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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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The Origins of Psychological Laboratories


At the very beginning, psychology was driven by joint efforts of scientists from various fields, such as physiology, philosophy, or biology (Harper, 1950). These fields shared a common object of interest, but they examined it with different methods and from different perspectives. Continual cooperation between the researchers combined with ceaseless sharing of ideas eventually led to the establishment of experimental psychology as a separate scientific discipline. The viability of the new field was proven with the founding of the first psychological laboratories in the last quarter of the 19th century. The work environment and instrumental equipment of psychological laboratories predetermined research interests and opportunities in such a way, that the laboratory as a whole could be viewed as a universal research tool.

The laboratory of Prof. Wilhelm Maxmilian Wundt (16 August 1832–31 August 1920) is considered the first psychological experimental facility. The laboratory was established at the Leipzig University1, thus securing the university a prominent position in the history of psychology. It served as a gold standard for all latter laboratories spread around the world, as mentioned by McK. Cattell in 1888 (p. 39): “It is interesting to note that the example set by Wundt at Leipsic is being followed in other universities. Psychological laboratories have been established or are being planned at Berlin, Bonn, Göttingen; in America, at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Pennsylvania and Princeton; in England at Cambridge; also at Copenhagen and elsewhere.” The Leipzig Institute – as Wundt used to refer to his...

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