Tag Archives: World War Two

Special Issue: History of Psychosocial Stress

Interested in the history of stress? If so, you will want to check out a just released special issue on the topic. The December 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is guest edited by Rhodri Hayward and dedicated to the subject of “Inventing the Psychosocial: Stress and Social Psychiatry.” Articles in this issue examine a diverse array of subjects including: the work of Hans Selye, somatic disorders during World War Two, the development of psychosocial medicine in Britain, the rat and stress, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The invention of the psychosocial: An introduction,” by Rhodri Hayward. The abstract reads,

Although the compound adjective ‘psychosocial’ was first used by academic psychologists in the 1890s, it was only in the interwar period that psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers began to develop detailed models of the psychosocial domain. These models marked a significant departure from earlier ideas of the relationship between society and human nature. Whereas Freudians and Darwinians had described an antagonistic relationship between biological instincts and social forces, interwar authors insisted that individual personality was made possible through collective organization. This argument was advanced by dissenting psychoanalysts such as Ian Suttie and Karen Horney; biologists including Julian Huxley and Hans Selye; philosophers (e.g. Olaf Stapledon), anthropologists (e.g. Margaret Mead) and physicians (e.g John Ryle and James Halliday).

This introduction and the essays that follow sketch out the emergence of the psycho-social by examining the methods, tools and concepts through which it was articulated. New statistical technologies and physiological theories allowed individual pathology to be read as an index of broader social problems and placed medical expertise at the centre of new political programmes. In these arguments the intangible structure of social relationships was made visible and provided a template for the development of healthy and effective forms of social organization. By examining the range of techniques deployed in the construction of the psychosocial (from surveys of civilian neurosis, techniques of family observation through to animal models of psychotic breakdown) a critical genealogy of the biopolitical basis of modern society is developed.

“The pursuit of happiness: The social and scientific origins of Hans Selye’s natural philosophy of life,” by Mark Jackson. The abstract reads,

In 1956, Hans Selye tentatively suggested that the scientific study of stress could ‘help us to formulate a precise program of conduct’ and ‘teach us the wisdom to live a rich and meaningful life’. Continue reading Special Issue: History of Psychosocial Stress

John Huston’s 1946 Film Let There Be Light

The wonderful blog Mind Hacks has just brought to our attention John Huston’s 1946 film, Let There Be Light. The third of three propaganda films Huston was commission to make for the United States Army, Let There Be Light features World War II era soldiers experiencing neuropsychiatric illness as the result of the trauma of war.

Initially banned by the US government, the film made its debut at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. Now the film – which showcases the experiences of these soldiers, their often harsh treatment at the hands of medical professionals, and the soldiers distaste for the military post-war – is available in full online, both on YouTube (above) and as a downloadable file on Internet Archive.

The World War II Era Red Wing Studies

A recent piece in Amherst College’s Amherst Magazine looks at the work of psychologist John P. Anderson (right) and colleagues during World War II. In the so-called Red Wing Studies, Anderson, along with Herman Kabat and Ralph Rossen, set out to investigate why Air Force pilots were passing out in flight during high speed maneuvers. Suspecting that the cause was impaired cerebral blood flow, the men tested their hypothesis by employing leather collars that inflated around the subject’s neck (seen on Anderson, right). This procedure was tested first on animal subjects and then on the researchers themselves before it was applied to other human subjects.

The use of this inflatable collar allowed Anderson, Kabat, and Rossen to observe the body’s response to a lack of oxygen to the brain. As the article describes,

The most common symptoms included unconsciousness, dilated pupils, seizure-like movements and loss of bladder and bowel control.

If the experiments themselves are troubling, the choice of test subjects is even more so. The Red Wing Studies of 1943 were conducted on schizophrenic patients and prison inmates, some of whom were in the juvenile court system. Researchers have long debated whether these subjects—who volunteered for the testing, according to records—had the intellectual capacity to truly give what today’s scientists call “informed consent.” ….

At the same time, the Red Wing findings advanced scientific knowledge, laying the groundwork for significant studies on brain physiology and function. They led to the development of the human centrifuge, which is used in the training of pilots and astronauts, and the G suit, a special garment, worn by high-speed aircraft crews, that can be pressurized to prevent blackout during certain maneuvers.

The work on which this article is based has also appeared in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine as “Experimental Arrest of Cerebral Blood Flow in Human Subjects: The Red Wing Studies Revisited,” by Brian A. Smith, Ellen Wright Clayton, and  David Robertson. The abstract reads,

Loss of consciousness in pilots during rapid ascent after bombing missions was a major problem in World War II, and experiments were undertaken to study the cause of this phenomenon. Postulating impaired cerebral blood flow as a likely mechanism, the investigators developed a neck device, the KRA Cuff, which when inflated could shut off blood supply to the brain. With cessation of blood flow for up to 100 seconds, the investigators observed a sequence of responses, including unconsciousness, followed by dilated pupils, tonic/clonic movements, loss of bladder and eventually bowel control, and appearance of pathological reflexes. This study, carried out in prisoners and patients with schizophrenia in 1941–42, largely disappeared from public discourse for a number of years. It has received occasional attention subsequently and been considered controversial. Recently discovered records, including extensive written and photographic data from the studies, shed new light on the methods and motives of the research team. We describe here this new information and its implications for the scientific and ethical assessment of the study.

Read the full Amherst Magazine article, Medical Sleuthing, online here.

via the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) listserve.

New Issue: History of Psychiatry

The March 2011 issue of History of Psychiatry has just been released online. Included in this issue is an article on the mental health field in the United States post-WWII by Andrew Scull (left), as well as articles on the development of psychiatry in Latvia, the role of patient dress in a nineteenth century English lunatic asylum, and the influence of findings in pediatric medicine on John Bowlby’s development of the concept of ‘maternal deprivation’. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The mental health sector and the social sciences in post-World War II USA. Part 1: Total war and its aftermath,” by Andrew Scull. The abstract reads,

This paper examines the impact of World War II and its aftermath on the mental health sector, and traces the resulting transformations in US psychiatry and psychology. Focusing on the years between 1940 and 1970, it analyses the growing federal role in funding training and research in the mental health sector, the dominance of psychoanalysis within psychiatry in these years, and the parallel changes that occurred in both academic and clinical psychology.

“From social pathologies to individual psyches: Psychiatry navigating socio-political currents in 20th-century Latvia,” by Agita Lûse. The abstract reads,

The paper explores psychiatry’s responses to the twentieth-century socio-political currents in Latvia by focusing on social objectives, clinical ideologies, and institutional contexts of Soviet mental health care. The tradition of German biological psychiatry in which Baltic psychiatrists had been trained blended well with the materialistic monism of Soviet psychoneurology. Continue reading New Issue: History of Psychiatry

HoP in Social History of Medicine

The April 2010 issue of Social History of Medicine contains a number of articles on topics related to the history of psychology and the history of psychiatry. These include pieces on insanity and the right to marry in nineteenth century England, concerns surrounding mentally unfit soldiers during World War Two, and the importance of an individual’s capacity to work to psychosurgery practices in the early twentieth century. A further article explores the psychiatric classifications of criminals in New York State in the first half of the twentieth century (by Stephen Garton, right). Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Capacity to Marry: Law, Medicine and Conceptions of Insanity,” by Ezra Hasson. Continue reading HoP in Social History of Medicine