by Kristie McAlpine '09
Last March Kalamazoo College psychology students debated the field's future by visiting its past. The students were members of Dr. Karyn Boatwright's "History and Systems of Psychology," and the discussion, which centered on the research and opinions of major historical figures in the field, served as a final and lively class project. Eight of the students (including this author) came in character (and costume) as some of the most influential figures from the field.
G. Stanley Hall (a.k.a. Piper Kurtz), the founder of the American Psychological Association (APA), opened the debate with this question: What does psychology encompass? John B. Watson (Rosanne Geiger), the father of Behaviorism, stressed that the field of psychology ought not to focus on the consciousness or emotions, but rather on observable behavior.
"Hold on," said Edward James Titchener (Henry McCain). He asserted that psychology needed to remain consistent with its roots, relying on the technique of introspection to uncover the processes of the mind. William James (Monica Kim) and Mary Whiton Calkins (Sarah Stilwell) seemed to agree. Both stressed the role of consciousness and the connection between the mind and the body as important topics that the field should consider.
As the debate progressed, the panel handled hot topics in the field, including the distinction between "applied" and "pure" psychology and the role that psychology should have in addressing practical matters. Hugo Munsterberg (me) emphasized the important role that psychology plays in law and business. Studies on eyewitness testimony and false confessions, for example, have shown that memory is much more pliable than previously assumed.
Lightner Witmer (Allison Iott) stressed the importance of the use of psychology in educational settings. Children can benefit from the knowledge gained by systematic psychological testing on topics ranging from intelligence to learning disabilities, as well as the implementation of more effective teaching strategies based on the findings. James McKeen Cattell (Matt Vazquez) agreed, citing the importance of psychological testing
It offered members of the "History and Systems of Psychology" an opportunity to flesh the founders of the field and inject nuance and life into what is often reduced to dry historical facts.and its application to a variety of areas, such as career testing and intelligence testing.
The panel reached no precise consensus regarding the field's future, but they did identify several burgeoning subfields likely to influence its direction: industrial and organizational psychology, sports psychology, and the psychology of law. After a series of closing statements, the psychologists agreed to disagree. But they and the audience (which included other students, both in the course and not, as well as several professors) came away with a better understanding of different interpretations of psychology and a greater appreciation for the breadth and depth of a remarkable field that originated as the marriage of philosophy and physiology.
The interactive debate offered members of the "History and Systems of Psychology" an opportunity to flesh the founders of the field and inject nuance and life into what is often reduced to dry historical facts. It also provided a chance to explore current topics in psychology we'll encounter in graduate school and careers.