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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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At this point we have approached the very end of our journey through the historical laboratories of experimental psychology. The instruments chosen for this book represent some of the most typical instances of equipment used in those days. By cataloguing, precise identification and, in some cases, rediscovery of forgotten functions of the historical instruments we attempted to provide a tool which could increase the understanding of the knowledge base created by the founders of experimental psychology. We hope that our work will make study of primary sources easier for other researchers, who will find scientific literature featuring instruments and mechanisms described in this book more comprehensible.

The period addressed in the book covered approximately the years between 1870 and 1930. After 1930, a major boom of electronics almost instantly rendered the previously widely used pneumatic, mechanical or electromechanical systems obsolete. Laboratories and universities quickly started to dispose of their “outmoded” brass, wooden and steel apparatus, replacing it with modern electronic alternatives. Two great wars also took their toll on the past heritage, and as a result, very little of the original laboratory equipment has survived until this day. For that reason, we should feel even more encouraged to study it closely and preserve it for the future generations.

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