Category Archives: History of Psychology

Profile of a psychologist: Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo, Psychology

Philip Zimbardo, Psychology

Philip G. Zimbardo is world renowned for his controversial study, the Stanford Prison experiment. In more recent years he has become known for his theory known as the “Lucifer Effect,” in which he investigates the question “What makes good people do bad things?” A Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University and currently still teaching, Zimbardo also holds the title of two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association and past president of the American Psychological Association. As a social psychologist, Zimbardo constantly questions how we interact and influence others in our society; however, most notably, he seeks to discover how our environment is and will remain our strongest influence.

Philip Zimbardo was born in 1933 to a Sicilian-American family in New York City, New York. His academic career landed him classmates with another future social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, in James Monroe High School. Next he merited a BA from Brooklyn College and a PhD from Yale University. After several years of teaching a universities all across the United States, he finally started his professorship at Stanford in 1968. Since 2000, Zimbardo has been on a mission to bring psychology to the forefront of research and also the public eye by presenting a TV series on “discovering psychology” and lecturing at TED, to name a few.

zimbardo2Inspired by Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies in 1963 that demonstrated the moral aberration people are willing to commit to obey authority, Zimbardo aimed to discover what makes people concede their moral compass when put in a place of power. Zimbardo wanted to uncover under what circumstances people would “willing use (or abuse) power granted to them.” In light of this curiosity, he carried out the Stanford Prison experiment in 1971. His subjects were twenty-four, mentally healthy, American, university students. The similarity of subjects attempted to control for all dependent variables. Randomly, the students were assigned the role of “guard or prisoner.” Then one morning the “prisoners” were arrested by real police officers whom booked to them be transferred to the mock prison built in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department.

zimbardo3Once transferred into the “prison,” the “prisoners” were “stripped, searched, deloused, and given uniforms and bedding.” The prisoners were then stripped of their identify and dehumanised by the “guards” who were told to  refer to them by assigned numbers. To heighten their lack of freedom, the “prisoners” also had a chain bolted around one ankle. The “guards” wore military inspired uniforms, sunglasses (to prevent eye-contact) in addition to carrying keys, whistles, handcuffs and clubs. The “guards” patrolled 24 hours a day and where given full control of the “prisoners” to maintain order. It did not take long for the environment to quickly turn “threatening” forcing the experiment to end prematurely after only six days.

Every single “guard” became “abusive and authoritarian; prisoners were denied food or bedding, hooded, chained, and made to clean toilet bowls with their hands.” The “prisoners” were used as playthings to take part in the “guards” degrading games. One prisoner had to be released after only thirty-six hours after suffering a nervous break.

Zimbardo’s findings, the basis for the Lucifer Effect showed the world that good people can be induced to evil by “immersion” in “total situations.” Total situations have an “apparently legitimizing ideology and approved rules and roles.”  Zimbardo served as an expert witness in the defense of a guard during the Abu Ghraib trails, which as Zimbardo discusses in his TED video, showed many parallels with the Stanford Prison Experiment. The Abu Ghraib prison abuse against Iraqi prisoners by American soliders gathered wide controversy. Please view the TED video for further information. The scary thing Zimbardo explains is that “any deed that any human being has even done, however horrible, is possible for any of us to do – under the right or wrong situational pressures.” However, as Zimbardo discusses in his final chapter of The Lucifier Effect, his book, these situational pressures not only shows human capacity for evil but also for heroism.


Collin, Catherine. The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. Print.

“Philip G. Zimbardo.” Philip G. Zimbardo. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2012. <;.

Zimbardo, Philip G. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Profile of a Psychologis: Hermann Ebbinghaus

herrmannBorn in Bramen, Germany in 1850, Ebbinghaus was the first psychologist to study learning and memory by conducting experiments on himself. At age seventeen, he commenced his study of philosophy at Bonn University on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War. After completing his studies, he travelled to France and England, conducting research on the “power of memory.” In 1885, he published Memory “detailing the nonsense syllable” research. The nonsense syllable, logatome or pseudoword is a string of syllables that resembles a real word is in fact “nonsense.” In the psychology of learning nonsense syllables are used as a way to examine speech recognition. After becoming professor at Berlin University, he established two psychological laboratories there. Finally, he moved to Berslau University, founded another laboratory, teaching there until his death in 1909.

Inspired by philosophers by the likes of John Locke and David Hume, Ebbinghaus argued that “remembering involves association,” linking things or ideas by similarities such as “time, place, cause or effect.” The goal of his research was to test how association can improve memory. To verify the accuracy of his findings, he recorded the results mathematically to see if “memory follows verifiable patterns.” This would become known as the Forgetting Curve.

To start his memory experiments, Ebbinghaus began by memorising lists of words to test his recall abilities. He then created 2,3000 nonsense syllables, three letters each with the same pattern consonant-vowel-consonant, to prevent association. He then grouped these nonsense syllables into lists, looked over the list for a few seconds, waited fifteen seconds to then try a second time. He then repeated his process until he could correctly recite the series. Alternating the list lengths and learning intervals, Ebbinghaus also tested how these variables effected the speed of learning and forgetting.

herrmann1Ebbinghaus discovered that material  he found meaningful, such as a poem, was up to ten times more easily remembered than the nonsense syllables. He also found that more time he spent memorising the list, the easier it was and the less time it took to reproduce the list from memory. In addition, he found that the information remembered after the first repetitions, were the most effectively remembered after time had passed. Finally, Ebbinghaus also found that typically, a very rapid loss of recall occurs in the first hour, followed by lowered rate of recall loss. To clarify, after nine hours sixty percent is forgotten and after twenty four hours, two-thirds of recall is lost. Plotted on a mathematical graph, Ebbinghaus’s findings shows a clear “forgetting curve” starting with a “sharp drop, followed by a shallow slope.”

Ebbinghaus’ findings still remain the basis of the psychology of learning and memory.


Collin, Catherine. The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. Print.

Profile of a Psychologist: Paul Ekman

ekmanSome of you may have seen the crime-procedural drama “Lie to Me.” It ran on FOX between 2009-2011 until it got cancelled. The show stared  Tim Roth as Cal Lightman, who along with his colleagues of the Lightman Group were consultants for the police and FBI. The Lightman Group specialised in applied psychology, specifically interpreting mirco-expressions and body language. What many people may not know; however, is that the techniques utilised by the Lightman Group in “Lie to Me” are based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman.

Ekman was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1934 but after the outbreak of World War II, moved across the country. At a mere fifteen, Ekman joined the University of Chicago where he became interested in “Freud and psychotherapy.” This inspired him to apply to Adelphi University where he earned his doctorate in clinical psychology. After a stunt working for the US Army, he went on to join the University of San Francisco where he began research into “nonverbal behaviour and facial expressions.” This work lead to further studies on the “concealment of emotions in facial expressions.” Being appointed to professor of psychology at UCSF in 1972, Ekman stayed there until his retirement in 2004.

Emotions play a huge role in emotional disorders and psychotherapy; however, when Ekman began his studies in the 70s, the subfield was practically unexplored. In the early days of psychotherapy emotions were seen as symptoms rather than “something to examined in their own right.” Ekman was one the first psychologists to realise that emotions are as much a vital part in psychotherapy as processes, drives and behaviour. He came to realise the importance of emotions through his work with nonverbal behaviour and facial expressions.

ekman2Before Ekman’s experiments it was believed that physical expression of emotions were learnt according to a set of social conventions, implying that how we express ourselves differes from culture to culture. However, through his travels across the globe, photographing people – ranging from developed countries to untouched tribes in the Amazon – he found that even the tribespeople, untouched by media and the outside world, could interpret emotions through facial expressions as well as people in developed countries. This suggests that physical expression of emotions are universal and a product of evolution not social conventions. A post in the Immersion Blog makes a great point regarding Ekman’s credibility, which has been disputed by critics claiming that facial expressions are for communications purposes only and not subconsciously reflecting our internal life. Robbie Cooper, the blogger, refutes this claim arguing that

                “We only think about expression when we want to use our body for communication on a conscious level. And a lot of the time we aren’t very good at faking internal states. If someone is playing a role in a social situation, it’s often expected of them, but much of the time we aren’t fooled by the performance. Which I think is one of the reasons why great actors are fascinating.” 

Ekman put forth six basic emotions – surprise, anger, happiness, fear, sadness and disgust – and decided because of their ubiquitous nature, these six basic emotions must be quintessential to our psychological make-up. He noted that specific facial expressions relate to each one of these six basic emotions and must in turn be involuntary emotional responses. Furthermore, these responses occur before the mind has time to register the cause and can thus be read to reveal our internal state. Ekman’s research became the basis of his F.A.C.E. training programme aimed to familiarise people, specifically officers of the law and security professionals dealing with deception on a daily basis, with “microexpressions.” Microexpression is term coined by Ekman as the involuntary emotional response, reflected in our facial expression before our brain has time to process the cause.

In Ekman’s 2003 book, Emotions Revealed, he states that emotions can be far more powerful than any of the drives listed by Freud such as sex, hunger and the will for life. These revelations are revolutionary as they completely altered the way in which emotions were seen to play a role in psychological disorders. For example, unhappiness can override the will to live and fear and shame, a biproduct of trauma, can override sexual drive.



Cooper, Robbie. “Ekman Emotion Recognition Test.” Web log post. Immersion Blog. N.p., 29 June 2009. Web. 21 Aug. 2012. <;.

Myers, David G. Psychology . 6. Worth Publishers, 2001. Print.Myers, David G. Psychology . 6. Worth Publishers,2001. Print.

Profile of a Psychologist: Carl Jung

JungBorn in a small village in Switzerland in 1875, Carl Gustav Jung grew up in a rather eccentric family. He became an excellent linguist at an early age and in 1903 married Emma Rausenbach, an intelligent young woman from a wealthy Swiss-German family. Emma later became a prominent psychoanalyst herself known as Emma Jung. Although originally educated as a psychiatrist, Jung’s meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1907, pushed him towards psychoanalysis setting him on the path towards becoming Freud’s protege. However, the pair became estranged as their theories diverged causing a permanent rift. Following World War I, Jung travelled across the globe studying native people, taking part in “anthropological and archaeological expeditions.” In 1935, Jung became professor at the University of Zurich before deciding to concentrate strictly on research.


Freud first introduced the idea that humans are guided by forces within ourselves, specifically our unconscious. He claimed that our experience of the world is directly affected by “primal drives contained in the unconscious.” Jung expanded on this basic philosophy inquiring into the basic elements that “make up the unconscious and its workings.” He was most intrigued by striking similarities between societies around the world despite completely differing cultures. In particular, the similarities found in myths and symbols ranging across cultures. Jung believed this could be explained by “something larger than the individual experience of man.”


To Jung it appeared that the existing commonality between these myths and symbols proved the existence of a “collective memory” passed down by generations as part of our heredity. He believed that this collective memory was housed in a part of the psyche and contained ideas “held in a timeless structure.” Finally, he proposed a notion that a distinct part of the unconscious is completely void of individual experiences, coining the term “collective unconscious.” Together with the ego, our conscious mind; the personal unconscious, our individual suppressed memories, the collective unconscious forms the three components of the psyche. We then inherit these collective memories found in the collective unconscious, allowing them to emerge within our own psyche creating symbols known as archetypes. Differing cultures, allow for layers and variations of these archetypes to exist simultaneously and just like with the evolution of all species on this planet, the layers of these archetypes reveal traces of the entire human experience.


Finally, our inherited archetypes, etched deep within our unconscious, serve as templates used by our psyche to “organise and understand our own experience.” Basically, archetypes serve as a guidebook programmed within our minds to help us make sense of the world as well as to survive it. Archetypes serve as the foundational structure on which our experience builds. They can be seen as emotions or behavioural patterns; regardless, they help us determine “a particular set of…expressions as a unified pattern that has meaning” seemingly instinctually.

Furthermore, Jung also is renowned in the world of psychology for his exploration of word association and his concepts of introversion and extroversion. His concepts inspired many well-known personality tests used today such as Myer-Briggs Type Indicator.

If you are interested in Jung you should consider checking out the movie A Dangerous Method. Also click here to see photos of my recent trip to the Jung Institute in Zurich.



Collin, Catherine. The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. Print.


Profile of a Psychologist: Claudius Galenus


Claudius Galenus  was a Greek philosopher and physician known in the psychology world as the founder of the Four Temperaments of Personality. This philosophy is part of the approach known as Humourism originating from the Greek philosopher Empedocles who implied that all things are combinations of the four basic elements: earth, water, fire and air. Empedocles believed that different qualities of the basic elements would explain the existence of all substances on earth.

Earth: cold and dry

Air: warm and wet

Fire: warm and dry

Water: cold and wet

Hippocrates known as the founder of modern medicine, stated that the qualities of the four elements are reflected in our bodily fluids namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.

Galen explored this the approach of Humourism further, expanding into a theory of personality. Galen saw a direct relationship between the levels of the humours in the body and the emotional and behavioral inclinations known as temperaments. He described these temperaments as sanguine (blood), phlegmatic (phlegm), choleric (yellow bile) and melancholic (black bile). Imbalances in the humours determined personality as well as susceptibility to certain illnesses.


If one of the humours developed uncontrollably, becoming obviously dominant to the other three humours, the corresponding personality type would also become dominant. As a paradigm, a sanguine person has too much blood and as a result shows characteristics such as cheerfulness and optimism but can be selfish and overconfident. A phlegmatic person suffers from too much phlegm and would be rational and consistent but often slow and quiet. A choleric person suffers from too much bile and would be passionate and energetic but could also be tempered. Finally, a melancholic person suffers from excess bile and would be characterised as the artists, poetic and artistic but often depressed and fearful.

During Galen’s time, the Medieval Ages and up until the Renaissance it was considered accurate that certain people were born predisposed to one of the four temperaments and imbalances could be cured by changes in diet, exercise or the extremes of purging and blood-letting. By the 1500s, hundreds of errors were found in Galen’s work but he would later come to influence Hans Eysenck that concluded that temperaments are in fact biologically based but not through humours. Eysenck identified two personality traits he called neuroticism and extraversion, a nod to Galen.


Collin, Catherine. The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. Print.

Jungian Archetypes

Archetypes vary greatly through different cultures many of which overlap. As these archetypes are used symbolically to helps us make sense of the world, they can be found in all forms of human expression: art, drama, literature, etc.

jekyll and hydeThe nature of archetypes is such that they are easily recognisable so that we can easily attach emotional meaning. As mentioned in my previous post on Carl Jung, they can be associated with a multitude of behavioural and emotional patterns. However, some archetypes are far more recognisable than others. As a paradigm, the Wise Old Woman, the Great Mother and the Hero. One of the most important archetype is, however, less known. Jung describes it as the Persona and was something he identified early in his own life. He recognised it as his “tendency to share only a certain part of his personality with the outside world.” As he grew older and more observant, Jung began to recognise this characteristic in all other humans, noting that people have a natural tendency to split their personalities into components, which we selectively share “according to environment and situation.” The component of our self that we share with the world is the Persona. In contrast to the Persona, the Shadow is the part of our psyche that we wish to hide from the world. The Shadow represents our secrets and the shameful aspects of our personality. Paradigms of the shadow archetype in human expression includes the Devil in the Bible and Hyde in the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Hyde. The Shadow appears to be our bad side; however, it can also symbolises the aspects of our personality we find shameful or choose to surpress because they seem inappropriate in a particular situation. The most important archetype of all is the True Self which personifies our “central, organising archetype that attempts to harmonise all other aspects into a unified, self.” Jung stresses the importance of the True Self archetype because he believed that the goal of human existence is “self-realisation.” Self-realistation, as described by Jung, is the “advanced, enlightened psychological state.”

Furthermore, Jung believed that our self is composed of both masculine and feminine parts, which becomes molded into a fully male or female form by society and biology. As we become male or female, we “turn our backs on half of our potential.” Through an archetype, however, we are able to access the other part of our self. The masculine component of the female personality exists as the Animus and the female component of the male personality as the Anima. We lose site of our counterpart personality as we age; however, these components of ourself allows us to “understand the nature of the opposite sex.” Also, as the Anima and Animus are archetypes, they allows us each to inherit the “traditional ideas of masculine and feminine” from past generations.


In our society and culture, the Animus is represented as the real man: muscular, commanding, logical, the solider and romantic seducer. The Anima is represented as the virgin: the nymph, close to nature, the seductress, spontaneous and intuitive. The female archetype can be seen in several examples of human expression as Helen of Troy in the Iliad and Eve in the Bible. Marilyn Monroe is an excellent representation of the stereotypical Anima. As all other archetypes, the Anima and Animus exist as part of our unconscious and thus also affect our moods and reactions subconsciously. According to Jung, the Anima manifests itself as “prophetic statements” and the Animus as “unbending rationality.”

Archetypes play a key role in the dream interpretation involved in psychoanalysis. Jung firmly believed that dreams are the “dialogue between the conscious self, the eternal ego and the collective unconscious. Archetypes allow psychoanalysts to decipher this dialogue. In dreams, each archetype holds a specific meaning, like a symbol or metaphor would in literature. As a paradigm, the archetype of the Wise Old Woman can appear as a parent, teacher or leader and symbolises someone trying to offer guidance and direction. Likewise, the Great Mother appearing as our mother or grandmother symbolises reassurance and comfort. Furthermore, the Trickster can appear in a dream as an “ego check,” preventing the dreamer from becoming too big headed in light of success.


Collin, Catherine. The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. Print.

The Branches and Subfields of Psychology

Many people are under the misimpression that all psychologists are therapists in a cozy office asking their patient laying on a couch how they are feeling today. Whilst therapy is a major profession in the field of psychology, psychologists deal with a myriad of different issues, people, subjects and work environments.

The Major Branches

Biological psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the links between neuroscience and genetics and psychological processes.  ¨

Evolutionary psychology is the study of the roots of behaviour and mental processes using the principles of natural selection.

Psychodynamic psychology is the branch that studies how unconscious drives and conflicts influence behaviour and uses that informational to treat people with psychological disorders.

Behavioural psychology is the scientific study of observable behaviour, it is explained by principles of learning.

Humanistic psychology focuses on how we meet our needs for love and acceptance and achieve self-fulfilment.


Subfields of Psychology 

Psychometrics is the scientific study of the measurement of human abilities, attributes, and traits.

Basic research is pure science that aims to increase the scientific knowledge base used for research.

Developmental psychology is the scientific study of physical, cognitive, and social change throughout the life span.

Educational psychology is the study of how psychological processes affect and can change teaching and learning.

Personality psychology is the study of how an individual’s characteristics, pattern of thinking, feeling, and action.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how we think about, influence, and relate to one another.

Applied research is the scientific study that aims to solve practical problems.

Industrial-organisational psychology is the application of psychological concepts and methods to optimising human behaviour in the workplace.

Human factors psychology is the study of how people and machines interact and the design of safe and easily used machines and environments.

Counselling psychology is the branch of psychology that assists people with problems in living (social, work, marriage, etc.) to help them achieve greater well-being.

Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology that studies, assesses, and treats people with psychological disorders.

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine dealing with psychological disorders, practiced by physicians who often provide medical treatments as well as psychological therapy.