Academic journal article Trames

Why Was Emil Kraepelin Not Recognized as a Psychologist?

Academic journal article Trames

Why Was Emil Kraepelin Not Recognized as a Psychologist?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) is usually identified as the founder of modern scientific psychiatry whose ideas about mental illness continue to inspire psychiatric research even 160 years after his birth (Decker 2004, Engstrom, Kendler 2015, Healy, Harris, Farquhar, Tschinkel, Le Noury 2008, Jablensky 2007). The dichotomy of psychoses, which he proposed, into affective psychoses (manisch-depressives Irresein) and schizophrenia (Dementia praecox) constitutes the basis for two important classification systems of psychiatric disorders, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) (Becker, Steinberg, Kluge 2016). A search with Harzing's Publish or Perish in Google Scholar revealed that the search term 'Kraepelin, E.' returned 17,655 papers (H-index = 40) in which at least one of Kraepelin's original or translated publications was cited (October 26, 2016). Thus, his papers are still cited hundreds of times every year. A vast majority of citations, of course, relate to dementia praecox (Kraepelin 1919/1971) or various editions of his textbook Psychiatrie (Kraepelin 1976)--two of Kraepelin's most cited works. However, against the backdrop of a massive interest to Kraepelin's psychiatric works, his contribution to psychology is rarely acknowledged. It is even possible to write a history of a modern psychology without mentioning Kraepelin at all (e.g. Brennan 1994, Brett 1921, Esper 1964, Robinson 1986, Woodworth, Sheehan 1964). This dismissive attitude towards Kraepelin as a psychologist was probably encouraged by a remark made by Edwin Boring, perhaps the most influential historian of psychology, in his classic A history of experimental psychology (Boring 1929/1957):

"None [of] Wundt's students played so important a role in establishing the new psychology as Kulpe and Titchener. There was Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) of Heidelberg (1890-1903) (1) and Munich (1903-1926), but he was a psychiatrist. In fact, he had written a psychiatry (1883) when he was only twenty-seven years old, one that went into many editions. He was as distinguished as any of Wundt's pupils but not as an experimental psychologist, as the phrase is used." (p. 429)

From this passing remark it is obvious that Kraepelin contributed, according to Boring at least, nothing substantial toward the establishing experimental psychology. In any case, his contribution cannot be measured by the same yardstick as the contributions of Kulpe and Ebbinghaus (I am not so sure about Titchener) who, without any shade of hesitation, noticeably shaped the emerging field.

True, some historians still recognize the role of Emil Kraepelin in the history of psychology. For instance, Hothersall (1990) wrote that Kraepelin applied his mentor Wundt's model of attention to the thinking of schizophrenics (Kraepelin 1919/1971). Kraepelin, according to Hothersall, accounted for certain form of schizophrenic behaviour as being due to reduced or poorly focused attention (Hothersall 1990:102). As another example, Leahey (1980) proposed that Wundt attempted to explain schizophrenia as the loss of the apperceptive control of associative processes. Instead of the coordinated process directed by volition, the thoughts of a schizophrenic become a simple, uncontrolled train of associations (Leahey 1980:201). Similar arguments were formulated by other researchers as well (Hildebrandt 1993). Interestingly, these short notices recognize Kraepelin as someone who applied known psychological principles to the explanation of psychopathology. From these citations it becomes obvious that Kraepelin is not perceived as a discoverer of some new phenomena or principle about how the human mind operates. He simply applied one of the Wundt's well-known principles to the field of insanity, which was his main professional interest.

After this short introduction, it may seem justified to affirm the common story about Kraepelin's interest in experimental psychology being mainly his private obsession and leaving no visible trace on his reputation as a scientist. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.