On This Day … 22 June

People (Births)

  • 1871 – William McDougall, English psychologist and polymath (d. 1938).
  • 1891 – Franz Alexander, Hungarian psychoanalyst and physician (d. 1964).
  • 1919 – Henri Tajfel, Polish social psychologist (d. 1982).
  • 1940 – Joan Busfield, English sociologist, psychologist, and academic.
  • 1946 – Sheila Hollins, Baroness Hollins, English psychiatrist and academic.

People (Deaths)

  • 2008 – Natalia Bekhtereva, Russian neuroscientist and psychologist (b. 1924).

William McDougall

William McDougall FRS (22 June 1871 to 28 November 1938) was an early 20th century psychologist who spent the first part of his career in the United Kingdom and the latter part in the United States. He wrote a number of influential textbooks, and was important in the development of the theory of instinct and of social psychology in the English-speaking world.

McDougall was an opponent of behaviourism and stands somewhat outside the mainstream of the development of Anglo-American psychological thought in the first half of the 20th century; but his work was known and respected among lay people.

Psychical Research

McDougall was a strong advocate of the scientific method and academic professionalisation in psychical research. He was instrumental in establishing parapsychology as a university discipline in the US in the early 1930s. The traditional historiography of psychical research, dominated by the ‘winners’ of the race for ‘the science of the soul’, reveals fascinating epistemological incommensurabilities and a complex set of interplays between scientific and metaphysical presuppositions in the making and keeping alive of the scientific status of psychology. Thus, revised histories of psychical research and its relationship to psychology with a critical thrust not limited to that which has been viewed with suspicion anyway, offer both a challenge and a promise to historians, the discussion of which the present article hopes to stimulate (Sommer, 2012). In 1920, McDougall served as president of the Society for Psychical Research, and in the subsequent year of its US counterpart, the American Society for Psychical Research.

McDougall worked to enlist a number of scientific, religious, ethical, political and philosophical issues and causes into a wide “actor-network” which finally pushed through the institutionalization and professionalisation of parapsychology. He was also a member of the Scientific American committee that investigated the medium Mina Crandon. He attended séances with the medium and was sceptical about her “ectoplasmic hand”. He suspected that it was part of an animal, artificially manipulated to resemble a hand. McDougall’s suspicion was confirmed by independent experts who had examined photographs of the hand.

McDougall was critical of spiritualism, he believed that some of its proponents such as Arthur Conan Doyle misunderstood psychical research and “devote themselves to propaganda”. In 1926, McDougall concluded “I have taken part in a considerable number of investigations of alleged supernormal phenomena; but hitherto have failed to find convincing evidence in any case, but have found rather much evidence of fraud and trickery.”

McDougall, however, continued to encourage scientific research on psychic phenomena and in 1937 was a founding co-editor (with Joseph Banks Rhine) of the peer-reviewed Journal of Parapsychology, which continues to be published. Because he was the first to formulate a theory of human instinctual behaviour, he influenced the development of the new field of social psychology.

Franz Alexander

Franz Gabriel Alexander (22 January 1891 to 0 8 March 1964) was a Hungarian-American psychoanalyst and physician, who is considered one of the founders of psychosomatic medicine and psychoanalytic criminology.

Life

Franz Gabriel Alexander, in Hungarian Alexander Ferenc Gábor, was born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1891, his father was Bernhard Alexander, a philosopher and literary critic, his nephew was Alfréd Rényi, a Hungarian mathematician who made contributions in combinatorics, graph theory, number theory but mostly in probability theory. Alexander studied in Berlin; there he was part of an influential group of German analysts mentored by Karl Abraham, including Karen Horney and Helene Deutsch, and gathered around the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. ‘In the early 1920s, Oliver Freud was in analysis with Franz Alexander’ there — Sigmund Freud’s son — while ‘Charles Odier, one of the first among French psychoanalysts, was analysed in Berlin by Franz Alexander’ as well.

In 1930 he was invited by Robert Hutchins, then President of the University of Chicago, to become its Visiting Professor of Psychoanalysis. Alexander worked there at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, where Paul Rosenfels was one of his students. End 1950s he was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.

Franz Alexander died in Palm Springs, California in 1964.

Early Writings (1923-1943)

Alexander was a prolific writer. Between ‘The Castration Complex in the Formation of Character [1923] … [&] Fundamental Concepts of Psychosomatic Research [1943]’ he published nearly twenty other articles, contributing on a wide variety of subjects to the work of the “second psychoanalytic generation”.

‘Alexander in his “vector analysis”… measured the relative participation of the three basic directions in which an organism’s tendencies towards the external world may be effective: reception, elimination, and retention’. In this he may have been a forerunner to Erik H. Erikson’s later exploration of ‘Zones, Modes, and Modalities’.

He also explored the ‘morality demanded by the archaic superego … an automatized pseudo morality, characterized by Alexander as the corruptibility of the superego’.

Notable too was his exploration of acting out in real life, ‘in which the patient’s entire life consists of actions not adapted to reality but rather aimed at relieving unconscious tensions. It was this type of neurosis that was first described by Alexander under the name of neurotic character’.

Psychosomatic Work and Short-Term Psychotherapy

Franz Alexander led the movement looking for the dynamic interrelation between mind and body. Sigmund Freud pursued a deep interest in psychosomatic illnesses following his correspondence with Georg Groddeck who was, at the time, researching the possibility of treating physical disorders through psychological processes.

Together with Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Alexander developed the concept of autoplastic adaptation. They proposed that when an individual was presented with a stressful situation, he could react in one of two ways:

  • Autoplastic adaptation: The subject tries to change himself, i.e. the internal environment.
  • Alloplastic adaptation: The subject tries to change the situation, i.e. the external environment.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, numerous analysts were engaged with the question of how to shorten the course of therapy but still achieve therapeutic effectiveness. These included Alexander, Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich. Alexander found that the patients who tended to benefit the most greatly from therapy were those who could rapidly engage, could describe a specific therapeutic focus, and could quickly move to an experience of their previously warded-off feelings. These also happened to represent those patients who were the healthiest to begin with and therefore had the least need for the therapy being offered. Clinical research revealed that these patients were able to benefit because they were the least resistant. They were the least resistant because they were the least traumatised and therefore had the smallest burden of repressed emotion. However, among the patients coming to the clinic for various problems, the rapid responders represented only a small minority. What could be offered to those who represented the vast bulk of patients coming for treatment? See further Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy.

Henri Tajfel

Henri Tajfel (born Hersz Mordche; 22 June 1919 to 03 May 1982) was a Polish social psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the cognitive aspects of prejudice and social identity theory, as well as being one of the founders of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology.

Early Research

Tajfel’s early research at University of Durham and University of Oxford involved examining the processes of social judgement. He believed that the cognitive processes of categorisation contributed strongly to the psychological dimensions of prejudice, which went against the prevailing views of the time. Many psychologists assumed that extreme prejudice was the result of personality factors, such as authoritarianism. According to this perspective, only those with personalities that predisposed them to prejudice were likely to become bigots. Tajfel believed this was mistaken. He had seen how large numbers of Germans – not just those with particular personalities – had given their support to Nazism and had held extreme views about Jews. Nazism would not have been successful without the support of “ordinary” Germans. Tajfel sought to discover whether the roots of prejudice might be found in “ordinary” processes of thinking, rather than in “extraordinary” personality types.

He conducted a series of experiments, investigating the role of categorization. One of his most notable experiments looked at the way that people judged the length of lines. He found that the imposition of a category directly affected judgements. If the lines, which were presented individually, were shown without any category label, then errors of judgement tended to be random. If the longest lines were each labelled A, and the shortest were labelled B, then the errors followed a pattern. Perceivers would tend to judge the lines of each category (whether A or B) as being more similar to each other than they were; and perceivers would judge the differences between categories as greater than they were (i.e., the differences between the longest B line and the shortest ‘A’ line). These findings have continued to influence subsequent work on categorisation and have been replicated subsequently.

Tajfel viewed these investigations into social judgement as being directly related to the issue of prejudice. Imposing category distinctions on lines (A and B) was like dividing the social world into different groups of people (e.g., French, Germans, British). The results of his experiments showed how cognitively deep-seated it was for perceivers to assume that all members of a certain nationality-based category (for instance, all the French or all the British) were more similar to each other than they actually were, and to assume that the members of different categories differed more than they did (for instance, to exaggerate the differences between the French and the British). In this respect, the judging of lines was similar to making stereotyped judgements about social groups. Tajfel also argued that if the categories were of value to the perceiver, then these processes of exaggeration were likely to be enhanced.

The implications of this position were profound. It meant that some of the basic psychological roots of prejudice lay not in particular personality types, but in general, “ordinary” processes of thinking, especially processes of categorising. Tajfel outlined these ideas in his article, “Cognitive Aspects of Prejudice”, which was first published in 1969 and has been republished subsequently. For this article, Tajfel was awarded the first annual Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Intergroup Relations

Having moved to Bristol University, Tajfel began his work on intergroup relations and conducted the renowned minimal groups experiments. In these studies, test subjects were divided arbitrarily into two groups, based on a trivial and almost completely irrelevant basis. Participants did not know other members of the group, did not even know who they were, and had no reason to expect that they would interact with them in the future. Still, members of both groups allocated resources in such a way that showed favouritism for members of their own group in a way that maximized their own group’s outcomes in comparison to the alternate group, even at the expense of maximum gains for their own group. Even “on the basis of a coin toss…simple categorization into groups seems to be sufficient reason for people to dispense valued rewards in ways that favor in-group members over those who are ‘different'”.

Social Identity Theory

Subsequently, Tajfel and his student John Turner developed the theory of social identity. They proposed that people have an inbuilt tendency to categorise themselves into one or more “ingroups”, building a part of their identity on the basis of membership of that group and enforcing boundaries with other groups.

Social identity theory suggests that people identify with groups in such a way as to maximise positive distinctiveness. Groups offer both identity (they tell us who we are) and self-esteem (they make us feel good about ourselves). The theory of social identity has had a very substantial impact on many areas of social psychology, including group dynamics, intergroup relations, prejudice and stereotyping, and organizational psychology.

Tajfel’s Influence

Henri Tajfel’s influence on social psychology, especially in Britain and Europe, continues to be significant. His influence has reached beyond his particular views on social identity and social judgement, as he had a wide vision of creating a social psychology that was genuinely social and was engaged with broader issues. Too much social psychology was, in his view, trivial and based on what he called “experiments in a vacuum”. Tajfel thought that social psychologists should seek to address serious social problems by examining how psychological dimensions interact with historical, ideological, and cultural factors.

The influence of his general vision can be seen in the book Social Groups and Identities. This book was a posthumous tribute to Tajfel, containing chapters written by many of his former students. Some of his students went on to develop his theories of social identity and some continued his early work on social judgement. There were also chapters from former students who developed very different sorts of social psychology. However, both those who continued Tajfel’s work directly and those who moved in other directions were united in paying tribute to the force of Tajfel’s vision for a broad-based, politically important social psychology.

Joan Busfield

Joan Busfield (born 22 June 1940), is a British sociologist and psychologist, Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and former President of the British Sociological Association (2003-2005). Her research focuses on psychiatry and mental disorder.

She originally trained as a clinical psychologist at the Tavistock Clinic, and holds an MA from St Andrews, and an MA and a PhD from Essex.

Sheila Hollins

Sheila Clare Hollins, Baroness Hollins, (born 22 June 1946) is a professor of the psychiatry of learning disability at St George’s, University of London, and was created a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords on 15 November 2010 taking the title Baroness Hollins, of Wimbledon in the London Borough of Merton and of Grenoside in the County of South Yorkshire.

She was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 2005 to 2008, succeeded by Dinesh Bhugra. From 2012 to 2013 she was president of the British Medical Association (BMA) and was formerly chair of the BMA Board of Science. In 2014 Pope Francis appointed her a member of the newly created Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Baroness is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Centre for Child Protection and is President of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund.

Natalia Bekhtereva

Natalia Petrovna Bekhtereva (07 July 1924 to 22 June 2008) was a Soviet and Russian neuroscientist and psychologist who developed neurophysiological approaches to psychology, such as measuring the impulse activity of human neurons. She was a participant in the documentary films The Call of the Abyss (Russian: Зов бездны) and Storm of Consciousness (Russian: Штурм сознания), which aroused wide public interest. Candidate of Biological Sciences, Doctor of Medicine, Full Professor.

She is Vladimir Bekhterev’s granddaughter. She was brought up with her brother in an orphanage. She graduated from the First Pavlov State Medical University of St. Petersburg (1941-1947) and graduate school of the Pavlov Institute of Physiology. In the summer of 1941, more than 700 students entered the University; by the end of the training, only 4 graduates survived. The rest perished from war and hunger. She survived the Siege of Leningrad.

She worked as a junior research fellow at the Institute of Experimental Medicine, USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (1950-1954). After working her way up from a senior research fellow to the head of the laboratory and Deputy Director, she worked at the Research Neurosurgical Institute named after Professor Andrey L. Polenov of the USSR Ministry of Health (1954-1962). In 1959 she became a Doctor of Medicine. Since 1962 – at the Institute of Institute of Experimental Medicine, USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (the head of the Department of human neurophysiology; the Deputy Director for Research; from 1970 to 1990 – the Director).

In 1975, she became an academician of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (subsequently Russian Academy of Medical Sciences). In 1981, she became an academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. Starting in 1990, she was the scientific director of the Centre “Brain” of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. In 1992 she became the head of the scientific group of the neurophysiology of thinking, creativity and consciousness of the Institute for Human Brain of the RAS.

She was Vice President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (1974-1980) and Vice President of the International Organization for Psychophysiology (1982-1994).

She worked as editor-in-chief of the academic journals Human Physiology (1975-1987) and International Journal of Psychophysiology (1984-1994).

Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union of the 8th convocation (1970-1974) and People’s Deputy of the Soviet Union (1989-1991).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.