This article is the second of a two-part series about the history of psychological testing at Wesleyan. The first part of the article addressed research conducted from 1894 until 1968. This installment picks up where the first part left off and extends into present-day research.
1970: Professor of Psychology Jules Holzberg studies families of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Holzberg, along with University of Connecticut psychologist Amerigo Farina, asked 50 males diagnosed with schizophrenia to rate their parents’ child-rearing practices on three scales. The parents also rated their own practices. Holzberg and Farina found that the patients and their parents agreed overwhelmingly.
In particular, Holzberg and Farina studied perceived parental attitudes of dominance and dominating behavior, discovering that the two were “significantly related.” Holzberg and Farina’s findings were published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
“There’s a complex interplay between genetics and the environment,” said Matthew Kurtz, Associate Professor of Psychology, Associate Professor of Neuroscience & Behavior, and Chair of the Neuroscience & Behavior Program. “Genes predispose us to stress and birth complications, but exposure to maternal influenza and maternal malnourishment might also play a role.”
Kurtz is currently the head of the Schizophrenia Cognition Lab. He and students work hands-on with people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
1984: Professor of Psychology David Adams finds that humans possess no instinct for war.
“War is a sociological rather than biological phenomenon,” Adams wrote in “There is No Instinct for War,” a paper originally published in the Psychological Journal in Moscow.
In this paper, Adams also tackled the question of why there are so few women warriors, a fact that he attributes to “the contradictions between the social institutions of marriage and warfare.”
The “instinct for war” has been studied by countless psychologists. This September, David Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, wrote an article for Aeon Magazine debunking the idea that there is a biological basis for warfare.
“I fear that many of my colleagues have failed, as previously have I, to distinguish between the relatively straightforward evolutionary roots of human violence and the more complex, multifaceted and politically fraught questions of human war,” he wrote. “To be blunt, violence is almost certainly deeply entrenched in human nature; warfare, not so much. A fascination with the remarkably clear correlation between Yanomami [an Amazonian indigenous culture noted for its violence] violence and male fitness has blinded us to the full range of human non-violence, causing us to ignore and undervalue realms of peacemaking in favor of a focus on exciting and attention-grabbing patterns of war-making.”
1988: Ruth Striegel investigates eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction.
In 1981, the television film based on clinical psychologist and writer Steven Levenkron’s 1978 book “The Best Little Girl in the World” was released. The first movie of its kind to depict sufferers of anorexia nervosa, it captivated television viewers. By the late 1980s, the subject of eating disorders had been studied by some psychologists but was still somewhat uncharted territory.
Professor of Psychology Ruth Striegel (now Ruth Striegel Weissman) was at the forefront of eating and weight research at the University. She now runs the Eating and Weight Research Lab at Wesleyan. Though she is currently on a research hiatus and was unavailable for an interview, the University and Striegel Weissman’s lab is currently being funded by the federal government to investigate binge eating among college students, according to the lab’s website.
1993: Professor of Psychology Scott Plous publishes “The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making.”
Plous has been a member of the Wesleyan faculty since 1990. In 1993, he published “The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making,” which was part of the McGraw-Hill Series in Social Psychology and examines the social aspects of judgment. It was the winner of the William James Book Award.
1998: The 2050 Program is introduced.
According to a 1998 printout in the Psychology Departmental Records, the 2050 Program: Psychology for the 21st Century was a response by the Psychology Department to the growing percentage of the population made up of underrepresented groups (ethnic and racial minorities, first-generation collegians, and those with low socioeconomic status).
“The name of the program comes from the fact that by the year 2050, nearly half the population of the United States will be composed of ethnic/racial minorities,” Plous wrote in 1998.
The 2050 Program, which was first established in 1997, called itself “an intensive academic and career mentoring program for students in underrepresented groups.”
According to Plous, the 2050 Program was a success.
“The 2050 Program had a great run and was eventually discontinued because students felt that it had largely achieved its goals and was no longer needed,” he wrote in an email to the Argus.
2007—present: Matthew Kurtz and Schizophrenia Cognition Lab continue schizophrenia work in clinical wards, this time with neuroimaging.
“The work we’re doing is looking at approaches to improving deficits in cognition in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Kurtz said. “I’m interested not only in how treatment affects behavior, but also in brain scans. Our work is designed to see changes in activation before and after intervention.”
Kurtz explained that although just one percent of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia, that percentage climbs in immigrant groups and, once established, often persists throughout life.
“In the future, we hope to develop techniques and types of interventions that are most effective in bettering the lives of people diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz and his lab’s use of brain scanning technology is a testament to the growing field of neuroimaging, or examining the structure and function of the brain. But although the technology has made leaps and bounds, Kurtz emphasized the importance of critical thinking.
“You have to define what you’re measuring behaviorally,” he said.