology should begin with “a phenomenological analysis,” which in turn would put constraints on the “true theory.” In this paper, I take this statement as a point of departure to investigate in what sense Gestalt psychologists practiced a phenomenological analysis and how they saw it related to theory construction. I will contextualize the perceptual research in Gestalt psychology vis-a-vis Husserlian phenomenology on the one hand and mainstream psychophysics on the other, and I will argue that Gestalt psychologists practiced a form of “frontloading” phenomenology: Instead of requiring experimental subjects to engage in experiential reflections, such reflections were—in a sense—already engrained in the experimental designs used by researchers. This type of phenomenology was decidedly anti-“introspectionist” and as such was compatible with some of Husserl’s basic commitments, while at the same time bearing a surprising resemblance with the methods employed by psychophysicists like E. Boring and S.S. Stevens. This latter point will prompt me to explore what the difference between Gestalt-psychology and psychophysics amounted to. My analysis will reveal some disagreements and misunderstandings, especially with regard to the notions of isomorphism and introspection.

Online Seminar, June 9, 2021: Global Mental Health and Decolonization

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Mental Health at Birkbeck, University of London is hosting an online seminar on “Global Mental Health and Decolonization” on June 9th, 2021. The event is free to attend but participants must register in advance. Details below.

Seminar and discussion with Dr Harry Yi-Jui Wu (University of Hong Kong) and Dr China Mills (City, University of London)

This seminar will examine how the universality of mental health has been constructed and negotiated, within the World Health Organisation and in the Movement for Global Mental Health. The speakers will consider how Global Mental Health stories its own history – frequently overlooking that psychiatric classification has long been global, especially in its quest for international comparison of ‘mental illness’; and how it engages with critiques of its coloniality – often by framing colonialism as racist denial of care located in the past, rather than something that wraps around the present.

Dr Harry Yi-Jui Wu is Associate Professor, Cross College Elite Program, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. His book, Mad by the Millions: Mental Disorders and the Early Years of the World Health Organizationhas recently been published by MIT Press.

Dr China Mills is Senior Lecturer in Public Health at City, University of London. She is the Principal Investigator on a British Academy grant exploring the social life of global mental health technologies, and author of Decolonizing Global Mental Health The Psychiatrization of the Majority World.

This seminar is hosted by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Mental Health at Birkbeck, University of London and is supported by the ‘Connecting Three Worlds’ Wellcome Collaborative Award.

The Promise and Demise of LSD Psychotherapy in Norway

A new article in the most recent issue of Social History of Medicine may interest AHP readers: “The Promise and Demise of LSD Psychotherapy in Norway,” by Per Haave and Willy Pedersen. Abstract:

In the early-to-mid 1960s, there was considerable use of LSD in psychotherapy in several countries. However, its use gradually levelled off. Two explanations have been suggested: The first revolves around a ‘moral panic’ in the wake of the introduction of cannabis and LSD by subcultural youth groups. The second focuses on the lack of proof for the therapeutic efficacy of LSD at a time when double-blind designs became the gold standard. Using available sources, we explore the Norwegian case. Both explanations are supported: Even before illegal drug use had taken root in youth subcultures, scepticism was gradually building among key figures in the Norwegian healthcare system due to lack of evidence for therapeutic efficacy. This scepticism only increased when the new youth subcultures became visible in the mid-1960s and when the ‘war on drugs’ transformed the drug policy.

Chimpanzee Culture Wars: Rethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists

A new book on the history of primatology may interest AHP readers. Nicholas Langlitz’s Chimpanzee Culture Wars: Rethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists is described as follows:

In the 1950s, Japanese zoologists took note when a number of macaques invented and passed on new food-washing behaviors within their troop. The discovery opened the door to a startling question: Could animals other than humans share social knowledge—and thus possess culture? The subsequent debate has rocked the scientific world, pitting cultural anthropologists against evolutionary anthropologists, field biologists against experimental psychologists, and scholars from Asia against their colleagues in Europe and North America. In Chimpanzee Culture Wars, the first ethnographic account of the battle, anthropologist Nicolas Langlitz presents first-hand observations gleaned from months spent among primatologists on different sides of the controversy.

Langlitz travels across continents, from field stations in the Ivory Coast and Guinea to laboratories in Germany and Japan. As he compares the methods and arguments of the different researchers he meets, he also considers the plight of cultural primatologists as they seek to document chimpanzee cultural diversity during the Anthropocene, an era in which human culture is remaking the planet. How should we understand the chimpanzee culture wars in light of human-caused mass extinctions?

Capturing the historical, anthropological, and philosophical nuances of the debate, Chimpanzee Culture Wars takes us on an exhilarating journey into high-tech laboratories and breathtaking wilderness, all in pursuit of an answer to the question of the human-animal divide.

“The art of imposing measurement upon the mind”: Sir Francis Galton and the genesis of the psychometric paradigm

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Theory & Psychology by Joel Michell: ““The art of imposing measurement upon the mind”: Sir Francis Galton and the genesis of the psychometric paradigm.” Abstract:

Sir Francis Galton singlehandedly instigated the navigational settings for the discipline of psychometrics by presupposing that mental attributes are measurable. In turn, this presupposition became the defining pillar of the psychometric paradigm. There were no scientifically sound reasons for adopting this presupposition and those Galton gave beg the question every time. So, what drove him to endorse this presupposition? Two considerations steered him in this direction: first, his Pythagorean philosophy of science according to which measurement is a necessary feature; and second, his desire to present eugenics as a science, which, given his Pythagorean vision, entailed that eugenics must involve measurement of relevant mental attributes. The quantitative presupposition guiding psychometrics throughout its history was, therefore, a spin-off from Galton’s marketing strategy for the pseudoscience of eugenics.

Reconsidering Paul Meehl’s disciplinary legacy

A new article of interest to AHP readers is now available in Social and Personality Psychology Compass: “Reconsidering Paul Meehl’s disciplinary legacy” by Ian J. Davidson. Abstract:

In pursuing paths to methodological reform, many have drawn on the prolific work of American psychologist-philosopher Paul Meehl. In 1996, the APA awarded both Meehl and controversial German-British psychologist Hans Eysenck with Clinical Psychologists of the Century Awards. Two years earlier, they had both signed the “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” statement published in reaction to controversy over research on intelligence and race. To better understand Meehl’s decision to include his name in that public statement, this article first explores the philosophy and politics of Karl Popper as it relates to the incompatible views of Meehl and Eysenck on the value of psychoanalysis. Despite their stark differences of opinion on psychoanalysis and psychometrics, Meehl and Eysenck shared a vision of scientific psychology with overlapping political values that, consequently, included a commitment to the liberties of race science. This article suggests that interrogating the politics and ethics of research is a crucial aspect of doing human science well, including improving its methodology.

Beyond the Depathologization of Homosexuality: Reframing Evelyn Hooker as a Boundary Shifter in Twentieth-Century US Sex Research

AHP readers may be interested in a new article in the Journal of the History of Sexuality: “Beyond the Depathologization of Homosexuality: Reframing Evelyn Hooker as a Boundary Shifter in Twentieth-Century US Sex Research,” by Stephen Molldrem. Excerpt:

Hooker’s contributions to the depathologization of homosexuality in psychiatry and psychology are undeniably her most enduring influence on sexual science and clinical practice. However, in this essay I will show that limiting the historical understanding of Hooker primarily to her clinical contributions has had the unfortunate effect of overlooking her direct influence on the development of then-novel approaches to the study of sexuality in social scientific disciplines such as sociology and anthropology from the 1950s until the late 1970s. I will further show that the tendency to characterize Hooker as the great depathologizer of homosexuality glosses over substantive transformations and oscillations in her own conceptualization of the origins and causes of human sexual identifications from the 1950s until her death in 1996. I will also demonstrate that the extant historiography has obscured how Hooker’s most influential clinical work from the 1950s was also deeply influenced by sociological research and social psychology that was published from the 1930s to the 1950s, including the then-emergent Chicago school of sociology and the sociology of deviance.

I thus offer a different view of Hooker—one in which she appears not only as someone who contributed to the depathologization of homosexuality in psychiatry and psychology but also as a more complex figure whose contributions to the study of sexuality in the clinical and social sciences also went beyond the depathologization of homosexuality.

Race in post-war science: The Swiss case in a global context

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences: “Race in post-war science: The Swiss case in a global context” by Pascal Germann. Abstract:

The historiography on the concept of race in the post-war sciences has focused predominantly on the UNESCO campaign against scientific racism and on the Anglo-American research community. By way of contrast, this article highlights the history of the concept of race from a thus far unexplored angle: from Swiss research centres and their global interconnections with racial researchers around the world. The article investigates how the acceptance, resonance, and prestige of racial research changed during the post-war years. It analyses what resources could be mobilised that enabled researchers to carry out and continue scientific studies in the field of racial research or even to expand them and link them to new contexts. From this perspective, the article looks at the dynamics, openness, and contingency of the European post-war period, which was less stable, anti-racist, and spiritually renewed than retrospective success stories often suggest. The pronounced internationality of Swiss racial science and its close entanglement with the booming field of human genetics in the early 1950s point to the ambiguities of the period’s political and scientific development. I argue that the impact of post-war anti-racism on science was more limited than is frequently assumed: it did not drain the market for racial knowledge on a continent that clung to imperialism and was still shaped by racist violence. Only from the mid 1950s onwards did a series of unforeseen events and contingent shifts curtail the importance of the race concept in various sectors of the human sciences.

Wellcome Collection Online Event: Film and Neurodiversity, June 29, 2021

AHP readers may be interested in an online event on “Film and Neurodiversity” hosted by the Wellcome Collection on June 29, 2021. The event is described as follows:

Join writer and researcher Dr Bonnie Evans in this online event looking at the origins of film-making at the turn of the 20th century and how this led to a new form of neurodiverse cinema only now being rediscovered.

Through film clips and photos, Bonnie will explore how this work has transformed how we think about difference, and the ways it continues to offer new perspectives on humanity in all its forms.

Tickets for the event can be booked online here.

From cohort to community: The emotional work of birthday cards in the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, 1946–2018

A new piece in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “From cohort to community: The emotional work of birthday cards in the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, 1946–2018,” by Hannah J. Elizabeth and Daisy Payling. Abstract:

The Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) is Britain’s longest-running birth cohort study. From their birth in 1946 until the present day, its research participants, or study members, have filled out questionnaires and completed cognitive or physical examinations every few years. Among other outcomes, the findings of these studies have framed how we understand health inequalities. Throughout the decades and multiple follow-up studies, each year the study members have received a birthday card from the survey staff. Although the birthday cards were originally produced in 1962 as a method to record changes of address at a time when the adolescent study members were potentially leaving school and home, they have become more than that with time. The cards mark, and have helped create, an ongoing evolving relationship between the NSHD and the surveyed study members, eventually coming to represent a relationship between the study members themselves. This article uses the birthday cards alongside archival material from the NSHD and oral history interviews with survey staff to trace the history of the growing awareness of importance of emotion within British social science research communities over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries. It documents changing attitudes to science’s dependence on research participants, their well-being, and the collaborative nature of scientific research. The article deploys an intertextual approach to reading these texts alongside an attention to emotional communities drawing on the work of Barbara Rosenwein.