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The analogue lab simulated Pavlonian conditioning for teaching purposes. Dials were used to control stimuli such as the delivery of %u201Cmeat powder,%u201D and the instrument would provide data on the resulting %u201Csalivary response.%u201D
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The CHP is home to many unique photographs like this one, depicting experimental work at the Carnegie Nutrition Laboratory in the early 1900s.
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The Audio Collection at the CHP contains more than 4,000 recordings documenting the history of psychology through interviews, oral histories, presentations and radio programs.
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The Moving Image Collection at the CHP contains more than 3,000 reels of film documenting psychology%u2019s past.
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The CHP%u2019s Still Images Collection includes images of conferences and workshops, experimental settings, professional portraits and casual photographs. Pictured here: leading psychologists at Harvard in 1919.
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Previous page: Patented in 1905, the psychograph %u201Creads%u201D the bumps on a person%u2019s head to provide a personality reading. Below: The analogue lab simulated Pavlonian conditioning for teaching purposes. Dials were used to control stimuli such as the delivery of %u201Cmeat powder,%u201D and the instrument would provide data on the resulting %u201Csalivary response.%u201D Bottom:
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Color mixers were used in psychological research on color perception and discrimination. Disks containing different mixtures of color could be attached to the mixer to create different stimuli.
Take a mind-boggling tour at the Smithsonian-affiliated Center for the History of Psychology in Akron — and see some of the world’s most famous, infamous and downright weird psychology artifacts.
Hidden deep in the basement of the Polsky Building at the University of Akron was a fascinating world illustrating the evolution of psychology, where you could find rare home movies of Sigmund Freud batting fruit out of a tree with his cane, the billy clubs used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, and all sorts of antiquated, strangely named equipment — like a 1933 psychograph that measured the bumps on your head to calculate your personality and career prospects.
Since its founding in 1965 at UA, the Archives of The History of American Psychology (AHAP) — the world’s largest collection of material on psychology’s history — has been quietly accumulating underground, here in Akron.
Just recently, the collection was brought to the surface and renamed — with the grand opening of the Center for the History of Psychology. The world-renowned institution features original letters from the likes of Carl Jung, Harry Houdini, Albert Einstein and Helen Keller; a collection of rare books dating as far back as 1533; and a compilation of instruments and apparatuses with names like “pseudophone” and “acoumeter.”
To researchers around the world, the center is an indispensable resource, but to laymen like you and me visiting for the first time, it’s a window into a bizarre world that’s sure to surprise and fascinate even the least scholarly among us.
When I first stumbled upon the AHAP a few years back, I felt I’d discovered buried treasure. At the time, the AHAP was literally busting at the seams and needed more space, so director Dr. David Baker was fundraising feverishly to enable the AHAP to climb out of its 10,000-square-foot subterranean space and into a 75,000-square-foot building donated by Roadway Express. Thanks to the support of a number of foundations, individuals and corporations, Baker succeeded and opened the doors to the new center in August 2010.
I recently took a guided tour with Baker.
Upon entering the gallery, I’m taken aback by a huge wall of strange-looking antique instruments and devices, each with its own specific purpose: to measure, to quantify, to chart various aspects of the human mind. I point at certain ones, and Dr. Baker gives explanations that make my eyebrows wrinkle and my brain churn.
As we continue walking, I see an old-fashioned inflatable “Bobo” doll and a video of a child beating this same doll with a hammer. Upon closer investigation, I find that this was an original doll used in an experiment on aggressive behavior through imitation and the impact of television violence on children.
Oh, well, of course. That explains it.
Moving along on my tour, I see something known as a “Simulated Shock Generator.” I learn that this device was used by a post-Holocaust social psychologist named Stanley Milgram in a study on obedience (one of the most profound studies of the 20th century, which raised important questions about the nature of evil and the human potential to follow orders regardless of the cost). Regular folks like you and me — answering an ad in the paper to take part in an experiment — found themselves administering what they thought were actual shocks to their peers at increasingly high voltage, ignoring the screams and pleas for mercy from their victims (actually actors). Milgram was stunned to find that 65 percent of subjects fully complied with the experimenter’s directives to deliver shocks to an innocent victim — obeying this authority figure whose only reassurance was: “You must continue.”
I’m speechless … but I continue.
Meandering along through the museum, I see optical illusions, manuals for diagnosing mental illness, asylum reports from the 1880s and an early “complex coordinator” — the first generation of flight simulators, used before WWII. So much of our technology is informed by the study of psychology.
I pause to look at a “marital ratings scale” from the 1930s, with columns of merits and demerits. “If you look at the items, we laugh and think they’re silly,” says Dr. Baker, “but this was taken seriously in 1939.” For the husband: Belches without apology, blows nose at table — demerit. Gives wife ample allowance or turns paycheck over to her — merit. For the wife: Being religious, sending children to church or Sunday school, goes herself — merit. Lets husband sleep late on Sundays — also a merit. Okay, maybe wait until the second or third date to visit this exhibit.
Moving along, we pass an exhibit on Brown v. Board of Education. We all know this was a landmark Supreme Court ruling for civil rights, but what does it have to do with the history of psychology? Visit the center and find out.
Across the hall is an exhibit on the IQ Zoo. In 1943, husband-and-wife team Keller and Marian Breland, two of B. F. Skinner’s first graduate students, launched Animal Behavior Enterprises — a company that used behavioral principles of operant conditioning (including basic repetition and reward) to train over 140 different animal species to perform complicated behaviors; the animals then “performed” in the advertising and entertainment industries. The couple relocated to Arkansas in 1955 and set up a training lab and the popular tourist attraction, IQ Zoo — where, among other things, tourists could play tic-tac-toe against a chicken, watch raccoons play basketball and see rabbit “Charlie Chance” guess a number chosen by visitors. In less than 50 years, the Brelands trained more than 15,000 animals — and their training methods continue to be used by animal trainers today. This is circus psychology, if you ask me!
We pass an exhibit on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment — one of the most well-known social psychology experiments of the 20th century, demonstrating the power of situational factors. The study by psychologist Philip Zimbardo examined the psychology of prison life and the ways ordinary individuals adapt to roles of authority and submission. A mock prison was set up in the basement of a building on the Stanford University campus, and students were randomly assigned the roles of prisoner or guard. After being arrested by the police at their homes, “prisoners” donned smocks and an ankle chain — worn at all times — and were given prisoner ID numbers (since use of their real names wasn’t allowed). The “guards” were given khaki uniforms, dark sunglasses, whistles and billy clubs — and were told to maintain order without resorting to physical violence. By the second day, the guards were using psychological tactics to demean and control the prisoners, who had already become submissive and stressed. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended after only six days — because both the volunteer guards and prisoners began to believe they were actually in prison.
After our tour, Dr. Baker explains that the museum will eventually be eight times its current size. Indeed, they’ve only completed the first of four phases in the creation of the Center for the History of Psychology. The museum portion of the center is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes, the center houses manuscripts of more than 700 psychologists and records of over 50 psychological organizations (researchers are able to work in a beautiful, classically appointed reading room and library). The media collection includes 20,000 still images, 8,000 reels of film and over 3,000 audio tapes. The test center contains over 12,000 three-dimensional and paper-and-pencil tests. More than 50,000 volumes are contained within the book collection, and over 1,000 objects and artifacts are contained in the instrument and apparatus collection.
It’s no wonder the AHAP was the first archives ever to become a Smithsonian affiliate, with its work featured in The New York Times, and on Discovery Channel and The History Channel. “It’s an important cultural institution,” says Baker, “It’s part of this city’s history and hopefully a contributor to its cultural revival.”
/ Writer Josh Gippin is local video producer. You can view his online portfolio at joshuatreevideo.com.
The Center for the History of Psychology, 73 College St. (Downtown Akron). Free. Open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sat., noon-4 p.m. Guided tours available with advance notice. For more information, call 330-972-7285 or visit www.uakron.edu/chp/.