My favorite part of Psychology has always been the stories.
My first project in grad school was to study human echolocation. I read these wonderful papers from Karl Dallenbach and colleagues from the 1940’s and 50’s wherein they expressed not just what they did but how it all happened. There was always a bit of a wry nod to others in the field. A little extra something so that their colleagues in the field might share in the fun of how that whole experiment went down.
As Psychology advanced to more recent days those little winks and nods began to disappear from our writings and, were replaced with greater rigor, more detailed analyses, and more advanced theoretical evaluation. Data, replicability, and theoretical significance are, appropriately, the prominent center of how we communicate with each other in Psychology at this time. To learn the stories of the research one needs to speak to the researchers, meet with them at conferences, and have a few laughs over a beer.
And, when I tell my students about these great studies and the fantastic advances of our time, they are often unmoved. They want to know WHO these people are. Why did those men and women bother? When I can, I tell them the stories. Stories about Tolman and his grad student noticing the mice escape the T-maze and run straight to the food; of Watson conditioning fear in an infant all while falling in love with his mentee and co-author Rosalie Rayner; of Mary Calkins who paired ideas to form memories, and initially refused to be granted the PhD she earned until Harvard relented on its policy to bestow this degree to women.
The people who struggled, fought, and sowed the field of Psychology have great stories to tell. Their stories give context to the work they’ve done and illustrate why that work is so critical. Importantly, they are also so much fun — engaging and moving experiences as these brilliant thinkers overcame the challenges in their lives and the intellectual puzzles of the paradigms.
So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending a year on the road to travel across the United States, to Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, and maybe a few other places, to speak with the most influential Psychologists I can. It is a bit of an adventure that ultimately will provide a library of interviews and many wonderful stories from their lives!
I can’t wait to share all of this with you!
23 thoughts on “Psychologist on a Journey (or, Why I hit the road)”