What was Social Darwinism and why were Americans more open to the idea than people in other countries

Snapshot: This chapter finds the main developments in the field of psychology now occurring in America. The United States have a unique frontier spirit lacking in a settled Europe. We will see Darwinian theory in the social and political areas of American life with an emphasis on solving problems. This pragmatic approach will be infused into all areas of life as well as the sciences. William James will emerge as a rebuttal to Wundtian psychology and will expand the borders of the new discipline as an antecedent to functionalism. Women will begin to emerge in the sciences, but it will be another 50 years (the 1930s) until most of them can really have their scientific voices heard.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes: (After you have read this chapter and the online lectures you should be able to:)

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  1. Describe Herbert Spencer’s notion of social Darwinism and the ways America embraced it.
  2. Explain why social Darwinism was so popular in the United States.
  3. Describe Hollerith’s approach to processing information by machine.
  4. Explain why William James was considered to be the most important American psychologist.
  5. Differentiate James’s view of consciousness from Wundt’s view.
  6. Explain what the purpose of consciousness was according to William James.
  7. Describe the variability hypothesis and how it influenced the idea of male superiority.
  8. Understand the impact of Hall on psychology, both developmental and the founding of a psychology journal and the APA.
  9. Know what ways Titchener and Dewey, Angell, and Carr contributed to the founding of functional psychology.
  10. Be sure to realize the emphasis that Woodworth put in this stimulus-response theory. (The organism was included between the stimulus and the response because it was equally important and could not be left out as some would have.)

Why Did America Accept Evolutionary Theory Like No Other Country?

We all know how evolutionary theory, and Darwin’s extensive research that seemed to back it up, revolutionized the sciences and fostered many new avenues of research. No branch of science was unaffected. However, you may ask yourself why America was so willing to embrace this new position.

We must look to the American zeitgeist to answer this. In the middle to late 1800s, America was a frontier nation. The eastern and southeastern United States, which made up the main portion of U.S. influence was beginning to expand westward onto vast plains and areas rich in natural resources. No where was the idea of individualism greater. Those that settled the frontier were often gutsy individuals with an independent spirit and a willingness to work and carve out new territories and towns. The very idea of Darwin’s individual differences within a species was clearly visible in the human species.

As you read about Herbert Spencer and the application of evolutionary theory to business, politics, and everyday life, you will get a real feel for how extensive the impact of this theory was in America. It, and the rise of the American universities, helped to bring the “power” from Germany to the United States and make America the main seat of psychological advancement. That power remains today.

The Rise of the American University

America started building universities and modeling them after both the British and the Germans. This hybrid university model encompassed British thought and German experimental methodology. British university systems were a bit archaic, but the thought was well in line with American ideals. By the same token German thought was not well-liked but their tradition of experimental design suited the emerging nation well.

Until the Civil War, all American universities were alike – small and with a limited curriculum. In 1854, Harvard was 200 years old and had only 18 faculty members, and classes were only taught in such subjects as logic, mathematics, Latin, Greek, and religion. Most of these pre–Civil War universities were run by clergy and were rigid and conservative. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act giving land to states if they would build state universities. These universities were to teach such practical courses as agriculture, mining, and technical industrial courses.

Remember that America was a frontier and was rich in natural resources. It was practical to learn what to do with these natural resources and Greek and Latin were of no help. America and American psychology were becoming pragmatic, practical, and problem-solving. The emphasis was less on basic research and more on applied research. Be sure you know the difference. Basic is for the joy of finding things out, applied is done to solve specific problems.

Universities started being run by boards instead of clergy and a healthy rivalry developed between newly founded schools that helped each develop at a faster pace. Even women’s colleges (Vassar claims to be first) began to spring up that was more than just the finishing schools of the past.

Another important happening occurred in New York State. Ezra Cornell offered BIG BUCKS to the state if he could build and run a university and set the curriculum. Cornell’s innovative ideas were that “universities should be a place where anyone could study anything”. This idea revolutionized the American university system and Cornell University became the first liberal arts school in 1865.

While this was going on, Charles Elliot, the new president of Harvard also changed Harvard by introducing the elective system. All of you take this for granted today, but it was new and forward-thinking at this time. New faculty had to be hired for all these new elective courses.

The new university was also judged differently than in the past. Now the idea of prestige was to be based on the faculty. The Ph.D. became the appropriate license. As a result, there was a shortage of Ph.D.’s to cover all the new curriculum and literally, thousands of young men went to Germany to study and receive this degree.

For psychology, William Wundt was the major source to teach these students. This situation was particularly hard for psychology since it was a new discipline and was already experiencing a shortage of faculty. American psychology had a rich British and European tradition, but it was William James, “a homegrown American boy,” who would really start American psychology. Your book explains his ideas well so be sure you understand them.

For an online copy of William James’ Principles of Psychology go to: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/ (Links to an external site.)

You do not need to read all of it, of course, but if there is a topic or two you are interested in, take a look.

Granville Stanley Hall

Applied psychology becomes a major point for functionalists. They understand the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest and so they welcome the idea of applied psychology – psychology that will not just do research to fulfill curiosities, but research to solve problems. This motivation is the reason all the various branches of psychology developed. Wundt trained many of the applied psychologists: Hall, Cattel, Witmer, Scott, and Musterberg among them. This applied psychology was taken into schools, factories, advertising, law, mental health clinics and was used to solve problems and develop programs.

By 1895, psychological labs doing applied research rose dramatically with 26 well-equipped labs in the U.S. Psychology had a new home and it was not in Germany – it was in America. Psychology was beginning to be brought to the masses to solve their problems and the masses were starting to accept its understandings.

The influence of Granville Stanley Hall was second only to James on U.S. psychology. He founded many of the things that started to give the young psychology “power”. In 1878, he earned the first American Ph.D. awarded in psychology from Harvard. In 1887, he founded the first U.S. psychological journal, the American Journal of Psychology and in 1892, he founded the American Psychological Association (APA) and was its first president. There were only 26 members at that time and today the membership is in the hundreds of thousands.

By 1891, he founded the second American journal of psychology, the Journal of Genetic Psychology. Hall did extensive work in developmental psychology as your book states and be sure you understand his recapitulation theory. Why might he have been called the “cradle to grave” psychologist? He theorized and wrote on all ages of the developmental spectrum from infancy to old age. He was the first to maintain that children were not “just little adults” as was thought by many. He was the first to develop the idea of adolescence to denote the difference between childhood and adulthood. He theorized that this adolescence was a transition between childhood and adulthood and was a very important and often difficult passage for individuals.

One more additional “power” credited to Hall was his ascension to the presidency of Clark University. We have talked about the need for any school of thought to have “power” and the same is true for a new discipline – like psychology. Clark University was a graduate university and became very influential under his 31 years of leadership. He was the great teacher of psychology in the discipline’s first decades and by 1898, 30 of the first 50 Ph. D.s awarded in America were awarded by Hall. That is a very significant influence!

Biological Determinism

Toward the end of the 1800s, psychology was a quickly growing discipline. Universities were growing larger and great in numbers. With the Morrell Act of 1867, the federal government granted large parcels of land to states for the development of Land Grant Colleges. These colleges would not teach the traditional subjects of math, chemistry, Latin, Greek, and logic. Texas A&M is one such example. They would teach courses in agriculture, mining, animal husbandry, and many other applied subjects that helped solve problems of the American frontier. Women’s colleges were also developing that were more than just finishing schools. Vassar, Wellesley, and Bryn Mawr were among the first.

Within this framework of university growth came a move for Harvard to admit women. With a great force that idea was beaten down. The argument was based on what can be called biological determinism. Biological determinism simply means that what you are born with biologically determines what rights and privileges you will have in life. This may mean whether you are male or female.

The argument by those who wanted to keep Harvard an all-male university was that it would be too costly to allow women to attend and study with men. This cost was twofold. First, it was feared that the stress that would be put on women’s brains would take away from the energy of their bodies to reproduce. It was feared that a great many would become sterile. That would be a great cost to a nation that was being increased with hordes of foreign “peasants” that, it was feared, would reproduce in great numbers and take over the nation. Second, it was thought that the women would not be able to attend classes or study when they were on their periods because the physical stress would be too great. It was also thought that there would have to be nurses on all the floors of the dormitories, to help the women at this time.

I hope you see the lunacy of these ideas, but remember that it was a far different and less informed zeitgeist. They estimated that it would cost a million dollars a year just to take care of the newly entering women and so they did not let them in until decades later. That is biological determinism! Your book talks about a few women who made a difference in psychology. Who were they and what were their contributions?

A Few More Thoughts that Might Help…

As you read, realize that although Functionalism was composed of a number of diverse ideas, all its proponents believed that solving problems was the role of this new psychology. This idea of pragmatism was literally a way of survival on the frontier. It is due to this pragmatism and evolutionary theory that all the branches of psychology that we know today began to develop. They developed because they could solve the problems of individuals and society.

You will see that with the rise of important universities, there will be the rise of important psychology departments. Those of the University of Chicago and Columbia University were important in developing and fostering the ideas of functional psychology. You will also notice others such as Stanford, Clark University, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins.

Henry Hollerith’s punch card innovation had a profound effect on the 1890 census. It also had a profound effect on U. S. psychological research. This was a similar punch card technique that we first saw with Babbage and it was used as I have said until the 1980s in scientific research of all kinds.

Chapter 8 Online Lecture Material and Assignment Essays

Snapshot: In this chapter, we will see the development of the ever-expanding branches of psychology. A giant in the history of psychology, Granville Stanley Hall, will expand psychology into developmental psychology and enhance the political power of psychology. The testing movement will continue to develop and the events of World War I will see a real acceptance of psychological testing. Clinical, forensic, and advertising fields in psychology will also be developed as well as some of the issues in industrial psychology like personnel selection, and workplace environmental impacts.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes: (After you have read this chapter and the online lectures you should be able to:)

  1. Know who founded the American Psychological Association and was its first president.
  2. Understand the ideas behind Hall’s “recapitulation theory”. Discuss Hall’s chief interests in psychology and how could it be said that he broadened the discipline, especially in developmental psychology.
  3. Explain the prevailing ideas about women competing for the same education and degrees toward the later part of the 1800s. Know what contributions Calkins, Woolley, and Hollingsworth made to psychology that helped refute the ridiculous ideas that had been in the zeitgeist about the frailties of women.
  4. Looking at the overall testing movement: Understand Cattell’s contribution to the idea of testing for individual difference, and know what contributions Binet, Goddard, Terman, and Yerkes make to the developing testing movement.
  5. Explain the contributions of Walter Dill Scott and in what ways he broadened the field of psychology.
  6. Discuss the contributions of Lightner Whitmer that make him the “father of clinical psychology”. Explain what he felt was most influential for the behaviors of the individual – nature or nurture.
  7. Describe the various fields of psychology that Hugo Musterberger influenced and know what his contributions were to each. (education, psych, and the law, industrial organization, psychotherapy)
  8. In looking at the development of animal psychology, know what the contributions of Romanes and Morgan are.

A Bit More of the Story! – The Testing Movement and Ellis Island

Your book does a good job on the testing movement. You will see that eugenics was also a part of the bias of the testing movement. Can you imagine what it must have been like for those coming from other countries, on crowded boats for months when they arrived in America? There were 6 main ports where immigrants landed. The largest and most important at the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s was that of Ellis Island in the harbor of New York City.

Ellis Island pictures are below. Can you imagine what it must have been like to enter Ellis Island?

  • Picture Link: View of Ellis Island
    Description: This photo is taken of Ellis Island much as it would have looked in the later 1800s and into the 1900s. It is taken from New York Harbor.
  • Picture Link: The Grand Hall at Ellis Island
    Description: This is the Grand Hall where large numbers of people entered the United States. There are rooms off to the sides on the second floor for overnighting of officials and for Red Cross aid. The flags were flown in the same way at the turn of the century and into the 1900s. This photo was taken in Summer of 2005.
  • Picture Link: Group of Immigrant Children
    Description: This picture is currently displayed at Ellis Island and depicts a group of immigrant children all with newly acquired American flags. They are the future citizens of a new country.
  • Picture Link: The Hiring of Immigrants
    Description: These banners lined the ceilings in the halls where new immigrants passed. It is interesting to see the jobs offered and the prices. The interesting part is most often, they could not read English.
  • Picture Link: Coming Off the Ship
    Description: This picture is currently displayed at Ellis Island to give a view of what it must have been like when a ship landed and immigrants were being processed.
  • Picture Link: New York Skyline
    Description: This is a view from the second floor of the main building on Ellis Island. The skyline of New York City has changed in the last 70–100 years, but for the immigrants, newly landed on American soil, it still must have been quite a sight.

Walter Dill Scott

Walter Dill Scott was a guiding force in the advancement of advertising and as a Ph.D., gave the field credibility in its early days. There is a website of the Advertising Hall of Fame and it may help you get a bit of a feel for how important his contributions were. He was a president of the APA also and that was important to psychology, as it showed the power of the applied movement in psychology. Go to the Advertising Hall of Fame ( (Links to an external site.)http://advertisinghall.org (Links to an external site.)/) (Links to an external site.) site. Select “Members” and then select ’S’ in the alphabet. You will see Walter Dill Scott’s name and if you select it, you will see a short biography to help with the understanding of how important this man was in both psychology and advertising.

Clinical Psychology

There is an interesting article on the status of clinical psychology over a century after it was officially founded by Lightner Witmer in 1892. Go to this site on Clinical psychology ( (Links to an external site.)Link (Links to an external site.)) (Links to an external site.), to see some interesting insights into clinical psychology. It is interesting to know that it is, of course, clinical psychology that most people associate with psychology and they are often very surprised to see that there many other fields in psychology.

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