James H. Capshew, Psychologists on the March: Science, Practice, and Professional Identity in America, 1929-1969 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) is an excellent book. While I was reading it, I took substantial notes. Some of these may be of interest to regular readers.
By 1995 there were 250,000 psychologists in the United States. How that happened is the theme of this book.
“This growth transformed psychology from an emerging academic specialty into a mammoth technoscientific profession in less than a century.”
As in so many other fields of science, the two world wars dramatically shaped psychology in America.
“It also contributed, especially in the United States, to increased federal support of research and development and to new organizations that bound the scientific community in service to the state. The mobilization of American scientists for World War II was even more fateful.”
But World War I mattered for psychologists.
“The use of mental tests during the First World War demonstrated how a science-based technology could serve the interests of the government while simultaneously being turned towards professional self-advancement.”
Many psychologists, not least William James, viewed the technologization of psychology with scepticism.
“James was more interested in describing the adaptive functions of consiousness than in delineating the structure and contents of the mind and found that philosophy provided a more congenial and supportive environment for the development of his ideas about pragmatism.”
That said, James’ style of science was not to win in the American century.
“But the merging of public duty and professional self-interest had some significant consequences when many psychologists left their laboratories behind and made their work practical. They conducted mental tests on an unprecedented scale, measuring the intelligence, aptitudes and skills of huge numbers of armed forces personnel.”
World War I was thus something of a watershed for psychologists who saw their numbers and deployment throughout academia, industry and government increase after the war. The outcome was that psychology became increasingly fragmented. Thus one of the first problems intro-professionally was to bring psychologists together into some sort of umbrella sense of professionalism.
“Psychology achieved its identity as a coherent field largely through organizational means, such as standardized college curricula and certified graduate training programs. One an intellectual level, psychology remained heterogeneous and multiparadigmatic. But a deep change was occurring in the epistemological foundations of the discipline as psychologists embraced the reflexive implications of their work. This allowed for the incorporation of personal experience into the realm of science and provided the key to the productive tension between scientific research and professional practice that characterized postwar psychology in America. The result was the creation of a technoscientific system that churned out new knowledge and new psychologists at a prodigious rate and provided the basis for the proliferation of psychological ideas and techniques in American society.”
James McKeen Cattell, a significant figure in the founding of the psychological profession in America said of its identity-making properties:
“In his view, “the chief contribution of America to psychology has not been large philosophical generalizations, but the gradual accumulation from all sides of facts and methods that will ultimately create a science, both descriptive and applied, of human nature and human behaviour.”
Psychology had fairly high representation of women. In 1921, 1:5 were women. (p. 21). It was also accompanied by a widespread psychological culture – a fad. (p. 23). Part of psychology’s emergence was predicated upon the emergence of histories of the field, of which Walter Pilsbury’s and Gardner Murphy’s were classics. The most important, however, was Boring’s history – he emphasized the division between psychology and philosophy (pp. 24-25). Boring struggled to create a department of psychology at Harvard but succeeded in 1932.
“In this context, Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology can be viewed as an attempt to assert the primacy of laboratory methods and findings in the establishment of the discipline. By identifying the roots of modern psychology with the application of physiological techniques to the study of sensation, perception, consciousness, and other areas previously subsumed under philosophy, Boring was staking a claim that the future of psychology lay in the progressive elaboration of this research tradition, begun by Fechner and continued by Wundt, Titchener, and others.” (p. 26)
Many psychologists became concerned that applied turn in psychology was slowly eating away at its scientific spirit. (p. 27) Another early critic of psychology was Grace Adams:
p. 34 [In her Psychology: Science of Superstition] “She went on to argue that, insofar as psychology could be scientific, it would have to accept the judgement of modern biology expressed by Thomas Henry Huxley, names that humans are conscious automata. But most psychologists, with exceptions like Titchener and Watson, were reluctant to accept this judgement and sought ways to balance the deterministic view of modern science with the traditional belief in individual agency and free will. Most psychologists, Adams felt, were comfortable in this realm of metaphysics, as their prolific theorizing demonstrated.”
By the 1930s, psychology had become a highly complex division of labor. It was in some sense that reality that allowed such criticisms of it to flourish and promoted as well, the efforts to bring some uniformity and discipline to the field.
“The small, close-knit professional networks that conservative APA leaders wished to preserve were giving way to larger and more heterogeneous groupings during the interwar years. New centers of training and research had emerged, publication outlets had multipled, and a host of new organizations were formed to serve a variety of interest groups. The professional world in which psychologists moved was becoming more complex. Psychologists located their professional identities along multiple and interrelated dimensions, including disciplinary specialty, occupational roles, political orientations, methodological preferences, and philosophical assumptions. An already diverse field was becoming even more diverse.”
World War II would prove highly instrumental in reshaping American psychology. Walter Bingham, for example:
“Bingham had been a vigorous proselytizer on behalf of applied psychology since the Great War. No doubt aware of the increasingly ominous political situation in Europe, he used the reunion [of psychologists mobilized during WWI] to start rebuilding the military psychology network.”
Meanwhile, another figure, Robert Yerkes, was engaged in the same thing:
“Soon after war began in Europe in 1939 Yerkes corresponded with prominent MIT physicist Karl Compton of the War Resources Board. He suggested that the board, designed as a civilian planning agency, appoint a consultant to deal with the selection and deployment of manpower. At first Compton misunderstood Yerkes’s recommendation and replied that military personal matters were to be handled by the armed forces. Yerkes explained that he was speaking in overall terms, proposing that the human resources of the nation be mobilized as effectively as its material ones. His suggestion, like so many in those days, was duly filed and forgotten.”
Yerkes, however, continued his efforts, and he began to advocate a specific plan for how American psychologists could aid the war effort. (p. 48) He began arguing for psychologists as “human engineers” and had in mind mental and behavioural engineering.
“Human engineering was necessary, Yerkes argued, because the traditional learned professions could not cope with multiplying social problems. Particularly acute was the gap “between the human needs which are partially met by the physician and those which the clergyman or priest is expected to satisfy.” Yerkes did not specify exactly which human needs might fall into this gap. Instead he pointed to the misguided encroachment of both physicians and clergymen into the hypothesized territory of the human engineer, citing examples such as the psychoanalysis of normal individuals and pastoral psychotherapy for the mentally disturbed. Granting few concessions to competing professions, Yerkes staked a wide claim for psychologists-cum-engineers: “Psychology must stand as a basic science for such universally desirable expert services as the guidance and safeguarding of an individual’s growth and development, education and occupational choice, social adjustment, achievement and maintenance of balance, poise, and effectiveness, contentment, happiness, and usefulness.” Thus human engineers, of “psychotechnologists” would offer their professional counsel at every stage in the life cycle, from birth through the school years, to job holding, marriage, and beyond. Personal “adjustment” was the catword as the individual was fitted to his/her social environment, whether the environment was the family, the school, the corporation, the prison, the hospital, or the clinic. (p. 51). Yerkes was careful not to intrude upon traditional medical turf in his proposals. He emphasized that psychologists should be concerned with the adjustment of normal individuals to life choices rather than with therapy for the abnormal or severely maladjusted.”
Such efforts like those of Yerkes did eventually begin to influence the government. Psychology was eventually administered within the NRC Committee on Service Personnel (p. 52-53).
“Although psychology lacked the comprehensive government support provided to other disciplines, such as physics, and did no share in the massive concentration of resources characteristic of “big science” efforts like the atomic bomb project, it did enjoy some advantages that derived from its protean disciplinary identity. If was was fundamentally a matter of conflict among humans, then insofar as psychology was a human science, it was conceivable relevant to nearly every aspect of defence moblisation. The human fact was, as always, ubiquitous, and psychologists took pains to remind their potential patrons of that fact.”
Eventually the Office of Psychological Personnel was formed.
“The work of the OPP underscored the fact that psychology could be marshalled for the war effort only insofar as psychologists could be mobilized. In other words, it was not abstract knowledge but real individuals who were being called upon to render national service. Given the fluid and dynamic wartime situation, psychologists who might initially have been selected for some position on the basis of their expertise often found themselves in situations where common sense and interpersonal skills were more important. The perceived value of psychology, then , critically depended upon judgments about the ability of the psychologist, not only as a scientist but also as a person.”
The Emergence Committee became a significant headquarters for the reform of American psychology –with Robert Yerkes playing the role of Don.
“As we have seen, Robert Yerkes saw World War II as an opportunity to achieve the dream of rational, social control through scientific psychology that he and other members of the profession had glimpsed in World War I. After his efforts to convince federal authorities of the need for systematic mobilization of psychology in the current war had largely failed, he turned his attention toward internal professional reform as a means for accomplishing his objectives.”
Yerkes’ ambition for psychology was almost megalomaniac:
p. 64 He said, “Recent decades have witnessed the rapid transformation of our physical environment by discovery, invention, and the development of engineering skills. The time is ripe for equally innovational changes in human nature, its controls, and expression. Physical conditions are such that this revolution can happen now. Furthermore, there are signs that it may happen, whatever the attitude of our profession. It is fitting for us to resolve that it shall happen, facilitated to the utmost by our directive energies and our specialized knowledge, wisdom, and skills.”
He contined (p. 64) “The world crisis, with its clash of cultures and ideologies, has created for us psychologists unique opportunity for promotive endeavour. What may be achived through wisely-planned and well-directed professional activity will be limited only by our knowledge, faith, disinterestedness, and prophetic foresite. It is for us, primarily, to prepare the way for scientific advances and the development and social usefulness of the individual. For beyond even our wildest dreams, knowledge of human nature may now be made to serve human needs and to multiple and increase the satisfactions of living.”
“In many ways Bingham and Yerkes recapitulated their World War I roles in World War II: Bingham accommodated his plans within the existing military structure whereas Yerkes attempted to create a distinctive institutional niche for psychology, as the disciplines of medicine and chemistry had in the Medical Corps and the Chemical Warfare Service.”
One of the places that psychology found a home was in the OSS, the main assessment center being Station S.
“The OSS assessment program took a unique approach in evaluating personnel for wartime assignments. In contrast to the military classification programs, which relied on tests measuring discrete aptitudes and skills, the OSS project sought “to see the person whole and to see him real”. They emphasized the entire personality of the candidate rather than the possession of discrete skills. This “organismic” orientation jibed well with the nature of OSS job assignments. Agents worked in unusual situations and had to be highly resourceful and self-reliant. And, as nearly all recruits already ranked high in intelligence, traditiona testing techniques were not particularly useful in distinguishing suitable personnel. Also contributing to this eclectic approach was the diversity of the assessment staff itself, which included “clinical psychologists of various persuasions, animal psychologists, social psychologists, sociologists and cultural anthropologists, psychiatrists who had practiced psychoanalysis according to the theories of freud, of Horney, and of Sullivan, as well as psychiatrists who were unqacuianted with, or opposed to psychoanalysis. Traditional mental testers and personnel psychologists were conspicuously absent.”
Despite these trends, Capshew makes clear in Chapter 6, that clinical psychology remained marginal before World War II. (p. 128). Illustrative is the case of Chauncey McKinley Louttit, a clinical psychologist at Indiana University. His textbook was a landmark effort (p. 132)
“Concerned over the lack of agreement over the definition, scope, and role of clinical psychology, Louttit wrote a systematic textbook, Clinical Psychology: A Handbook of Children’s Behavior Problems, published in 1936. One of the first textbooks in the field, it reflected the author’s interest in producing an empirically based synthesis of useful knowledge within a generally behavioristic theoretical framework. For Louttit, clinical psychology was a field of applied psychology derived from the basic science of psychology as well as from aspects of medicine, education, and sociology.”
Clinical psychology applied in some sense a potential conflict between psychologist and psychiatrist. The view was that psychologists would not be involved in therapy.
“These bland public proouncements rested on the common assumption that psychiatrists would remain in control of the neuropsychiatric services and would define the role of the clinical psychologist. Psychiatrists Frank Fremont-Smith and Lawrence Kubie were explicit about this point when they outlined the familiar “psychotherapeutic team” approach, stating “the psychiatrist much have the authority over and the responsibility for whatever is done.” Psychologist Sears concurred, emphasizing the special competence of the clinical psychologist in diagnosis ad certain types of “educative” therapy. Sear’s strategic avoidance of traditional medical turf can also be seen in his advocacy of a research role for army clinical psychologists. He argued that research on psychometric instruments and on the evaluation of psychotherapy would improve the efficiency of military mental services.”
If applied clinical psychology presented certain challenges for professionalizing psychology, so too did their ultimate potential application – mental training.
“Almost from the start of the war, experimental psychologists were involved in applied research on the psychological problems engendered by modern weapons technology.”
Again, the language of engineering, proved a potent rhetorical device. Consider Walter Hunter’s 1946 speech:
“When we speak of tools for warfare, we think of artillery sights, proximity fuses, radar, radio, and atomic bombs. We forget that the brain, eyes, and ears of man are also tools, in fact that they are the indispensable tools of war….”
Training humans, however, proved a difficult job. But training animals was something behaviorists like B. F. Skinner had begun to do very well – hence his pigeon guided missile. pp. 152-153
All of these trends account for why psychology was on the march by the postwar period. Among this trend was also the increasing numbers of women entering the field, and the rather vehement resistance to women’s incursion on the ranks of psychology. pp. 164-165. Another area where psychology expanded was in private defense science.
“In addition to funding a wide array of research on behaviour, military interests also enlisted psychological expertise more directly. Along with other social scientists, psychologists became part of an expanding defense establishment after the war. The work of the RAND Corporation exemplified the new relationship forged between science and national defense as a result of the use of nuclear weapons. Sstrategic problems, once the province of military men steeped in military history, became subject to logical and empirical analysis by a new cadre of scientists and engineers. Operations research, systems analysis, and various other techniques and methods hybridized from mathematics, economics, psychology, and engineering, and other fields became tools for the rational calculation of the costs and benefits associated with the development and deployment of new weapons. Complex scenarios were broken down into large sets of variables and subjected to mathematical modelling theory contributed to the development of strategic nuclear studies at places like RAND and to the rise of an elite group of defense intellectuals dubbed the “wizards of Armageddon”. RAND – an acronym for “Research and Development” – was begun as a cooperative project between the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and the air force. The head of the air force, General H. H. Arnold, had a keen appreciation of the importance of technological innovation in air warfare and wanted to continue the close working relationship the air force had developed with aircraft manufacturers during the war.”
The NSF also became to include psychology in the natural sciences. (p. 179).