11 June 2013

"Architects of Adjustment": Notes to Donald S. Napoli's Book

Donald S. Napoli, Architects of Adjustment:The History of the Psychological Profession in the United States (London: Kennikat Press, 1981) is an interesting book. While I was reading it, I took substantial notes. Some of these may be of interest to regular readers.

Applied psychology can be said to have begun in the United States in 1890, the year that James McKeen Cattell published the results of the first psychological testing program. Cattell had come out of the so-called structuralist tradition of Wundt’s physiological psychology in Leipzig. Cattell:

p. 12-13
“…gathered the data not in order to learn something about the mind in general but rather to establish statistical uniformities among those tested. He also aimed for something in addition to psychological truth: he wanted to find a means of selecting the college applicants who had the best chances for success. Catell’s quest for practical results typified American science in the nineteenth century. His demand for quantified data marked the beginning of a still-powerful trend in America psychology –shared by academicians and practitioners alike – which held that characteristics of the psyche can and should be expressed in numerical terms.”

American psychologists also began practicing a new theory of psychology:-
p. 13
“The main problem with Wundt and his followers, argued William James, was their supposition that consciousness remained stationary rather than moving in a continuous changing stream. Thus, they looked for structure where none existed. Other psychologists expanded on James’s belief in the purposive nature of mind. They emphasized the constant interaction and mutual adaptation of the mind and the environment. This approach, called functionalism, was closely related to evolutionary theory and pragmatic philosophy. Psychology became in this view the study of an individual’s adjustment to his surroundings, and applied psychology took as its goal the facilitating of that adjustment.”
There was something of a reaction against these trends with the formation of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, formed in part by Edward Bradford Titchener (p. 5) The diversity of psychology further increased with a growing faith in the power of psychology to address problems of education, as exemplified by Lightner Witmer:-
p. 16
“Psychologists at other universities began to follow Witmer’s example. In 1908 the University of Minnesota established its Free Clinic in Mental Development. The clinic provided medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment of cases refer to it by the public schools, the juvenile court and the Juvenile Protection League.”
Advertising soon followed education:
p. 17
“Five years after Witmer founded his clinic, psychologiusts initiated their first sustained involvement in the problems of industry. In the fall of 90 a Chicago advertising man approached Walter Dill Scott of Northwestern University to see if he would be interested in giving a talk explaining how psychology could be used in advertising.”
Scott would continue his career in this way linked to business. Meanwhile Hugo Munsterberg began elaborating ties between psychology and industry, especially with the publication of his Psychology and Industrial Efficiency.
p. 19
“The one activity that bound together all applied psychologists was testing. They entered every environment – school, clinic, or business – armed with various kinds of mental tests. For almost twenty years after Cattell began examining college students in 1890, American psychologists employed tests designed to measure specific mental qualities (memory, color vision etc).
The IQ test was exemplary of the trends, and in the work of Henry Goddard via Alfred Binet, became the basis for categorizing defective children in so-called “idiots, imbeciles, and morons”. Goddad’s work merged with the eugenics movement. (p. 20). Generally the rise of psychology was only threatened by the alleged rise of psychological quacks:-
p. 25
“The period immediately after [World War I] brought important changes to applied psychology. Practitioners pushed the APA into taking action that might help them in their struggles against incompetents and charlatans. Clinical psychology expanded its horizons; industrial psychology won new popularity; and psychological testing became a source of public controversy.”
And therefore:
p. 26
“Thus, with great caution and reluctance the APA involved itself in professional issues. It remained to be seen what sort of certification program would emerge, or whether the Clinical Section could achieve its aims within an organization primarily interested in scientific problems. The association had made no concession to practitioners in its membership standards; on the contrary, in 1921 published research became an admission requirement for the first time.”
In this sense applied psychology – in the military, industry, education – became a significant category of emergent psychology. And intelligence testing was the source of this power:
p. 27
“Of all the psychologists’ activities it was the one that most sharply struck public consciousness. Results from the Army’s testing program had been tabulated by race; when they were released they seemed to show the intellectual superiority of Nordics over eastern and southern Europeans. The average immigrant from England had a mental age of 14.87; from Holland, 14,32; and from Germany 13.88. In contrast, the average Russian scored 11.34; the Italian, 11.01, and the Pole, 10.74.”
Applied psychologists became ever more bold in their pronouncements and efforts to professionalize:

p. 31
“Applied psychologists did, however, object to practitioners who passed themselves off as scientists without displaying the trappings of science. Contrasting themselves to this source of competition, applied psychologists proudly cited their own use of the scientific method, laboratory experimentation, and statistical techniques. They attacked phrenologists, character analysts, and other purported “psychologists” who had no training in academic psychology and whose invalid techniques produced untrustworthy results.”
American psychology was highly dependent upon evolutionary theory.
p. 33
“Applied psychologists believed that mental characteristics varied among humans just as physiological characteristics did.”
And many applied psychologists took a narrow view of American politics:-
p. 38-39
“Applied psychologists had even more serious doubts about the American political system. Although they never said so explicitly, they saw contradictions between democracy and psychology. Psychological tests demonstrated profound differences among individuals which called into question the egalitarian premise of the governmental system. Some people possessed the aptitude and intelligence for leadership, while others did not even meet the standards of an informed voter. All people were not created equal, and it was unscientific to pretend they were. Moreover, applied psychologists had little respect for the judgment of the common man. Many people led disorganized lives; they lacked foresight and allowed mere luck to rule their existences. Individuals acted too often on emotion, and half of America’s workers, having chosen their jobs unscientifically, were now pitifully unable to cope with their lives….Advocating left-wing political beliefs thus resembled throwing temper tantrums or biting fingernails: all signalled poor adjustment.”
One might say that applied psychologists adopted the view that people should go no further than their allegedly demonstrated talents showed they could. Transcendence once not even considered possible. (p. 40).

p. 41
“Applied psychologists occasionally saw people playing an active role in adjustment, but for the most part they wrote as if the environment were fixed and beyond the control of the individual. In this sense, adjustment and its ramifications provided a conservative response to rapid chances in American society.”
Two new events in the history of psychology were important as well.
p. 43
“Few if any American psychologists became psychoanalysts, although those applied psychologists who had the opportunity to treat their patients did find some of Freud’s ideas helpful. Psychoanalysis had greater influence on psychiatry; indeed, despite Freud’s opposition, physicians were moving to make it their exclusive realm.”
Another trend was behaviourism. But:-
p. 44
“To a large extent Freud and the later Watson remained outside the mainstream of American psychology. The popularity of their doctrines rubbed off on psychologists who were in no way responsible for them. But the national “mania” for psychology had another root as well: intelligence testing. The testing program during World War I had given some 4 million men their first taste of psychology. After the war countless thousands of job seekers found themselves faced with tests to determine their probable proficiency. Testing, behaviourism, and psychoanalysis thus brought to psychology a degree of public acceptance that it had never had before and that in larger measure it did not earn.”
It was therefore inevitable that psychiatrists and psychologists should come into professional conflict. (p. 46; 55). IQ testing was bread and butter for applied psychology.
p. 50
“Most psychologists still believed that I.Q. somehow indicated native intelligence, but by 1930 they had backed off a bit from their racist conclusions. Southern and eastern Europeans gained equality with Nordics; blacks, however, did not. Meanwhile some psychologists were beginning to express doubts about the unitary nature of intelligence, arguing that the Binet test and its successors measured only one aspect of mental capability.”
It was not enough.
p. 62
“Unfortunately for [applied psychologists], however, Freudianism, the psychological theory that enjoyed the most popular acclaim after World War I, was quickly expropriated by psychiatrists. Clinical psychologists often found themselves operating in the reflected light of psychiatry rather than shining on their own. Nor did they receive much help from their academic colleagues. The academicians, while eagerly exploiting the growth of psychology on campus, saw in its popularity in the outer world more of a threat than an opportunity.”
Applied psychologists began steadily professionalizing in the 1930s and after – against the best wishes of the APA.
p. 70
“The APA, however, had been devising a scheme to keep all psychological interest groups close at hand. The plan had originated in 1935 when a group of psychologists had formed the Psychometric Society, and organization devoted to the use of mathematics in psychology.”
The public largely loved applied psychology.
p. 83
“So applied psychology faced a dilemma. If psychologists wrote for the general public, they might easily become mere popularizers; if they concentrated their efforts on managers and administrators, the could not justifiably complain if others tried to fill the public’s needs for psychological counselling.”
World War II marked a watershed for applied psychologists – although not everyone wanted psychology to work in the name of defence (p. 87) But in any case, none wished to work under medical officers as had happened during the last war (p. 88). In any case, the relationship between psychology and military by 1942 was rich and well-formed (p. 97), and with good reason:
p. 98
“In the spring of 1942, however, no clinical psychologists were serving in hospitals under the supervision of psychiatrists. In part this was due to the psychologists’ opposition to such service, in part to the limited role the army assigned to psychiatry. During the period of mobilization, when psychologists were developing tests for adjutant general, psychiatrists were assuring the Medical Department that they could screen out most mentally unstable recruits at the induction centers. Thus the army made no plans to use psychiatrists in hospitals, and it understandably saw no need for clinical psychologists there either. In June 1941 a committee of the National Research Council recommended that the Medical Department provide openings for psychologists, but the surgeon general ignored the recommendation. (p. 100) As the size of the army grew and more men entered combat, the number of neuropsychiatric casualties increased. It soon became obvious that the psychiatric interview at induction, which seldom lasted over three minutes, could weed out the severely disturbed recruits.”
The outcome of all of this was that:
p. 106
“Applied psychologists ended the war in much higher repute than they had begun it. The army’s chief psychiatrist, William C. Menninger, praised the psychologists’ contributions to neuropsychiatry and saw a continuing role for psychologists in clinical work. More surprising, perhaps, were the commendations of military officers. In 1945, for example, the commanding general of the air force gave his strong approval to the aviation psychology program. It had, he stated, “paid off in time, lives, and money saved” and “aided in the establishment of an effective combat air force”.
Not withstanding these trends, there were still conflicts between applied and pure psychologists.
p. 120
“Psychologists raised no objections to a social order dominated by bureaucratic organizations. Indeed applied psychology with its emphasis on human adjustment, could only have found acceptance at a time when the individualism represented by private practice ceasing to be an operating force in the lives of most Americans.”
p. 133
“Applied psychology had reached a kind of “take-off point” on the journey to professionalism. After years of effort  applied psychologists had rid themselves of the most burdensome internal and external impediments to rapid professionalization. Now as never before they were free to move as far as their skills would carry them down the road to professional status.
p. 135
“In the period after World War 2 movies, books, and magazines would grow less satisfied with moral or sociological explanations and would turn to psychological interpretations of human behaviour.
Cultural values turned against applied psychology in the 1960s.
p. 136
“By the early sixties America’s preoccupation with psychic deficiencies had begun to give way to a new interest in social problems. War, poverty, racism, and other issues became topics of public concern and scholarly inquiry. Psychologists did not suffer from the seeming deemphasis of personal problems, however, for each social issue had psychological ramifications. The prime example came in the struggle for civil rights, where psychological testimony on the deleterious effects of segregation influenced both the courts and the public. By the late sixties social protest came increasingly from college campuses, where demands for societal change mixed with more personal goals of “relevance” and “doing your own thing”.
However, testing began to be suspected.

p. 142
“Indeed, viewers might have concluded not that the intelligence test should be abolished but rather that it ought to be supplemented by tests to measure creativity, diagnostic ability, and other intellectual qualities. Schools, of course, could not yet make use of such scores, but the quest for administrative efficiency hardly precluded such a possibility in the future.”
Two particularly noteworthy movements emerged in 1960s psychology:-

p. 142
“One was behaviour modification, a system that derived from the principles of John B. Watson and his most energetic postwar disciple, B. F. Skinner…. Assuming that maladjusted people could be treated like laboratory animals, this approach took no interest in conscious or subconscious mental states and instead concentrated entirely on changing behaviour. Because it relied on the therapist’s ability to control the environment, behaviour modifications achieved its greatest popularity in institutions such as prisons and mental hospitals where the recipients had little say about what happened to them…. The other challenge in traditional psychotherapy came from “humanistic psychology”, a term used by Abraham H. Maslow and others who doubted that people should be used as objects of scientific inquiry.” 

By the 1970s, insurance companies were paying for psychological services. (p. 149) but as the two trends above suggested, unity in psychology had all but vanished into competing research schools and traditions, often with their own specialist organizations and branches  of the APA.


  1. Yipes! Someone is reading my book -- and giving it a careful reading at that. I can't express how amazing this seems to me. Anyway, I'm glad you found some things of interest in it.

  2. Well it is a good book! And thanks for reading "The Neuro Times".

  3. Well it is a good book! And thanks for reading "The Neuro Times".


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