Hidden Histories: Critical and Reflexive uses of the History of Psychology

28 March 20241:00pm - 5:00pm
  • History and philosophy
Registration is free
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History and Philosophy of Psychology Section


The event is open to section members and interested members of the public to discuss critical and reflexive uses of history. Presentations with time for discussion will be from the Chair of the Historical and Philosophical Psychology Section, Professor Gavin Sullivan, and members of the Challenging Histories group of the BPS History of Psychology Centre.

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Attendance is free but registration is required.

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If you have any questions please contact us at [email protected].


Registration must be made online.

Attendance is free but registration is required.

Register now

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13:00 - Welcome and Introduction to the Hidden Histories online event

  • Professor Gavin B. Sullivan

A brief introduction to the event will outline the work of the BPS Historical and Philosophical Psychology section, the BPS History of Psychology Centre and the centre's Challenging Histories group. Themes in the reflexive and critical use of the history of psychology will be introduced.

13:10 - Erich Fromm's Weimar Workers on the Eve of the Third Reich: How archival research can recover hidden histories and highlight contemporary concerns about widespread political grievances

  • Professor Gavin B. Sullivan

The questionnaire based research that Erich Fromm conducted with colleagues in the early days of the Frankurt School is an important early example of interpretative psychodynamic and qualitative empircal social research that has largely been erased from the history of Critical theory and psychological and social science.

In this presentation I outline how the study's controversial initial findings were supressed in the 1930s, why the full publication of the interpretation of the 1150 surveys between 1929 and 1933 was delayed until 1980 (with the English publication in 1984) and discuss progress towards reconstruction of the remaining corpus of questionnaires from archive scanned and original copies in a searchable database.

The reintrepretation of the findings and their implications for understanding the contemporary rise (or return) of radical right populist parties and extremist social movements in Germany and Europe are discussed.

13:40 - Questions and discussion

13:55 - Developing a framework for investigating historical cases of unethical research or practice misconduct

  • Dr. John Hall and Prof. John Oates

The Challenging Histories Group was established by the Society in 2021 to begin identifying and examining troubling aspects of psychology in the past, and to consider the implications for action.

Early in this process it became clear that a systematic, open and fair framework was needed to ensure a consistent approach to investigations. To these ends, a process chart in the form of a flow diagram was designed, drawing on other examples of best investigatory practice, notably the United Kingdom Research Integrity Office’s Misconduct Investigation Procedure.

The draft framework was tested on the issues of research integrity associated with research publications of Hans Eysenck, and the framework was finalised based on the test findings. The framework has two ‘arms’: one concerned with issues of research integrity and the other with malpractice. The framework is being taken forward by the Society as a basis for future investigations of further cases of concern.

There will be time for questions and discussion after each presentation.

15:25 - Cyril Burt, and the British Psychological Society: Psychology Gone Wrong

  • Dr Mike Chamarette

The life and work of the psychologist and eugenicist Sir Cyril Burt challenges many historical assumptions about psychology and reflects many of the issues covered by the recent ethical framework.

Following his death in 1971 allegations of professional fraud and malfeasance emerged, the ‘Burt Affair’. No definitive resolution has arisen subsequently, though much of the historical research and discussion by psychologists themselves left much to be desired.

Recently, Burt’s ideological role in the use of psychological research as a prop for eugenics has raised additional concerns. None of his papers have been retracted, and there is still no guidance on which aspects of his work may be considered ‘safe’ or otherwise.

Burt’s relationship to the BPsS, is well documented but remains unclear historically. Between 1940 and 1964 he played a major role in the society but plunged it into debt through his mismanagement of the British Journal of Statistical Psychology, BJSP.

Initially the BPS expressed concern regarding the “Burt Affair’ but following a robust defence by many of his sympathisers reverted subsequently to a neutral position.

The Challenging Histories of Psychology working group of the BPsS however recognised that Burt infringed the ethical frameworks of psychology and society more widely. Many of these issues are reconsidered in the light of recent historical research.

15:55 - Questions and discussion

16:10 - Hans Eysenck’s unsafe research on personality and fatal diseases. How could this have happened?

  • Professor Anthony Pelosi

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the late Hans Eysenck conducted a programme of research into the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and other fatal diseases in collaboration with one of his protégés, Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. This led to what must be the most astonishing series of findings ever published in the scientific literature with effect sizes that have never otherwise been encountered in the history of medicine.

I will be asking conference attendees what I have been asking myself for three decades. How could this work have been published and why was nothing been done about it until recently?

I will be making a couple of suggestions:

  1. Professor Eysenck considered himself to be some sort of genius. Over the years, he managed to beguile numerous young researchers who egged him on in this belief.
  2. Eysenck thought of himself as a leading psychometrician. However, he appears to have had only a loose and fluctuating grasp of the difference between statistical significance and effect size.

Suggestions will be made about how to undo some of the damage that has been caused by this sorry episode in the history of psychology and medicine.

16:40 - Questions and discussion

16:55 - Brief summary

  • Professor Gavin B. Sullivan

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