It is my pleasure to direct AHP readers to a just released special issue of History of the Human Science on Psychology and its Publics, guest edited by Michael Pettit and myself. The issue includes articles tackling a diverse array of topics on psychology’s relationship with the public, including: the public psychology of sentimentalism and the guillotine during the French Revolution; the construction of an attitudinal public in concert with the development of questionnaires; the dissemination of Albert Ellis’s rational therapy via popular media forms; the public’s interaction with psychological ideas via the graphic novel Watchmen and its queer history; the function of sexual assault surveys in structuring rape’s ontology and politicizing rape as a social issue; and consideration of the ontology of the public through the lens of deliberative public opinion. Thanks to all our contributors for their wonderful and thought provoking work!
This paper introduces the special issue dedicated to ‘Psychology and its Publics’. The question of the relationship between psychologists and the wider public has been a central matter of concern to the historiography of psychology. Where critical historians tend to assume a pliant audience, eager to adopt psychological categories, psychologists themselves often complain about the public misunderstanding of them. Ironically, both accounts share a flattened understanding of the public. We turn to research on the public understanding of science (PUS), the public engagement with science (PES) and communications studies to develop a rich account of the circuitry that ties together psychological experts and their subjects.
“The unfailing machine: Mechanical arts, sentimental publics and the guillotine in revolutionary France,” by Edward Jones-Imhotep. Abstract:
This article explores how the pre-eminent public psychology of the French Revolution – sentimentalism – shaped the necessity, understanding and construction of its most iconic public machine. The guillotine provided a solution to the problem of public executions in an age of both sentiment and reason. It was designed to rationalize punishment and make it more humane; but it was also designed to guard against the psychological effects of older, more variable and unpredictable methods of public execution on a sentimental public. That public, contemporaries argued, required executions performed by an unfailing technology. Rather than focus on the role of the guillotine after 1793, the article explores how the implacable mechanical action that helped produce the Reign of Terror and multiply the cadavers of medical science was demanded by the guillotine’s origins as a sentimental machine.
In his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing (Crown, 2017), Damion Searls presents the first biography of Hermann Rorschach and the history of the Rorschach Test. A story that is largely untold, Searls starts with the childhood of Rorschach and brings readers through his growth as a psychiatrist as he created an experiment to probe the mind using a set of ten inkblots. As a visual artist, Rorschach incorporated his ability to think about visuals and his belief that what is seen is more important than what we say. After his early death, Rorschach’s Test found its way to America being used by the military, to test job applicants, to evaluate defendants and parents in custody battles and people suffering from mental illness. In addition, it has been used throughout advertising and incorporated in Hollywood and popular culture. A tragic figure, and one of the most influential psychiatrists in the twentieth century, The Inkblots allows readers to better understand how Rorschach and his test impacted psychiatry and psychological testing. Searls’ work is eloquently written and detailed, pulling in unpublished letters, diaries and interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Searls’ well researched text presents insight into the ways that art and science have impacted modern psychology and popular culture.
In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.
After Rorschach’s early death, his test quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, and people suffering from mental illness or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.
In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.
A short interview with author Damion Searls on NPR can be heard here.
On Oct. 20, 1945, Gustave Gilbert arrived in Nuremberg, Germany, to begin what was perhaps the most compelling assignment ever given to an American psychologist — working for the International Military Tribunal at the first Nazi war crimes trial. Fluent in German, Gilbert was given the assignment to work as a morale officer and translator. Nuremberg was a high-stakes affair, and the Allied powers wanted the trial to proceed in an orderly and dignified manner. Gilbert’s job was to keep the prisoners — Hitler’s leading henchmen — in a reasonably calm, rational state.
With the approval of his superiors, he quickly recast the position as “prison psychologist” and began studying the prisoners as well. Gilbert used all the standard psychological tools of the day — intelligence tests, Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests. However, his preferred method was casual conversation. Gilbert befriended the prisoners, visiting them in their cells daily and chatting with them at meal times. At the end of each day, he wrote about these conversations, providing a fascinating window into the thoughts and motivations of the prisoners as they faced what they all knew was a likely death sentence.
The Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work of V. M. Bekhterev, patient experiences of “subconscious conflict” in prewar America, the history of the Rorschach test in Britain, and the mid-twentieth century relationship between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.
“V. M. BEKHTEREV IN RUSSIAN CHILD SCIENCE, 1900S–1920S: “OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGY”/“REFLEXOLOGY” AS A SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT,” by ANDY BYFORD. The abstract reads,
In the early 20th century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter’s name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled “objective psychology” and from the 1910s renamed “reflexology.” The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev’s “objective psychology” and “reflexology” occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20th century. While Bekhterev’s prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that “objective psychology” and “reflexology” had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, “experimental pedagogy” in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet “pedology” during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev’s program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned “objective psychology”/“reflexology” as a transformative scientific movement.