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History of Psychology Roundup: From Racy Rumors to Notorious Researchers

History of Psychology Roundup: From Racy Rumors to Notorious Researchers As writer Pearl Buck said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”

Tracking how psychology has evolved throughout the centuries helps us better understand psychology today. That’s why every month we dig around to find the most interesting articles and videos on the renowned — and sometimes notorious — people and places that have led to where we are right now.

In last month’s roundup, we talked about psychology’s controversial figures and tall tales. This month is no exception. There are links about infamous psychologists John Watson and John Philippe Rushton. There are also links to psychology’s beginnings with early concepts of mental disease and the functionalist school.

“Notes on a Scandal”

American psychologist John B. Watson was the father of behaviorism – and no stranger to controversy. If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology class, you probably know Watson for two other things: his notorious experiment with “Little Albert” and a white rat, and his affair with his graduate student assistant Rosalie Rayner.

However, if you took an intro course in the 1970s, ’80s or even ’90s, you might’ve learned another fun fact: Watson was conducting sex research with Rayner’s help.

According to this piece in APA’s Monitor on Psychology, the story was published in at least 200 textbooks from 1974-1994. But was this fact or fiction? Monitor editor Jamie Chamberlin sets the record straight amid the racy rumors.

“Whole Body Madness”

Author and professor Richard Noll writes about a mental disease psychiatrists and neurologists believed was the result of a whole-body breakdown in this Psychiatric Times piece. The brain, it was believed, along with other organs, were heavily involved. And, it was also believed that this particular disease could be easily, reliably and objectively diagnosed with a specific physical examination.

(By the way, I talk more about this disease and Noll’s book here.)

John Philippe Rushton

John Philippe Rushton, who died Oct. 2, 2012, was a controversial figure in psychology. It was his work on race and intelligence, crime and penis size that sparked uproar and even protests. One of my favorite blogs, Advances in the History of Psychology, features a brief bio along with a video of a debate between Rushton and geneticist David Suzuki. (They also include links to a few other pieces.

Asylums Turned Apartments

Another favorite blog, Mind Hacks, has an interesting post about a former British psychiatric hospital which has been converted into luxury apartments. (This isn’t the first time former asylums have become pricey homes.) They link to a fascinating website that features the history of Claybury Hospital, along with other “lost hospitals of London.”

“Toward a New School Of Their Own”

Inspired by Charles Darwin, functionalism or functional psychology aimed to study mental and behavioral processes. Psychologists were interested in the functions of consciousness, rather than its structure (like structuralism, another psychology movement).

According to psychologist James R. Angell, structuralists essentially wanted to know “what is consciousness,” while functionalists wanted to know “what is consciousness for?” as C. James Goodwin writes in A History of Modern Psychology.

Christopher D. Green, a professor of psychology at York University, created a great video series all about this school of thought, which started in the 19th century and influenced behaviorism. Check out video one and two.

?What interesting pieces have you read lately about the history of psychology?
Let us know in the comments!

History of Psychology Roundup: From Racy Rumors to Notorious Researchers

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). History of Psychology Roundup: From Racy Rumors to Notorious Researchers. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Nov 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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