Gustav Theodor Fechner (b. 1801–d. 1887) is well known to psychologists as the founder of psychophysics, a set of methods for empirically relating measured sensory stimulus to reported sensation. Rich as this field of research has proven to be, especially as detection instruments and recording devices have improved in modern times, Fechner himself would be disappointed to discover that he is remembered merely for psychophysics as psychologists understand it today. To Fechner, those particular methods and approaches were only one part of the domain of psychophysics—outer psychophysics—whereas he envisioned psychophysics (both outer and inner) to be the key to the broadest kind of scientific worldview: the study of the relationship between the material world and the mental world (indeed the spiritual universe; in German, die geistige Welt). The preface of Fechner’s 1860 masterwork, Elements of Psychophysics, states, “[I]t is an exact theory of the relation of mind to body. . . . As an exact science psychophysics, like physics, must rest on experience and the mathematical connection of those empirical facts that demand a measure of what is experienced or, when such a measure is not available, a search for it.” In that definition, Fechner reveals his view of natural science, and how psychophysics was meant to expand the range of natural science and the scope of its achievements. Fechner’s influence emerged during the mid-19th century, as the physical and medical sciences were achieving great breakthroughs and establishing fundamental and unifying concepts; this was especially true in Germany, including the city where he came to study and remained for the rest of his life, Leipzig. Fechner was one of the most enthusiastic and optimistic believers in unifying concepts of science. Fechner’s psychophysics gave important impetus to psychometrics and experimental psychology; he also proposed a statistical approach to aesthetics and a “theory of collectives” that pointed toward statistical interpretations of many (perhaps all) areas of experience. In his early career he was a central figure in German physics and an early supporter of the atomic theory of matter as well as Darwinian evolution. His profoundly spiritual ideas, however, were out of step with the science of his time. This aspect of Fechner’s thought is evident in his inner psychophysics, where he searched for the full measure of “what is experienced.”
Karyna Pryiomka and Joshua Clegg
Like science in general, psychological research has never had a method. Rather, psychologists have deployed many methods under quite variable justifications. The history of these methods is thus a history of contestation. Psychology’s method debates are many and varied, but they mostly constellate around two interconnected concerns: psychology’s status as a science, and psychology’s proper subject matter. On the first question, the majority position has been an attempt to establish psychology as scientific, and thus committed to quantification and to objective, particularly experimental, methods. Challenging this position, many have argued that psychology cannot be a science, or at least not a natural one. Others have questioned the epistemic privilege of operationalization, quantification, experimentation, and even science itself. Connecting epistemic concerns with those of ethics and morality, some have pointed to the dehumanizing and oppressive consequences of objectification. In contrast to the debates over psychology’s status as a science, the question of its proper subject matter has produced no permanent majority position, but perennial methodological debates. Perhaps the oldest of these is the conflict over whether and how self, mind, or consciousness can be observed. This conflict produced famous disagreements like the imageless thought controversy and the behaviorist assault on “introspection.” Other recurrent debates include those over whether psychologists study wholes or aggregates, structures or functions, and states or dynamic systems.
Susan C. Baker, Bernadette M. Watson, and Cindy Gallois
Language is a social behavior and a key aspect of social interaction. Language is ubiquitous and usually occurs with other human behaviors across diverse contexts. Thus, it is difficult to study it in isolation. This difficulty may be why most, albeit not all, social psychologists tend to neglect language, in spite of the prominence of language in early 20th century social psychology and the presence of numerous handbooks and reviews of this area. Language use has implications for many social psychological processes, and, given its role in daily social life, it is important to understand its social underpinnings. The field of language and social psychology highlights the relationship between language and communication and foregrounds the differences between the social-psychological and communication approaches. One central issue is bilingualism and the relationships among language, identity, and culture. Another is methodology, where social psychologists have tended to choose experimental and survey strategies to look at language (not always to the best advantage). This century has seen the development of new technologies that allow us to look at language on a large scale and in rich detail and that have the potential to transform this research. In part as a consequence, in the early 21st century there are many new topics emerging in language and social psychology that help to set a new agenda for future research.