Reprinted from Wedding, D., & Stevens, M. J. (Eds.). (2009). Psychology: IUPsyS Global Resource (Edition 2009) [CD-ROM]. International Journal of Psychology, 44(Suppl. 1), "Origins" section.
The development of contemporary Spanish psychology
Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain
Spanish psychology has developed greatly in the last decades, both in academic and professional aspects. But its history during the 20th century includes not only positive periods but also others clearly regressive, which impeded scientific work and tried to return to a more philosophical orientation. Since the establishment of a psychology degree in the country, a great expansion has taken place, and other significant achievements have been made by some émigré Spanish psychologists in Latin-American countries after being reinstalled there after a civil war that strongly affected the evolution of contemporary Spain. The main lines of the picture are drawn here.
La psychologie espagnole s’est beaucoup développée au cours des dernières décennies, à la fois sur le plan académique et sur le plan professionnel. Cependant, son histoire au cours du 20e siècle n’a pas été faite uniquement de périodes positives. Elle a connu aussi de reculs vers une orientation plus philosophique qui ont empêché le travail scientifique. Depuis l’apparition d’un diplôme de psychologie en Espagne, la discipline s’est répandue dans le pays et a même rayonné en Amérique latine où des psychologues espagnoles ont immigré après la guerre civile. Les grandes lignes de cette histoire sont tracées ici.
Psychology in Spain is going through a period of growth and expansion. Many universities and other higher-education centres carry out research programmes, and offer it as a degree as well as different master and PhD courses on related matters. There is also an important group of professionals who find job opportunities at public and private institutions; they are working and applying their techniques in a diversity of social activities and enterprises. In spite of some difficulties in the past, today it is one of the sectors progressing quickly.
The development of scientific psychology in Spain has been a rather complicated process (Carpintero, 1982, 1994). Its first steps took place in the last decades of the 19th century, but interest for applications really grew up during the first three decades of the following century. The country was then involved in a process of industrialization accompanied by cultural and scientific development. Under such impulses, great attention was then paid to the new science.
It has sometimes been said that it was in fact applied psychology that brought general and experimental psychology to Spain. Even though this may be true, such a phenomenon is also common to many countries that have taken an already existing and structured science and used it for other applications.
In the 1930s, some political changes ended with a dramatic and bloody civil war, which put an end to previous advances and caused a sort of regression, which fortunately did not suppress all efforts towards a recovery of cultural and political normality.
Since the advent of democracy to the country, in 1975, advances were made at a very fast pace, and as a result, an up-to-date situation was reached in psychology, both in academic and professional fields. In order to provide a conceptual scheme of such development here, the following broad periods will be considered:
From the early beginnings to 1936.
The breakdown of war and the slow recovery (1936–1970).
Time for expansion (1970–2000).
These may serve as a structural frame for the rest of the events. Let us now turn to this history, pointing only to its main lines.
FROM THE EARLY BEGINNINGS TO 1936
Spain has been more of a recipient than a creative country in the field of psychology. We are going to set aside the contributions made by some 16th-century Renaissance savants (such as Juan Luis Vives, ca. 1538, Gomez Pereira, b. 1500, and Juan Huarte de San Juan, ca. 1589, who dealt with some empirical questions in their work, largely under the influences of aristotelianism and galenism, dominating Europe by this time) and concentrate on what has happened in more recent times.
The arrival of new ideas was mainly due to the influence of small, enlightened, pro-European groups, especially interested in applied psychology as a means of enhancing a social regeneration and education policy. The country had been kept underdeveloped for political reasons during the first half of the 19th century. With the rise of industrialization, some related needs emerged. School problems, personnel selection, and occupational rehabilitation were among the main questions that demanded psychological intervention (Carpintero, 1982, 1994).
Around the turn of the century, two groups, located at the two largest cities of the country, Madrid (capital of the state) and Barcelona (head of the perhaps most active and modern region, Catalonia), began to work upon these questions. They formed the so-called Madrid and Barcelona schools, not wholly unrelated, but with their own peculiarities. Both were headed by physicians, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Lafora (1886–1971) and José Germain in Madrid, and Emilio Mira-López (1896–1964) in Barcelona. In fact, both developed psychotechnological procedures, closely related to the work of various similar groups that spread out in Europe. They were interested in the construction of tests and instruments, and developed research programmes on assessment and guidance.
In Madrid, psychology was appreciated not only for its educational but also for its therapeutic and social applications. Some institutions (a National Patronage for the Mentally Impaired, an Institute for Professional Retraining for Injured Workers, and a Medical-Educational Institute in Madrid, among others) were established. The interventions were carried out by young collaborators, most of them physicians and educators trained in European centres like the Geneva school, or the Decroly centre in Belgium.
The Barcelona school mainly focused on psychotechnology. Its main figure was Emilio Mira-López (1896–1964), a consultant psychiatrist, who can undoubtedly be considered as Spain’s first psychologist. He organized and headed an Institute of Professional Guidance (Institut d’Orientació Professional, 1918), which included a Psychometric Laboratory where he started to work. He did pioneer research on forensic psychology and psychotechnology, and created a personality test, the Myokinetic Test (PMK). This is a graphic, expressive, and projective test of clinical value widely employed in the 1950s. He organized two international meetings for the International Association for Applied Psychology (then called the Société Internationale de Psychotechnique; Barcelona, 1921, 1930), founded two psychological journals, and promoted specialized training at the University of Barcelona. His activity was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War and he went into exile for the rest of his life. As we will see in what follows, he kept himself very active in Brazil, which became his final welcoming country after his exile in 1939 (Ardila, 1971).
During this period, the academic field remained largely underdeveloped. A single chair for experimental psychology was created in the faculty of sciences at the University of Madrid in 1902, held by Luis Simarro, a cultivated psychiatrist trained under Charcot. He did no experimentation at all and offered optional courses for graduate students, which did not attract vast audiences. But he was highly estimated among intellectuals and scientists.
Interestingly enough, in 1928 a series of laboratory-offices were set up in several provinces. Also, two institutes were established in Madrid (with José Germain) and Barcelona (with Emilio Mira) for the study of traffic safety problems, vocational guidance, and industrial psychology, as well as complementary psychotechnological testing (Peiro, 1990).
By those days, psychology was present in the farreaching cultural movement dominating the country, largely influenced by French and German cultures, and supported by a growing “intelligentsia”. A Europeanization of the country, which felt like a “new deal”, was demanded everywhere in order to achieve a social and political transformation of the prevailing mentality, including the incorporation of modern science and technology to our society. The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine to Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), founder of the neuronal theory, stimulated scientific research, and philosophers like Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936) and Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) reinforced the interest in ideas in the country. Writers multiplied references to psychological topics when analyzing human and social problems in their literary works. Besides that, many of the fundamental works, from Freudian psychoanalysis to phenomenology, as well as the main books of Pavlov, Binet, the Gestalt school, Piaget, Bühler, or Spranger were translated. These subjects appealed to high-brows everywhere in the country.
Thus, by the beginning of the 1930s, Spanish psychology oriented itself towards theoretical knowledge and technical applications, especially in psychotechnology, an area that was progressively gaining international acknowledgment. Among the main accomplishments that are worth mentioning here is the already-mentioned establishment of a nationwide network on psychotechnology by E. Mira, G.R. Lafora, and J. Germain; a psychosocial theory of the so-called “mass-man” type of personality, defined by J. Ortega y Gasset (in his world-renowned book The Revolt of Masses, 1930); the vast body of research on neuronal theory carried out by S. Ramon y Cajal and his school; and a precursory cognitive theory of emotions developed by endocrinologist Gregorio Marañon (1923), which in the long run would pave the way for later discoveries by S. Schachter in the 1950s in the USA.
THE BREAKDOWN OF WAR AND THE SLOW RECOVERY (1936–1970)
Shortly before World War II, a dramatic 3-year event took place in Spain: the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). A military and conservative group, close to Italian fascism in its ideology, stood against the Republican government, finally seizing power and replacing the democratic system with a totalitarian regime. Great changes followed the Republican defeat; above all, a hard right and conservative Weltanschauung was the substitute for previous modernization and social reform. The war had been an ideological confrontation that was followed by a vast emigration of people from all classes and levels. Most of them were received in Latin-American countries, which offered new opportunities to the newcomers. As a fatal consequence of this exile, many institutions, university chairs, specialized journals, and literary and artistic centres suffered the loss of highly competent people, and in many cases they were forced to stop or to disappear. Among psychologists, many foreign connections were cut, and the network created early in the century among advanced centres and some Spanish groups and institutions crumbled.
At the same time a parallel attempt, inspired by the government, tried to transform psychology into a branch of scholastic philosophy, thereby denaturalizing its contents and impeding its development as a scientific discipline.
At this point, it has to be noted that a survey of the achievements reached in Spanish psychology needs to take into account the works of both the émigrés on one side of the ocean, and the young people who remained in the peninsula and set up the present situation, on the other.
The work of émigrés
It may be noted here that the Spanish émigré psychologists carried out a tremendous amount of work in their respective adoptive countries. Some of them are not to be forgotten, such as Angel Garma (1904–1993), Emilio Mira-Lopez (1896–1964), Mercedes Rodrigo (1891–1982) and Gonzalo Rodriguez-Lafora (1886–1971), among others. All of them, in different ways, deeply influenced the field of psychology in their new adoptive countries. Let us mention here their main contributions.
Lafora, living in Mexico, did some significant psychiatric and psychological work and founded there a private Institute for Mental Diseases. In Spain he had strongly supported psychopathological research and mental health campaigns; after his arrival in his new country he was widely acknowledged but not free from troubles with colleagues; these seem to have impelled him to come back to Spain in the 1970s.
Things seem to have run better for the other three.
Angel Garma established himself in Argentina, where he became one of the founding fathers of Argentinean psychoanalysis, creating societies and journals. He also trained most of the leading figures of the second generation of analysts—E. Pichon Riviere, A. Aberastury, and many others. Furthermore, he also carried out a large programme of research on psychosomatic and psychoanalytic topics.
A very similar picture emerges from Mercedes Rodrigo’s life in emigration. She went to Colombia, where she was invited to create a degree in psychology in the National University. It was based on scientific criteria and largely oriented toward psychometrics, far from the usual psychoanalytic models dominating in the area, as one of her former students, Ruben Ar dila, has frequently acknowledged (Ardila, 1987). A few years later, after a conservative military coup, she was forced to leave for political reasons, and spent her final years in Puerto Rico.
And last but not least, Emilio Mira-Lopez, who after a successful career before the war in Barcelona, succeeded in reconstructing his life as well as his professional and scientific activities in Brazil. He wrote numerous books, and from a centre that he created, the Instituto de Selecçao e Orientaçao Professional (ISOP) at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, he promoted applied psychology in Latin-American countries, developing professional selection and guidance work (Carpintero, 1994). He had a lasting influence on Latin America, which proves the impact of his personality and great success. As Ardila wrote, he may be seen as “one of the most important Latin-American psychologists that ever lived” (Ardila, 1971).
The process of recovery
On the Spanish peninsula, a slow recovery began, headed by José Germain (1898–1986), a former collaborator of G.R. Lafora, who was able to organize a small group of students who were called on to become the leaders of the present-day situation.
Although psychology was then considered as a philosophical discipline in university departments, Germain headed a research centre created in Madrid, in the Higher Council for Scientific Research. At this centre, some tests were studied and adapted, and other applications were also carried out. Moreover, Germain was also able to create a new School of Psychology for graduate students, where a diploma was given after 3 years of training. He also organized a scientific society and founded a journal that offered space for discussions and research publication. Germain’s disciples, Mariano Yela (1921–1994), Jose Luis Pinillos (b. 1919), Miguel Siguan (b. 1918), and Francisco Secadas (b. 1920), among others, received further training in American and/or European centres. Their approach to some active groups at foreign centres helped to develop new techniques and research programmes—in factor analysis, personality, social and clinical psychology, and developmental studies. Little by little, research became restored, mainly in its various social applications. But the scene changed abruptly when a degree in psychology was established in 1968. We will come to this point next.
During this whole period, Madrid (headed by Germain, then by Yela, Pinillos, and Secadas) and Barcelona (headed by Siguán) were the two active poles that impelled research and offered possibilities for training and work discussions. A minor but significant role was also taken by a private school organized at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, whose training courses were highly appreciated. Among the significant contributions made during this time was the process of the institutionalization of psychology in academic and professional circles. Moreover, some scientific achievements also took place, including some well-known work on brain stimulation and behaviour control, which was carried out—partly in the US—by J.M. Rodriguez-Delgado, a distinguished neurologist, as well as some applied work on psychotechnology that was also developed by the Germain’s group.
THE TIME FOR EXPANSION (1970–2000)
The creation of a degree in psychology (1968) was the turning point for an enormous change that affected the whole field. The students’ demand for psychology increased immediately and many departments were created to implement these studies. An immediate increase of the number of related researchers, publications, journals, societies, meetings, and symposia dedicated to psychology followed. It has been observed that since the 1970s, more than 100 journals were founded, most of which remain at present (Alcain & Carpintero, 2001). The number of handbooks, monographs, and papers presented to general or specialized meetings have increased enormously in the last decades.
Independent faculties of psychology were created after 1980 in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Salamanca, Seville, Oviedo, Santiago, Malaga, Castellon, Tarragona, and the Basque Country as well as in private universities (Comillas, Pontifical University at Salamanca, etc). Psychology departments offering the degree can also be found in many other universities all over the country. It may also be noted that, as a result of the new political structure of the country, which yielded a large decentralization in many aspects of public life, regional governments have competed in promoting these studies, now placed at the top of the list of specialties demanded by students. Another effect was the creation of a Professional Union of Psychologists (Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos, 1980) that to date accounts for more than 30,000 members, gathering people who work in both private and public sectors. It now has a federal structure, covering the various decentralized regions. Its main interest is to back and promote the role of psychologists in our society, providing support not only for all kind of practical activities, but also for scientific and editorial activity, as it publishes a significant group of journals, and organizes periodic nationwide and specialized congresses.
Now, many scientific societies have been founded and are supporting collaborative work and specialization. Two of them, the Professional Union and the Spanish Federation of Psychological Associations, have been acknowledged as the two representative Spanish members in the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) Assembly. Let us mention here other associations that cover specific topics such as psychological assessment, behaviour therapy, transactional analysis, Rorschach and projective techniques, experimental psychology, comparative psychology, clinical psychology, and history of psychology, among others (Yela, 1987).
SOME LEADING FIGURES
It has been said that the history of Spanish psychology is full of swinging periods, some of them charged with the dramatic task of destroying previous achievements and progress. As noted earlier, the Civil War dramatically cut the progress initiated in the first decades of our century, but the true expansion has taken place in very recent times.
Much of the merit for this recovery of the scientific tradition in psychology must be given to some of Germain’s pupils and collaborators, who in the 1950s and 1960s occupied university chairs from which they first promoted scientific psychology among their students.
Among these highly distinguished scholars we will mention here Mariano Yela (Madrid, 1921–1994), a former student of Thurstone. Professor for many years at the University Complutense of Madrid, he promoted mathematical psychology and factor analysis approaches to intelligence and verbal behaviour. Another leading figure, his colleague José Luis Pinillos (Bilbao, 1919), received further specialized training in Germany and in Great Britain (under H.J. Eysenck). He carried out relevant research in personality and social topics and his book Principios de Psicología (Principles of Psychology) is one of the most influential textbooks in universities and colleges in recent years, offering a personal and original synthesis of behavioural, conscious, and cognitive knowledge.
Miguel Siguán (Barcelona, 1918) promoted psychology in Catalonia from his chair at the University of Barcelona, in which he also founded a Professional School for Psychologists in 1964. He has developed significant research in bilingualism, a controversial and hot question nowadays in this country.
A large number of present-day researchers and professors received training and in many cases did their PhD research under these masters. As a result, a network of influences has spread out over the scene of Spanish psychology, and a certain unity has been built, although great theoretical freedom dominates everywhere.
SOME GENERAL VIEWS
In its recent evolution, Spanish psychology also shows some qualitative changes, clearly related to the variations affecting the theoretical orientations dominating the field. These changes have paralleled (not without a certain time-lag) similar variations that have taken place in the still very influential model of American psychology.
In Spain there has been a variety of theoretical viewpoints from the start, deeply influenced by a real understanding of the philosophical problems and the “humanistic” dimensions affecting the very roots of a psychology open to anthropological and philosophical issues. As far as theoretical orientations are considered, although in the 1950s and 1960s applied questions seemed to dominate, in the 1970s the behavioural influences gained significant support in the academic world, which in the following decade turned into more cognitive views that still dominate at present. Psychoanalysis has considerable influence among clinical practitioners, and some “humanistic” approaches should not be forgotten in the picture of our present.
Professionals, for their part, have gained extensive social support and esteem, and they are now dealing along new lines of intervention such as sports, social and community services, health, traffic safety, and addictions, among others, which have become normal topics for a psychologist. Specialized training programmes devised for clinical psychologists working in health services and facilities are now under consideration. But, as a general rule, there is up till now only one officially acknowledged degree, covering all specialities and professional activities.
Besides that, although university and academic psychology has gone ahead independently from professional and applied psychology, in recent times both lines connect more and more. The multiplicity of themes and the volume of recent contributions to the various fields of applied psychology in Spain is, at present, unique. Technology and research have grown together in close collaboration. It is a phenomenon of the vitality of Spanish psychology, although not exempt from problems.
Finally, communication and collaboration with Latin-American groups and centres have become more frequent and active in recent times.
Taking all this data together, it might be said that the future for Spanish psychology seems promising.
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© 2001 International Union of Psychological Science