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Psychology Subdisciplines:History and Systems
At the end of the nineteenth century, when the discipline of psychology was emerging as a scientific discipline, William James (1842-1910) published his dense text The Principles of Psychology (1890), in which he drew from philosophy, biology, and psychology to explicate his original (and influential) ideas about human self and experience. James's understanding of experience was informed by his appreciation of the natural world. According to biographer, Daniel Bjork (1997), James " found natural settings indispensable to his creative life" and once " attributed creative insight to the natural scene and mood that catalyzed his thinking in an isolated wilderness camp high in the Adirondacks" (p. 67). Bjork tells the story of James's adventures on a scientific expedition in Brazil in 1865 with anti-Darwinian Harvard professor Louis Agassiz. During the expedition, James wrote to his brother from a rainforest glade that he dubbed the " Original Seat of the Garden of Eden, "
I almost thought my enjoyment of nature had entirely departed, but here she strikes such massive and stunning blows as to overwhelm the coarsest apprehension... The bewildering profusion and confusion of vegetation, the inexhaustible variety of its forms and tints... are literally such as you have never dreamt of.[Bjork, 1997, pp. 61-62]
More than thirty years later, and a decade after he published Principles, James (1899) wrote an essay entitled, " On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings. "James begins the essay with the statement, " OUR judgments concerning the worth of things, big or little, depend on the feelings the things arouse in us. " He goes on to address the lack of empathy humans exhibit regarding the feelings of " creatures and people different from ourselves. " He claims that recognizing the connections between all living things is a means to finding significance in life. He refers to the Romantic poets Wordsworth and Shelley and transcendentalists Emerson and Whitman as he makes the argument that rapturous sessions spent reflecting on the natural world are not the waste of time that they might seem when viewed from the abstract perspective of the highly educated class, or when evaluated in terms of commercial value. James claims that by reconnecting with nature on a primal sensory level, humans are able to tap into a profound appreciation of the meaningfulness of all forms of existence,
The remedy under such conditions is to descend to a more profound and primitive level. To be imprisoned or shipwrecked or forced into the army would permanently show the good of life to many an over-educated pessimist. Living in the open air and on the ground, the lop-sided beam of the balance slowly rises to the level line; and the over-sensibilities and insensibilities even themselves out. The good of all the artificial schemes and fevers fades and pales; and that of seeing, smelling, tasting, sleeping, and daring and doing with one's body, grows and grows. The savages and children of nature, to whom we deem ourselves so much superior, certainly are alive where we are often dead.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and other evolutionary theorists had a significant impact on the field of psychology.In 1909, the journal Psychological Review published four articles commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species.James Rowland Angell's essay in the volume, " Darwin's Contribution to Psychology" suggests that Darwin's " radical theories" were easily accepted by psychologists and had a " potent influence" on the functional and genetic approaches in psychology.Angell highlights Darwin's contributions to three primary content areas in psychology: the interaction of instinct and intelligence, the evolution of the " mind of civilized man, " and the expression of emotion. The field of psychology witnessed a resurgence in interest in the evolutionary perspective in the early 1990s; this revival proved controversial and provocative because some critics saw it as representing a potential return to unpopular ideas such as Social Darwinism, biological determinism, eugenics, and the like.Supporters of the evolutionary perspective suggest that it is progressive, not regressive, in that an acceptance of the fundamental biological nature of human beings and their evolved predispositions will allow us to better understand behavior in all its complexity (e. g., Pinker, 2002).Recently, a few scholars have applied an evolutionary perspective to the understanding of human behaviors that contribute to environmental problems (e. g., Gardner & Stern, 2002; Penn & Mysterud, 2005; Wilson, Daly, & Gordon, 1998).
The American Psychological Association hosts a searchable electronic database of important dates in the history of psychology compiled by Professor Warren R. Street.Some of the relevant dates to be found in the database include the following:
Donald Dewsbury (1990) describes how the contemporary conflict between animal researchers and animal welfare advocates can be traced back almost 200 years. He describes the Victorian era anti-vivesectionist movement that developed from, and in response to, the humane movement in England that had spurred the creation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Similar movements and legislative efforts to restrict animal research arose in the United States shortly thereafter. Dewsbury describes the conflicted position of many British evolutionists, including Charles Darwin, who simultaneously held a deep love for animals and also a strong belief in the benefits of animal research. Darwin was a staunch opponent of animal cruelty but a supporter of vivesection. William James had similarly complex attitudes, referring to vivesection as a " painful duty. " Dewsbury provides several examples of researchers and university administrators who were attacked by the media during the antivivisection movement, just as they are today by animal rights advocates; early targets included G. Stanley Hall, John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and Edward Thorndike. The APA Committee on Animal Experimentation was formed in 1924. Dewsbury suggests that although the animal rights movement today is much broader than the anti-vivesection movement of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, the criticisms voiced by animal advocates are very similar: animal research is unnecessary because alternatives are available, animal research involves pain and suffering, and animal researchers are more concerned about career ambitions than animal welfare. In both time periods, scientists have argued against these claims. See Baldwin (1993) and Bowd and Shapiro (1993) for essays for and against animal research in psychology.
In 1982, B. F. Skinner gave a presentation to the American Psychological Association entitled, " Why we are not acting to save the world. " The talk was published in 1987 in his book Upon Further Reflection. (See Rumph, Ninness, McCuller, & Ninness, 2005, for a reflection on where we are 20 years after Skinner delivered his talk.) As students learn about Skinner and behaviorism, instructors can include information about Skinner's take on the environmental crisis. In his talk Skinner criticized efforts of environmental (and other) social activist groups as not consistent with operant learning principles.
Many organizations are dedicated to the prevention of nuclear war, overpopulation, and the exhaustion and destruction of a livable environment, but their protests are necessarily directed toward governments, religions and economic systems, and there they stop. Moreover, the principal modus operandi of these organizations is to frighten people, rather than offer them a world to which they will turn because of the reinforcing consequences of doing so (Skinner, 1987, p. 13).
Skinner titled his 1948 utopian novel about a world based on behaviorist priniciples, Walden Two, after transcendentalist nature writer Henry David Thoreau's (1854) Walden; or, Life in the Woods , an autobiographical account of his two-year experiment in " simple living. " Students may be interested in visiting the websites of two intentional communities inspired by Skinner's novel: Twin Oaks in Virginia and Los Horcones in Sonora, Mexico.
Division 34 of the American Psychological Association is dedicated to research on topics related to human population and the natural and built environments. (Click here for the Division's website). The APA Council of Representatives admitted Division 34 on August 30, 1973. Social psychologist Vaida Thompson was the first divisional president. In recent years, the division has been in flux as it works to reconcile the various research areas that fall under its jurisdiction, including the growing field of psychology related to the natural environment (see next topic). For an in-depth discussion of the history of Division 34, see Richards (2000).
"Matter in the wrong place is dirt. People got dirty through too much civilization. Whenever we touch nature, we get clean."- Carl Jung
Ecopsychology emerged in the early 1990s as a theoretical perspective and applied approach focused on the psychological implications of the bond between humans and nonhuman nature. A fundamental tenet among ecopsychologists is that the disconnect between humans and nonhuman nature that is typical in modern industrial cultures is unhealthy for humans and, subsequently, harmful to the planet. For overviews of ecopsychology, see Schroll (2003), Fisher (2002), Scull (1999), and Boston (1996). Ecopsychology is a rich topic to address in a History & Systems course because it is an example of what can happen when scholars within our discipline are inspired to break out of the dominant paradigms and infuse their work with ideas from other intellectual and cultural traditions. Ecopsychological theory and practice is informed by philosophical perspectives such as deep ecology and phenomenology, spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, the transcendental writings of authors such as Thoreau and Emerson, and the life practices of indigenous cultures around the world. Within the discipline of psychology, ecopsychologists connect primarily with the work of Carl Jung (e. g., Aizenstat, 1995; Sabini, 2002; Yunt, 2001), Gestalt psychology (e. g., Cahalan, 1995; Swanson, 1995 ), and the Humanist and Transpersonal traditions (e. g., Davis, 1998; Kuhn, 2001; Reser, 1995; see also Ilene Serlin's Division 32 presidential address available here). Because of its diverse intellectual heritage, and because it is currently not empirically grounded, ecopsychology exists on the fringes of today's mainstream psychology discipline.
Contemporary developments in psychology will be tomorrow's history of psychology. Students of history and systems of psychology benefit from considering the future trajectories of the field. One such emerging development is the discipline of Conservation Psychology (CS). Carol Saunders's (2003) paper on CS and the numerous responses that follow it in the special issue of Human Ecology Review bring up many interesting questions about what shape this discipline may take. Questions include whether the discipline will reside within psychology or will be a multi-disciplinary endeavor that includes psychology. For more on CP, see the July/August 2005 issue of the APA's Monitor on Psychology article on " A closer look at Division 34: The call of the wild" and Carol Saunders's CP website at http://www.conservationpsychology.org.
The American Psychological Association has a history of engagement in public policy and politics. In 2008, the APA's Council of Representatives initiated the Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change. Chaired by Pennsylvania State University psychologist Janet Swim, Ph. D., the task force was comprised of members appointed by APA president Alan Kazdin, Ph. D.: Susan Clayton, Ph. D., College of Wooster; Thomas Doherty, Psy. D., Sustainable Self, LLC; Robert Gifford, Ph. D., University of Victoria; George Howard, Ph. D., University of Notre Dame; Joseph Reser, Ph. D., Griffith University; Paul Stern, Ph. D., National Academies of Science; and Elke Weber, Ph. D., Columbia University. At the August, 2009 meeting of the APA, in Toronto, the task force presented its report, Psychology and global climate change: Addressing a multi-faceted phenomenon and set of challenges. Click for the executive summary and the complete report .Class Activities
Students of History & Systems are commonly assigned to research a subdiscipline of psychology and present their findings in a formal paper and/or oral presentation. The areas of Environmental Psychology and Ecopsychology both offer interesting histories with connections to schools of thought and historical figures that students are likely to encounter in the History & Systems course.
As described above, several prominent individuals in the history of psychology have interesting connections to the world of nonhuman nature and environmental issues. For this assignment, students write an " environmental biography" of an individual addressed in their text or in class. Good choices for historical subjects include William James, Carl Jung, Edmund Husserl, Jean Piaget, B. F. Skinner, and others. (Good choices for contemporary subjects are the scholars who feature prominently on this website). Basic questions to guide students' research could include the following:
This site is a searchable calendar hosted by the American Psychological Association.
Aizenstat, S. (1995). Jungian psychology and the world unconscious. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D. Kanner (Eds.) Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 92-100). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Boston, T. (1996). Ecopsychology: An earth-psyche bond. Trumpeter. Available electronically at http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/rt/printerfriendly/269/402.
James, W. (1899/2001). On a certain blindness in human beings. In Talks to teachers on psychology and to students on some of life's ideals. Mineaola, NY: Dover. Also available online here.
Saunders, C. D. (2003). The emerging field of conservation psychology. Human Ecology Review, 10, 137-149.REFERENCES CITED IN THIS SECTION
Aizenstat, S. (1995). Jungian psychology and the world unconscious. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, &
A. D. Kanner (Eds.) Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 92-100). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Angell, J. R. (1909). Darwin's influence on psychology. Psychological Review, 16, 152-169.
Baldwin, E. (1993). The case for animal research in psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 121-131.
Bowd, A., & Shapiro, K. J. (1993). The case against laboratory animal research in psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 133-142.
Bjork, D. W. (1997). William James: The center of his vision. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Boston, T. (1996). Ecopsychology: An earth-psyche bond. Trumpeter. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/rt/printerfriendly/269/402.
Cahalan, W. (1995). The earth is our real body: Cultivating ecological groundedness in Gestal therapy, Gestalt Journal, 18, 99-100.
Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. Humanistic Psychologist, 26, 51-67.
Dewsbury, D. (1990). Early interactions between animal psychologists and animal activists and the founding of the APA Committee on Precautions in Animal Experimentation. American Psychologist, 45, 315-327.
Fisher, A. (2002). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. New York: State University of New York Press.
Gardner, G.T., & Stern, P.C. (2002). Environmental problems and human behavior (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
James, W. (1899/1912). On some of life's ideals: On a certain blindness in human beings: What makes a life significant (pp. 3-46). New York: Henry Holt & Co.
James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt.
Kuhn, J. (2001). Toward an ecological humanistic psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41, 9-24.
Penn, D., & Mysterud, I. (Eds.) (2005). Evolutionary perspectives on environmental problems (Evolutionary foundations of human behavior). Somerset, NJ: Aldine Transaction.
Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Viking.
Reser, J. P. (1995). Whither environmental psychology? The transpersonal ecopsychology crossroads. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 235-257.
Richards, J. M., Jr. (2000). A history of Division 34: The division of population and environmental psychology. In D. A. Dewsbury (Ed.) Unification through division, histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association, (Vol. 5, pp. 113-136). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rumph, R., Ninness, C., McCuller, G., & Ninness, S. K. (2005). Guest editorial: Twenty years later, commentary on Skinner's "Why We Are Not Acting to Save the World." Behavior and Social Issues, 14, 1-6.
Sabini, M. (Ed.) (2002). The Earth has a soul: The nature writings of C.G. Jung. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Saunders, C. D. (2003). The emerging field of conservation psychology. Human Ecology Review, 10, 137-149.
Schroll, M. A. (2003). Remembering ecopsychology's origins: A chronicle of meetings, conversations, and significant publications. Gatherings: Journal of the International Community for Ecopsychology [online]. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from http://www.ecopsychology.org/journal/ezine/ep_origins.html.
Scull, J. (1999). Ecopsychology: Where does it fit in psychology? Online verion of paper presented at the annual psychology conference, Malaspina University College, March 26, 1999. Retrieved August 16, 2006 from http://members.shaw.ca/jscull/ecointro.htm.
Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan.
Skinner, B. F. (1987). Upon further reflection. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Swanson, J. (1995). The call for Gestalt's contribution to ecopsychology: Figuring in the environmental field. Gestalt Journal, 18, 47-85.
Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden; or, Life in the woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
Wilson M., Daly M., & Gordon S. (1998) The evolved psychological apparatus of human decision-making is one source of environmental problems. In T Caro (Ed.), Behavioral ecology and conservation biology (pp.501-523). New York: Oxford University Press.
Yunt, J. D. (2001). Jung's contribution to an ecological psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41, 96-121.