Building a "Cross-Roads Discipline" at McGill University: A History of Early Experimental Psychology in Postwar Canada
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This dissertation presents an account of the development of psychology at McGill University from the late nineteenth century through to the early 1960s. The department of psychology at McGill represents an alternative to the traditional American-centered narrative of the cognitive revolution and later emergence of the neurosciences. In the years following World War II, a series of psychological experiments established McGill as among the foremost departments of psychology in North America. This thesis is an institutional history that reconstructs the origins, evolution, and dramatic rise of McGill as a major center for psychological research. The experiments conducted in the early 1950s, in the areas of sensory restriction, motivation, and pain psychology, were transformative in their scope and reach. Central to this story is Donald O. Hebb, author of The Organization of Behavior (1949), who arrived at McGill in 1947 to find the charred remains of a department. I argue that the kind of psychology Hebb established at McGill was different from most departments in North America; this is developed through a number of interwoven storylines focused on the understanding of a particular character of McGill psychology - a distinctive psychological style - and its broader historical importance for Canadian psychology, for North American psychology, and for psychology across the globe. This psychological style was an amalgam, embracing both the experimentalism associated with behaviorists and attention to subjective and emotional states associated with psychoanalytic and Gestalt theory. It contributed to the development of cognitive (neuro)psychology, but through avenues that lay somewhat outside the main scientific developments commonly noted in existing historical studies, which tend to neglect the role of emotion and embodied experience. This dissertation provides an account of the complex interplay of factors that affected the trajectory of psychology at McGill with attention to key individuals, department structures, and priorities; it examines how research institutions in Canada were built after the war; how various tensions and relationships shaped these early projects; and investigates the development of key concepts, theoretical views, research practices, and commitment to interdisciplinarity.