The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts

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ELLEN HERMAN: The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts: University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1995, 406 pp., $35.00 (hard cover) ISBN 0-520-08598-1; $16.95 (pbk.), ISBN 0-520-20703-2.

The Romance of American Psychology reveals what some call a dirty secret and others call common, but rarely written-about knowledge. The book reviews with great clarity the financing during World War I and World War II of much clinical and experimental psychology and psychiatry by the military. Critical questions are asked: Did this funding corrupt the researchers and affect research outcomes by placing them inside of the military industrial complex? How did policy research develop and what were some of the pitfalls? How did the need for strong armed forces lead to research and resultant policy changes in the society at large in such areas as discrimination, education, and poverty?

Introductory chapters present Herman's way of seeing the issues as a whole. A number of subsequent chapters summarize the contributions to psychology and psychiatry that have resulted from defense funding of psychology research. Beginning in World War I, psychological intelligence tests were introduced. The results of these studies shocked the military, leading to an abiding interest in improving the quality of recruits and draftees. Many of the readers of this journal may know that by World War II, psychological tests were extensively used for screening, selecting, and assigning service people. Test-based screening is now widely used in most employment situations.

A second contribution developed out of the work with "shell-shocked" soldiers. What clinicians first thought of as just shell-shock came to be seen as a group of related character, personality, and anxiety disorders, including PTSD and borderline personality disorder with their accompanying depression, all of which are now thought to be caused by trauma during development. Military work with shell-shocked soldiers was one major factor leading to the demand and growth for clinical practice throughout society.

A third impact of defense-related support has been on basic experimental psychological research, There is no question that the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) were instrumental in providing money for much outstanding psychological research ever performed. Certain fields, such as psychophysics, signal-detection theory, color theory, and scaling, acknowledge the Defense Department as the funding source. Curiously, although the book points out how much was discovered under the sponsorship of the Defense Department, much of the research was so basic, that it would be hard to imagine a quick application. …


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