G. Stanley Hall Biography
If you ever happen to be asked at a pub quiz night who the first president of the American Psychological Association (APA) was, be sure to answer G. Stanley Hall. The 'G' in his name stands for Granville, but you can also use it as a helpful mnemonic for 'great, ' as in great pioneer of American psychology. He was the first American to receive a Ph.D. in the field of psychology, the founder of the American Journal of Psychology, the first president of Clark University, the first and only person to get Sigmund Freud to guest lecture in the United States, and the first president of the APA. He even mentored Francis Cecil Sumner, the first African American man to receive a Ph.D. in Psychology.
G. Stanley Hall was born on February 1, 1844 and died on April 24, 1924 at the ripe old age of 80. While he originally studied to become a pastor in a Christian ministry, he would leave the ministry after only 10 weeks. After a couple of years teaching philosophy and literature at Antioch College, he eventually found his way to Harvard University where, under the guidance of William James and H. P. Bowditch, he was awarded the first American Ph.D. in Psychology.
Finding work in 1900s academia proved to be difficult, but America's loss was Germany's gain as he decided to take his talents to academic labs in Leipzig and Berlin. Here he focused on exploring the psychological applications of physiology and education working under and learning from the great Wilhelm Wundt, the man most credited with turning psychology into a scientific study of its own. While Wundt believed heavily in a structuralism-centered approach to psychology, which meant that the focus was identifying a core set of principles, laws, or relationships upon which the study of the mind could be based, Hall would follow a new emerging school of thought in functionalism.
In contrast to structuralism, this approach explored the processes and abilities of the mind. Hall was soon invited back to his alma mater to lecture about his findings and then offered a faculty position with Johns Hopkins University. Here he would go on to set up the first psychology lab in the U.S and lecture on psychology and pedagogy until helping to establish Clark University, the first all-graduate university in the United States.
Founder of Adolescent Psychology
Hall is attributed with coining the phrase adolescence to describe the period of development between puberty and adulthood. His work was well received, and he was among the first to explore child psychology as a branch of psychological development. His most popular work was published in 1904 and titled 'Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education'.
Before Hall, very little research had been conducted on the developmental period of adolescence. Hall believed that between the ages of 14 and 24, we undergo a period of 'storm and stress,' where we experience intense feelings of ambition and rebellion that will lead to a lot of suffering as we head towards maturation. He emphasized, however, that reaching maturation was not the end, and it's important to note that even after we mature, we continue to develop.
Hall's Concept of Recapitulation
Hall was a great admirer and believer in the work of Charles Darwin. Hall took from Darwin's biological ideas of evolution and adopted his own biologically based theory on psychological development called the biogenetic psychology of adolescence that was linked to the concept of recapitulation. While throwing out the term 'recapitulation' will probably make you sound smarter at dinner parties, it's best to just replace the term with the word 'repeating,' as the concept basically refers to displaying and repeating past behaviors that are linked to our evolutionary, genetic, and even modern history.
Hall believed that during our development, we mimic or display behaviors and actions that our evolutionary ancestors did. So for example, as a baby, we crawl on all fours because it is believed we evolved long ago from creatures that also walked on all fours, or when we reach puberty, we are perhaps more aggressive because our cavemen ancestors were always so angry over having to live in a freezing cave and fight saber-tooth tigers over dinner.
Hall's Legacy and Current Relevance
Like those of many other psychologists of his time, Hall's theories are considered to be outdated compared to the modern day developmental theories being introduced. That said, much of his work is considered to be fundamental in influencing other great minds like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Charles Darwin. He was also among the first to study the field of psychology as a science, and as such, his contributions helped lay the theoretical foundation for future greats in his field.
G. Stanley Hall was an extremely active psychologist that is best known for his work in child and adolescent psychology. He was among the first to help establish psychology as an academic field and worked with some of the most important psychologists of all time. He was the first American to obtain a Ph.D. in Psychology; helped establish the first all-graduate-student university, Clark U; and even managed to preside over the APA.
Rooted in a functionalist school of thought, his most popular theory was a bio-genetic look at adolescent and child psychological development that, while not really relevant now, helped set the stage for future biologically focused psychological research. His work was both influenced by and gave influence to some of the greatest minds in psychology and biology, including Sigmund Freud, who he convinced to lecture in the US for the first time, and Charles Darwin, who also influenced him in his theory of recapituation, or the displaying and repeating of past behaviors that are linked to our evolutionary, genetic, and even modern history. If we were to remember him for one thing, it should be as a very active early pioneer of the field of psychology.
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