VI International Congress of Psychology, Geneva, Switzerland
August 2 - 7, 1909
[Adapted from: Rosenzweig, M., Holtzman, W., Sabourin, M. & Bélanger, D. (2000). History of the International Union of Psychological Science. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.]
The 6th International Congress of Psychology, Geneva 1909
The 6th International Congress of Psychology took place in Geneva, August 2–7, 1909. Professor Théodore Flournoy of the University of Geneva was President, and Dr Edouard Claparède, director of the psychological laboratory at the University of Geneva, was Secretary-General. Both Flournoy and Claparède had doctorates in medicine, and both were members of the International Congress Committee. Flournoy had studied with Wundt and introduced experimental psychology to Switzerland.
The 6th congress attracted 582 members coming from 28 countries, a larger attendance than at any previous congress. Switzerland accounted for 42% of the members; France, 17%; Italy, 9%, Germany, 6 %, and the USA, 5%.
At the opening social meeting on the evening of August 2, Professor Flournoy greeted the participants and urged them to get to know each other and to form cordial personal relations, which he said was the main purpose for international congresses. To aid in forming acquaintances, the host committee had assigned a number to each participant and placed these numbers in the congress program and on the participant’s badge.
The program of the congress included 10 main themes, each with 1 or more presenters, and individual papers. In addition, there were seven sessions on unification of psychological terminology and symbols, color standards, mathematical methods, and so forth. There was also a display of books and of scientific instruments. The main themes were the following: (1) The sentiments. (2) The subconscious. (3) Measurement of attention. (4) Psychology of religious phenomena. (5) Classification of the educationally retarded. (6) Methodology of pedagogical psychology. (7) Perception of positions and movements of the body and limbs. (8) Tropisms. (9) Navigation by pigeons. (On August 6, pigeons from Versailles and two other cities in France were released in Geneva, and their success in reaching their home cities was reported in the proceedings: Thauziés, 1910 , p. 834.) (10) Physical phenomena related to mediumism. (Although mediums are claimed to channel messages from the dead, no such reports were presented. In the only presentation under this heading, Professor Sydney Alrutz of the University of Upsala, Sweden, presented evidence of transfer of energy from a person to a recording instrument, apparently by nonphysical means. The discussion from the floor raised doubts about these claims.) No sessions were scheduled in parallel, so that congress members could attend all the sessions they wished. The proceedings were the fullest of any congress to date, amounting to a volume of 877 pages.
The sessions on unification and standardization of psychological terminology were reported in a lengthy section of the proceedings of the congress. Professor Edouard Claparède, in introducing these sessions, pointed out that confusion reigned in psychology with regard to the use of specialized terms. He urged that it was high time for psychology to start to define and standardize its terminology, as other scientific disciplines had done or were engaged in doing. After noting desirable aims, he proposed that the congress name a special international commission to establish the bases of this work and that the commission report at the next congress. A discussion ensued about how many languages should be included in the commission, and it was decided to have one representative of each of the four official languages of the congress—English, French, German, and Italian. The artificial language Esperanto was proposed as a common language for unification of terminology, and part of the discussion was printed in that language, but the proposal was abandoned. It is not clear what happened to the special commission on unification of terminology during the long interval before the 7th congress in 1923, but no mention of that subject appears in its proceedings. The topic of terminology was taken up again vigorously, however, at the 10th and 11th congresses.
The Geneva congress program included several social occasions, including the opening reception, a cruise on the lake, a dinner offered by the City of Geneva, and a farewell lunch at the Parc des Eaux-Vives.
Reports on the Congress
VIME Congrès International de Psychologie, 1910. Geneva: Librairie Kündig.