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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: May 2019

12 - Behaviorism


Innovations in Psychology in the United States: Introduction to Chapters 12–15

At the beginning of the twentieth century, its prodigious expansion in agriculture, industry, and commerce had made the United States an economic superpower. Its involvement in World War I was crucial to the war's outcome and also demonstrated the country's military superiority. Heavy investment in the school system and universities led to a blossoming of US science during the first decades of the twentieth century, making the North Americans independent of European culture and science.

Technological development continued its rapid growth, greatly influencing US society. The latter half of the 1800s was a period in which a number of new technological inventions appeared. The United States had already begun contributing at the time of the Civil War, and at the end of the nineteenth century, it had created technological products to revolutionize life at a rate that surprised the rest of the world. Electric lights and the telephone were mass-produced at the end of the 1800s, and the beginning of the 1900s saw the arrival of cars, refrigerators, and radios. Europe and eventually Japan were developing innovations as well, but the Americans were way ahead, as they continued to be throughout the twentieth century. Interest in technology became widespread in the United States and probably contributed to an emphasis on control over understanding in science, and perhaps strengthened the desire to account for psychological phenomena in mechanistic terms.

Empirical psychology was still at an initial stage at the beginning of the 1900s. It had little to offer in the way of new psychological insight, and perhaps more importantly, it had proved to be of little practical use. Feeling more independent of European science and thinking and believing in their own strength, US psychologists began developing their own versions of psychology. In the 1920s, they began laying the foundation for social psychology as a new subarea of psychology. In the next two decades it expanded into a broad field, and I shall treat its development in a separate chapter, Chapter 14.

The clinical and personality psychology of European neurologists was introduced to the United States in the first decades of the 1900s. Inspired by the success of measurements in the study of intelligence, US psychologists in the 1920s began to construct tests for the assessment of personality characteristics.

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A History of Modern Psychology
  • Online ISBN: 9781316272442
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