Topics 2017

Topics for 2017

Here is a beginning list of ideas for paper topics.  

One of the best strategies at the beginning is to go to the reserve desk at the library and get the Hilgard book to look at.  For most of you, this should be one of your best early sources no matter what your topic is, so you might as well look at it as a beginning source of ideas as well.

You must establish a topic by Thursday, September 21.

I’ll be available to discuss various ideas with you, to help narrow it down once you are in a ballpark. As I explained in class, I want students to select topics in pairs, one on one side of an issue, the other on an apparently opposite side. This is a way to begin your task with a little bit of structure. Your actual topic will be MORE SPECIFIC than stated here. Taking a side of the issues as stated here is a beginning. Part of your project will be to narrow down and focus your topic.


Where there are obvious key words, I have put them in bold.

One very common type of topic is:  Why was person x so famous at one time and so forgotten later?  What does that tell us about change in psychology?   A variation on this theme is:  Why was person x so famous, then forgotten, then rediscovered?

Was Gestalt Psychology a failure or a success?    To begin, I have one paper that argues that Gestalt psychology was a success, and another that argues it was a failure.   Both were written in the same time period.  Obviously you have to know what Gestalt psychology is, immerse yourself in some of it, as well as the context for its promulgation.  By now, more articles on the subject have been written.  In light of where things stand today, how do we evaluate the articles that I alluded to at the beginning?

John B. Watson was the founder of behaviorism and one of the most important psychologists in our history.   Or –Behaviorism was so inevitable that Watson should NOT be regarded as its founder because it was developing anyway and would exist whether Watson had lived or not.

Behaviorism dominated psychology in the 1940’s and 1950’s.   Or — Behaviorism never dominated psychology as much as people say it did.

Cognitive psychology was a true revolution in psychology.   Or — Cognitive psychology was warmed over behaviorism with a few new words allowed.

Chomsky-inspired psycholinguistics changed psychology forever.   Or — The effects of Chomsky passed quickly and had a very small impact.

Developments in neuroscience have led to real progress in psychology.   Or — developments in neuroscience have been a distraction to psychology and have postponed attention to core problems.

Behaviorism was a necessary development in psychology;  Or — Behaviorism should have sold itself as a branch of biology and not psychology. The latter position has been developed by Trinity alum, Robert Epstein (also B. F. Skinner’s last student).

George Miller ushered in the future for Psychologists, time after time.   Or, George Miller was consistently wrong.

Münsterberg — Applied psychology and pure psychology: an important distinction. “Applied psychology” is not possible. “Applied psychology” is quite possible.

The arguments of Tolman vs. Hull and Spence within behaviorism were a very good example of the operation of “normal science” in the sense of Thomas Kuhn. The work of Tolman, as he argued against Hull and Spence sowed the seeds for a scientific revolution, as this concept was developed by Thomas Kuhn.

Titchener “sold” Wundt as an introspectionist — Was this was historically wrong?

Professional organizations emerge as disciplines develop.  At least two have been organized first here at Trinity.  What is their role?  Formation of the APA; Philosophers break off; experimentalists try to break off several times; the founding of the APS. The role of smaller, more specialized organizations like SRCD and the Psychonomic Society.  Interview faculty members as part of this.

Role of Journals – Mind, American Journal of Psychology (AJP  Hall). Hall was an organizer. Up to Ecological Psychology (see me) perhaps.

Clinical Psychology – Witmer; Prince; Putnam; Shakow; Boulder model; WW II (let the Hilgard book be your guide).

Neuroscience –What happened to Lashley?  There was a spate of research in the early to mid 20th century (from Lashley) that showed much complex activity learned by rats was not localized in any particular brain area.   By 1955, emphases changed and the experimental results in neuroscience favored localization of function.   Was this a change in fact or fashion?

Establishing labs – Hall vs. James. “Real” labs? Colleges and universities.  Establishing psychology as a scientific discipline and at particular institutions regarded the founding of laboratories.   What constituted a laboratory?   How much did these really matter?

Intelligence – Binet, Terman, WW I, WW II  — see the Hilgard book.

Language – Wundt, Blumenthal, Chomsky; Whorf-Sapir (Hartford origins), Roger Brown; What happened to syntax?

Trinity issues – Trinity psychology graduates, Edward S. Reed and Robert Epstein have published work in the history of psychology – You could examine the issues explored by either one.  (1)  Reed — In his philosophy (history) of science dissertation (it won an award), Reed argued that modern physics and modern psychology BOTH started with Descartes and that, therefore, psychology is not different from physics because psychology is young.   (2)  Epstein has argued that Watson made a mistake by trying to make behaviorism a part of psychology.  Epstein says that misunderstandings could have been avoided if Watson developed behaviorism as a branch of biology instead.

Psychology at Trinity — from 1903.  Interesting comparisons to Wesleyan.   What are just “accidents” of history?  Explore old catalogues and original text used here.

Developmental psych – from G. Stanley Hall?  Many themes could be developed within developmental psychology, with the important stress that G. Stanley Hall was central in some way to most of it.

Wesleyan.  Interesting comparisons: Charles H. Judd (ended up at Chicago) vs. Edward L. Thorndike  (ended up at Columbia) vs. Walter Dearborn (ended up at Harvard)– All Wesleyan undergrads of about the same time. All ended up in Educational Psychology. But they got there by very different routes. Judd studied with Wundt; Thorndike with William James.  Dearborn was influenced both by Dodge at Wesleyan and by Cattell.

MacDougall vs. Watson – 1924 debate.

Lewin vs. Spence at Iowa.

The effects of adopting English as the language of science around the world — the case of psychology.

Extra special topic — Pierre Janet and ties to developmental psychology and to Piaget.  Janet is not all that well known, but there is a hard core group devoted to promoting him now to wider audiences.

History of Psych Syllabus