The sixth part of the series - Initially Not A Psychologist ...
William McDougall was a highly influential early 20th century psychologist. He was significant in shaping and giving direction to the development of modern psychology. He made major contributions to areas of Experimental Psychology, Personality Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Social Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Parapsychology. McDougall, however, initially did not intend to have a career in psychology; he was initially not a psychologist.
After, initially, studying at Manchester University, McDougall went to Cambridge University for medical training, feeling that studying medicine will give him a thorough education. Later, in 1897, he obtained his degree in medicine, at St. Thomas Hospital, London. During his time at St. Thomas Hospital and before that at Cambridge, McDougall wanted to dedicate his life to study the nervous system, because he felt that the brain has all the secrets to human nature.
McDougall, however, changed his views when he read the classic Principles of Psychology by William James. After reading the book, McDougall felt that neurology may not be the only way to understand human nature. He felt that apart from neurology, psychology and philosophy can be very useful. He then decided to study psychology, and for that, he got a fellowship at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
After completing his education at Cambridge, in 1899, McDougall joined an Anthropological expedition to Torres Straits, in association with W. H. R. Rivers and Charles Rivers. There he conducted psychological tests on the native inhabitants and studied their sensory processes.
McDougall, then moved to Germany, and worked with G. E. Muller. He worked in the area of experimental psychology and psychophysics. It was during this time that McDougall had developed an interest in psychical research, which he was majorly involved in later on in his career.
From Germany, McDougall then moved back to London, and joined the Department of Psychology, at University College. He accepted a position to teach psychology. There, and later on at Oxford, McDougall was appointed as Reader in mental philosophy. He was teaching experimental psychology and did research on sensory processes.
In this way, McDougall, after being influenced by the work of William James, changed his career path, and established himself in psychology. His tenure in London began a series of his significant contributions in psychology.
While in London, McDougall became instrumental in the founding of the British Psychological Society (initially named The Psychological Society) and starting the British Journal of Psychology. The society, founded in 1901, began to raise the standards in teaching and practice of psychology, increase awareness in psychology, and increase the influence of psychology on the society.
From London, McDougall moved to Oxford and continued his significant contributions. In his book, Physiological Psychology, published in 1904, McDougall emphasized the significance of the biological approach over the more traditional philosophical approach that was being used during that time.
McDougall became one of the first psychologists to redefine psychology as the science of behavior. In 1905, he defined psychology as “the positive science of the living creature.” In his highly influential book, An Introduction to Social Psychology, published in 1908, McDougall elaborated on this, in great detail.
In the book, he suggested that psychology should not restrict itself to the study of consciousness and should focus more on all modes of functioning or what he called a “positive science of conduct or behavior”. McDougall suggested that psychology should be studying varied aspects of human behaviour and use multiple methods, including physiological methods, and not narrow it down to consciousness and introspection.
It is very evident that in today’s time, psychology is the study of all kinds of behaviors and conduct, and is not limited to consciousness. In this way, McDougall can be seen as the pioneer of contemporary psychology. His book is also regarded as one the major precursors to the discipline of Social Psychology, which emphasizes on social behavior in specific contexts.
In his book, An Introduction to Social Psychology, McDougall introduced his hormic psychology, which includes his instinct theory of motivation. Hormic means urge or impulse. Hormic psychology suggests that psychological activity has purpose, emphasizing on purposive behavior of individuals. This purposive behavior was not guided by the environment, unlike what psychologists at that time were emphasizing on. Instead, according to McDougall, it was instincts that were propelling this purposive activity.
Instincts are inborn patterns of behavior, that is, they are biological in nature. In his instinct theory of motivation, McDougall emphasized the role of instincts in social behavior. He suggested that individuals are pre-programmed to behave in certain ways. He suggested a number of instincts such as sleep, hunger, sex, gregariousness, comfort, curiosity, among others.
In 1920, McDougall joined the psychology department at Harvard. This was the department that was established by William James, whose work influenced McDougall to take up a career in psychology, rather than continuing with physiology and neurology. It, thus, meant a lot for him to be joining the department started by William James. In the same year, McDougall’s book The Group Mind got published. This book is considered to be the sequel to his An Introduction to Social Psychology, and in a way completed his work in explaining social behavior through his hormic psychology.
Later, in his books, An Outline of Psychology, published in 1923, An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, published in 1926, and Character and the Conduct of Life, published in 1927, McDougall elaborated on his instinct theory of motivation and used it to explain personality and abnormal behavior, giving emphasis to free will.
In 1927, McDougall moved to Duke University. He developed the psychology department over there and established a parapsychology laboratory. He had already had interest in psychical research and in 1920 and 1921 had been the president of the Society for Psychical Research and The American Society for Psychical Research, respectively. He was interested to find scientific evidence for psychical phenomena and encouraged research on it. In 1937, McDougall became the founding co-editor, with Joseph Banks Rhine, of the Journal of Parapsychology. He was instrumental in establishing parapsychology as a separate subfield of psychology.
McDougall remained in Duke University till his death in 1938. In his life time he published 24 books and more than 150 papers. His contributions to psychology are indelible.
Initially wanting to dedicate his life to neurology, McDougall, after reading the work of William James, changed his mind, and ended up making a highly influential career in psychology. He redefined the study of psychology by introducing his hormic psychology, became instrumental in establishing the disciplines of Social Psychology and Parapsychology, and made significant contributions to Experimental Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.