G. Stanley Hall: Biography, Theory & Contributions

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Harkins
Here we will talk about one of the great American pioneers of social science whose work was paramount in establishing psychology, and especially child psychology, as distinct fields in American academia. Updated: 03/31/2021

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.

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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.

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