PSYCHOLOGY ON THE MARCH: AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGISTS AND WORLD WAR II (PROFESSIONALIZATION, UNITED STATES)

JAMES HERBERT CAPSHEW, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The Second World War divides the history of American psychology into two major epochs. Before the war psychology was largely an academic discipline, imbued with an ideology of experimental natural science. Following the war, psychology became identified increasingly as a consulting profession offering practical services to a variety of clients, including commercial enterprises, government agencies, and private citizens. World War II acted as a catalyst for the professionalization of applied psychology, fundamentally altering the relation between science and practice in the discipline.^ This dissertation explores the process of institutional change in psychology by analyzing the responses of psychologists to the wartime environment. By providing powerful incentives to engage in applied work, the war sanctioned the expansion of professional services roles outside of the university. Psychologists readily undertook the task of making their science relevant to national needs, and created a central coordinating group--the Emergency Committee in Psychology of the National Research Council--to oversee mobilization efforts. The war caused a radical occupational shift among psychologists. Around half of the 4,000-person profession was directly employed by the federal government--in the military services, in civilian agencies, or on research contracts. An additional portion voluntarily directed their teaching, research, and service activities toward wartime concerns. Pure experimentalists and applied practitioners alike got caught up in the excitment of war work. Harking back to their field's accomplishments in the First World War, psychologists adopted a technocratic view of their potential contributions, and easily grafted the ideal of national service onto their existing scientific ideology.^ Promoting themselves as experts concerning the "human factor" in warfare, psychologists found employment in military personnel work, propaganda analysis, survey research, equipment design, and other areas. Although these wideranging activities often had little in common aside from a basic concern with human behavior, they helped foster a sense of mission within the psychology community. Led by Robert M. Yerkes, professionalizers took advantage of favorable wartime conditions and successfully transformed the American Psychological Association from a scientific learned society into a comprehensive professional organization. Dedicated to both science and practice, the new APA united previously fragmented interest groups and became a potent vehicle for the expansion of psychology's domain as a consulting profession. ^

Subject Area

History of Science

Recommended Citation

CAPSHEW, JAMES HERBERT, "PSYCHOLOGY ON THE MARCH: AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGISTS AND WORLD WAR II (PROFESSIONALIZATION, UNITED STATES)" (1986). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8703185.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8703185

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