Tag Archives: Michael Pettit

Bibliography: Historiography of Psychology

This post is written by Michael Pettit, York University and is part of a special series of bibliographies on topics in the history of psychology.

Making (and reading) these kinds of lists is fun but always tricky. The problem is not so much what to include but exclude. The following gives you a snapshot of how I conceive of the “greatest hits” in the history of psychology (rather broadly construed) over the past fifty years. The list consists entirely of books: this reflects my graduate training if not necessarily my current reading habits. Most authors get only one book. The thought of Michel Foucault definitely has shaped this historiography profoundly, but the response among historians has been quite nuanced and sophisticated. This list of books includes work by historians, sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists, alongside psychologists, demonstrating how interdisciplinary the field has become. An important question to contemplate at the current moment is whether there are new, untapped historiographic directions offered by this tradition or whether we require a new starting point for debate?

Foucault, M. (1966/1970). The Order of Things. New York: Vintage.

Ellenberger, H. (1970). The discovery of the unconsciousness. New York: Basic Books.

Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality: An introduction. New York: Vintage.

Young, R. M. (1985). Darwin’s metaphor: Nature’s place in Victorian culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Digby, A. (1985). Madness, morality and medicine: A study of the York Retreat, 1796-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Donnell, J. M. (1985). The origins of behaviorism: American psychology, 1870-1920. New York: New York University Press. Continue reading Bibliography: Historiography of Psychology

Raccoon Intelligence in the APA Monitor

The Time Capsule section of the most recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology features an article on the history of raccoon based comparative research in psychology. Authored by Michael Pettit, “Raccoon intelligence at the borderlands of science: Is it time to bring raccoons back to the psychology laboratory?” provides an overview of the appearance and disappearance of raccoon research in American psychology. Pettit writes,

How does intelligence of raccoons compare with other species? That was a topic of heated debate between 1905 and 1915 within the then-nascent field of comparative psychology.

In 1907, psychologist Lawrence W. Cole, who had established a colony of raccoons at the University of Oklahoma, and Herbert Burnham Davis, a doctoral student at Clark University, each published the results of nearly identical experiments on the processes of learning, association and memory in raccoons. They relied on E.L. Thorndike’s puzzle-box methodology, which involved placing animals in wooden crates from which the animal had to escape by opening the latch or sequence of latches. They observed the number of trials required for successful completion and the extent to which the animal retained the ability to solve the same problem more quickly when confronted again with it. Using this method, they sought what Davis called “a tolerable basis” for ranking the intelligence of raccoons on the phylogenetic scale of evolutionary development. They independently concluded that raccoons bested the abilities of cats and dogs, most closely approximating the mental attributes of monkeys.

Despite this promising start, raccoon research has been rare in psychology since the 1910s.

The full article can be found here. AHP’s previous post on Pettit’s research on the history of the raccoon as a research subject can be found here.

Raccoons & Scientific Biography

The September 2010 issues of The British Journal for the History of Science and Isis each contain an article on the history of psychology. The former journal features an article by Michael Pettit on the history of the raccoon as a psychological research subject and why the animal failed to attain prominence in the discipline in the way of rats and pigeons. In Isis historian of science Michael Sokal uses the case of early American psychologist James McKeen Cattell to argue that scientific biography can be enhanced if one puts to use the insights derived from modern psychology. Also in this issue of Isis is a review of Alexandra Rutherford‘s book Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinner’s Technology of Behaviour from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s by Jill Morawski. AHP has previously discussed Beyond the Box here, here, and here. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The problem of raccoon intelligence in behaviourist America” by Michael Pettit. Continue reading Raccoons & Scientific Biography