Distinguishing Experiment and Research From Philosophy

The American Journal of Psychology begins its 117th year of publication in 2005. At a time when psychology journals abound in great numbers and are increasingly specialized and narrow in their subject matter and target audience, AJP and a few other journals continue the tradition of general experimental psychology. AJP is the first and longest continually publishing journal in the English language devoted to experimental psychology.

Since 1887, when G. Stanley Hall founded the publication, AJP has had only eight editors in chief: Hall from 1887-1921; Edward Bradford Titchener, 1921-1925; Karl M. Dallenbach, 1926-1968; Madison Bentley, 1942-1945 (when Dallenbach was in the Army); Lloyd Humphreys, 1968-1979; William Kappauf, 1980-1983; David Birch, 1983-1988; and Donelson Dulany since 1989.

Hall’s Journal
Hall’s founding of AJP was something of a leap of faith. There were few psychological laboratories in America in 1887 and few researchers (Cadwallader, 1992; Garvey, 1929). Hall, however, made a distinction between psychologists and psychological research. AJP was created as a place of publication for psychological research, regardless of the disciplinary background of its author (Hall, 1887a). Hall created the AJP, at least in part, as a means of defining experimental psychology in America as distinct from the philosophical psychology that dominated the American scene at the time (Hall, 1887a). Hall’s intent was to make “psychology” synonymous with “experimental psychology” and to require the older, non-experimental psychology to use the adjectival modifier, “philosophical” (Evans, 2004). James McKeen Cattell and Titchener later adopted this strategy, but Hall initiated it. Though he could not fill the first volume only with experimental psychological research, Hall’s goal of attracting research of an eclectic nature was realized, and the articles spanned the range from fundamental psychophysical research to a study of paranoia.

Hall organized AJP into three parts: “Original contributions of a scientific nature,” “Digests and reviews,” and “Notes, news, brief mentions, etc” (Hall, 1887a). He used the reviews section of AJP as his bully pulpit for experimental psychology, perhaps to a fault. It was in the reviews that we see Hall’s program of separating experimental psychology from philosophical psychology. Toward this goal, Hall wrote scathing reviews of the books written by the big names of 19th century American philosophical psychology: Borden Bowne (Hall, 1887b), James McCosh (Hall, 1887c), George T. Ladd (Hall, 1887d; 1895) and even William James (Hall, 1892). His attacks against the older philosophical psychologists were generally lauded, but the attacks on James’ Principles of Psychology (1890) would cost Hall dearly. Hall’s challenge to James as an experimental psychologist led to the rift between James and Hall, creating two partisan camps, one centering around James and one around Hall.(Evans, 1987).

Hall’s perceived power over the new discipline, derived from sole editorship of AJP, soon attracted the attention of others, particularly those in James’s camp. The result was the establishment of the Psychological Review in 1894 and Psychological Monographs and Psychological Abstracts in 1895. The effect of this competition was to force Hall to shift from sole editorship to a joint editorship in 1895, and to establish a board of cooperating editors. E. C. Sanford, Hall’s associate at Clark University, and Titchener, Cornell University, were selected as editors along with Hall. A larger board of cooperating editors was made up of prominent psychologists, both American and European. The variety of interests and backgrounds of these board members guaranteed the availability of an eclectic mix of articles. Hall understood the value of cooperating editors as sources of publications and as “scouts” for good manuscripts.

The result was an increase in articles ranging across the spectrum of experimental methodology and subject matter. There were articles such as W. S. Small’s introduction of the white rat into psychological research and the use of the Hampton Court maze for learning (1901). John B. Watson and J. J. B. Morgan’s classic study on emotional reactions in children was published in AJP (1917), as was Stella Sharp’s classic study on individual differences and psychological tests (1899). Carl Spearman chose AJP to publish his two-factor theory of intelligence (1904), and articles by Sigmund Freud (1910) and Carl Jung (1910), introduced these figures not only to an American psychological audience but to psychologists in Europe as well. The list goes on.

There was lots of introspective research as well, particularly from Titchener and his followers. This was the analytical introspective method that Titchener developed and was generally followed by his students and supporters. Titchener held that by meticulous description of the facts of experience, separated from their meanings, one could build a cohesive and comprehensive system of psychology from the simplest sensations to the highest mental processes. AJP remains the best single compendium of Titchenerian introspective psychology. AJP also published Raymond Dodge’s criticism of the use of introspection as the primary method of experimental psychology (1912), a criticism that antedated Watson’s more strident manifesto by a year.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the development of more specialized journals devoted to a specific approach or subject matter. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology dealt with some of the topics Hall ran in AJP‘s earliest days. In 1916, Watson became founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which began primarily as an outlet for behavioral and animal experimentation. The Journal of Comparative Psychology was created to deal with that special literature, and many others emerged around the world.

With all this specialization, there was some concern — particularly after World War I — that an eclectic, general journal could not long survive. But survive it did.

Titchener’s Journal
In 1920 at Cornell, just before one of Titchener’s classes, a group of the faculty and graduate students gathered together with Titchener, as was their habit, for informal discussion. After considering the future of AJP and Hall’s advanced age, Dallenbach suggested the group buy the journal for Titchener to edit. The idea was accepted and Dallenbach was appointed to negotiate the purchase. The negotiations were long and hard, but Dallenbach finally came out with a deal. Hall required Dallenbach to put up earnest money to hold the deal until the Cornell combine could come up with the purchase price. Dallenbach was surprised on returning to Cornell to find that no one, not even Titchener, owned property that could be put up as collateral for a loan. Facing financial disaster for putting up all his life savings as collateral, Dallenbach went to his father, asking for a loan against his inheritance to cover the sale of AJP. Soon after, Titchener was given complete editorial control over AJP, with Dallenbach serving as the business manager.

Titchener took over the sole editorship effective in 1921. While Titchener, like Hall, had an editorial board, he largely ran the journal as his own. While a variety of approaches were accepted, the scope of Titchener’s AJP became considerably more narrowly cast than Hall’s. Titchener, who knew nothing of business matters, apparently did not understand the fact that Dallenbach owned AJP and wanted its ownership in the hands of a nonprofit group or Cornell. Dallenbach refused to relinquish the journal. Titchener could not abide the idea that a junior man owned the journal and he resigned after only four years.

One of Titchener’s major contributions was establishing a formal obituary series, brought on by the increasing number of deaths of the early generation of psychologists by the early 1920s Titchener established a series of balanced, scholarly obituaries to replace the very brief and often merely salutatory notices that had been produced under the Hall regime.

Dallenbach’s AJP
With Titchener’s resignation in 1924 and faced with owning and editing the oldest publishing psychological journal in the world by himself, Dallenbach turned to his friends, Madison Bentley, University of Illinois; Margaret Washburn, Vassar College; and E. G. Boring, Harvard University to share editorial responsibilities. While all the members of the editorial combine were students of Titchener, they had all gone their own ways and represented a good cross-section of experimental psychology in the 1920s. A sizable and varied board of cooperating editors was also appointed, guaranteeing a breadth of high quality manuscripts. All the experimental areas were represented, as then defined, including research on learning and behavioral topics.

During the Dallenbach years, one finds far too much classic research to list it all. There is, for instance, Walter B. Cannon’s revision of the James-Lange theory of emotion (1927), and L. L. Thurstone’s classic “Psychophysical Analysis” (1927). Don Lindsley (1936), James J. Gibson (1950), and S.S. Stevens (1935, 1956) also published during this era, among others, including Leo Crespi’s classic critique of Clark Hull’s theory of incentive (1942). Minami and Dallenbach’s famous cockroach study on interference theory in learning was also published in those years (1946). This is just a small sample.

E. G. Boring edited the obituary section, from 1926 to 1968. Dallenbach assumed the alias Charles Valley Brook, often to produce the annual index of the AJP and to carry out other tasks without appearing to be doing “too much.” Dallenbach also produced three cumulative indexes over his tenure as editor in chief, covering the literature of the AJP up to 1967. In total, Dallenbach guided the AJP for 47 years as editor in chief. His belief that experimental psychology was method more than subject matter helped him continue to select co-editors with varied research backgrounds covering a wide range of the experimental literature.

The 1960s saw an extraordinary increase in psychological journals, most with focused specialization. Again, there was concern whether general experimental journals could survive, particularly as major publishers and large organizations collected stables of specialized journals. By the 1960s, individual subscriptions began to play a fairly minor role in journal income, with the overwhelming majority of subscriptions going to institutions and libraries — a trend that has continued. AJP‘s advantage was its very long history and the reluctance of libraries to discontinue it.

But despite the tenuous times, AJP continued to have a high level of prestige in the psychological community, perhaps even higher in Europe than in the United States. The high quality and quantity of submissions continued, leaving the journal with the hope of long term survival (Dallenbach, 1966).

The Illinois Years
Upon his retirement in 1968, Dallenbach contributed AJP to the University of Illinois. He had always viewed his ownership as a stewardship and had never profited from the journal. With its new home, AJP continued to grow and thrive under editors in chief who were University of Illinois faculty, working alongside cooperating boards made up of prominent experimental psychologists from many fields and institutions.

Lloyd G. Humphreys became editor in chief in 1968, initially keeping the same editorial board as Dallenbach had at the end of his tenure: M. E. Bitterman and E. B. Newman. Humphreys later added C. W. Eriksen and Benton J. Underwood. Following E. G. Boring’s death in 1968, Humphreys appointed Ernest Hilgard as the first official editor of the obituary section. Humphreys made only minor changes to the cooperating board, and AJP — despite a stylistic facelift (the journal switched from its own style sheet to the more standard APA style) and a new masthead design — continued to operate much as it had under Dallenbach.

Humphreys resigned from the editorship to accept an administrative position at the end of the 1979 and was replaced by William Kappauf in 1980. Kappauf gave up the editorship in 1983 shortly before his death, although David Birch had been gradually taking over the duties of editor before then. Birch was editor during the AJP centennial in 1987. Jozef B. Cohen and the present author edited the centennial issue, constituting half of the volume for that year. This was a continuation of the tradition Dallenbach had initiated with the 50th anniversary volume in 1937. In 1987, Hilgard retired as obituary editor and I was appointed editor for obituaries and history of psychology.

With the 1989 volume, Donelson E. Dulany became editor, where he remains today. After Humphreys’ tenure, the board of cooperating editors (now called consulting editors), changed more rapidly, bringing in a new generation of experimental psychologists. It was in the hands of Dulany, however, that AJP began a concerted effort of using the cooperating editors as an essential source of manuscripts and evaluations markedly increasing their role.

Dulany’s emphasis has been a bit more cognitive than in the earlier years, but this only reflects a trend in modern experimental psychology, not a conscious intent to narrow the range of subjects. In every era and editorship, the emphasis of the then-current experimental psychology seems to have been represented in article content. In this way, AJP has maintained its eclectic, experimental foundation.

Why a General Journal of Experimental Psychology
In this time of increasingly specialized fields, there is an important role for general experimental journals in psychology. Without a forum for wide-ranging topics, it is all too easy for modern research psychologists to lose touch with developments in other aspects of the discipline and to lose perspective on the meaning of their particular research areas in the overall context of the discipline. Psychology continues to fragment, with segments identifying with and even migrating to other disciplines or multidisciplinary combines. Journals that select a range of studies continue to demonstrate that there are communal connections within psychology; they remind us how we all relate. So long as that is true, journals like the American Journal of Psychology will continue to play an essential role in the discipline.

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