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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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Experimental Equipment at the Turn of the 20th Century


This central part of the book provides an account of experimental apparatus used in psychological laboratories around the time between 1880 and 1930. In some cases, however, we delved even deeper into the history and attempted to describe the original experimental tools of early physiological laboratories, which served as prototypes for instruments adjusted for the needs of experimental psychology.

Although the book introduces a considerably large number of instruments, this number surely does not include all possibilities of obtaining experimental data at that time. Still, we believe that all principal solutions are at least broadly outlined by the descriptions provided, as the book covers almost the entire collection of original experimental equipment housed by the Psychology Department of Masaryk University and the Technical Museum in Brno, dating from the period in question.

The technical terms used to describe various instruments in different languages (German and English) were taken from the Zimmermann catalogue, as we assumed that the terminology contained in the catalogue was idiomatic and most commonly used at the time of publication (1928). We found no significant divergences when checking other sources for instrument names (e.g. the Spindler and Hoyer catalogues from 1908 and 1921 respectively). We also preserved the original spelling of the foreign language expressions used in the late 19th and early 20th century. This way, the terminology is consistent with references in scientific literature of that time, which should make working with original sources easier for the reader.

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