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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology

“Personality is everything in art and poetry”*…

 

Marcel Proust

From parlor game to psychological staple, the strange story of the Proust Questionnaire…

In 1886, Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the future French President Félix Faure, asked her childhood friend Marcel Proust to fill out a questionnaire in a book titled “Confessions. An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, & c.” A fashionable parlor game originating among the Victorian literate classes, the “confession album,” as it was known, presented a formulaic set of queries on each page—“What is your distinguishing characteristic,” for instance, or “What virtue do you most esteem?” The album’s owner would pass the volume around among her friends, collecting their comments as a kind of souvenir, not unlike the notes that high-school students leave in one another’s yearbooks. Though Proust was only fourteen years old when he filled out Faure’s album, he responded to the questionnaire in precociously Proustian style. Beside the prompt “Your favorite virtue?,” he wrote, “All those that are not specific to any one sect; the universal ones.” To the rather pedestrian question “Where would you like to live?,” he answered, “In the realm of the ideal, or rather my ideal.” His “idea of misery,” true to form, was “to be separated from Maman.” And when asked, “For what fault have you most toleration?,” he replied, “For the private lives of geniuses.”

The young Proust wrote his answers in French, though Faure’s album, a British import, was printed in English. In his early twenties, Proust would fill out a second questionnaire, in a French album titled “Les Confidences de Salon.” He was far from the only significant cultural figure to participate in this ritual. In 1865, Karl Marx confessed that he considered his chief characteristic “singleness of purpose,” and that his favorite occupation was “bookworming.” Five years later, Oscar Wilde wrote in an album called “Mental Photographs, an Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions” that his distinguishing feature was “inordinate self-esteem.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Cézanne all filled out similar forms. But while these other confessions are curios of their era, remembered only by historians, Proust’s questionnaires have had a far-reaching influence that their young author could scarcely have foreseen, becoming, over time, the template for one of the most widely administered personality quizzes in history.

This peculiar afterlife began in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, when Antoinette Faure’s son, the psychoanalyst André Berge, discovered his mother’s confession album in a pile of old volumes among her effects…

More at “How the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we answer authentically, we might spare a thought for Raymond Loewy; he died on this date in 1986.  A pioneering industrial designer, he shaped landscape of manufactured goods in the U.S., from the Coca-Cola bottle and vending machine, through the automobile (e.g., the Studebaker 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1953 Starliner Coupe,  the 1961 Avanti, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus) and appliances (the 1947 line of Hallicrafter radio receivers that conveyed a crisp precision far ahead of their time; the 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine, the 1934 Sears Coldspot Refrigerator), to the heavy industrial (the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives); and he created logos for companies including Shell, Exxon, TWA, and the former BP. (A more complete list of his work, here.)  For all of this, he earned the epithets The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining, and The Father of Industrial Design.

Loewy standing on one of his designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S1 steam locomotive

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Written by LW

July 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Once a culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all”*…

 

Local commercials — those gems of advertising offering sincere pledges of service and strange visuals seemingly inspired by bath salts — didn’t disappoint this year. These ads find a special place in culture and memory with catchy songs, dated graphics and grainy film. So without further ado, revel in the cheesy glory of summer 2015’s bad local ads. If you’re lucky, you might run into one of these local celebrities at the grocery store (or the dog park).

Talking dogs, bombastic lawyers, and more– from Ad Age, “The Best of 2015’s Bad Local Ads (So Far).”

* Mark Crispin Miller

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As we reach for the remote, we might send archetypal birthday greetings to Carl Gustav Jung; he was born on this date in 1875.  A psychiatrist and psychotherapist, he founded the practice of Analytic Psychotherapy. His concepts of the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion were widely influential in psychology, but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies… and might give readers who viewed the spots at the link above reason for introspection.

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Written by LW

July 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

“About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm”*…

 

In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders’ personalities, before the outbreak of World War II.

“I myself began my study of hands in a spirit of skepticism,” Ranald, who served as an officer in the Austrian army during World War I, admits in the introduction to the book. An encounter with a palmist while Ranald was in the service irritated him rather than impressing him, and while he got out of a tight spot when a prisoner of war by pretending to read the palms of his captors, he reported that he still saw the practice as a scam. (Such admissions of doubt may have been well-designed to gain credibility with his reading audience.)

As a newspaper correspondent, Ranald had contact with many people, whose palms he read on a lark. He wrote that he came to see the practice as scientific: he gathered ten thousand such handprints, using sensitized paper (some sheets of which he included in the back of this book, so that the reader could follow his lead). “With a larger and larger sampling to go by, I felt that I could draw some conclusions from my findings,” he wrote. “On the basis of probabilities derived from statistical averages, I could associate certain markings in the hand with certain characteristics in men and women.”

The spatulate hand of FDR, Ranald wrote, belonged to a person of “advanced and liberal views.” The president was “social-minded,” “of sanguinary temperament,” not at all reclusive or introverted. (Read Ranald’s full analysis of FDR here.)

Read Mussolini’s and Hitler’s palms at Rebecca Onion’s “Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938.”  (From the Tumblr of the Public Domain Review, reposted from Tumblr user nemfrog. The Internet Archive’s copy of the book was scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library.)

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we trace out life lines, we might spare a thought for Heinz Edgar Lehmann; he died on this date in 1999.  A psychiatrist who recalled that at the beginning of his practice, in Canada in the 1930s, psychiatric hospitals were “Snake Pits,” Dr. Lehmann led the transformation of North American asylums into the therapeutic environments they are today. But Lehmann’s greatest legacy was a single pill – Largactil (chlorpromazine hydrochloride, best known on the U.S. as Thorazine), the first anti-psychotic drug used in North America.  In successfully treating patients with this drug, Lehmann introduced the world to the idea that biology plays a role in mental illness.  Chlorpromazine remains on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medication needed in a basic health system.

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Written by LW

April 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes”*…

 

Adam Smith once famously observed…

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759

He is a member of a stream of observers of the human condition, stretching back to the ancient Greeks, who believe that an innate goodness is at work in us all.  But is it so?

Behavioral economists have revolutionized the standard view of human nature. No longer are people presumed to be purely selfish, only acting in their own interest. Hundreds of experiments appear to show that most people are pro-social, preferring to sacrifice their own success in order to benefit others. That’s altruism.

If the interpretations of these experiments are true, then we have to rip up the textbooks for both economics and evolutionary biology! Economic and evolutionary models assume that individuals only act unselfishly when they stand to benefit some way. Yet humans appear to be unique in the animal kingdom as experiments suggest they willingly sacrifice their own success on behalf of strangers they will never meet. These results have led researchers to look for the evolutionary precursors of such exceptional altruism by also running these kinds of experiments with non-human primates.

But are these altruism experiments really evidence of humans being special? Our new study says probably not…

Read more– and draw your own conclusion– at “Does behavioral economics show people are altruistic or just confused?

[TotH to Mark Stahlman]

* P.J. O’Rourke

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As we calculate the angles, we might spare a thought for Johannes Schöner; this is both his birthday (1477) and the anniversary of his death (1547).  A priest, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, cosmographer, cartographer, mathematician, globe and scientific instrument maker, and editor and publisher of scientific texts, he is probably best remembered today (and was renowned in his own tine) as a pioneering maker of globes.  In 1515 he created one of the earliest surviving globes produced following the discovery of new lands by Christopher Columbus.  It was the first to show the name “America” that had been suggested by Waldseemüller– and tantalizingly, it depicts a passage around South America before it was recorded as having been discovered by Magellan.  In his roles as professor and academic publisher, he played a significant part in the events that led up to the publishing of Copernicus’ epoch-making “De revolutionibus” in Nürnberg in 1543.

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Written by LW

January 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There’s a cardinal rule that you don’t talk about sharks. If you don’t see it, it’s not there”*…

 

New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Home to an astounding 238 attacks, this Florida beach consistently records more shark attacks than any other beach. However, despite that alarming number, there has yet to be a fatal attack. Most of the bites are from young bull sharks nibbling for what they think is food. New Smyrna Beach is part of Volusia County, Florida. A very popular beach, many claim that the reason the number of attacks is so high is simply because the number of people in the water on any given day is so high as well. Fishermen, swimmers and surfers flock to the beach whenever they get the chance and never seem deterred by reported attacks.

Sharks lurking close to the New Smyrna Beach shore

 

More at “The World’s 10 Deadliest Shark Attack Beaches“… and special bonus (into which New Smyrna also figures): “Deadly Destinations Around the World.”

* Champion open water swimmer Mark Warkentin

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As we think it’s safe to go back in the water, we might send brainy birthday greetings to David “Wex” Wechsler; he was born on this date in 1896.  During WW I, as a young psychologist assisting Edwin Garrigues Boring in testing army recruits, Wechsler was frustrated by the inadequacies of the Army Alpha Tests (designed to measure abilities of conscripts and match them to suitable military jobs), concluding that academically-defined “intelligence” did not apply to “real life” situations.  After leaving the military– and more years of research– he developed the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, (WAIS) and introduced deviation scores in intelligence tests.  He later developed the Wechsler Memory Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence.  The WAIS is the most commonly administered psychological test today.

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Written by LW

January 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not”*…

 

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Controversy is essential to scientific progress. As Richard Feynman said, “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Nothing is taken on faith, all assumptions are open to further scrutiny. It’s a healthy sign therefore that psychology studies continue to generate great controversy. Often the heat is created by arguments about the logic or ethics of the methods, other times it’s because of disagreements about the implications of the findings to our understanding of human nature. Here we digest ten of the most controversial studies in psychology’s history…

From “the Stanford Prison Experiment” and “the Milgram ‘Shock Experiments'” to “Voodoo correlations in social neuroscience” and “Libet’s Challenge to Free Will”– The British Psychological Society‘s “The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.”

(Lest one wonder whether all of this has any purchase in the real world, this review of Hooked…)

* Carl Jung

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As we brace ourselves on our lab benches, we might spare a thought for Gustav Theodor Fechner; he died on this date in 1887.  A philosopher and physicist with a keen interest in human behavior, Fechner is recognized (with Wilhelm Wundt and Hermann von Helmholtz) as the founder of experimental psychology.  He formulated the rule known as Fechner’s law–that, within limits, the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus– a result indicative of his approach to studying the relationships between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they cause.  His approach, which came to be known as Psychophysics, has been influential ever since.

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Written by LW

November 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Smell was our first sense… We think because we smelled”*

 

Lisa Wade, in Pacific Standard:

Earlier this year I reviewed a study that found that, simply by changing the weight of an object in hand, psychologists can manipulate how seriously a person takes an issue. In other words, when holding something heavy, matters seem heavy. Or, concerns seem weightier when one is weighed down.

Thanks to an email from University of Southern California professor Norbert Schwarz, I was introduced to a whole series of studies on what psychologists call metaphorical effects. These are instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality. So, for example, holding a warm cup of coffee makes people feel warmly toward each other (here), getting the cold shoulder makes people feel cold (here), people placed in a high location seem to be high in a hierarchy (here), and cleaning one’s hands makes a person feel morally clean (here).

Schwarz was the co-author, with Spike W.S. Lee, on another example of a metaphorical effect. They wanted to know if smelling something fishy made people suspicious. It did.

Read the noisome news in full at “Smelling Something Fishy Makes People More Suspicious.”

* Lyall Watson (in Jacobson’s Organ)

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As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Ctaskills in New York State.  The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000.  A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free.  The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence.  Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts.  It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.

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Written by LW

August 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

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