On This Day … 01 February

People (Births)

  • 1846 – G. Stanley Hall, American psychologist and academic (d. 1924).

G. Stanley Hall

Granville Stanley Hall (01 February 1846 to 24 April 1924) was a pioneering American psychologist and educator. His interests focused on childhood development and evolutionary theory. Hall was the first president of the American Psychological Association and the first president of Clark University. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Hall as the 72nd most cited psychologist of the 20th century, in a tie with Lewis Terman.

New Discipline of Psychology

In 1887, Hall founded the American Journal of Psychology, and in 1892 was appointed as the first president of the American Psychological Association. In 1889 he was named the first president of Clark University, a post he filled until 1920. During his 31 years as president, Hall remained intellectually active. He was instrumental in the development of educational psychology, and attempted to determine the effect adolescence has on education. He was also responsible for inviting Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to visit and deliver a lecture series in 1909 at the Clark Conference. Hall promised Freud an honorary degree from Clark University in exchange. Hall and Freud shared the same beliefs on sex and adolescence. This was Freud’s first and only visit to America and the biggest conference held at Clark University. It was also the most controversial conference, given that Freud’s research was based on theories that Hall’s colleagues criticised as non-scientific.

In 1888, when he was tapped for the Clark presidency from the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, the 44 year-old Hall was already well on his way to eminence in the then emerging field of psychology. His establishment of experimental laboratories at Johns Hopkins, the first in the discipline, quickly became the measure of the fully modern psychology department. Over his 32 years as a scholar/teacher president at Clark, he had an influence over the future shape of the field of psychology.

What attracted some to Hall and his ideas, and alienated others, were his “music man” propensities. He was the promoter, the impresario par excellence. Hall could “put on a party”, as he did with the extraordinary celebrations in 1899 and 1909, on the occasions of the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the opening of Clark University. He did so with an incomparable sense of daring – inviting major figures with unconventional, unpopular, or even scandalous ideas, and then promoting them with the press. He seemed always to be founding new journals or scholarly associations to disseminate his ideas and those of scholars whose perspectives were consistent with his own. Among his creations were the widely respected American Journal of Psychology and the American Psychological Association. He also helped found the Association of American Universities. Ross described this side of Hall as journalist, entrepreneur, and preacher.

In 1917, Hall published a book on religious psychology, Jesus the Christ in the Light of Psychology. The book was written in two volumes to define Jesus Christ in psychological terms. Hall thoroughly discussed all that is written about Christ, and the probable mental mechanisms of Christ and all of those who believed in him and wrote about him. He analyses the myths, the magic, etc., built up about the name and life of Christ. He dissects the parables and discusses the miracles, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. He endeavours to reduce all possible expressions or trends which he finds in Jesus and his followers to their genetic origins, and with that aid in comparative psychology, especially the knowledge of anthropology and childhood tendencies, he points out here and there certain universal trends which are at the bottom of it all. This was his least successful work. In 1922, at the age of 78, he published the book Senescence, a book on aging.

Darwin’s theory of evolution and Ernst Haeckel’s recapitulation theory were large influences on Hall’s career. These ideas prompted Hall to examine aspects of childhood development in order to learn about the inheritance of behaviour. The subjective character of these studies made their validation impossible. He believed that as children develop, their mental capabilities resemble those of their ancestors and so they develop over a lifetime the same way that species develop over eons. Hall believed that the process of recapitulation could be sped up through education and force children to reach modern standards of mental capabilities in a shorter length of time. His work also delved into controversial portrayals of the differences between women and men, as well as the concept of racial eugenics. While Hall was a proponent of racial eugenics, his views were less severe in terms of creating and keeping distinct separations between races. Hall believed in giving “lower races” a chance to accept and adapt to “superior civilisation”. Hall even commended high ranking African Americans in society as being “exception to the Negro’s diminished evolutionary inheritance”. Hall viewed civilisation in a similar fashion he viewed biological development. Humans must allow civilisation to “run its natural evolution”. Hall saw those who did not accept the superior civilisation as being primitive “savages”. Hall viewed these civilisations in a similar fashion as he viewed children, stating that “their faults and their virtues are those of childhood and youth”. Hall believed that men and women should be separated into their own schools during puberty because it allowed them to be able to grow within their own gender. Women could be educated with motherhood in mind and the men could be educated in more hands-on projects, helping them to become leaders of their homes. Hall believed that schools with both sexes limited the way they could learn and softened the boys earlier than they should be. “It is a period of equilibrium, but with the onset of puberty the equilibrium is disturbed and new tendencies arise. Modifications in the reproductive organs take place and bring about secondary sexual characteristics. Extroversion gives way slowly to introversion, and more definitely social instincts begin to play an increasing role.”

Hall was also influenced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and his theory of evolution. Hall found the idea of passing on memories from parent to offspring was a plausible mode of inheritance.

Anomalistic Psychology

Hall was one of the founding members and a vice President of the American Society for Psychical Research. The early members of the society were sceptical of paranormal phenomena. Hall took a psychological approach to psychical phenomena. By 1890 he had resigned from the society. He became an outspoken critic of parapsychology.

Hall was an early psychologist in the field of anomalistic psychology. Hall and his assistant Amy Tanner from Clark University were notable debunkers of spiritualism and carried out psychological and physiological tests on mediums. Tanner published Studies in Spiritism (1910) with an introduction by Hall. The book documented the tests carried out by Hall and Tanner in the séance sittings held with the medium Leonora Piper. Hall and Tanner had proven by tests that the personalities of Piper were fictitious creations and not discarnate spirits.

Legacy and Honours

Hall contributed a large amount of work in understand adolescent development, some of which still holds true today. Hall observed that males tend to have an increase in sensation seeking and aggression during adolescence. Hall also observed an increase in crime rates during the adolescent years.[11] He noted that in terms of aggression there are two types; relational aggression and physical aggression. Relational aggression relates to gossiping, rumour spreading, and exclusions of others. Hall noted that relational aggression occurs more frequently in females while physical aggression occurs more often in males.

Much of the mark that Hall left behind was from his expansion of psychology as a field in the United States. He did a lot of work to bring psychology to the United States as a legitimate form of study and science. He began the first journal dedicated only to psychology in the United States of America, called the American Journal of Psychology. He was also the first president of the American Psychological Association. All of the work that Hall did in the field of psychology and for psychology in the United States of America allowed for all the other psychologists to follow in his foot steps and to become psychologists in the United States. Without the effort from Hall it could have taken many more years for psychology to become a field in the United States.

The World War II Liberty Ship SS Granville S. Hall was named in his honour.

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