“Temperamental workers: Psychology, business, and the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale in interwar America,” by Kira Lussier. Abstract:
This article traces the history of a popular interwar psychological test, the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale (HWTS), from its development in the early 1930s to its adoption by corporate personnel departments. In popular articles, trade magazines, and academic journals, industrial psychologist Doncaster Humm and personnel manager Guy Wadsworth trumpeted their scale as a scientific measure of temperament that could ensure efficient hiring practices and harmonious labor relations by screening out “problem employees” and screening for temperamentally “normal” workers. This article demonstrates how concerns about the epistemological and scientific credibility of the HWTS were intimately entangled with concerns about its value to business at every step in the test’s development. The HWTS sought to measure the emotional and social dimensions of an individual’s personality so as to assess their suitability for work. The practice of temperament testing conjured a vision of the subject whose emotional and social disposition was foundational to their own capacity to find employment, and whose capacity to appropriately express, but regulate, their emotions was foundational to corporate order. The history of the HWTS offers an instructive case of how psychological tests embed social hierarchies, political claims, and economic ideals within their very theoretical and methodological foundations. Although the HWTS itself may have faded from use, the test directly inspired creators of subsequent popular personality tests, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
The November 2017 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore the American Gestalt psychology’s role at the Clarke School for the Deaf, Luigi Luciani’s work on consciousness in relation to localizationism, and professional psychology in Germany during the National Socialist period. (A fun collection of images from the Clarke School for the Deaf from 1955 is also available from Getty Images.) Full details below.
“Planes of phenomenological experience: The psychology of deafness as an early example of American Gestalt psychology, 1928–1940,” by Marion A.Schmidt. Abstract:
When, in 1928, the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, opened a psychological research division, it was nothing unusual in a time fascinated with the sciences of education. Yet with its longstanding ties to Northampton’s Smith College, the school was able to secure the collaboration of eminent Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, who, in turn, engaged 2 more German-speaking emigrants, Margarete Eberhardt and social psychologist Fritz Heider, and Heider’s American wife Grace Moore Heider. This collaboration has seen little attention from historians, who have treated Koffka’s and Heider’s time in Northampton as a transitory phase. I argue, however, that their research on deafness adds to the history of emigration and knowledge transfer between European and American Schools of psychology, and to historical understanding of the interrelation of Gestalt, child, and social psychology. Professionals in child studies and developmental psychology were keenly interested in the holistic and introspective approach Gestalt psychology offered. Deaf children were considered a particularly fascinating research population for exploring the relationship between thought and language, perception and development, Gestalt, and reality. At the Clarke School, Grace Moore Heider was among the first Americans to apply Gestalt principles to child psychology. In a time in which pejorative eugenic beliefs dominated professional perceptions of disability, the Heiders’ groundbreaking work defined the deaf as a social and phenomenological minority. This was in opposition to dominant beliefs in deaf education, yet it points to early roots of a social model of deafness and disability, which historians usually locate in 1960s and ’70s activism.
The November 2015 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore forensic psychology in Germany, phrenology in Gilded Age America, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Anthropophagy: A singular concept to understand Brazilian culture and psychology as specific knowledge,” by Arthur Arruda Leal Ferreira. The abstract reads,
The aim of this work is to present the singularity of the concept of anthropophagy in Brazilian culture. This article examines its use in the Modernist Movement of the 1920s and explores the possibilities it creates for thinking about Brazilian culture in nonidentitarian terms. We then use the concept of anthropophagy in a broader, practical sense to understand psychology as a kind of anthropophagical knowledge. We do so because in many ways the discipline of psychology is similar to Brazilian culture in its plurality and complexity.
““God save us from psychologists as expert witnesses”: The battle for forensic psychology in early twentieth-century Germany,” by Heather Wolffram. The abstract reads,
This article is focused on the jurisdictional battle between psychiatrists and psychologists over psychological expertise in legal contexts that took place during the first decades of the 20th century. Using, as an example, the debate between the psychologist William Stern, the psychiatrist Albert Moll, and the jurist Albert Hellwig, which occurred at the International Congress for Sexual Research held in Berlin in 1926, it aims to demonstrate the manner in which psychiatrists’ responses to psychologists’ attempts to gain admittance to Germany’s courtrooms were shaped not only by epistemological and methodological objections, but also by changes to expert witnessing that had already encroached on psychiatrists’ professional territory. Building upon recent work examining the relationship between psychologists and jurists prior to the First World War, this article also seeks to examine the role of judges and lawyers in the contest over forensic psychology in the mid-1920s, arguing that they ultimately became referees in the increasingly public disputes between psychiatrists and psychologists.
Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.
Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.