This article is 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 origins and development of scientific psychology in Australia
Alison F. Garton
Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia
Professional recognition of psychology in Australia only took place in 1944; the development of psychology as a scientific discipline, however, began much earlier. Scientific psychology in Australia, in common with many other countries, owes its origins to the study of philosophy in universities. This paper will take a chronological perspective, highlighting some of the major and notable developments in Australian psychological science, before describing some of the current issues facing scientific research in Australia.
In the late 19th century, the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide appointed three Scottish philosophers to chairs in mental philosophy: Henry Laurie, Francis Anderson and William Mitchell, respectively. British philosophy at the time was predominantly empiricist, influenced by the work of David Hume (1711–1776) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). These philosophers attempted to show how human knowledge was derived from experience, especially from the senses. Mill took this position to an extreme, invoking inductive inference for all manner of knowledge.
In the United States, many of the now-named early psychologists embraced a form of empiricism known as pragmatism, maintaining that knowledge was obtained from concrete acts, evidence and relative principles. William James (1842–1910), recognized as a founding father of modern-day experimental psychology, introduced the scientific method into the study of human behavior. Psychology was to be regarded as a science, aimed at describing and explaining things like sensations, desires and cognitions in human beings. Another early psychologist in the United States was John Dewey (1859–1952), who emphasized the role of experience, combining a naturalistic position with an experimental one, thereby introducing a cognitive component into experience and reflection. Knowledge derived from what was experienced through the senses as well through introspective awareness. Dewey’s main influence was in curriculum reform and education more broadly, where his concerns with interaction and the environment for learning have had a profound and long-lasting legacy.
Empiricism, or a version thereof, was the prevailing approach in the late 19th century, and proponents claimed that all knowledge arises from experience, either external sensory experience or internal mental experience. Knowledge stems from observation and experimentation, using inductive rather than deductive thinking. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these philosophers became the early psychologists, with their search for how human knowledge develops and their desire to describe and explain the workings of the human mind.
Another important influence on early psychology was Charles Darwin (1809–1882). His functional theory of natural selection led to the study of psychological characteristics based on physical, motor and perceptual skills. According to the theory of natural selection, the environment is responsible for determining which organisms survive and breed, and which do not. This developed into a theory of evolution, which was, and continues to be, both influential and contentious, especially among those whose religious values can not accommodate a natural-selection view of evolution.
Francis Galton (1822–1911) conducted much of his extensive work in a Darwinian framework (he was Darwin’s half-cousin), demonstrating the role the environment, or nature, played in human development. Early research in Australia in this tradition was conducted by anthropologists, and then by psychologists, driven by a growing interest in the evolutionary origins of life and by the geographical isolation of Australia, which seemed to confer on it a scientific advantage as an environment and human habitat untouched by outside influences. The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition in the early 20th century was specifically undertaken to study Torres Strait islanders, who were regarded as the most primitive humans. Scientists on this mission assessed the islanders’ sensorimotor functions (e.g., hearing, vision, reaction times) based on Galton’s belief that such measures were highly correlated with intelligence. Comparisons were made with English, educated, people, and much to the researchers’ surprise, few if any differences were recorded, so there was no evidence to support the view that these people were “primitive”.
Galton, due to his independent wealth, was able to indulge a number of his passions, and he was also responsible for the foundation of differential psychology or the “London School” of experimental psychology as well as the development of statistical techniques like regression and correlation, which provided scientific tools for his studies of heredity and hereditary traits. Galton stimulated much of the debate regarding the heritability of IQ, and he also dabbled in meteorology, geography and eugenics.
The intellectual climate of the late 19th century was therefore ripe for psychology, and Australia was no different. The three newly appointed professors at Australian universities set about applying psychological experiments to the study of knowledge (Taft & Day, 1988) and laid the foundation for the development of modern scientific psychology.
SCIENTIFIC PSYCHOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITIES
In 1912, the University of Western Australia (UWA) chose mental and moral philosophy as a foundation discipline in this fledgling university (Richardson, 1995). This was a monumental decision that influenced the early development of psychology at that institution. Despite the importance of this decision, the voting margin of one vote meant that no Chair was associated with the discipline. It did nonetheless attract a new appointment, namely Philip Le Couteur, in 1913. Le Couteur was well-educated, having studied at the Universities of Melbourne, Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and Bonn. He was well versed in European psychological knowledge, familiar with laboratories, and had studied alongside William McDougall at Oxford. McDougall had taken part in the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition prior to his appointment at Oxford, where he taught and conducted research in physiological psychology. In his later years in the United States, McDougall became not only a respected researcher in visual sensation, but also a prolific writer of popular psychology texts, including books on as social psychology and personality.
In his five years at the UWA, Le Couteur set up a psychological laboratory and developed courses for students. These courses included practical work, such as psychophysical measurement, as well as theory, and used textbooks written by James and McDougall, amongst others. Mental and moral philosophy limped along after Le Couteur’s departure, but in 1926 the discipline became a department of philosophy with additional staff, including a psychologist, Ethel Stoneman from the State Psychological Clinic, between 1927 and 1931. Hugh Fowler, a graduate of the UWA with a Ph.D. from the University of London, conducted classes on a part-time basis at the UWA until he was offered a senior position at Auckland’s Teachers’ College. Realizing Fowler’s preference to stay in Western Australia, the senate of the UWA voted to retain his services and offered him full-time position as lecturer-in-charge of a department of psychology (Richardson, 1995). So, not only was an appointment made, but also a dedicated department established. This sowed the seeds for the development of a thriving department, but growth could not come until a number of hurdles was overcome. War and military service took their toll on staff time and, although degree courses were developed and psychological laboratories for teaching established, there was little time, money or resources for research. It was not until 1952 that a chair in psychology was finally approved, although many reputable staff members had taught in the department, including the head during this period, Alex J. (Tim) Marshall, as well as Ron Taft and Elwyn Morey. Research was conducted, supported by some small grants, mainly in social and personality psychology.
The first incumbent of the chair of psychology was Ken Walker, under whose leadership the department blossomed. Both research and publications increased. Clinical training commenced in 1949 (Smith, 1999) and was upgraded to a diploma-level qualification in 1956, which 10 years later became a master’s qualification. Since the mid-1960s, the department has continued to grow with staff appointed for their research expertise as much as for their teaching. Current areas of research specialization include child development, cognitive science, neuroscience, organizational psychology, and social science. The department is now housed in the Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, reflecting its strong alignment with the scientific side of the discipline.
In 1890, at the University of Sydney, Francis Anderson’s position was upgraded to a chair in logic and mental philosophy, and he was appointed in 1910 to a position with the title “psychologist”. Tasman Lovell, a Sydney graduate who had spent time studying in Europe and was acquainted with the work of Spencer and Binet (Turtle & Hibberd, 2002), returned in 1913 to take up a position teaching psychology, which was later upgraded in 1920 to associate professor in psychology (he subsequently attained the status of professor). In 1921, an independent department of psychology was established. Another Scotsman, John Anderson, held the chair in philosophy for 30 years from 1927 and was an influential social and political commentator who was at the forefront of the “Sydney empirical realism” movement (Turtle & Hibberd, 2002), thus maintaining the university’s commitment to empiricism.
After Lovell’s 16 years in chair, Bill O’Neil took over the position, which he held for 20 years. O’Neil arrived with a background in vocational guidance, particularly the statistical norming of psychological tests. The years after 1945 saw an enormous expansion in the department, in terms of both students and staff. But, the experimental psychology tradition continued along with the strong interest in the philosophical underpinnings of psychology, both of which are today reflected in the research interests and the scientific studies conducted by staff and students.
At the University of Melbourne, psychology was taught as a component of philosophy from 1886; it was also taught in the teacher-training programs from an early date. In 1946, Oscar Oeser was appointed professor and head of a separate department of psychology. Many of the staff he recruited were from the UWA, where he had stopped on his journey from Europe. A program in psychology was developed and the first cohort graduated in 1948. Like the University of Sydney, staff and student numbers have increased enormously in the past 50 years, some due to the integration of other areas in the university that also taught psychology, like the former Melbourne College of Advanced Education and the clinical psychologists in the department of psychiatry. Current research areas of specialization, in what is now called the School of Behavioral Science, include cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, organizational psychology, quantitative psychology and social psychology.
The final early teaching of psychology was at the University of Tasmania, where in 1902 an introductory course on psychology was taught. Morris Miller, a philosopher at the university, had an interest in psychological testing and was appointed as head of the state psychological clinic. In 1928, he was appointed professor of psychology and philosophy.
Today, there are 36 departments and schools of psychology in Australian universities. After the first wave of universities, there was growth in the sector in the 1970s and then again more recently, when colleges of advanced education (CAEs, typically teacher-training colleges) and institutes of technology were elevated to university status. Some of these institutions already taught psychology, but staff rarely conducted research and generally did not have research qualifications. However, since their establishment, many staff have undertaken further research training and these institutions now compete with all other universities for government funding for research and research training (as well as funding flowing from the teaching of undergraduate students as psychology is a very popular course of study, until research and statistics become part of the curriculum, usually in second year). Currently, there is renewed interest by the federal government in the definition of a university and the place of research across all the existing universities.
According to the Australian Psychological Society (APS) Annual Report (2004), 11% of the membership is employed in the university education sector. It is reasonable to assume these are academics, whose duties typically include the conduct of research as well as teaching and administration. How many are active researchers is more difficult to determine as national competitive grants are awarded to a much smaller number of recipients. Furthermore, many academic members of the APS now hold high-level administrative positions within their universities, including vice-chancellor and president (e.g., Bill Lovegrove, Millicent Poole, Peter Sheehan,), deputy vice-chancellor for research (e.g., David Siddle), pro vice-chancellor and executive dean. While this can be regarded as recognition of the value of psychology for the development of management skills, it is at the expense of some of the country’s most productive researchers. However, on the positive side, it offers opportunities and opens doors for junior researchers and there are many emergent researchers working their way up academic ranks. Many of those in high ranking positions maintain a supervisory load of doctoral students and are able to continue their mentoring of rising research scientists.
TRENDS IN PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH
Universities exist in part to support and encourage research and staff appointed to teach to have Ph.D.s or at least an advanced qualification, such as a master’s degree, involving the conduct of original research. Universities also continue to have a responsibility to prepare researchers through doctoral and other training programs. Day (1977) provided a useful summary of the trends in research up to that date through an analysis of the main Australian journals, the Australian Journal of Psychology and Australian Psychologist, documentary information from heads of departments and listings of research theses in psychology. These detailed analyses showed a large increase in the volume of reported from 1945 to 1977, with large increases in the number of research papers presented at the annual APS conference and published in overseas journals. The trends showed a decline in research in psychological assessment over the period with an increase in research in experimental psychology, both human and animal behavior. From 1969 to 1973, about 64% of the research reported was in human experimental psychology, with the remaining 36% spread relatively evenly across assessment, abnormal and clinical psychology, educational and applied psychology, comparative and physiological psychology, and theory. Major researchers at the time included Syd Lovibond, Tim Marshall, Bill O’Neil, Ron Taft and Aubrey Yates. Not only was this distribution reflected in the publications surveyed, it was also supported by the levels of funding to these areas by the-then Australian Research Grants Committee as well as by anecdotal evidence from researchers.
Nixon (as cited in Taft & Day, 1988) found similar trends in publications. However, because she included CAEs in her sample alongside universities, there was a higher proportion of educational and applied research between 1974 and 1982 than reported previously. In addition, an edited volume by Feather (1985), sponsored by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, looked at six main areas of research namely, basic processes; psychometrics and mathematical psychology; clinical psychology, imagery and hypnosis; organizational and occupational psychology; psychometric and mathematical psychology; and “wider social issues.” These six areas were represented, respectively, by researchers such as Ross Day and Graham Halford; Norm Feather (in both social and organizational); Jacqueline Goodnow and her colleagues at Macquarie University; and John Keats, Robin Winkler and Peter Sheehan. As also noted by Garton (2004), Feather observed that there is no distinctive Australian psychology; rather, the areas reflect mainstream international psychological research. The theories and research questions are international while the specific applications and populations may be distinctively Australian. As noted by Taft and Day (1988), this volume makes it clear that
“. . .psychological research in Australia is well developed, sophisticated, and vigorous. Compared to the research scene in North America and Europe the difference is essentially one of scale, not of kind or standard” (p. 393).
A study of the research contribution of Australian researchers per se would not highlight any major theoretical or empirical trends (although for some influential publications, see Garton, 2004). Instead, what is interesting is how psychological science has evolved and developed in a nation that itself is growing and evolving, particularly with respect to acknowledging the importance of and contribution that science can make to social and economic development. Some trends and milestones have been selected to highlight these recent developments.
REVIEW OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE
In 1996, a Working Group for the National Committee of Psychology (NCP) of the Australian Academy of Science published a report commissioned by the Australian Research Council (ARC) on Psychological Science in Australia. In completing the review and compiling the report, the Working Group conducted examined the state of Australian research in psychological science up to that date. Despite it being 10 years old and especially given some of the recent changes to the way competitive research funding is managed and distributed, it is useful to summarize the observations and findings. The report made 28 recommendations; the extent to which any or all of these have been followed through has been variable, as they required the support of agencies other than the commissioning one. Furthermore other national policy changes have overtaken the recommendations.
In the 1990s, it was claimed Australia produced around 2.5% of all psychological research and around 2.8% of the papers in the top journals. This is impressive, given the size of the discipline in a country with a relatively small population. An impediment to even greater productivity and recognition, one that is still true in the 21st century, is a failure by the major granting bodies to understand the diversity of psychology and the need for specialized equipment and facilities. Nonetheless, the support for psychological scientific research is reasonably robust, with that research conducted by a relatively young academic workforce, based predominantly in universities across the country. The report noted the need for even greater support for early career researchers (e.g., postdoctoral positions, seeding grants). The ARC has recently supported such Early Career Researchers (up to five years post-doctorate) by quarantining a percentage of the competitive grants for allocation to these researchers, provided the proposals meet the required peer-review standards. This has given some early career researchers a much-needed boost to their careers.
The report called for greater collaboration with industry, pointing out the social and economic benefits that can arise from much basic psychological research. This call was supported by the identification of four key priority areas for future psychological research, namely, clinical health psychology, human factors (with a focus on technological change), industrial and organizational psychology, and neuroscience and physiological psychology. These key areas not only represent opportunities for collaboration with industry, but they clearly link the discipline of psychology with professional practice. To some extent, these priorities have been adopted and recognized by researchers, and they are positioned today alongside basic scientific research programs in cognition, perception and social psychology.
The report concluded by proposing a research agenda for 2010 through the 28 recommendations. Looking at this now in 2005, it can be seen that the tenor of the recommendations, if not their exact wording, has influenced the directions of psychological research, although within the context of changing national political agendas. Backing Australia’s Ability, the federal government’s blueprint for strengthening Australian research in general, now into its second phase, is a package of $5.3 billion dollars set aside to assist in research and development, commercialization and the development and retention of skills. So, for example, funding administered by the ARC, supports Federation Fellows, many of whom are expatriate Australians who have been lured “home” to continue their research programs in science and technology. Funding has also been committed to the national competitive grants programs (the ARC and National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC]) and other key areas:
HEALTH AND MEDICAL RESEARCH
In 1999, the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia and the APS convened an invited workshop at which participants discussed the funding of psychological research in Australia, with a particular focus on the support provided by the NHMRC for health and behavioral research. Invited participants and presenters included representatives of the NHMRC and social and behavioral scientists who outlined the contribution such research can make to Australia and to knowledge and practice generally. The workshop acknowledged the recommendation in the 1996 review previously described for health research and for increased support for this type of research from the NHMRC. Other contextual factors were also noted, including the economic value of health research, which leads to improvements in the health of the population and associated social and economic benefits. One outcome of the workshop was an edited volume (Martin, Prior, & Milgrom, 2001), with detailed the recommendations. As with the earlier review, the extent to which the recommendations have been implemented has been variable, with some depending on different agencies and on interagency cooperation.
CURRENT ISSUES IN PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Detailed analyses such as that conducted by Taft and Day (1988) would be very difficult to conduct today due to the huge proliferation of not only universities, but also of researchers and opportunities for reporting. Furthermore, psychologists obtain research funding not only from the major national competitive funding bodies, the ARC and NHMRC, but also other national bodies, such as the Telstra Foundation and Rotary as well as state-based bodies, such as Healthway (Western Australia) and VicHealth. Researchers have also had success in securing international grants from both the United States (e.g., National Institute for Mental Health) and Europe. Collaborative arrangements are encouraged and industry support, both in cash and in kind, from the public and private sectors is increasing (for recent success in ARC linkage grants see http://www.arc.gov.au/funded_grants/selection_linkage_projects.htm).
It is difficult to assess the actual amounts received annually for psychological research. For example, the NHMRC does not have a separate category for psychology; instead, researchers designate a cognate area, such as population health or psychiatry. However, recent funding from the ARC in the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences category shows the following trend, which is relatively stable:
|Number of grants
|Psychology as a
It is difficult to ascertain the amounts involved as many projects are funded for between two and five years, but recent successful ARC Discovery grants show the diversity of collaborators and the level of support (http://www.arc.gov.au/funded_grants/selection_discovery_projects.htm). According to the ARC Annual Report for 2003–2004, approximately $400 million was invested during those 12 months in research and research training across all discipline areas (Australian Research Council, 2004).
THE AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH
As noted earlier, a review of the state of psychological science was undertaken in the mid-1990s. The APS was represented on the review team through its Division of Scientific Affairs (DSA) and the NCP. The DSA was established in 1981 and continues to promote and support psychological research nationally, albeit under a different guise. With the establishment of the Directorate of Scientific Affairs (now the Directorate of Science) in 1994, the DSA continued as a separate division, which led to some confusion about the roles and responsibilities of each area. The Directorate of Science is currently responsible for
“. . .the advancement of the scientific discipline of psychology through the promotion of basic, applied and strategic research, and research publications of the Society.”
The sorts of activities that the directorate engages in include the encouragement and recognition of research to the community broadly, to government in particular and to psychology researchers, through annual awards, including the Early Career Awards, the Excellent Ph.D. Thesis in Psychology Award, the APS Prizes given to final year psychology students, and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. The directorate also publicizes national and international research opportunities, as well as oversees the scientific publications of the APS, the Australian Journal of Psychology and the Australian Psychologist.
The DSA meantime has been transformed into the Division of Research and Teaching (DRAT) in 1999, which has a committee structure and budget allocation to support its activities. With a broad focus on academic psychology, the DRAT promotes both teaching and research in psychology. To this end, activities in which it is engaged include specially convened symposia at the annual APS conference, publication of refereed papers from the annual conference and the annual Excellence in Teaching Award. Although there remains overlap between the directorate and the DRAT (the Directorate of Science is ultimately responsible for the activities of the DRAT), the DRAT has given the academic community a clearer voice in the APS, despite its small membership, at a mere 4% of the total membership of the APS.
The National Committee for Psychology
The National Committee for Psychology (NCP) was established through an organizational quirk. In 1982, the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) was admitted to full membership of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). The APS was and continues to be a member of the IUPsyS. It is usual for countries to be represented on the ICSU by their national academy of science, in this case the Australian Academy of Sciences (AAS), not the professional association. At the time, there was no designated national committee within the AAS. It was considered important that psychology have an international profile as a science and that membership in the ICSU was an important part of achieving that aim. A more immediate concern was the payment of the not insubstantial annual membership fees of the IUPsyS and the need for international support for the congress to be held in 1988. Both of these concerns were addressed and, after some lobbying from the APS, the NCP was established in 1986. The NCP continues today, with Max Coltheart as its current chair and representation from the APS as well members from academic departments of psychology.
Science Meets Parliament
In 2000, the APS, through its Directorate of Science, was one of the invitees at the inaugural “Science Meets Parliament” event. Other invitees included deans of faculties of science at Australian universities, other professional scientific associations and prominent members of the scientific community. This invitation continues through the APS membership of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. This is an opportunity for scientists to meet with federal members of parliament, both formally and informally, and for the scientific community to be briefed on the current issues and concerns of parliamentarians, and to raise the profile of the APS in terms of its contribution to the scientific endeavors of Australia. “Science Meets Parliament” enables representatives of the APS to learn firsthand about how politicians and lobbyists work effectively and how to communicate with these groups as well as network with other scientists and researchers to develop links politically and nationally.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR SCIENTIFIC PSYCHOLOGY IN AUSTRALIA
It is difficult to predict the future of scientific psychology in Australia. There is little doubt it will continue to grow, but current political directions are forcing all research to be subjected to a Research Quality Framework (RQF). RQF evaluation will mean that all researchers will need to account for the quality and the impact of their research. The details have still not been finalized, but “the preferred model” places psychology in a disciplinary mix with neuroscience and cognitive science. This is reflected in a proposed separate panel to assess psychology, taking into account the need for no more than 12 panels overall, a sensible disciplinary mix, and the ability to compare Australian outcomes with those obtained overseas. Quality and impact ratings, as assessed by these external panels, will determine future funding streams and levels for both research and research training. Research quality will be assessed on outputs (e.g., articles in high impact journals), peer recognition and overall contribution to the research environment (e.g., reviewing grant applications, journal editing duties). A five-point quality scale is recommended, using criterion-referenced ratings. Impact is proposed to be measured through the application of research by “end users,” such as the use of research in government policy, the value of the application and the level of engagement with the wider external community. Impact will be rated on a three-point criterion-referenced scale.
These assessments should have both positive implications for psychological scientific research. Experience in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand suggest that psychology and psychological research should fare very well in the forthcoming Australian RQF. By recognizing psychological science as an independent discipline, it is likely that the true quality and impact of psychological research will be understood and recognized more widely as was originally demonstrated in the ARC report (Australian Research Council, 1996) and by Guldberg and Sivaciyan (1994). This may assist in overcoming many of the barriers to current funding arrangements and opportunities for psychological research, and increase access to funds to support research that is both scientific and more broadly applicable. We await these developments and outcomes with excitement and some trepidation.
Australian Research Council. (1996). Psychological science in Australia. Canberra: AGPS.
Australian Research Council. (2004). Annual report 2003–2004. Retrieved July 27, 2005, from http://www.arc.gov.au/publications/annual_report.htm
Day, R. H. (1977). Psychological research in universities and colleges. In M. C. Nixon & R. Taft (Eds.), Psychology in Australia: Achievements and prospects. (pp. 54–68). Sydney: Pergamon Press.
Feather, N. (Ed.). (1985). Australian psychology: Review of research. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Garton, A. F. (2004). Psychology in Australia. In M. J. Stevens and D. Wedding (Eds.), Handbook of international psychology (pp. 413–427). New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Guldberg, H., & Sivaciyan, S. (1994). The economic and social value of psychology in Australia. Carlton, Australia: Australian Psychological Society.
Martin, P. R., Prior, M., & Milgrom, J. (2001). Health and medical research: Contribution of the social and behavioural sciences. Canberra and Melbourne: Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia and Australian Psychological Society.
Richardson, A. (1995). Psychology at the University of Western Australia (1913–1988): A brief history. Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society, 17, 13–18. Retrieved May 4, 2005, from www.psy.uwa.edu.au/PsychHistory/
Smith, R. L. (1999). Reflections of a clinical psychologist. Perth: Hesperian Press.
Taft, R., & Day, R. H. (1988). Psychology in Australia. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 375–400.
Turtle, A., & Hibberd, F. (2002). History and philosophy of psychology at the University of Sydney. European Society for the History of the Human Sciences Newsletter, 20(2). Retrieved May 4, 2005, from http://psychology.dur.ac.uk/eshhs/local/sydney.htm