Psychology In The 20th Century Research Paper

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On the final page of his Psychology (Briefer Course) (1892), a condensed version of his monumental Principles of Psychology (1890), Harvard psychologist/philosopher William James reflected on the “New Psychology” of the 19th century and concluded that psychology “is no science, it is only the hope of a science” (p. 468). In the 20th century that hope became reality. This research-paper, necessarily incomplete, will trace the evolution of the discipline of psychology from a potential science at the start of the 20th century to a real one by the end of the century. Any organizational scheme will be arbitrary, and the choice here is topical, with the chapter segmented into two main sections that roughly parallel the distinction between broad categories of activity—research and practice. A brief third section will describe four trends that were evident near the end of the 20th century. Although psychology is an international discipline, the focus of this research-paper will be the development of psychology in the United States.

The Research Side: Schools Of Thought In Academic Psychology

American psychology at the start of the 20th century was the psychology of human consciousness and mental life. There was also strong interest in animal behavior, primarily as it related to the question of the evolution of human mental processes. This new discipline of psychology emerged in the second half of the 19th century, the offspring of recurring philosophical questions about human nature, advances in knowledge about the physiology of the brain and nervous system, and the strong influence of Darwinian evolutionary biology. This so-called “New Psychology,” in contrast to the older psychology of philosophical speculation and logical analysis, was one that developed in an academic environment, through the creation of research laboratories for the study of such cognitive phenomena as sensation, perception, association, attention, and memory. By 1900, there were no fewer than 41 laboratories of experimental psychology in America (Benjamin, 2000), ranging from the well established (e.g., Cornell University, Clark University) to the fledgling (e.g., University of Maine, Northwestern University).

Structuralism And Functionalism

Edward B. Titchnener

In the first decade of the 20th century, one major issue that occupied psychologists in America concerned the primary goal for this new laboratory psychology. The question divided advocates of two schools of thought who have come to be known as structuralists and functionalists, and led directly to the development of a third school, behaviorism. The central figure of the structuralist school was E. B. Titchener (1867-1927), a British psychologist with a German temperament who earned a PhD with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig in 1892 and in that same year came to Cornell University, where he spent his entire career. For Titchener, the new psychology was to be the study of the basic structure of adult human consciousness, to be studied in the laboratory using precise instruments (e.g., chronoscopes for measuring the amount of time it took to respond to various stimuli) and a self-report procedure called systematic experimental introspection. To introspect in Titchener’s laboratory meant to participate in some lab experiment (e.g., a reaction time task) and then to give a detailed verbal description of the mental processes involved in the experience. Introspectors had to be highly trained to avoid bias. That is, they were to become introspecting machines. The overall purpose of this research was to analyze human conscious experience into its fundamental structural components—Titchener eventually concluded that these basic elements were sensations (the basic element underlying perception), images (the basic element of thought), and the affective states of pleasantness and unpleasantness (the basic element of emotion). Structuralism as a system did not outlive Titchener and has little relevance today, and introspection was eventually discarded as being inherently subjective, but Titchener remains an important figure in psychology’s history for one main reason. More than anyone else in psychology’s early history, he was a passionate advocate of the value of basic research in psychological science as an acknowledgment of the importance of having a clear understanding of fundamental human mental processes. As one historian wrote, Titchener was “responsible for making psychology scientific—for setting psychology up in the laboratory and reaching his conclusions through experiment, under controlled conditions” (Hindeland, 1971, p. 28).

Although Titchener was a commanding presence, most American psychologists believed that the structuralist approach was at best incomplete, and they became associated with a school of thought called functionalism. This was a way of thinking that had direct ties to Darwinian evolutionary thinking, and it is a way of thinking that permeates American psychology to this day. Functionalists believed that, rather than the study of structure of human consciousness, psychology’s goal ought to be to understand how human conscious experience enables the organism to adapt to the environment and thereby prosper. As James Angell put it in “The Province of Functional Psychology,” his famous 1906 address as president of the American Psychological Association (APA), structuralists were interested in the question “What is mind?” whereas functionalists wanted to know “What is mind for?” To answer the question of how human consciousness functioned, psychologists were led to investigate a much wider range of topics than those of interest to Titchener. For example, although Titchener considered the study of children to be outside the realm of psychology (children were not considered capable of accurate introspection), functionalists were interested in children to learn something about how the ability to adapt developed in them.

William James

Although he would not have labeled himself a functionalist, William James (1842-1910), whose concerns about psychology as a science opened this research-paper, epitomized the spirit of this school of psychology. Today we recognize James as one of psychology’s brightest lights, and his Principles of Psychology (1890) is considered psychology’s most important book. As an indication of the esteem in which his peers held him, he was elected to the presidency of the APA twice, and when James McKeen Cattell of Columbia asked psychologists to rank their peers for eminence in 1903, James was ranked first on every return (Hothersall, 2004).

James is perhaps best known for his writings about human consciousness, habit, and emotion. In direct contrast to Titchener’s goal of analyzing consciousness into its structural elements, James argued that such an analysis was artificial, destroying the nature of the phenomenon. Instead, he argued, consciousness should be thought of as analogous to a flowing stream—it is a continuous action, never quite the same from moment to moment. Rather than focus on structure, James chose to emphasize the manner in which human consciousness helps the individual function effectively in the world. For James, the essential function of human consciousness was to allow the person to adapt quickly to new challenges found in the environment, to learn new things quickly, and to solve problems efficiently. Habits also had an important and related function. According to James, because habits occurred more or less automatically, with little conscious thought, they enabled the person to focus conscious effort on other, more important problems. He also had some practical suggestions about how to form successful habits, such as making a public announcement of intent (e.g., telling friends of a plan to walk two miles a day).

The Jamesian idea that is most likely to be found in modern psychology textbooks is the James-Lange theory of emotion (Lange was a Dutch physiologist whose ideas were similar to James’s). According to this theory, the bodily changes (e.g., the quick intake of breath and sense of one’s heart stopping when a snake is spotted on a mountain trail) that accompany emotional experiences are the essence of the emotion itself. Remove the bodily reaction and the emotion is gone. Similarly, simulate bodily actions associated with emotion, and the emotion will appear. The theory failed to account for the complexity of physiological arousal (no fault of James—sophisticated brain research was still to come), but to this day, the theory has a degree of truth to it. For instance, some research shows that by forcing people to use their facial muscles in a way that simulates the facial expression of a particular emotion, that emotion will be experienced.

Other Prominent Pioneers

B. Titchener and William James were but two of an extraordinary group of individuals who helped create the new discipline of psychology. Other prominent first-and second-generation American psychologists included G. Stanley Hall, James McKeen Cattell, Mary Whiton Calkins, Margaret Washburn, Robert Woodworth, and Edward Thorndike.

G. Stanley Hall

Hall (1844-1924) is sometimes referred to by historians as “Mr. First.” Among other things, he created the first laboratory of experimental psychology in America (Johns Hopkins in 1883), and the first journal of psychology in America (American Journal of Psychology in 1887); he was the first president of Clark University, which opened in 1889; he founded the APA in 1892 and was its first president; and he was largely responsible for bringing Freud’s ideas to America, by inviting the Viennese physician to America in 1909 to celebrate Clark’s 20th birthday. He was also a prominent developmental psychologist, and his comprehensive 1904 text, Adolescence, is still considered the book that first identified the teen years as a distinct developmental stage, and that created the modern subdiscipline of adolescent psychology.

James McKeen Cattell

Cattell (1860-1944) earned a doctorate with Wundt at Leipzig in 1886, but Britain’s Sir Francis Galton influ-enced him more. Galton reinforced Cattell’s beliefs that the study of how individuals differed from one another was as important as the search for general principles that applied to everyone. Hence, Cattell’s focus on individual differences contrasted with Titchener’s goal of discovering general laws of mental life. The interest in how people differed led Cattell to the issue of how these differences could be measured. He coined the term “mental test” in 1890, although the tests he developed (e.g., grip strength, two-point threshold, time to name colors) had more to do with sensory and muscular capacity than with conceptual ability. Consequently, when he correlated scores on his mental tests with college grades, in the hope that such tests might be useful as predictors of college success, the outcome was a failure, leading him to abandon the effort. The bulk of his career concerned the professionalization of psychology—he was active in APA, he founded journals, and, as head of the psychology program at Columbia, he produced a significant number of PhDs who became well known themselves (e.g., Thorndike, Woodworth).

Mary Whiton Calkins

The career of Mary Calkins (1863-1930) of Wellesley College illustrates many of the difficulties faced by women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although she was invited to take classes at Harvard as a guest (on the strong recommendation of William James), she was never granted the PhD that she earned there because Harvard refused to officially accept women as graduate students. Yet, at Harvard, she completed important research on memory and association that featured the invention of what became a standard method in memory studies, paired associates learning. Her research uncovered a number of memory phenomena (e.g., primacy and regency effects) that were later investigated more thoroughly when cognitive psychology became a force in the second half of the 20th century. Her peers recognized her importance when they elected her the first woman president of the APA (14th APA president overall) in 1905.

Margaret Washburn

Unlike Harvard, Cornell University admitted women graduate students, and Margaret Washburn (1871-1939) became the first woman to earn a PhD in psychology in 1894. Although she was Titchener’s first doctoral student, she had little interest in his structuralist school. She completed important research on perception, imagery, and “social consciousness” (empathy and helping behavior), but she is best known as a leading comparative psychologist. She contributed some original research (on color vision in fish, for instance) and summarized the field in a 1908 text, The Animal Mind; it became the standard comparative psychology text of its day. She was elected APA president in 1921, co-edited the American Journal of Psychology for more than a decade, and was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1931.

Robert Woodworth

Students in research methods courses often struggle with the distinction between independent and dependent variables, and they often confuse experimental and correlational studies, along with the proper conclusions to be drawn from each. For these frustrations, they have Robert Woodworth (1869-1962) to thank. Woodworth was a legendary teacher of methodology at Columbia who, in 1938, published a research textbook with the simple title of Experimental Psychology that became known as the “Columbia bible.” It became a standard methodology text, training untold thousands of psychologists in how to do research (Winston, 1990). It was Woodworth who created the modern definition of an experiment—manipulating an independent variable, controlling other factors, and then measuring the outcome or dependent variable. And it was Woodworth who first drew the distinction between the experiment and a correlational study, with the latter measuring the strength of relation between two measured variables, but not directly manipulating an independent variable.

Edward Thorndike

Thorndike (1874-1949), for many years a colleague of Woodworth’s at Columbia University, was a transitional figure between functionalism and behaviorism (below). His doctoral dissertation on animal learning became one of psychology’s most famous series of studies. What Thorndike did was to build small “puzzle boxes” with doors that could be opened in various ways (e.g., by pushing a pedal on the floor) by the cats placed in them. The cats would make various attempts to escape the boxes, eventually pushing the pedal. On subsequent attempts they would solve the puzzle box sooner and sooner, demonstrating a trial-and-error learning process (Thorndike called it trial and accidental success). On the basis of this research, Thorndike proposed his “Law of Effect”—in essence, it stated that over a series of trials, successful behaviors would be “stamped in” by the reward of escape, whereas unsuccessful behaviors would be “stamped out” (Thorndike, 1911). B. F. Skinner later credited Thorndike for being the originator of the learning model that came to be known as operant or Skinnerian conditioning.

Gestalt Psychology

As a school of thought, the origins of German Gestalt psychology lie in the late 19th century, as a protest against a structuralist strategy for understanding mental life. In the 1920s and 1930s, several leading gestalists came to the United States, and the focus of their protest shifted to behaviorism (next section). In essence, the gestalists argued that when trying to understand some psychological phenomenon, it was a mistake to try to analyze it into its constituent elements, whether they be the sensations or images of the structuralists or the stimulus-response units of the behaviorists. Rather, the whole of the phenomenon was always more than the sum of its individual elements, according to the gestalt mantra. For example, a song is composed of a sequence of notes, but the song is more than the sum of those individual notes. If the song were sung in a different octave, every note would change, but the song’s melody would retain its identity.

The founding of the Gestalt psychology movement is usually attributed to the German psychologist Max Wertheimer (1880-1943); his experiments on apparent motion (he preferred the term phi phenomenon) are considered to be the starting point for the gestalt school. The demonstration is a simple one, accomplished by flashing a vertical light for a brief time, then a horizontal light. If the timing is right, the perception is not of two lights, but of a single light falling from a vertical into a horizontal position. Wertheimer argued that it was simply impossible to analyze such an experience into its sensory components because the perception of the light between the vertical and horizontal positions does not have a sensory element to it. The whole (perception of a light falling over) is more than the sum of its individual parts (the vertical light, and then the horizontal light). Wertheimer also wrote extensively about a series of perceptual organizing principles (e.g., closure, figure-ground) that we use to interpret sensory information meaningfully, and later in his life, he wrote on thinking and problem solving.

Another prominent Gestalt psychologist was Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), best known for his work on problem solving in apes. This took place on the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, which lie off the northwest coast of Africa. The Prussian Academy of Sciences had a primate colony on the island, and in 1913, Köhler was put in charge of it. The outbreak of World War I effectively marooned him, and Köhler remained on Tenerife until 1920, investigating the behavior of great apes.

In his research, Köhler believed he had found evidence of insightful problem solving in his nonhuman primates. In true gestalt fashion, he defined insight in perceptual terms—the sudden reorganization of the elements of the problem situation into an organized whole that solved the problem. His famous example was the two-stick problem, in which he placed a banana outside a cage, and the ape had to connect two hollow bamboo sticks (with different diameters) to reach it. After trying one stick at a time and failing, Sultan (Köhler’s best-known ape) solved the problem when the sticks happened to line up as he was holding them. He pushed one into the end of the other and retrieved the banana (or so the story goes; it wasn’t quite that simple; see Goodwin, 2005). On the basis of this and similar outcomes, Köhler argued that apes were capable of insight, and he criticized Thorndike’s puzzle box experiments, writing that Thorndike never gave his cats the opportunity to perceive all the elements of the problem situation. Thorndike replied that Köhler’s apes showed more trial and error than Köhler was willing to admit.

Gestalt psychology had an important influence on perception and cognition research. Modern introductory psychology textbooks always describe gestalt organizing principles in their perception chapter, and cognition texts acknowledge the debt to the gestaltists in their discussions of problem solving and their descriptions of the organizational attributes of memory.


Behaviorism was a uniquely American school of thought that was very popular in the United States but had much less impact in other countries. As a school of thought, its founder was John B. Watson (1878-1958), a Johns Hopkins psychologist trained at the University of Chicago, a center of functionalism. Raised on a South Carolina farm, Watson always seemed to get along better with animals than with people, so it was natural for him to become interested in animal behavior. This interest eventually led him to believe that the definition of psychology as the science of mental life was a mistake; instead, he proposed, it should be a science of behavior. He made his ideas public in a 1913 talk at Columbia, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. Later that year, he published the talk, which has come to be called the “Behaviorist Manifesto” (Watson, 1913). In it, Watson argued that for psychology to become a genuine science, it needed phenomena that could be measured objectively. Introspection, central to the psychology of the day, was inherently subjective, however—introspector A could not observe introspector B’s conscious experience, and vice versa. Behavior, however, could be observed objectively. Two observers could agree, for instance, that a rat had made three wrong turns in a maze. To be scientific, then, psychology ought to be the science of measurable behavior, according to Watson, and psychology’s goal should be to understand the relation between environmental stimuli and the resulting responses. Watson also argued that behavior is mostly the result of the conditioning experiences of one’s lifetime, and even claimed that if he had complete control of the lives of a dozen infants, he could shape them in any way he chose.

To demonstrate that environmental stimuli could condition behavior, Watson (with Rosalie Rayner) completed the famous “Little Albert” study in 1920, in which an 11-month-old boy was apparently conditioned to fear a white rat by pairing the rat with loud noise (Watson & Rayner, 1920). Although the study was seriously flawed methodologically, used only one subject, and could not be successfully replicated, it became the centerpiece of the behaviorist claim that people could only be understood by knowing their “conditioning history.”

During the 1920s, several factors combined in such a way that, by the end of the decade, behaviorism had become the dominant school of thought in American academic psychology. First, the work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) became influential. Although Pavlov’s research had been known about for years (he won a Nobel Prize in 1904 for his work on the physiology of the digestive system), his classical conditioning research became widely available for the first time in the English-speaking world when a large translation of his work appeared in 1927. Pavlov’s insistence on a precise control of the environment and his model of conditioning that involved pairing conditioned and unconditioned stimuli blended perfectly with Watson’s strong beliefs. A second factor was the continued promoting of behaviorism by Watson in the 1920s; this included the publication of several books for popular consumption, one on behaviorism in general and one on a behavioral approach to child rearing. The third development in the 1920s was the development, originally in physics, of operationism, which seemed to solve a problem with the issue of objectivity. The problem was that many of the phenomena of interest to behaviorists were not directly observable. Hunger, for example, was an important component of a behaviorist’s maze learning study (nonhungry rats will not work hard to get to the goal box with food in it), but how does one know if a rat is hungry? The solution was to create what became known as operational definitions, definitions in terms of a set of operations that could be observed and measured. Hunger in a rat, for instance, could be operationally defined as 24 hours without food.

Pavlov’s influence, Watson’s continued proselytizing, and operationism opened the door for the era of behaviorism, which lasted roughly from 1930 until the late 1950s. During the period, there were plenty of nonbehaviorists continuing to research such topics as memory, attention, and perception, but the majority of academic psychologists found themselves completing research that tried to understand the essential nature of the conditioning process itself. Three psychologists in particular—Edward Tolman, Clark Hull, and B. F. Skinner—developed important theories of learning, and Skinner’s work had impact even beyond the era of behaviorism. Skinner became one of the most prominent psychologists of the 20th century.

B. F. Skinner

By the time B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) delivered his last public address, a ringing defense of his ideas at the 1990 APA convention (given just eight days before he died of leukemia), he was the most recognizable name in American psychology. Skinner was one of a number of psychologists influenced by the events of the 1920s described earlier. After graduating from college as an English major in 1926, he spent a year at home trying to write. He failed, but in the process, he discovered popular accounts of behaviorism and read both Watson and Pavlov (Bjork, 1993). The experience led him to graduate studies at Harvard, where he earned a doctorate and began to develop his ideas. He referred to his system as the experimental analysis of behavior, and he focused his attention on a form of conditioning, distinct from Pavlovian or classical conditioning, that he called operant conditioning. Behaviors, he argued, are shaped by their immediate consequences and controlled by the environments in which these events occur. Positive consequences (e.g., positive reinforcement) strengthened future behavior, whereas negative consequences (e.g., punishment) weakened future behavior.

Skinner spent a lifetime elaborating the basic principles of operant conditioning, advocating for his system, and applying his principles to everyday life. His best-known laboratory research was on the so-called schedules of reinforcement, the various contingencies that occur when reinforcement does not follow every response. But he also became a public figure by writing a utopian novel, Walden Two (1948), that described a community based on operant principles, and by writing Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), which landed him on the cover of Time magazine. Skinner’s hero was Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and like Bacon, Skinner advocated an inductive approach to research (i.e., do lots of individual experiments, and then draw general principles from them), in the belief that an understanding of nature could be demonstrated by controlling nature. In the public eye, Skinner’s ideas about controlling human behavior sounded vaguely anti-American. Thus, although he had enormous influence in psychology (operant conditioning will always occupy at least a third of the chapter on learning in general psychology texts) and his legacy is assured, his ideas were less influential in the broader social and cultural context.

Cognitive Psychology

Academic psychology began as the science of mental life, but research on human cognition suffered when behaviorism held sway during the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1950s, however, several factors combined to bring the study of cognitive processes (memory, attention, thinking, language, etc.) back into play. By the end of the 1960s, perhaps influenced by the broader historical context of that tumultuous decade, some writers were describing what they called a “cognitive revolution” in psychology. Although the change was more evolutionary than revolutionary, by the 1970s cognitive psychology had clearly supplanted behaviorism as psychology’s reigning school of thought.

The reemergence of cognitive psychology was a product of forces both within and outside of psychology (Segal & Lachman, 1972). Within the discipline, a number of researchers began to question behaviorism’s ability to explain such cognitive phenomena as human language. Considering the importance of language to the very concept of being human, this concern was a big problem for behaviorists. Outside of psychology, the rapid growth of computer science following World War II suggested a metaphor that would become central to the emerging interest in cognition. Specifically, just as computers received input from the environment, processed and transformed that input internally, and then produced some output, so did the brain receive input (sensation and perception), process the information (e.g., memory), and produce output (e.g., spoken language). Models of various cognitive processes started to look like computer flowcharts—memory chapters in general psychology books still show memory models with boxes for short- and long-term memory, and with arrows representing the flow of information—and research programs on cognitive processes proliferated. By the 1980s, the term cognitive science began to appear, reflecting the growth of an interdisciplinary approach that combined cognitive psychologists, computer scientists, philosophers of science, linguists, and anthropologists. Cognitive scientists have been interested in such topics as artificial intelligence. At the end of the 20th century, interest in cognition remained high.

The Practice Side: Applied Psychology

Despite E. B. Titchener’s claim, early in the 20th century, that psychologists should concentrate their efforts on basic laboratory research, most American psychologists, raised in a country that valued practicality, were interested in how the new psychology could be applied to solve societal problems. Furthermore, although most traditional histories of psychology (e.g., Boring, 1929) have concentrated on the development of experimental psychology in an academic environment, historians now recognize that the history of applied psychology is of equal importance. Three prime examples of applied psychology in the 20th century were business or industrial psychology, the mental testing movement, and clinical psychology.

Industrial Psychology

It has been said that the business of America is business, and if that is the case, then it is not surprising that shortly after psychology began to think of itself as an independent discipline, applications of psychology to the world of business began to appear. In 1903, Walter Dill Scott (1869-1955), who was trained in traditional experimental psychology, launched a distinguished career in what was then called economic psychology by publishing The Theory and Practice of Advertising. In it, he argued that consumers were highly suggestible and that appeals to emotion could be effective as an advertising strategy (Benjamin & Baker, 2004). He followed this pioneering book in 1910 with Human Efficiency in Business, in which he made suggestions about how to improve productivity by applying psychological principles.

Hugo Münsterberg

Although Scott has a more legitimate claim, the German psychologist Hugo Münsterberg is sometimes considered the “founder” of industrial psychology. Another experimentalist by training, William James recruited Münsterberg in 1892 to run the Harvard laboratory. By the turn of the 20th century, however, Munsterberg had become more interested in applied psychology; in 1908, he published On the Witness Stand, often considered the pioneering text of forensic psychology. However, he was better known for his 1913 Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. This book was divided into three main sections, each of which has become a major area of modern industrial psychology. Section 1 concerned how the methods of psychological research could enhance employee selection procedures, section 2 showed how to improve productivity, and section 3 concerned advertising and marketing.

Scott and Münsterberg were just two of a number of groundbreaking industrial psychologists. Other important pioneers were Harry Hollingworth (1880-1956), Walter Van Dyke Bingham (1880-1952), and Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972). Gilbreth, for example, managed to earn two doctorates, run a successful consulting business, and be a pioneer in the area of ergonomics, all while raising 12 children (her life was the basis for the 1949 book, Cheaper by the Dozen, written by two of her children).

The Mental Testing Movement

As mentioned earlier, Cattell created the term “mental test.” His strategy, with its emphasis on measuring sensory capacity, failed and was abandoned. The modern approach to testing mental ability originated in France with the work of Alfred Binet (1857-1911). Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon developed their test for the purpose of identifying which French schoolchildren would need extra academic attention. Rather than measuring sensory capacity, Binet and Simon created tests that assessed higher-level cognitive skills, especially those skills thought to produce success in school (e.g., given three words, place them in a meaningful sentence). The first test appeared in 1905; it was revised in 1911, shortly before Binet’s death. The tests identified a student’s “mental level.” Five-year-olds who performed at a mental level of five were on target, whereas other five-year-olds who scored at a mental level of six were somewhat advanced in their learning. Binet recommended that students who scored two mental levels below their age should be in the special classes. It is worth noting that Binet did not think that intelligence was a fixed quantity, determined more by nature than by nurture. Rather, he was convinced that mental ability could be shaped by experience—given good teaching, the child two mental levels below their age would nonetheless be capable of catching up.

Henry Goddard

Henry Goddard (1866-1957) was a student of G. Stanley Hall, and he earned a doctorate from Clark in 1899. After teaching for a brief time, he became research director at the Vineland Training School for the Feeble-Minded in southern New Jersey. At Vineland, he initially tried to measure the mental abilities of the children housed there by using Cattell-like measures, but he soon found them to be useless. On a trip to Europe, he discovered Binet’s work, and it is Goddard who was responsible for bringing the Binet ability tests to America. He used them at Vineland to classify students, and he became especially concerned about a particular kind of student—someone who appeared outwardly “normal” but was impaired mentally and, in Goddard’s judgment, was responsible for many of society’s problems (likely to become a criminal, a prostitute, etc.). These were primarily adolescents who scored at a mental level of between 8 and 12, and Goddard created the term moron to identify this group. In contrast with Binet, Goddard believed that mental ability was inherited (Mendelian genetics had just been rediscovered, and genetic explanations for a variety of behaviors were common). That made it important to be able to identify problem children and keep them out of trouble by maintaining them at places like Vineland, or so Goddard believed.

To bolster his claims about the genetics of intelligence, Goddard completed a famous 1912 genealogical study of a family that he named the Kallikaks (a combination of Greek words meaning “good” and “bad”). The study began when it was determined that a young girl at Vineland had numerous relatives in the region who seemed to divide into two groups—some were impoverished and likely to be involved in crime, and others were upstanding members of the community. Goddard and his assistants were able to trace the family line to a Revolutionary War soldier who had a casual affair with a feeble-minded woman in a bar, and later married into a fashionable family. Both unions produced children, which eventuated in the two different lines. Completely ignoring environmental factors such as poverty and privilege, arbitrarily labeling some individuals feeble-minded (e.g., the barmaid, apparently because she allowed herself to be seduced), and selectively using the evidence, Goddard believed he had uncovered clear evidence for the inheritability of intelligence. It is worth noting that later in his life, after much more was known of the complex interaction between heredity and environment, he expressed regret about his strong conclusions in the Kallikak study.

Lewis Terman

It is because of the influence of Lewis Terman (18771956) that the term IQ (intelligence quotient) is so widely used today. Whereas Goddard first brought the Binet tests to America and translated them, Terman undertook a systematic standardization of the test and produced the Stanford-Binet IQ test in 1916. It was later revised several times and is still in use. Although Terman did not originate the concept of IQ, his test popularized the idea that a single number could summarize someone’s mental ability. The original formulation divided mental age (same concept as Binet’s mental level) by chronological age and multiplied by 100.

Because Terman believed that intelligence was largely inherited, and that it required a certain amount of ability to be successful, he argued that American society ought to be a meritocracy—only the mentally capable should be in positions of authority. To identify such individuals, and to provide evidence to support his beliefs, Terman began a study of mentally “gifted” children in 1921. After identifying almost 1,500 high-IQ California children, he and his students tracked them for years. In fact, the study outlived Terman and became psychology’s longest-running longitudinal study. Terman believed his study disproved the stereotype of the brilliant child who burned out in early adulthood and failed socially. Terman’s participants (they called themselves “Termites”) as a group remained highly successful throughout their lives, although the women in the group tended to be frustrated because of limited opportunities.

Robert Yerkes

The original passion of Robert Yerkes (1876-1956), one to which he returned near the end of his career, was the study of animal behavior (the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta is named for him). In between, he became a prominent promoter of intelligence testing, and because of World War I, he became a pioneer in the creation of group intelligence tests.

As the United States was beginning to enter the first world war, Yerkes was able to convince the military to authorize the creation of a group test that would help classify soldiers for different jobs, identify officers, etc. These tests eventually became known as Army Alpha and Beta. Alpha was given to soldiers who could read and write, whereas Beta was given to soldiers who were illiterate or failed Alpha. Most historians do not believe the tests had any effect on war readiness or the performance of the army, but Yerkes effectively promoted the project after the war as a great success, and the 1920s became a decade characterized by a virtual explosion in ability testing (including a test that was the forerunner of the modern SAT).

Clinical Psychology

Perhaps the most visible application of psychological principles concerns the care of those with mental and behavioral disorders. History’s best-known therapist was Sigmund Freud, of course, although his training was in medicine, and he would not have called himself a clinical psychologist. Freud is well known to students for his three-part theory of personality (id, ego, superego), his stage theory of development (oral, anal, phallic), his work on the relation between anxiety and defense mechanisms (e.g., repression), and his overriding belief in the importance of the unconscious in determining our behaviors and ways of thinking.

In the United States, Lightner Witmer (1867-1956) of the University of Pennsylvania created the term clinical psychology and opened American psychology’s first clinic near the turn of the 20th century. It is worth noting that Witmer’s version of clinical psychology was closer to what would be called school psychology today. Indeed, the APA’s division for school psychology gives an annual “Lightner Witmer” award to a promising school psychologist.

Clinical Psychology After World War II

The modern version of clinical psychology—the diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral disorders— emerged from the chaos of World War II. As the war progressed, it quickly became apparent that psychiatrists, up to then the ones primarily responsible for treating mental illness, could not handle the caseload. For instance, of the first 1.5 million soldiers given medical discharges, approximately 45 percent were for psychiatric reasons (Vendenbos, Cummings, & DeLeon, 1992). In this context, psychologists began to fill the void, and shortly after the war ended in 1945, the United States government started funding training programs for clinical psychologists. In 1948, a number of clinicians, led by David Shakow (1901-1981), met in Boulder, Colorado, and produced a training model that quickly became the gold standard for training clinical psychologists—the scientist-practitioner model (also called the Boulder model). It emphasized solid practitioner training while insisting on a research-based dissertation that led to a PhD.

With the Boulder model in place, clinical psychology grew rapidly in the 1950s, and new therapeutic strategies began to evolve. These new strategies were given impetus by a devastating critique of traditional Freudian psychotherapy. The British psychologist Hans Eysenck (1952) evaluated a number of studies of therapy effectiveness and discovered that traditional therapy did not seem to be any better than no therapy at all. Eysenck’s methods came into question, but the damage was done. During the 1950s and 1960s, new therapies appeared. One came from the behaviorist perspective, and was called behavior therapy (e.g., if conditioning can explain the development of a phobia, then conditioning principles can be used to eliminate or unlearn the phobia). The second came from what was called psychology’s Third Force, and a therapeutic approach associated with Carl Rogers.

Carl Rogers

Humanistic psychology, at least as it concerned clinical treatment, started as a revolt against psychoanalytic (Freudian) approaches to therapy and behavioral approaches. Although these two approaches are quite different in many ways, one shared feature was an emphasis on the past in determining and shaping a person’s present. In contrast to these two “forces,” humanistic (“Third Force”) psychologists rejected the idea that repressed biological instincts or prior conditioning history determined a person’s present and future. Instead, they argued that individuals were not tied to their past, that free will and responsibility were the attributes that most clearly characterized humans, and that virtually everyone could take control of their lives and realize their full potential as humans. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a leader in this movement.

Rogers earned his doctorate in psychology from Columbia in 1931, well before the Boulder model existed. His training was partly in child guidance, and his internship at a clinic with a psychoanalytic bias convinced him that Freud was not for him. His first academic position was at Ohio State University, and it was there that he developed a humanistic approach to therapy that he called client-centered therapy. It rejected the idea that delving into a client’s past was essential for successful therapy, and developed the idea that the client could take responsibility for his or her improvement if the therapist did a good job of creating a safe, accepting, and empathic therapeutic atmosphere. Rogerian therapy, in turn, led to a number of other, similar approaches that were all under the umbrella of humanistic therapy. Even before the Boulder training model had been developed, Rogers proposed a training program for clinicians that weighed practice more heavily than research. This concept eventually produced a conference in Vail, Colorado, in 1973 and the development of the PsyD degree. If the Boulder PhD program can be considered a scientist-practitioner model, the Vail PsyD program is a practitioner-scientist model. Both models have APA approval.

At The Close Of The 20th Century

Over the last few decades of the 20th century, several trends developed in psychology, and they have carried over into the new century. There are at least four of them, and the following brief descriptions will conclude this research-paper.

1. Neuroscience

Psychology has roots in 19th-century physiology, and psychologists have always been interested in the relationship between brain and behavior. In recent years, however, this interest has escalated dramatically, primarily due to increased technology (e.g., highly detailed brain scans).

2. Evolution

Darwinian thinking has also been central throughout psychology’s history (e.g., the cornerstone of functionalist thinking), but recent years have seen the development of an entire subdiscipline called evolutionary psychology, which uses evolutionary principles to explain a number of human behaviors (e.g., sexuality). Textbooks have begun to appear, and courses on evolutionary psychology are multiplying rapidly.

3. Computers

The development of high-speed computing ability has had, and will continue to have, a dramatic effect on research in psychology. One effect has been a dramatic increase in the kinds of statistical analyses that have been done (e.g., more multivariate analyses); a second effect has been in the lab—computers are now essential in virtually all aspects of data collection.

4. Fragmentation

As the 20th century ended, psychology had become increasingly specialized and, as a consequence, increasingly fragmented—cognitive neuropsychologists, industrial psychologists, and school psychologists seemingly had little to discuss with one another. This increased specialization will inevitably continue, but it is important to remember that psychologists will always have one thing in common—their history.


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