Exhibit Review – X-Rays of the Soul: Rorschach and the Projective Test, Harvard University (through June 30).

Jeremy Blatter

“X-Rays of the Soul: Rorschach and the Projective Test,” curated by Marla Eby, Peter Galison, and Rebecca Lemov, is the most recent exhibit to open at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments located in the Science Center at Harvard University. The exhibit explores the history of the projective test, not only as a diagnostic tool in clinical psychology and psychiatry, but as a widely employed technique in anthropological research and as an important meme and metaphor in popular culture.

Among the many provocative artistic interventions found in this exhibit are four large lenticular reproductions of Rorschach cards. By moving to either side of each lenticular print different features and emphases in the inkblots are revealed. The effect is that as you move from left to right it is as if the inkblot itself is revealing a range of potential interpretations that could land you anywhere along the psychiatric spectrum.

By dedicating one side of the exhibit to inkblot tests and the other to tests like the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test), which rely on more literal and narrative-driven modes of representation, the exhibit highlights two very different approaches to rendering the kind of controlled ambiguity that is the earmark of most projective testing techniques. However, many of the most interesting objects on display are precisely those testing materials which reveal the breakdown of this putatively pure ambiguity. For example, Charles Thompson’s “African American Thematic Apperception Test” (1949) and the anthropological adaptations of the TAT for Tahitians force us to more carefully consider the place of race and culture in the design and practice of projective testing.

“X-Rays of the Soul” is open 9-5:00PM daily in the Science Center at Harvard University and closes June 30.

Jeremy Blatter is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Science at Harvard University. His research focuses on the history of psychology and the social sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as well as the intersection of science and visual culture (particularly in the form of film, photography, architecture, advertising, and industrial design). In his dissertation “The Psychotechnics of Everyday Life: Hugo Münsterberg and the Politics of Applied Psychology, 1892-1929,” Jeremy explores the early years of applied psychology and psychotechnics.

About once a month, the UC Davis Disability Studies blog  posts a listing of recently published historical articles about disability (somewhat broadly defined).

This month, the list includes:

Brownlee, Kimberly, “Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Northwest Ohio: The Lucas County Infirmary and Poor Farm and the Toledo State Hospital,” _Northwest Ohio History_ 79(Fall 2011): 1-14.
Ferlito, Susanna. “Hysteria’s Upheavals: Emotional Fault Lines in Cristina di Belgiojoso’s Health History,” _Modern Italy_ 17(2)(2012): 157-170.
Grimsley-Smith, Melinda. “Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” _Social History of Medicine_ 25(2)(2012): 307-323.
Munyi, Chomba Wa. “Past and Present Perceptions Towards Disability: A Historical Perspective,” _Disability Studies Quarterly_ 32(2) (2012): online open access here: http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3197
York, Sarah. “Alienists, Attendants, and the Containment of Suicide in Public Lunatic Asylums, 1845-1890,” _Social History of Medicine_ 25(2)(2012): 324-342.
For more details, click here.

New issue of Medicine Studies

In the last issue of Medicine Studies, Elisabetta Basso published an article that may interest the readers of h-madness entitled “From the Problem of the Nature of Psychosis to the Phenomenological Reform of Psychiatry. Historical and Epistemological Remarks on Ludwig Binswanger’s Psychiatric Project”. The abstract reads:

This paper focuses on one of the original moments of the development of the “phenomenological” current of psychiatry, namely, the psychopathological research of Ludwig Binswanger. By means of the clinical and conceptual problem of schizophrenia as it was conceived and developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, I will try to outline and analyze Binswanger’s perspective from a both historical and epistemological point of view. Binswanger’s own way means of approaching and conceiving schizophrenia within the scientific, medical, and psychiatric context of that time will lead us to grasp the epistemological stakes at the origins of his project of reforming psychiatry by means of phenomenology. I will finally attempt to upgrade and update Binswanger’s project in light of the current reappraisal of phenomenology within the ongoing debate on psychopathology engaged by studies in the field of science and philosophy of mind.

Updated Bibliography of First Person Narratives of Madness

Prof. Gail Hornstein at Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts, USA) has just issued the 5th edition of her Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness, a copy of which is attached to this message.  In addition to correcting errors from earlier editions, the bibliography now lists more than 1,000 personal accounts of madness written by survivors themselves, as well as including narratives written by family members, anthologies and critical analyses of the madness narrative genre, and websites that contain oral histories or written madness narratives. The bibliography can be downloaded here.

Scientific American blog: “Trouble at the Heart of Psychiatry’s Revised Rule Book” (Edward Shorter)

Edward Shorter, Hannah Professor in the History of Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto (and recent contributor to our new How I Became a Historian of Psychiatry series), wrote a piece for the Scientific American blog which was published on Wednesday.

The article, entitled “Trouble at the Heart of Psychiatry’s Revised Rule Book“, deals with the DSM and starts thus:

One might liken the latest draft of psychiatry’s new diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, to a bowl of spaghetti. Hanging over the side are the marginal diagnoses of psychiatry, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, important for certain subpopulations but not central to the discipline.

At the center of the spaghetti bowl are the diagnoses at the heart of psychiatry: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.

To read the entire article, click here.

The Filedrawer Problem: A Resource

Something brought to our attention by the Cheiron Forum (Cheiron = The International society for the History of the Behavioral & Social Sciences) –

The Open Science Framework – an open collaboration of scientists “to increase the alignment between scientific values and scientific practices” – recently announced its “Reproducibility Project,” a collaboration intended to estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the psychological sciences.  You can read about this project here.

A related resource which may interest h-madness readers is PsychFileDrawer, an archive of replication attempts in experimental psychology.  The site explains its archive and the famous “file drawer problem” this way:

The “file drawer problem” (a term coined in 1979 by Robert Rosenthal, a member of our Advisory Board) refers to the bias introduced into the scientific literature by selective publication–chiefly by a tendency to publish positive results but not to publish negative or nonconfirmatory results. Awareness and concern about the file drawer problem seem to be growing explosively at the current time (early 2012). The pages below provide a fairly comprehensive list of recent discussions of this problem organized into different categories of publications–ranging from popular articles about the extent of the problem in many fields, to technical articles asking how failures to reject the null hypothesis should be analyzed and presented.

NY Times article: “Psychiatry Manual Drafters Back Down on Diagnoses”

An article appeared in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Psychiatry Manual Drafters Back Down on Diagnoses”. It is written by Benedict Carey and deals with the fifth edition of the DSM:

In a rare step, doctors on a panel revising psychiatry’s influential diagnostic manual have backed away from two controversial proposals that would have expanded the number of people identified as having psychotic or depressive disorders.

The doctors dropped two diagnoses that they ultimately concluded were not supported by the evidence: “attenuated psychosis syndrome,” proposed to identify people at risk of developing psychosis, and “mixed anxiety depressive disorder,” a hybrid of the two mood problems.

To read the entire article, click here.

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