Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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(1) History and Prospects of Experimental Psychology in America. By President G. STANLEY HALL, Clark University.

This paper consisted of an abstract of an extensive History of Psychology in this country beginning with Jonathan Edwards, and coming up to the present time. The history is intended to include an account of all the important investigations, and in anticipation of the final paper any more detailed account is omitted.

Discussion by Professors Ladd and Baldwin.

(2) Errors of Observation in Physics and Psychology. By Professor J. McKEEN CATTELL, Columbia College.

Physical science can better eliminate errors of observation by learning from psychology what is known of their cause and nature. Psychology will gain greatly in clearness and accuracy by using the methods and conceptions of physics and mathematics. In the work on the relation between mental and physical intensity the just noticeable difference has been used ambiguously, at one time as an equal increment in sensation, at another time as the error of observation or proportional to it. When the just noticeable difference (or an apparently equal difference) is used in the former sense, the judgment of the observer is probably based on association with the known relations of the physical world. When the just noticeable difference is used as equivalent to the error of observation, as in the method of average error and the method of right and wrong cases, we do not measure an increment in the intensity of sensation, but an error of perception, which cannot in any way be used as a unit for measuring the intensity of sensation. From the point of view of the theory of probability we can understand the alteration in the error of observation under altered conditions. Thus there are differences which are nearly always correctly perceived and differences which are nearly as likely to be perceived incorrectly as correctly, but the ideas of an absolute just noticeable difference or of an absolute threshold become absurd. [p. 4] The increase in the size of the error of observation as the intensity or extensity of the stimulus increases may be due to various factors, but one of the most important of these is the summation of errors. If a certain error be made on the average in judging the length of a second of time, the error in judging two seconds would not be twice as large (Weber's law) but would be as large as the error in judging one second multiplied by [the square root of]2, and generally we should expect (apart from other factors which will never be entirely absent) that the error of observation would tend to increase as the square root of the magnitude. In actual experiments the error of observation usually increases neither in direct proportion to the stimulus nor as the square root of the stimulus, but the facts seem to accord fully as well with the relation here proposed as with Weber's law. [Printed in The American Journal of Psychology, vol. V. 285-293, Apr. 1893.]

Discussion by Professors Fullerton, Ladd, Hall, and Cattell.

(3) Experiments upon Pain by Dr. HERBERT NICHOLS, Harvard University.

On Glans Penis: Four hospital subjects, healthy as to parts concerned. Natural temperature of part 32° C. If a shield of cotton and asphalt protect the prepuce, and a large Bunsen burner is brought forward, no warmth is felt; trace of pain noted at 36°-41°. Clear 39°-43°; strong 49°-50°; unbearable 50°-58°. From cold metal no cold is felt; trace of pain at 15°-8°; clear 10°-8°; tolerably strong 5°-2°. Applied ice never felt cold; after 30-60 seconds dull pain; in time becomes unbearable. On lower regions of œsophagus: insensible to feelings of warmth, of cold, or of touch from considerable pressure. Sharp pains from twisting the mucous membrane on end of bougie. On extreme upper portions of rectum: similar results. The sub-dermal surfaces of cuts and wounds, the nerves of the teeth, and portions of the upper cavities of the nose also give pain only.

Thus certain parts of the body are sensible of pain only, in response both to temperature and to mechanical stimulation. The doctrines of summation (Dessoir); of pain as an intense degree of our other feelings, -- touch, heat, cold, etc.; or as rising from the summation of stimuli in the cord (Schiff, Wundt, Goldscheider) are irreconcilable with these facts, as they all demand some other feeling preceding the pain. These facts support the theory of special pain nerves, responsive with pain only, to various forms of stimulation. Goldscheider is right as to four kinds of dermal nerves, but they are Warm, Cold, Touch, and Pain, rather than Warm, Cold, Touch, and Pressure. In my experiments the low temperature at which pain is perceived from heat stimulation is [p. 5] probably due to absence of complicating sensations, and the effects of this in attention.

(4) Tactile Estimates of Thickness. By Professor E. A. PACE, Catholic University.

Considerable differences of thickness may be safely estimated either by sight or by touch. Where finer discrimination is needed, we are inclined to apply both these senses, and are often obliged to sharpen the tactile impression by means of visual images. If the touch alone be employed, it affords three distinct bases of judgment: the simple clasp of opposite surfaces, the movement of the finger through an intervening space or over an intervening surface, and the tactile sensation which accompanies the movement. Whether one or all of these factors must enter into our estimate, and which of them is to predominate, will depend to some extent upon the character of the object. In 'feeling of' flexible substances like paper or cloth, we decide that they are thicker or thinner because our fingers can be brought near together, or because the material crumples under pressure, or because, in some cases at least, peculiarities of the surface tell us plainly what we are handling. Estimates of this sort reach a high degree of delicacy, the transition from 0.025 mm to 0.037 mm of thickness being easily recognized.

With rigid substances the case is different. The mere clasp or rub proving insufficient, the finger, almost unconsciously, slips over the edge and glides from surface to surface. Here we have the two other elements, movement and contact. An attempt was made to determine the relative accuracy of the three modes of judging, or to determine their respective difference-thresholds, by the method of Least Variation. The experiments were made with sheets of mica, strips of zinc, and blocks of polished wood. The results may be summarized as follows:

1. Below 5 mm the clasp is the only satisfactory test, and this is rather uncertain below 0.5 mm. Within this narrow range the threshold for two observers was 0.5 mm.

2. In the upper portion of the scale -- 5-80 mm -- the most accurate judgments were obtained by continuous contact, the threshold being 2 mm. The visual elements afford more assistance in this case than when the fingers are simply pressed against opposite surfaces, or are moved through the intervening distance without contact.

3. This threshold either remains constant throughout the scale, or, if it shows variations, they seem independent of the increment and diminution of normal thickness. [p. 6]

(5) Some Experiments upon the Æsthetics of Simple Visual Forms. By Dr. LIGHTNER WITMER, University of Pennsylvania.

1. A figure of less pleasing proportions falling within a border of similar proportions (the border of the sheet of paper on which the figure is drawn, for example) will be chosen rather than a figure of more pleasing proportions within a border with whose proportions those of the figure do not correspond. The proportions of the border are effective even at right angles to those of the figure, and even though they are not observed by the subject. This suggests that possibly the outlines of the field of vision may influence the choice. Perhaps for this reason, ellipses are more pleasing than rectangles or circles.

2. Every figure is judged as a result of certain movements of the eyes. These may change or modify the effectiveness of the border of the field of vision, and their extent and direction may themselves be determinative of thc æsthetic judgment. The eyes naturally prefer to move from left to right rather than from right to left; up rather than down. Normally the base in vertical direction, or the centre in horizontal, is taken as the point of departure for the eye movements with which we view the figure; likewise the left side rather than the right, a horizontal rather than a vertical line, and a vertical rather than an oblique. But peculiarities in the structure of the figure may change the structure of the figure may change the natural arrangement of these movement and enforce others. A vertical line will be viewed from the bottom upward; but if a heavy horizontal line be drawn at right angles to the upper end, the eyes will first seize upon it and then be forced to move downwards to get the whole line. The importance of the normal eye movements suggests the possibility of the ratio between the maximum or, if not this, then the average range of movement along the horizontal axis and the maximum or average along the vertical axis being a norm of relative amounts of muscular contractions, which is effectual in determining the choice of the proportions of a figure.

3. Perhaps the explanation is to be referred to a proper difference in the successive movements of the eyes -- the pleasingness of difference being a general contrast phenomenon the ultimate explanation of which is to be sought for in conditions of a general nature and not by reference to the eye alone. [In continuation of research published in Philos. Stud. IX. 1, 96-144, 2, 209-263.]

Discussion by Profs. Baldwin, Ladd, Fullerton, Jastrow, Titchener, and Drs. Nichols and Witmer.

(6) The Chronoscopic Measurement of Simple Reactions on all Classes of Persons. By Dr. LIGHTNER WITMER, University of Pennsylvania.

An investigation is in progress at the psychological laboratory of the [p. 7] University of Pennsylvania to determine the mental times that are of most general interest from an anthropometrical standpoint, and to examine methods of obtaining accurate time-measurements on all classes of untrained observers. About 75 persons, of most varied age and condition, have so far been examined and their reaction-times for sound, light, and electric shock measured. A series of experiments comprises 13 and sometimes 18 single reactions-in the latter case, five serve as a practice series, and of the 13, the three most divergent reactions are excluded, so that the average result represents ten experiments. Three series are made with each stimulus, and 162 reactions thus comprise the maximum number made on each observer. The three series with a given stimulus were never taken at one time.

All the results thus far obtained have not yet been collated, nor is the collection of experimental data yet complete; the accompanying table, therefore, gives only provisional results:

In length of reaction-time and size of mv, we find light, sound, and electric shock decreasing in the order named. The large size of the mv for the first set with sound (13s ) is explained by the fact that each subject began reacting to the sound-stimulus, and the average result represents the reaction-time to sound after only five practice experiments. This also explains the greater difference between the first series for sound and the second series (i.e., 11s ) than between the first and second series for light (3s ). In the case of every stimulus, the third series is slightly shorter than the second-an evidence that the effect of continued practice has not been eliminated. The mean variation, however, does not show any tendency to shorten in the third series. Comparison with results obtained on skilled observers points to the normal character of these results.

Initial practice is most marked in its effect; this, however, does not extend beyond the second experiment. The average result of the first series of sound reactions from 15 observers was 159s . Referred to this average, the five results of the practice series were +111s , + 82s , -8s , -3s , +6s . Two trials only are needed for the subject to accommodate himself to the general conditions of the experiment.

A method for regulating the chronoscope by means of a pendulum was also described.

Discussion by Profs. Jastrow and Titchener. [p. 8]

(7) Experimental Psychology at the World's Fair. By Professor JOSEPH JASTROW, University of Wisconsin.

This paper described the plans of the Section of Psychology of the Department of Ethnology at the World's Columbian Exposition. The section occupied the rooms in the north gallery of the Anthropological Building, one of which was fitted out as a practical laboratory in operation, the other containing a collection of apparatus used in demonstrations and research in psychology. The laboratory was designed for the collection of tests of sense and motor capacity, and the simpler mental processes. The tests included the typical forms of dermal sensation, pressure, roughness and smoothness, contact, pain and motion; rapidity and accuracy of movements with and without the guidance of the eye; tests of range and accuracy of vision, of color and shade; quickness and accuracy of form and space perceptions of various kinds; tests of memory, quickness of perception, simple and complex reactions, associations and the like. The collection of apparatus was partly a loan collection contributed by a number of American colleges and partly an exhibit of the instrument-makers. The typical instruments for demonstration and research upon the senses and movement, upon the physical concomitants of mental phenomena, upon their time-relations, and upon other portions of experimental psychology were represented. A collection of photographs of the various psychological laboratories was exhibited. In addition charts showing some of the results of psychological research, particularly in the line of sense tests, were prepared; a large portion o these was the original work of the Section of Psychology. There were also exhibited in the room devoted to Development illustrations of mental development in children, particularly the results of statistical research in the school-room.

The main purpose of the section was to excite interest in and show the methods of experimental psychology; it also aimed to complete the general exhibit; of Anthropometry by some illustrations of anthropometrical methods and results as applied to mental phenomena. For further details reference may be made to the Official Catalogue of the World's Columbian Exposition, Anthropological Building, pp. 50-60, and to the forthcoming report of the Department of Ethnology to the Director-General of the Exposition.

Discussion by President Hall and Prof. Krohn.

(8) Certain Illusions of Rotation. By Dr. HERBERT NICHOLS, Harvard University.

With two black bars, 8 in. long, mounted one above the other on [p. 9] cylinders rotated in opposite directions, at moderate speed, by clockwork, the rotations whimsically appear to change through every combination of directions possible for the two bars. A single bar gives similar illusions. Treating both eyes thoroughly with atropine, the illusions continue as lively as ever. Still under drug, one eye blindfolded, upper half of other eye looking through glass horizontal prism, single bar rotating vertically in plane of sight and 20 ft. distant: theoretically under above conditions, upper half of bar should be seen rotating one way, and lower half in opposite direction; active stimulation for accommodation should be neutral, even without atropine. Viewed across a stationary hair no movements of the eye could be detected corresponding either to the real or the fancied movements of the bar. The illusions continued independently of all the above changing conditions, and seem therefore free of all active muscular suggestion.

Since the illusions change while the retinal stimulations do not, the perceptions plainly are not simple correspondents of the latter. Since muscular sensation commonly enters into sight perception, similar psychic components probably constitute a part of these illusions. But if so, then the above facts indicate that these components are filled in to the perceptions through internal association. This last -- the illusions being indistinguishable from common perceptions -- is interesting in view of the current notion that reproduced images -- those rising inwardly by association -- never have the strength and clearness of full-grade, outward sensations; it opens perhaps the whole question as to the fundamental distinction between perception and conception, seeing and imagining.

Our experiments also seek to determine: (a) the maximum rate of rotation for various distances at which no deceptions occur; (b) the time-reactions of the muscular processes normally; (c) the relation of (a) to (b); (d) maximum rotation at which definite perceptions of direction occur at all; (e) maximum at which deceptions occur; (f) most favorable speed for deceptions; (g) time-reactions for various association processes as above involved. The experiments aim to get at the nature of perceptions in general, and in particular to separate the inner from the outer elements.

(9) Note upon the Controversy regarding the Relation of the Intensity of the Stimulus to the Reaction-time. By Professor W. L. BRYAN, University of Indiana.

The question of reaction-time is still in many ways open and practical both for the physiologist and for the psychologist. Martius's result that intensity of stimulus does not affect reaction-time except in the case of very small stimuli is doubtful. Extended series of experiments with sound stimulus made by the speaker show:-- [p. 10]

(1) That below a certain maximal stimulus, which varies in different individuals, the reaction-time varies inversely with the intensity of stimulus, as all authors before Martius hold.

(2) That above this maximal point, which is low in comparison with the height of sense, increase of intensity of stimulus does not affect the reaction-time.

(3) That within the limit specified in (1) the amount of variation in reaction-time occasioned by a given increment in the stimulus depends upon the stimulus to which the increment is added. This result is given as having a very high degree of probability.

(4) If it were assumed that the intensity of sound varies directly with the height of fall, the results show an approximate correspondence between the ratios of the intensities and the differences of the reaction-times.

Recent physiological literature tends to show that the relation between intensity of stimulus and the 'latent period' is the same as that here given [in (1), (2), and (3)] for reaction-time.

Discussion by Profs. Baldwin, Titchener, Cattell, Jastrow, and Bryan.

(10) Minor Studies at the Psychological Laboratory of Clark University. Dr. E. C. SANFORD, Clark University.

Dr. Sanford's paper consisted in a report upon six studies made under his direction by students of psychology at Clark University, namely: (1) On the Discrimination of Groups of Rapid Clicks, by T. L Bolton; (2) On Reaction-times when the Stimulus is applied to the Reacting Hand, by J. F. Reigart; (3) Statistics of Dreams, by Mary Whiton Calkins; (4) On the Pressure Sense of the Drum of the Ear and 'Facia1 Vision,' by F. B. Dresslar; (5) On Tests of Mental Ability at Different Hours of the Day, by J. A. Bergström; (6) On Experiments upon Physiological Memory by Means of the Interference of Associations, by J. A. Bergström. All these have since been published in the American Journal of Psychology, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 in Vol. V. No. 3, 1893, and number 5, with further results upon the same topic, in Vol. VI. No. 2, 1894.

Discussion by Profs. Ladd, Baldwin, Fullerton, Krohn, Jastrow, Dr. Nichols and Dr. Witmer.

(11) Preliminary Notes upon Psychological Tests in the Schools of Springfield, Mass. By Prof. W. L. BRYAN, University of Indiana.

[This paper was only given in part, and abstract has not been furnished.]

(12) The Problems of Experimental Psychology. Professor HUGO MÜNSTERBERG, Harvard University.

Professor Münsterberg, welcomed by the President as guest in [p. 11] America and asked to address the meeting, explained the point of view from which he seeks to direct the investigations in the psychological laboratory at Harvard University. He does not share fully the satisfaction felt at what has been thus far accomplished in experimental psychology. Everybody looked at experimental psychology with the greatest hopes and supported it liberally, especially in America, but everywhere only scanty results have been gained and a certain disappointment has entered scientific circles. In the first place experimental psychology, proud of the exactness of her results, has neglected self-observation too much. We accumulate figures, but we forget too often what those figures imply. People rightly say of it that it is rich in decimals but poor in ideas. It is indeed a misleading ideal of psychology to make mere measurements its goal. The goal of psychology must be different from that of physics; as measurement is confined to quantitative facts, while psychical facts are never magnitudes. For psychology every measurement is only a means to qualitative analysis. Experiment must not take the place of self-observation, but only offer more exact conditions for self-observation. Closely connected with that is the fact that experimental psychology is too little in touch with the mental sciences, especially with philosophy and pedagogics. To be sure the boundaries between psychology and philosophy are not to be destroyed and philosophy ought never to pass over into mere psychology, but it is also necessary that the choice of psychological questions should recognize the needs of philosophy in a higher degree. If psychology unites with physiology in order to cut loose from philosophy, it must lose more than it can gain.

And above all, the range of problems for psychological laboratories is still too limited ; it stands too much under the influence of the more or less accidental starting-points. It started several decades ago with the psycho-physiological studies in sensation, psycho-physical relations and reaction-times; one objects, not wholly without justice, that it has really advanced scarcely a step, and that these problems can be solved just as well in physiological laboratories. Every one becomes impatient with a science which, as if in hypnotic fascination, stares constantly at only one single problem out of the endlessly great circle of its possibilities. Experimental psychology will come to investigate the entire circle of psychological problems and push the centre of interest in experimental work from the half-physiological questions to the higher psychological problems or it will degenerate into a superficial scholastic sport. Everything depends, not upon the figures, but upon the analysis; not upon the precise instruments, but upon the right questions. [p. 12]



The first annual meeting of the American Psychological Association was held at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 27 and 28, 1892.

Of the thirty-one members of the Association eighteen were in attendance at the various meetings. Those absent were

Angell, Frank

James, William

Patrick, G. J. W.

Cowles, Edward

Noyes, Wm.

Royce, Josiah

Delabarre, E. B.

Mills, J. Wesley[*]

Scripture, E. W.

Dewey, John

Ormond, A. J.

Wolfe, H. K.

Gilman, B. I.




The meeting of the Council was held in the morning of December 27th at which G. Stanley Hall was nominated President of the Association for the ensuing year, George T. Ladd, Vice-President, and Joseph Jastrow, Secretary and Treasurer. These nominations were submitted to the general meeting and the officers elected.

The reading of papers was then begun according to programme, excepting that Dr. Nichols substituted his second paper for his first, and that in addition papers were presented by Dr. Aiken on 'An Analysis of Cause,' and by Mr. Davis for Mr. Chamberlain on 'The Relation between Psychology and Anthropology.'

Before the meeting adjourned it was moved and adopted that arrangements be made for printing an account of the proceedings of the meeting in the American Journal of Psychology. A vote of thanks was tendered to Prof. Fullerton and to those who acted as hosts and had administered to the comfort and entertainment of the members.

Invitations were received from the Historical Society of Philadelphia for a reception to be held on the evening of December 28th, and also from the American Society of University Extension to attend its first meeting to be held the same evening.

The invitation of Prof. Cattell to meet at Columbia College, December 27 and 28, 1893, was accepted.

The question of holding a Psychological Congress in Chicago in [p. 13] connection with the World's Congress Auxiliary was discussed at considerable length. Information was received that a Psychological Section would be welcomed in connection with the Philosophical Congress, with the Educational Congress, and with the Anthropological Congress. The possibility of a separate congress was also considered. It was finally decided that the Association as such should not take part in any of the congresses, but leave the members free to place their allegiance where they thought best.

The Council at various meetings discussed the plans for a permanent organization, but did not prepare a final constitution. For the guidance of the Council in the future the following regulations were adopted. These were to be regarded as in effect in so far as the continuance of the Association depended upon them.

Name.-- The name of the Association shall be the American Psychological Association.

Council.-- The government of the Association shall be vested in a Council of seven or more, one of whom shall be designated as Chairman, and another as Secretary. These together with a member from the place of meeting shall constitute an Executive Committee of the Council. No more than one member from any institution shall have a seat in the Council.

Membership.-- The right of nomination for membership is reserved to the Council, the election to be made by the Association. The members shall pay annually three dollars as dues to the Treasurer.

Offcers.-- There shall be elected annually a President, Vice-President, and a Secretary and Treasurer; the President to act as Chairman of the Council, and the Secretary as its Secretary.

Business.-- All communications should be addressed to the Secretary and by him transmitted to the Council or to the Executive Committee.

The Council nominated for membership the following:

Armstrong, A. C., Jr.,

Wesleyan University.

Butler, Nicholas Murray,

Columbia College.

Gardiner, H. N.,

Smith College.

MacDonald, Arthur,

Washington, D. C.

Mead, Geo. H.,

Ann Arbor.

Marshall, H. R.,

New York City.

Murray, James C.,[**]

McGill College.

Newbold, William Romaine,

University of Pennsylvania.

Peirce, Charles S.,

Milford, Pennsylvania.

Schurman, J. G.,

Cornell University.

Strong, C. A.,

University of Chicago.


[p. 14]

The Council also invited President Schurman to a place in the Council.

All have signified their acceptance of the nominations.

The receipts and expenses of the Association are as follows:

Received from members' dues...............………….. $63.00


Expenses for printing circulars....... $5.75
Postage .................…………....... 2.20
Clerical work and stationery......…. 1.90
Programme……………………… 2.85


Balance on hand ...............…………………........ $50.30


[*] Classics Editor's note: In all probability, this was supposed to have been T. Wesley Mills, a comparative psychologist at McGill University in Montréal, and later author of "The nature of animal intelligence and the methods of investigating it." (1899, Psychological Review, 6, 262-274).

[**] Classics Editor's note: In all probability, this is supposed to have been John C. Murray, McGill's well-known mental and moral philosopher.