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Psychological Machinery

Experimental Devices in Early Psychological Laboratories

Dalibor Voboril, Petr Kveton and Martin Jelinek

The book covers the topic of experimental instrumentation at the turn of the 20th century. The authors introduce the role of instruments in the process of establishing psychology as a science. They concentrate on identifying historical devices and problems with rediscovering their functionality. The core of the book consists of a categorized list of instruments with a description of their purpose and mechanical design. The categorization covers recording and time measuring devices, instruments designated for the research of human senses, memory and learning, and devices for physiological measurement. The publication also includes a companion website with short videos demonstrating selected instruments in action.
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After centuries of polemic disputations about how body and mind are related, what the role human consciousness is, or how human soul can be healed, the acceptance of scientific methods moved psychology closer to evidence-based natural sciences. The inception of scientific psychology with its experimental devices and instruments at the end of the 19th century can be considered as the first step towards the establishment of a well-organized and critical research of human mind. Wilhelm Wundt himself noted that psychological introspection should come hand in hand with methods of experimental physiology. The application of these methods on psychological introspection would lead to the psychophysical method as an independent discipline in the field of experimental research.

At the end of the 19th century, the highly advanced discipline of physiology contributed to the birth of modern scientific psychology by providing elaborated experimental instruments and devices. First psychological laboratories were established, and the researchers gradually adapted the physiological instruments to their own needs, or started to design their own instruments according to specific research goals.

In this book we focus primarily on that part of psychological history, which is not – despite its considerable significance – completely covered in the relevant literature. More specifically, we will describe experimental instruments and devices used in psychological research at the turn of the 20th century. The book was inspired by the unique collections of historical apparatus kept on the premises of Masaryk University in Brno and Charles University in Prague, as well...

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