Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3173

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The Experimental Psychology Laboratory of the University of Madison [*]

M. Henry de Varigny (1894)

First published in Revue Scientifique, vol. 1, tome 1, 624-629.

©2000, Christopher D. Green
All rights reserved.

Posted August, 2000

The laboratory which this is about, founded and directed by Mr. Joseph Jastrow, which is not unknown to our readers, was displayed in the galleries of the ugly building [vilaine bâtisse] -- I almost said hut [baraque]-- which, in Chicago, last year, gave shelter to anthropological science. In this building one found all sorts of things [de tout un peu], in the most complete disorder. Beside the very interesting anthropological exhibits, relating to mound builders and cliff dwellers, were displayed the models of the rooms of perfected affluence [cabinets d'aisances perfectionnés] -- the last "cry" of the room of affluence [cabinet d'aisances] -- and not far from serious ethnographic collections, one could see "the only perfect filter" exhibited with a very American commercial understanding, united with a most perfect contempt for the truth, while further on lounged a model of an electric chair, between a fake mammoth and a collection of exotic butterflies. It was chaos; but in this uniform junk pile [amas] there were a few diamonds: it was all about having the patience to search. The psychology laboratory was not very easy to find. Relegated to the galleries, it occupied two small separated rooms, where the crowd hardly went. Chance led me there: but I knew of its existence, and what chance had not done this day, will had achieved the day after. I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Joseph Jastrow, and, with him, to examine his installation over a whole afternoon. It is only fair to thank him for the pains he took: after so many analogous visits, after so many repetitions, it would have been excusable to have hidden. Having not visited the psychology laboratories of Germany, I had never seen a similar meeting of instruments and methods, and the installation of Mr. Jastrow must be considered one of many fortunate innovations. What was more ingenious still, was the idea of offering to the public an examination to anyone who desired it, in the middle of the displayed equipment, and of giving them the results of the averaging examination for the modest sum of 2 fr. 50. The examination lasted for something like two hours, it was not a matter of money, one would guess.

The goal was to show the methods and, by them, to collect the largest amount of new data possible, despite the grave inconvenience of operating in a room where the public circulates without end, questioning and distracting. The examination consisted of a series of successive psycho-physical tests. To save time, and not to have to resort without end to possibly fruitless attempts to discover transitions in passing from one subject to another, I will proceed by simple enumeration.

1. One is seated in front of a table and puts one's hand behind a small screen; it encounters there five small horizontal bars that it covers and feels successively. This done, one indicates, by placing in each bar a small peg [cheville] (numbered 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, with 5 designated beforehand as the longest) the relative lengths that these bars seems to have. The extreme lengths are 150 and 219 millimeters, the progression being of one-tenth each time. This test is then renewed with a series where the progression is one-twentieth. This is called judging lengths by the movements of the fingers, and it is the muscular consciousness, the consciousness of effort produced by the contraction of the muscles that furnishes the elements of estimation.

2. This time it is a matter of judging differences in weight. [p. 625] Here is a series of five small cubes of the same dimensions and appearance, weighing 300, 320 341.3, 364.1 and 388.4 grams (proportion increasing by one fifteenth): another series goes from 310 to 342 grams, with proportion increasing by one thirtieth. It is a matter of taking one after the other each cube between thumb and forefinger and arranging them in order of weight, having worked through the series once. Here the muscular sense and the sensitivity to pressure both come into play.

3. Tactile sensitivity. This is Weber's experiment: it is a matter of knowing how much space there must be between two points, pressing always in an identical fashion on the skin, for there to be the perception of exactly double. One knows that on many parts of the body this perception is very obtuse: on the neck, for example, one senses only one point when the two are as far [près] as two centimeters to each other: the tongue by contrast distinguishes two points when there is not a twenty-fifth of a centimeter distance between them. However, one cannot enter into the details of this study which would demand that the subject undress to examine the sensitivity of the back, the thighs, the abdominal region, and which has the sensitivity of the tip of the index finger. On average, one first distinguishes two points when the spacing is 2.5 millimeters. For this test one employs a series of small aesthesiometers with fixed spacing, varying between 1 and 6 millimeters for example, by half-millimeters; their pressure is always identical.

4. Evaluation of differences in the roughness of surfaces. Rolling -- about a small board, for example -- wire of different sizes, one obtains a surface unequally rough formed by the juxtaposition of the mentioned [desdits[sic]] wires. The finer the wire, the smoother the surface seems. Here there are five surfaces to evaluate, formed by wires the smallest of which has a caliber of 0.125cm, and the others have calibers that increase by a quarter; in another series, the starting point is the same, but the successive differences in caliber are less, an eighth. The subject begins, like always, with a series of the less fine, and passing the forefinger of the right hand across five holes in a curtain or screen; he feels each kind without being able to see it, and this done, he indicates the order in which he believes the different surfaces should be classified from the point of view of roughness. After this, he does the same procedure for the fine series. One could also use fabrics of different textures, but the employment of wire offers the advantage that the objective differences allow for exact and numerical experimentation, which would be difficult with fabric.

5. A last test of cutaneous sensitivity consists in compressing a finger into an apparatus formed essentially of a rubber [mousse] point affixed [buttant] to a spring. The apparatus is graduated and indicates the pressure applied in quarters of kilograms: The operator pressing it on the finger of the subject (palm side of the phalanx of the right middle finger) up to the point where the subject reports pain. This is the test of the sensitivity to pain. But it is quite vague, the pain, it is quite relative... I am well-acquainted [bien aperçu] -- many times -- with the experience: On the first test one is much more comfortable than on the second: this is not to say that on the tenth one would be moved to embrace the profession of martyrdom, and on the second one accepts very willingly a pressure sensibly greater to that which at first seemed at the limit of sensations the one tolerates of one's own free will. But there is no reason to for the sensitivity to pain to be a thing fixed and constant; it can vary in the same subject like to varies from one subject to another. On average, women have had enough [se tient pour satisfaite] -- that is to say the unpleasantness begins -- at 5.2000 kg.; men are more enduring, and go on average up to 6.600 kg. Still it must not be said that he is more enduring; we do not know that: perhaps he is only less sensitive, among other possibilities. This apparatus was conceived of by Mr. Cattell, professor at Columbia College.

6. Here one passes to the study of motor aptitudes. Preliminary information is furnished by a small apparatus consisting in an electric interpreter. For the subject, it is a matter of interrupting the current as many times as he can during the following 15 seconds, by alternately pushing and lifting a finger -- the wrist being fixed in a splint. A signal registers the number of movements on a small recorder. On average the figure is 69 but it varies widely: for two-thirds of subjects it oscillates between 57 and 81. One sometimes assesses this aptitude by counting the notes that can be played by a pianist, but the system here is preferable.

7. To know the aptitude of the muscular sense -- in one of its applications at least -- one has recourse to the test here. On a sheet of paper 37 centimeters in length placed on the table, one is to make five equidistant points. One starts by placing the point of the pencil on the left side of the sheet, and closes one's eyes: then five times in a row one lifts the pencil to then lower it and mark a point. Motor sensitivity is the only guide, for the hand must not rest on the paper: otherwise the tactile sensitivity would aid in equalizing the placement of these. The average divergence, the average difference among the distances separating the points is 10.4 per 100 using the experiments conducted thus far, and, it must be added, in conditions that might come to be indicated, for this difference might be the greatest, or the least, if the average spacing was in some way imposed by the length of the sheet of paper being otherwise, if the experiment was made with narrower or wider sheets. At least, this seems to be probable.

8. Here, it is a matter of reproducing lines of given lengths. The subject contemplates the models -- what are approximately [p. 626] 2.5, 5, and 7.5 centimeters in length -- one after another, one at a time. After having looked at the one shown, for a given time, the model is hidden, and the subject draws a line having -- to his sense -- the same length. Then it is the next line's turn. The average of these reproductions is the following:

(0.25) 25.6 mm. and 2/3 of the subject give lines having 22.5 to 29.5; (0.50) 49.7 mm. and 2/3 of the subjects give lines having 44.5 to 55.5; (0.75) 76.2 mm. and 2/3 of the subjects give lines having 68.0 to 85.5.

9. To know the degree to which the subject possesses a reliable control and a certain finesse in handling things, in the muscular domain, one asks this test to give a measure of his aptitude at aiming. He takes in hand a pencil and it is a matter of trying to touch a small cross drawn on paper at 45 centimeters distance. Under this paper there is a sheet of tracing paper and a white sheet, of a sort that a registration of the touched point is made each time, and the error, as well as the direction of the error is apparent. The lower end of the pencil is surrounded with a kind of collar perpendicular to its axis, which makes it so the subject never sees where his pencil goes, and does not know if he aimed true or not. The test is repeated ten times, of course without telling him where he erred, nor even if he erred.

10. Division of lengths. One presents to the subject a surface of black felt, 40 centimeters long, with three white movable bands: one asks him to divide the length into two or three, the bands in front serving to make the separation, the limits. To judge the error, one attaches a ruler of the same length the back of the surface, hidden from the view of the subject.

11. One returns to the muscular sense. The two index fingers are placed side by side, on a length of iron wire: the eyes closed (or better, the hands hidden by a screen) he must separate his two hands the same distance, in opposite directions, from the length of wire: with finger poised on the starting point, and with a graduated ruler, the experimenter (opérateur) quickly measures the difference. The separation is rarely identical for the two sides, but Mr. Jastrow has not made known to us the average, normal figure.

12. Always the muscles: but there must be the cooperation of sight. One presents to the subject a piece of paper containing five small crosses, one at the center, and four at the corners of an imaginary square having the first at the center. It is a matter of, starting at the central cross, drawing a line straight to the other crosses; a collar at the bottom of the pencil again prevents one from seeing the point. By this experiment, one can gain some idea of the aptitude for aiming, do the firmness of the hand, and of the dense of direction. Mr. Jourdain[**] would find perhaps that this makes a lot of a very insignificant phenomenon, but his philosophy teacher would disabuse him of this without delay.

13. The subject, who is patient and full of good will, need I say it (he has paid and wants value for his money, even when this satisfaction is accompanied by some pain: one only really appreciates this when one had paid...) the subject being perhaps fatigued "in the muscles" one goes on to test in another fashion. It is a matter again of appreciating differences in length. One takes successive looks at five cards each containing a line of a different length, and once he has looked well at all five, he has to indicate the order in which he decides to classify them in an ascending or descending series, in recording as 5 the touch corresponding to the card containing the line he judged to be the longest, and 1 the touch corresponding to the line judged the shortest. The shortest line is 5 centimeters in length, and the others increase in the proportion of 1/20. On average, thre are 72 people in 100 who chose with full success in this test, but in the next experiment, where the lines are only different by one fortieth, the proportion falls to 35.

14. New test on the appreciation of lengths; but it is about of lengths in the four directions and no longer in a single one like the previous experiment. The procedure is moreover very different. One presents to the subject a sheet of paper containing the image of a cross on one arm of which is found a mark at the distance of 50 millimeters from the center. It is a matter of drawing a mark on the three other arms, at the same distance from the center. The arms of this cross are of unequal length, and placed asymmetrically, which is not lacking in a little more trouble for the subject. The errors are measured to the nearest half millimeter. If I understand well a figure [signe] which is a little cabalistic, the average error is 4.8 more (more than 9 per 100): but one does not say in which direction the error is the most frequent or the greatest.

15. The fifteenth test is not of a nature to rest the fatigued brain of the visitor who, after 6 or 8 hours devoted to visiting the Exposition, will have the idea of "being examined." With a vertical bar and two horizontals (one above and one below, and of unequal lengths) one forms 25 different figures or drawings. A sheet of paper having been divided into 200 small squares, by crossing lines, one reproduces in each of the squares one or another of the these figures, in no determinate order. One shows the subject one of these figures, drawn separately: it is a matter then of marking on the sheet of two hundred squares all the figures that match identically with the model, in the course of an examination that lasts 90 seconds. One counts the errors and the successes; on average there are 7.7 successes (4 and 8.5 are the extremes) and 3.4 errors (extremes 0 and 7.5). What is tested by this experiment is, in the end, the aptitude to perceive small differences in form and in length, and above all to hold a neat mental image. [p. 627]

16. The next test depends on the rapidity of perception, and also on its finesse. The subject looks at a black vertical sheet on which a shutter suddenly opens, leaving to be discovered for a twentieth of a second a white backing (fond) in which are some black points, or some black and red points, or some words, after which it flips closed again. He must give as best he can (autant que possible) the number of points (large like peas) and their color, or be able to report the words. Robert Houdin, if I recall, recounted somewhere many exercises to increases the rapidity of perception, and suggested very simple experiments to be done, in the street for example, for learning to take in, in a glance, the most detail possible.

17. We stay in the same domain. The subject looks at a vertical screen where, filing past an opening, are many cards displaying words and numbers: he must afterward write down all the figures and words that he can remember having seen, and in the same order as they were presented, if possible. This test indicates the extent of memory and the time of presentation that is sufficient for exact perception.

18. To test memory once more, the subject is asked to reproduce the length of lines that he had seen in test 8; error is in the same direction and is larger in this one.

19. The subject arrives before a small curtain; this is lowered suddenly and it is a matter of discovering as fast as possible and of touching with a finger a white, movable button, placed at a point in any of the sectors representing the one sixth of the circumference of a circle of about 90 centimeters in diameter. The fall of the curtain triggers the activation of a chronoscopic pendulum: in touching the button the subject stops the pendulum cold (net). The time taken searching for the object and the movement of the hand is measured to the nearest hundredth of a second. The test is repeated six times in a row. It indicates the time necessary to localize a known object in a given field, and to put one's hand on it: there is here the measure of a psychical process and of a physiological process at the same time. This apparatus was conceived by Mr. Fitz, of Harvard University.

20. Simple reaction time to a sound, to a light, to touch, measure of the time it takes the subject to indicate that he has seen a white point on a black screen, sensed a small tap [coup sur] on the back of his hand, or heard the sound of a bell. The start of the phenomenon automatically puts into action a chronoscope, and the reaction stops it. The average is 15 hundredths of a second.

21. One then complicates the thing: the subject must respond to each of two possible excitations by a special reaction: if he is touched on the left shoulder, he reacts with the right hand, and reciprocally, touched on the right shoulder, he reacts with the left hand. Average: 30 hundredths of a second.

22. New complication: the choice must be made not just between the two, but between five excitations. The subject sees a screen through an opening on which appears the figures 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5: for each figure he must press a different button. One measures the perception time and the choice time. Average: 40 hundredths of a second. This test can be varied, colors can be substituted for numbers, and the apparatus can serve to measure the time necessary for naming a represented object, for making an addition, an association, etc. In the previous case, one must do many tests.

23. One shows ten words in short exposures [imprimés]: one measures the time necessary to copy them all.

24. Again ten words: one measures the time necessary to transcribe each of them one after another [tour à tour] and write another word suggested by association. In comparing the result of this experiment with those of the previous experiment, one can measure up to a certain point the time taken for the association of ideas.

25. One submits to the subject a list of ten words, or better, ten simple images. Once he has seen one or the other, one gives him a sheet on which are found the same words or images mixed with others, in triple the proportion, and one measures the time he takes to find and mark these words and images. One complicates the test by asking a little later for him to point them out on a sheet containing the forty words or images, plus twenty new ones which were already seen in the preceding test. The experiment gives some indication of the speed of perception and the vivacity of memory.

26. Finally come many tests destined to provide evidence for the different qualities of the visual sense. First of all one examines the acuity of sight by making him look at a distance of five meters at a series of rings [anneaux] or circular figures of which some are complete and other incomplete in diverse ways, being broken [interrompus] here or there in one or many places; he points out [dessine] what he sees and by that one judges the acuity of his sight, the rings coming in many series and of different dimensions. Then it is a matter, at a distance of five meters, of indicating the number of breaks in each group [le nombre des points composant des groups]; the breaks [points] have variable dimensions naturally. Further away, a black disk has on its circumference twenty-eight colored circular patches [taches], and at the center is found a small window where one can make to appear other patches of color. It is a matter of indicating which color on the periphery it is that is identical to the color shown in the central window, and by that one puts the color sense to the test, because there are no more that ten shades on the one hand, and on the other twenty-eight, of which only ten are identical to those which appear successively at the center.

Finally, nine shades of gray, arranged irregularly on a board are shown to the subject, each one bearing [p. 628] a number: the subject, to whom is shown a shade similar to one of the nine looks for the exact match.

After this series of tests, which occupy a full two hours -- and one will not be surprised -- the examination ends. One gives [remet] to the subject a card which bears his notes -- his errors, -- so to speak the record [l'indication] of the measures obtained on each test; and, in the cases in which the previous experiments permits to give an average figure of some stability [constance], this figure is given in parentheses -- it is a printed card of about 35 by 15 centimeters -- and, at the end, he can judge if he is around the average, or if he is different [écarte], in which direction he deviates. These records are preserved in duplicate, each experience adding to the sum of the acquired records, and I do not doubt that Mr. Jastrow and his collaborators use the data in this collection day by day. The only information asked of the subject is: sex, age, birthplace (and that of the parents), state of health (past and present), indicated by good, fairly good [assez bon], mediocre, profession (and that of the father), institution where one studied, and number of order that one occupies with respect to brothers and sisters.

Such was the installation of the Laboratory of experimental psychology. But it had not only the apparatus and experiments of which I have spoken, for interest of the reader: one found in the neighboring rooms quantities of apparatus of all kinds for the study of physiological psychology, and I do not never think that ever, up to now, a similar collection has been put before the eyes of the public. All that has been imagined, in Germany or in France, as well as in the United States, is found together there. There can be no question here of entering in detail into the enumeration of these instruments. Some have been known for a long time, such as the instruments of Helmholtz, Knig, Savart, Hering, Galton, Snellen, Bowditch, Charles Henry; others, due principally to Elbs, Muensterberg, and some others are described in special publications, where the interested know they are to be found. If I want to point out [signaler] one particularly, not that it isn't [ce n'est poin tqu'il ait rien de] quite extraordinary, but it raised great interest in the public. This is the automatograph of Mr. Jastrow. It is, in total, a sheet of glass carried on the metal marbles [billes en métal] free and very mobile as a consequence, extending itself into a kind of small support carrying a vertical point which is placed in contact with a sheet covered by blackened paper in such a way that every movement of the sheet of glass is inscribed exactly on the paper. The subject places his hand on a sheet of glass, and every tendency of the hand, in any horizontal direction that it makes, is translated by a movement of the point on the paper, which is hidden from sight by a screen. With this automatograph, Mr. Jastrow has studied the influence of a number of external influences [circonstances] on the unconscious movements of the hand, which has been so frequently spoken of in recent years, -- since Cumberland has in various ways put the question to the test [á la mode] in his experiments in Paris, -- and he has revealed and published different curious graphs. One sees very clearly from these that unconscious movements go [s'opèrent] in the direction that thought takes them. Put the subject before a moving metronome, asking him to concentrate his attention on the instrument: the graph consists of a zigzag a series of points toward the right and toward the left, indicating that the subject makes alternatively centrifugal and centripetal movements just like the metronome. Place the metronome to the right, for example, at some distance; the line representing the involuntary movement heads toward the right generally [dans son ensemble]. Mr. Jastrow has also had the idea of transporting the metronome to the four corners of the room successively, leaving it the same period of time in each. The result has been a graph in a clear quadrilateral and quadrangular form, and, in observing this while it is produced, it was easy to see that when the metronome was first placed in front and to the left, the hand tended forward in a straight line; then when the metronome was moved front and to the right, it made a line from the left to the right -- only generally, it goes without saying [dans son ensemble, cela va de soi], because it is irregular in its details, with slight deviations [écarts légers] in all directions, -- at first; then, the instrument was placed behind and to the right, the hand came back towards the subject tracing a line parallel to the first and perpendicular to the second and, it was it easy to finish the quadrilateral by placing the metronome behind and to the left, the last line, perpendicular to the third and also the first, came almost to join with its origin. The demonstration is very elegant and, in many other experiments of this type, it has always been pertinent [topique]. It is important to recall that in this test the subject never sees the recorder, and that the experiment is continuous from beginning to end. Moreover, it is not very long; the metronome stays for 45 seconds in each of the four positions mentioned.

Among the numerous documents still accumulated in the small psychology room, there were also interesting documents concerning children. An observer had the idea of posing to a large number of children of different ages the same question, to which they responded taking all the time they wanted. The question was quite simple. It consisted of asking: "What is a house, a cat, a stone, a river, etc.?" It was always definitions of ordinary objects or things [d'objets ou d'êtres usuels], familiar things, that were asked for. The responses were curious. The consisted of a quantity of facts, and each child seemed to have had it in mind [à cur] to say all that he knew about each object. The girls did better than [l'emportent nettement sur] the boys in this type of definition, [p. 629] and as age increases (from 61/2 years to 14 years) the accumulation of details increases. Most of the features [caractéres] are drawn from function [utilité], from the use to which one puts these things, and philosophical definitions are very rare. This shows [C'est à mesure] that as age increases, the true definitions become more numerous.

It is interesting to see how much the study of experimental psychology has done to bring like-minded people together [a su réunir d'adhérents], in countries where studies of pure science are infinitely rare and where one generally appreciates only enterprises of direct utility, private or public. At this time, there is a school of psychology in the United States, still young, but that each day takes on more importance, and many Universities possess laboratories to which France has almost no counterparts [n'a presque rein à opposer]. This is due principally to Messrs. Jastrow and Muensterberg. Mr. Hugo Muensterberg, professor at Harvard University -- who I regret having missed during my trip to Boston, for I would have wanted to visit his installation about which he has told me a great deal, Mr. Muensterberg disciple of the German school, created at Harvard the best organized laboratory, judging by the list of apparatus that it contains, and by the photographs that depict the work rooms and the experimental courses. This is a research and teaching laboratory at the same time, and the students are initiated through practical exercises into the art of using the instruments put at the disposal, before putting them to their own personal research. One generally makes them conduct a certain number together, most of these experiments demanding the presence of many people. But I do not have precise data on the time used for teaching, nor on the experiments that they are made to do.

The Laboratory at Madison (University of Wisconsin) seems to yield little in material importance to that at Harvard [ne semble guère le céder pour l'importance du matériel à celui de Harvard]: it is from Madison, of which I have spoken, that come most of the instruments displayed at Chicago. There are other universities equipped with experimental psychology laboratories, such as Brown, Clark, Columbia, Cornell, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Torento[sic], Wellesley and Yale, but I have no other data on their resources than the photographs displayed at Chicago.

One can however get some idea of the development taking place in the United States in studies of experimental psychology by consulting the publications that are relevant to it. The United States possesses two periodical publications dedicated entirely to psychology: the American Journal of Psychology, which had existed for some years [qui compte déjà quleques années d'existence], and the Psychological Review which is just newly born [vient de naître], published by Messrs. Mckeen Cattell [sic] and Mark Baldwin, with the collaboration of many known experimenters: Messrs. Donaldson, Ladd, Muensterberg, James, Sully among others. With all the existing laboratories, it cannot be doubted that these collections, both highly interesting, will find original work with which to supply themselves. It must not be forgotten either than the Monist and Open Court, both published in Chicago, and which, by an involuntary irony, no doubt, in this essentially material city, deal only with metaphysics. The Monist has as director, Mr. Paul Carus, and in its January issue, for example, I found two articles by oriental members of the Parliament of religions, on the universality of truth and on the fundamental teachings of Buddhism; the others dealt with connections between Hellenic and Indian philosophy, of the monistic theory of the soul, of the unity of thought and object, of monism, etc. The Monist receives a regular correspondence from Paris, and frequently publishes articles by Europeans: Messrs. Romanes, A.R. Wallace, Delbuf, Ferrero, Lombroso, Lloyd Morgan, Binet, etc.

To the periodicals is attached some important work; Mr. Paul Carus has published on the brain and thought, and on the fundamental problems of metaphysics; Mr. W. James has published, over three years, a large and interesting treatise on psychology; Mr. Baldwin a volume on emotion and will, etc. All of these auger excellently for and presages the development of a serious and scientific philosophical school.


[*] Translator's note: I have tried to make this translation as literal as possible, even though this sometimes makes the English rendering somewhat clumsy. Where a literal rendering of the French has proven to be too awkward, I have tried to employ a more or less equivalent English word or phrase, and have included the original French word or phrase in square brackets as well.

[**] Translator's note: The reference here is to the main character of Molière's play, "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" (1670).