The British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk as part of its summer term BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On Monday July 13th Robert Segal of the University of Aberdeen, will be speaking on “The Course of Modern Psychoanalysing About Myth.” Full details follow below.
The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines
Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Monday 13 July 2015
Professor Robert Segal (University of Aberdeen), The Course of Modern Psychoanalysing About Myth
This talk will trace the history of psychoanalysing about myth through the major figures: Freud, Rank, Roheim, Arlow, Bettelheim, Jung. and Campbell. Myth has never been just an unconscious expression of the Oedipus complex and over the years has become much more.
Robert Segal is the author of The Poimandres as Myth: Scholarly Theory and Gnostic Meaning, Religion and the Social Sciences: Essays on the Confrontation, Joseph Campbell: An Introduction. Explaining and Interpreting Religion, Theorizing about Myth and Myth: A Very Short Introduction, among other works.
The October 2012 issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology is now online. Included in the issue’s Time Capsule section is a piece by Jamie Chamberlin on the persistent myth that John Watson was fired from Johns Hopkins in 1920, not due to his affair with graduate student Rosalie Raynor, but rather because it was discovered that Watson was conducting research on physiological responses during sexual intercourse. This rumor seems to have originated with psychologist James Vernon McConnell (1925–90) and made its way into numerous of textbooks in the latter part of the twentieth century.
As Chamberlin describes,
It wasn’t until 2001 that the story was seriously investigated. That’s when Benjamin began his probe, eventually working with three graduate students to trace the story through introductory and history textbooks, the Watsons’ divorce record and the correspondence of Watson, Larson, McConnell and others. The research team found that the story stretched and changed, with other versions alleging that Watson and Rayner used a kymograph measuring device during intercourse. McConnell claimed that there was a photo of the instruments Watson used for the sex research. But Benjamin, who traveled to both Hopkins and the Canadian Psychological Association museum where they supposedly hailed from, found no evidence that the instruments existed or had ties to Watson.
At least one textbook regarded the sex research story as gossip, the AP authors found. In the third version of his “History of Psychology” text, psychologist David Hothersall wrote: “A careful examination of Watson’s dismissal and divorce convinced a recent biographer of Watson that there is no evidence that he was dismissed because of alleged experiments concerned with human sexual behavior.” Hothersall omitted the story entirely from his text’s 2004 fourth edition, as did most other authors by that time.
How did a rumor become textbook fodder? “Nothing really sells like sex,” posits Jodi Whitaker, of The Ohio State University, one of Benjamin’s co-authors. “It was a wonderfully salacious story to spread around.”
The full article, “Notes on a Scandal,” can be read online here.
The September 2012 issue of gradPSYCH magazine, published by the American Psychological Association, features an article entitled Psychology’s Tall Tales. The article describes two of the most persistent myths in psychology; those of Phineas Gage and Kitty Genovese (right). The true stories of what happened to Gage and Genovese have been discussed on AHP previously (here and here). In short, the personality changes experienced by Gage following his accident were not as severe as generally reported and during Genovese’s attack bystanders did in fact intervene in various ways.
In addition to recounting the details of these often perpetuated myths, the gradPSYCH article also point to an interesting audio source on the Genovese case. An interview with Genovese’s girlfriend at the time of her murder, Mary Ann Zielonko, can be heard on the Sound Portraits website. Interestingly, the interview begins by retelling the myth of Genovese’s attack. Click here to listen the full audio of that interview.
Previously on AHP: Chris Green critiqued an essay by Christian Jarrett (pictured right), published as a journalistic feature in the latest issue of The Psychologist, 21(9). In this essay, Jarrett outlines — and purports to debunk — several myths in the history of psychology.
Among the examinations of apocrypha surrounding Kitty Genovese and Little Albert is a question regarding the very existence of a Cognitive Revolution in psychology. Green, in response, argues that this makes a different kind of claim than do Jarrett’s other efforts:
There is all manner of debate over what the precise character of the cognitive revolution was. Some have even argued that the continuities with behaviorism are so great that it cannot be considered to be a scientific “revolution” at all. But this kind of historiographic debate is not at all the same project as excavating indisputable facts that have become distorted over the decades with retelling. It is simply the case that many of the details of the story commonly told about the Kitty Genovese case are not true. It is simply the case that Little Albert was conditioned to be afraid of a rat rather than a rabbit. This is not the case with debate over the cognitive revolution, which is a very complicated social and scientific movement that took place over a period of decades (Green, 2008, at AHP here).
Green then goes a step further in his criticism. And herein lies the lesson:
What we have here, I fear, is a case of revisionist history attempting to deflect criticism by masquerading as a case of factual “debunking” (Green, 2008, contd).
The significance of this sentence is to be found in the distinction between the good kind of “revision through reexamination” (debunking) and the bad kind of “revision through oversimplification, denial, or distortion” (negationist revisionism). This distinction is sufficiently important that we will examine it in greater detail below.
Caveat: What follows is my opinion, not an attempt to explain “what Green really meant.” (Criticism is welcome; please feel free to leave comments below.) Continue reading The Cognitive Revolution (Myths, Part 2)
The British Psychological Society’s flagship journal, The Psychologist, has published two items related to the history of psychology in its latest issue, and it has kindly made them freely available on its website.
The first is an article by Australian psychologist Malcolm Macmillan on the mythology surrounding the case of Phineas Gage, the Vermont railroad worker who had a tamping iron blasted through his head in 1848 and lived to tell about it.
Macmillan’s research on the case was published in An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage (MIT, 2002), and he has been interviewed for my podcast series, “This Week in the History of Psychology” (Sept. 11-17). Through extensive examination of the primary documents in the case, MacMillan has discovered that the Gage case has been distorted repeatedly through the century-and-a-half since, to suit the neuropsychological theories of the person writing the account. Continue reading “The Psychologist” on Scientific Myths