It’s been a while since I’ve shared my favorite posts on the history of psychology. So let’s dig right in.
This month we’ve got pieces on everything from infamous psychology cases to a radical anti-psychiatry experiment to life in a high-security psychiatric hospital to the passing of one of psychiatry’s greatest critics.
“Psychology’s Tall Tales”
If you’ve ever taken an intro psychology course, you know about Phineas Gage and Kitty Genovese. Both individuals – and their compelling stories – have been used to illustrate some of psychology’s most recognized theories.
After an iron rod tore through his skill, Phineas Gage supposedly became a different man – an uninhibited, surly alcoholic who couldn’t hold down a job. His case provided convincing evidence that our frontal lobes play a pivotal role in personality and judgment.
Kitty Genovese’s murder was used to substantiate the bystander effect. This phenomenon occurs when the presence of other people prevents them from stepping in and helping in an emergency situation.
But were these cases truly solid evidence? In this piece in APA’s gradPSYCH magazine, writer Beryl Lieff Benderly takes a look at what really happened in these infamous stories. I bet this wasn’t covered in your psychology textbook.
“William James and the Sixth Sense”
You might know that psychologist and philosopher William James wasn’t a fan of lab work. But you might not know that he actually conducted extensive laboratory research into dizziness. Katharine S. Milar, Ph.D, explores James’s work on the inner ear’s role in dizziness in this piece in APA’s Monitor on Psychology.
An Experiment in Anti-Psychiatry
In 1965 psychiatrist R.D. Laing conducted an experiment where both patients with psychosis and schizophrenia and psychiatrists lived together at Kingsley Hall, a former community center in London. The radical experiment lasted five years. Instead of prescribing medication, Laing wanted patients to heal their early traumas and live out their symptoms.
As the blog Mind Hacks notes, “…the place was more chaos than freedom, and the residence became a stop-in for hippies, lost souls and acid dealers.” The Observer has an interesting article about the experiment. Writer Sean O’ Hagan also interviewed photographer Dominic Harris, who tracked down 13 individuals who lived at Kingsley Hall. The article includes some of their stories.
Growing Up in a High-Security Hospital
Novelist Patrick McGrath grew up in one of Britain’s high-security psychiatric hospitals: Broadmoor. His dad was the last medical superintendent of Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum. In this article in Intelligent Life, McGrath recounts his childhood and how his father handled his position along with some of the infamous patients of Broadmoor.
“Despite our proximity to a great many very disturbed men and women, I found Broadmoor an idyllic place to grow up,” he writes. On Mind Hacks, psychologist and blogger Vaughan Bell very briefly shares his thoughts on Broadmoor’s reputation and his own work at a similar psychiatric hospital.
In this piece on Psych Central, our founder and editor-in-chief, John Grohol, PsyD, talks about the important contributions of Thomas Szasz, M.D.. Szasz died in September 2012 at the age of 92. Here’s a snippet: “While many associate Szasz with the anti-psychiatry movement, that’s a label he never was comfortable with. It also over-simplifies his complex and nuanced views about mental illness as one of the most vocal critics of psychiatry.”