The Winter 2017 issue of the American Journal of Psychology is now online. Included as part of the journal’s continuing 130th anniversary coverage are articles on S. S. Stevens’s work on scaling and early work foreshadowing ecological psychology. A further article in the issue offers a digital history of authorship in the American Journal of Psychology and the Psychological Review. Full details below.
“S. S. Stevens’s Invariant Legacy: Scale Types and the Power Law,” by Lawrence M. Ward. Abstract:
S. S. Stevens was one of a number of prominent psychologists who published seminal articles in The American Journal of Psychology (AJP). Indeed, the first or, arguably, most important articles in several of his research strands were published there. In this brief treatment of his monumental work, I review these articles and some of their sequelae, both in Stevens’s own work and in that of others, in an attempt to sketch out how Stevens’s contributions in AJP helped form the development of experimental sensory and perceptual psychology throughout the 20th century. I focus on his work in psychophysical scaling, because in my opinion that has been his most important legacy. Indeed, the article that probably generated the flurry of work in psychophysical scaling that persisted into the 1990s was a brilliant work published in 1956 in AJP. In that article Stevens not only demonstrated the validity and reliability of direct scaling (in this case magnitude estimation and production) but also investigated a range of factors that could affect its results, anchoring the later work that led to its adoption as the fundamental and most popular approach to psychophysical scaling still in use today. In this section I also expand on a few of the modern directions in which this work has gone. Stevens also published in AJP classic articles on the localization of sound, the dimensions of sound, the relation of volume to intensity, and the neural quantum in pitch and loudness discrimination. He even contributed an article on scaling coffee odor. His work is a stellar example of how AJP has influenced psychological science then and now.
This article presents a historical analysis of the origins, rise, and demise of theories of stratification (Schichtentheorien). Following their roots in the ancient metaphysical idea of the “great chain of being,” Aristotle’s scala naturae, the medieval “Jacob’s ladder,” and Leibniz’s concept of the lex continua, I argue that theories of stratification represent the modern heir to the ancient cosmological idea of a harmonious, hierarchical, and unified universe. Theories of stratification reached their heyday during the interwar period within German academia, proliferating over a vast number of disciplines and rising to special prominence within personality psychology, feeding the hope for a unitary image of the world and of human beings, their biological and mental development, their social organization and cultural creations. This article focuses on the role of visuality as a distinct mode of scientific knowledge within theories of stratification as well as the cultural context that provided the fertile ground for their flowering in the Weimar Republic. Finally, the rapid demise of theories of stratification during the 1950s is discussed, and some reasons for their downfall during the second half of the 20th century are explored.
October 22nd is Fechner Day, marking the anniversary of Gustav Theodor Fechner’s formulation of psychophysics on the morning of October 22nd, 1860. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of psychophysics, AHP brings you a sneak peak into the forthcoming November issue of History of Psychology (HoP),via an interview with Fechner authority David Robinson (left).
AHP: The forthcoming November issue of History of Psychology, features a special section celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Gustav Theodor Fechner’s (1801-1887) Elemente der Psychophysik or Elements of Psychophysics. As guest co-editor of this section, can you briefly summarize the importance of this work in the history of psychology?
DR: Fechner was a prominent German physicist, when eye injury (and apparently mental collapse) forced him to retire from experimental physics at Leipzig University. As he slowly recovered from illness, he indulged his naturphilosophisch, pantheistic inclinations and sought to establish firm quantitative relationships between stimuli and sensation (or perhaps better, perception), indeed between matter and spirit. This was the 1850s, and several other physicists and sensory physiologists were making inroads in empirical and quantitative studies of perception. Fechner’s long two-volume book, Elemente, did not please them all, but it is fair to say that he successfully coined the term, psychophysics, and gave those studies and experimental psychology a lot of early momentum. Indeed Fechner was still there in Leipzig, when Wilhelm Wundt founded the Institute of Experimental Psychology in 1879. Continue reading Fechner Day Interview with David Robinson→
According to legend, on this date in 1850, Gustav Theodor Fechner arose from his sleep armed with wholly new method to attack the problem studying the mind. Rather than relying on introspective reports of what was going on in people’s minds, scientists could, instead, vary the intensity of some external physical stimulus and ask the “participant” (as we now call them) whether s/he could detect any difference perceptually. For instance: “Does this weight seem heavier than that one?” “Does this light seem brighter or greener than that one?” “Does sound seem louder or higher than that one?” Continue reading Fechner Day!→