MPTUO1a: Unit 1 Videos / A History of Psychology
Week 1 / Unit 1
Video: A History of Psychology
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Video Transcript – A History of Psychology
Main article: History of psychology
The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China, India, and Persia all engaged in the philosophical study of psychology. In Ancient Egypt the Ebers Papyrus mentioned depression and thought disorders. Historians note that Greek philosophers, including Thales, Plato, and Aristotle (especially in his De Anima treatise), addressed the workings of the mind. As early as the 4th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates theorized that mental disorders had physical rather than supernatural causes.
In China, psychological understanding grew from the philosophical works of Laozi and Confucius, and later from the doctrines of Buddhism. This body of knowledge involves insights drawn from introspection and observation, as well as techniques for focused thinking and acting. It frames the universe as a division of, and interaction between, physical reality and mental reality, with an emphasis on purifying the mind in order to increase virtue and power. An ancient text known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine identifies the brain as the nexus of wisdom and sensation, includes theories of personality based on yin–yang balance, and analyzes mental disorder in terms of physiological and social disequilibria. Chinese scholarship focused on the brain advanced in the Qing Dynasty with the work of Western-educated Fang Yizhi (1611–1671), Liu Zhi (1660–1730), and Wang Qingren (1768–1831). Wang Qingren emphasized the importance of the brain as the center of the nervous system, linked mental disorder with brain diseases, investigated the causes of dreams and insomnia, and advanced a theory of hemispheric lateralization in brain function.
Distinctions in types of awareness appear in the ancient thought of India, influenced by Hinduism. A central idea of the Upanishads is the distinction between a person’s transient mundane self and their eternal unchanging soul. Divergent Hindu doctrines, and Buddhism, have challenged this hierarchy of selves, but have all emphasized the importance of reaching higher awareness. Yoga is a range of techniques used in pursuit of this goal. Much of the Sanskrit corpus was suppressed under the British East India Company followed by the British Raj in the 1800s. However, Indian doctrines influenced Western thinking via the Theosophical Society, a New Age group which became popular among Euro-American intellectuals.
Psychology was a popular topic in Enlightenment Europe. In Germany, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) applied his principles of calculus to the mind, arguing that mental activity took place on an indivisible continuum—most notably, that among an infinity of human perceptions and desires, the difference between conscious and unconscious awareness is only a matter of degree. Christian Wolff identified psychology as its own science, writing Psychologia empirica in 1732 and Psychologia rationalis in 1734. This notion advanced further under Immanuel Kant, who established the idea of anthropology, with psychology as an important subdivision.
However, Kant explicitly and notoriously rejected the idea of experimental psychology, writing that “the empirical doctrine of the soul can also never approach chemistry even as a systematic art of analysis or experimental doctrine, for in it the manifold of inner observation can be separated only by mere division in thought, and cannot then be held separate and recombined at will (but still less does another thinking subject suffer himself to be experimented upon to suit our purpose), and even observation by itself already changes and displaces the state of the observed object.”
In 1783, Ferdinand Ueberwasser (1752-1812) designated himself Professor of Empirical Psychology and Logic and gave lectures on scientific psychology, though these developments were soon overshadowed by the Napoleonic Wars, after which the Old University of Münster was discontinued by Prussian authorities. Having consulted philosophers Hegel and Herbart, however, in 1825 the Prussian state established psychology as a mandatory discipline in its rapidly expanding and highly influential educational system. However, this discipline did not yet embrace experimentation. In England, early psychology involved phrenology and the response to social problems including alcoholism, violence, and the country’s well-populated mental asylums.
Beginning of Experimental Psychology
Gustav Fechner began conducting psychophysics research in Leipzig in the 1830s, articulating the principle (Weber–Fechner law) that human perception of a stimulus varies logarithmically according to its intensity. Fechner’s 1860 Elements of Psychophysics challenged Kant’s stricture against quantitative study of the mind. In Heidelberg, Hermann von Helmholtz conducted parallel research on sensory perception, and trained physiologist Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt, in turn, came to Leipzig University, establishing the psychological laboratory which brought experimental psychology to the world. Wundt focused on breaking down mental processes into the most basic components, motivated in part by an analogy to recent advances in chemistry, and its successful investigation of the elements and structure of material. Paul Flechsig and Emil Kraepelin soon created another influential psychology laboratory at Leipzig, this one focused on more on experimental psychiatry.
Psychologists in Germany, Denmark, Austria, England, and the United States soon followed Wundt in setting up laboratories. G. Stanley Hall who studied with Wundt, formed a psychology lab at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, which became internationally influential. Hall, in turn, trained Yujiro Motora, who brought experimental psychology, emphasizing psychophysics, to the Imperial University of Tokyo. Wundt’s assistant, Hugo Münsterberg, taught psychology at Harvard to students such as Narendra Nath Sen Gupta—who, in 1905, founded a psychology department and laboratory at the University of Calcutta. Wundt students Walter Dill Scott, Lightner Witmer, and James McKeen Cattell worked on developing tests for mental ability. Catell, who also studied with eugenicist Francis Galton, went on to found the Psychological Corporation. Wittmer focused on mental testing of children; Scott, on selection of employees.
Another student of Wundt, Edward Titchener, created the psychology program at Cornell University and advanced a doctrine of “structuralist” psychology. Structuralism sought to analyze and classify different aspects of the mind, primarily through the method of introspection. William James, John Dewey and Harvey Carr advanced a more expansive doctrine called functionalism, attuned more to human–environment actions. In 1890, James wrote an influential book, The Principles of Psychology, which expanded on the realm of structuralism, memorably described the human “stream of consciousness”, and interested many American students in the emerging discipline. Dewey integrated psychology with social issues, most notably by promoting the cause progressive education to assimilate immigrants and inculcate moral values in children.
A different strain of experimentalism, with more connection to physiology, emerged in South America, under the leadership of Horacio G. Piñero at the University of Buenos Aires. Russia, too, placed greater emphasis on the biological basis for psychology, beginning with Ivan Sechenov’s 1873 essay, “Who Is to Develop Psychology and How?” Sechenov advanced the idea of brain reflexes and aggressively promoted a deterministic viewpoint on human behavior.
Wolfgang Kohler, Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka co-founded the school of Gestalt psychology (not to be confused with the Gestalt therapy of Fritz Perls). This approach is based upon the idea that individuals experience things as unified wholes. Rather than breaking down thoughts and behavior into smaller elements, as in structuralism, the Gestaltists maintained that whole of experience is important, and differs from the sum of its parts. Other 19th-century contributors to the field include the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, a pioneer in the experimental study of memory, who developed quantitative models of learning and forgetting at the University of Berlin, and the Russian-Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered in dogs a learning process that was later termed “classical conditioning” and applied to human beings.
Consolidation and Funding
One of the earliest psychology societies was La Société de Psychologie Physiologique in France, which lasted 1885–1893. The first meeting of the International Congress of Psychology sponsored by the International Union of Psychological Science took place in Paris, in August 1889, amidst the World’s Fair celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution. William James was one of three Americans among the four hundred attendees. The American Psychological Association (APA) was founded soon after, in 1892. The International Congress continued to be held, at different locations in Europe, with wider international participation. The Sixth Congress, Geneva 1909, included presentations in Russian, Chinese, and Japanese, as well as Esperanto. After a hiatus for World War I, the Seventh Congress met in Oxford, with substantially greater participation from the war-victorious Anglo-Americans. In 1929, the Congress took place at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, attended by hundreds of members of the APA. Tokyo Imperial University led the way in bringing new psychology to the East, and from Japan these ideas diffused into China.
American psychology gained status during World War I, during which a standing committee headed by Robert Yerkes administered mental tests (“Army Alpha” and “Army Beta”) to almost 1.8 million soldiers. Subsequent funding for behavioral research came in large part from the Rockefeller family, via the Social Science Research Council. Rockefeller charities funded the National Committee on Mental Hygiene, which promoted the concept of mental illness and lobbied for psychological supervision of child development. Through the Bureau of Social Hygiene and later funding of Alfred Kinsey, Rockefeller foundations established sex research as a viable discipline in the U.S. Under the influence of the Carnegie-funded Eugenics Record Office, the Draper-funded Pioneer Fund, and other institutions, the eugenics movement also had a significant impact on American psychology; in the 1910s and 1920s, eugenics became a standard topic in psychology classes.
During World War II and the Cold War, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies established themselves as leading funders of psychology—through the armed forces and in the new Office of Strategic Services intelligence agency. University of Michigan psychologist Dorwin Cartwright reported that university researchers began large-scale propaganda research in 1939–1941, and “the last few months of the war saw a social psychologist become chiefly responsible for determining the week-by-week-propaganda policy for the United States Government.” Cartwright also wrote that psychologists had significant roles in managing the domestic economy. The Army rolled out its new General Classification Test and engaged in massive studies of troop morale. In the 1950s, the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fund research on psychological warfare. In 1965, public controversy called attention to the Army’s Project Camelot—the “Manhattan Project” of social science—an effort which enlisted psychologists and anthropologists to analyze foreign countries for strategic purposes.
In Germany after World War I, psychology held institutional power through the military, and subsequently expanded along with the rest of the military under the Third Reich. Under the direction of Hermann Göring’s cousin Matthias Göring, the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute was renamed the Göring Institute. Freudian psychoanalysts were expelled and persecuted under the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazi Party, and all psychologists had to distance themselves from Freud and Adler. The Göring Institute was well-financed throughout the war with a mandate to create a “New German Psychotherapy”. This psychotherapy aimed to align suitable Germans with the overall goals of the Reich; as described by one physician: “Despite the importance of analysis, spiritual guidance and the active cooperation of the patient represent the best way to overcome individual mental problems and to subordinate them to the requirements of the Volk and the Gemeinschaft.” Psychologists were to provide Seelenführung, leadership of the mind, to integrate people into the new vision of a German community. Harald Schultz-Hencke melded psychology with the Nazi theory of biology and racial origins, criticizing psychoanalysis as a study of the weak and deformed. Johannes Heinrich Schultz, a German psychologist recognized for developing the technique of autogenic training, prominently advocated sterilization and euthanasia of men considered genetically undesirable, and devised techniques for facilitating this process. After the war, some new institutions were created and some psychologists were discredited due to Nazi affiliation. Alexander Mitscherlich founded a prominent applied psychoanalysis journal called Psyche and with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation established the first clinical psychosomatic medicine division at Heidelberg University. In 1970, psychology was integrated into the required studies of medical students.
After the Russian Revolution, psychology was heavily promoted by the Bolsheviks as a way to engineer the “New Man” of socialism. Thus, university psychology departments trained large numbers of students, for whom positions were made available at schools, workplaces, cultural institutions, and in the military. An especial focus was pedology, the study of child development, regarding which Lev Vygotsky became a prominent writer. The Bolsheviks also promoted free love and embraced the doctrine of psychoanalysis as an antidote to sexual repression. Although pedology and intelligence testing fell out of favor in 1936, psychology maintained its privileged position as an instrument of the Soviet Union. Stalinist purges took a heavy toll and instilled a climate of fear in the profession, as elsewhere in Soviet society. Following World War II, Jewish psychologists past and present (including Lev Vygotsky, A.R. Luria, and Aron Zalkind) were denounced; Ivan Pavlov (posthumously) and Stalin himself were aggrandized as heroes of Soviet psychology. Soviet academics was speedily liberalized during the Khrushchev Thaw, and cybernetics, linguistics, genetics, and other topics became acceptable again. There emerged a new field called “engineering psychology” which studied mental aspects of complex jobs (such as pilot and cosmonaut). Interdisciplinary studies became popular and scholars such as Georgy Shchedrovitsky developed systems theory approaches to human behavior.
Twentieth-century Chinese psychology originally modeled the U.S., with translations from American authors like William James, the establishment of university psychology departments and journals, and the establishment of groups including the Chinese Association of Psychological Testing (1930) and the Chinese Psychological Society (1937). Chinese psychologists were encouraged to focus on education and language learning, with the aspiration that education would enable modernization and nationalization. John Dewey, who lectured to Chinese audiences in 1918–1920, had a significant influence on this doctrine. Chancellor T’sai Yuan-p’ei introduced him at Peking University as a greater thinker than Confucius. Kuo Zing-yang who received a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, became President of Zhejiang University and popularized behaviorism. After the Chinese Communist Party gained control of the country, the Stalinist Soviet Union became the leading influence, with Marxism–Leninism the leading social doctrine and Pavlovian conditioning the approved concept of behavior change. Chinese psychologists elaborated on Lenin’s model of a “reflective” consciousness, envisioning an “active consciousness” (pinyin: tzu-chueh neng-tung-li) able to transcend material conditions through hard work and ideological struggle. They developed a concept of “recognition” (pinyin: jen-shih) which referred the interface between individual perceptions and the socially accepted worldview (failure to correspond with party doctrine was “incorrect recognition”). Psychology education was centralized under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, supervised by the State Council. In 1951, the Academy created a Psychology Research Office, which in 1956 became the Institute of Psychology. Most leading psychologists were educated in the United States, and the first concern of the Academy was re-education of these psychologists in the Soviet doctrines. Child psychology and pedagogy for nationally cohesive education remained a central goal of the discipline.
The above video and transcript use material from the Wikipedia articles “Introduction to Psychology” and “Psychology“, which are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.
- Introduction to Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikibooks. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Psychology
- Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology
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